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Mon 30 November 2020
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Sian Norris reports on plans for the provision of new services by a group which links abortion with Satanic Ritual Abuse, believes delaying abortion decisions is justified, and also associates it with suicide

Editor’s Note: This article contains content that some readers may find distressing

The anti-abortion organisation, the Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, plans to launch a new “missional network of pregnancy support” – raising questions about the regulation of anti-abortion pregnancy advice in the UK.

CBR UK’s network “expands through a HOPE Pregnancy Help-line and HOPE Pregnancy centres” and will offer “support and advice” to women facing an unwanted pregnancy. 

The organisation hit the headlines in 2019 when it displayed graphic imagery outside Labour MP Stella Creasy’s constituency office in Walthamstow, north-east London – including an image of an aborted foetus. That same year, CBR UK activist Christian Hacking was arrested outside a Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing, west London, for breaking a Public Space Protection Order – although the charges were later dropped. In 2012, directors Andy Stephenson and Kathryn Attwood were arrested outside a clinic in Brighton while operating under the name Abort67. They were cleared over public order offences.

Throughout 2020, CBR UK has continued to run its ‘educational’ displays across the UK.

This UK branch of the US Center for Bio-Ethical Reform holds extreme anti-abortion views, including the bizarre belief that abortion is linked to Satanism. In a recent interview between Tomi Aroyami and CBR UK directors Stephenson and Wilfred Wong, Stephenson told Aroyami that “Satanic Ritual Abuse and Satanism is that love of death – and what could you get a more, sort of, institutionalised out working [sic] of that than abortion”.

Wong claims that Satanists are involved in the “abortion agenda, the LGBT agenda, they are involved in sex education”. He also states that Islam and Satanism share a common goal, “which is destruction of Christianity”, while repeating a myth that changing demographics mean that Christians are starting to become outnumbered by Muslims in the EU. At a CBR UK training event in 2019, Wong defended ‘prayer vigils’ outside abortion clinics, arguing that they were necessary as prayer can prevent an abortion from working. 

These views echo the spread of a Satanic abuse conspiracy theory in the run-up to the 2020 US Presidential Election via QAnon and the Save The Children movement. The theory falsely states that Democrats and ‘liberal elites’ traffic children through underground tunnels to be abused in Satanic rituals. References to abortion being “demonic” also appear on extreme misogynistic forums.

A video posted on CBR UK’s Facebook group gives some insight of its approach for the HOPE initiative. Called Hope Before Abortion (the original name for the planned service, now updated on its website to ‘Hope For Women’), it offers “some guidelines on how to shape the conversation when speaking to women and men in an unexpected pregnancy”.

These include the assertion that the only reason a woman may seek an abortion is “fear” and “for the mother to allow a baby to die in her womb, she must first allow it to die in her heart”.

The video’s presenter Kathryn Attwood suggests showing the pregnant woman “what abortion will do to her baby using pictures and videos” and encourages the viewer to “share the facts of abortion.”.

Currently, the CBR UK website directs women who are pregnant to view a graphic video to see “what a ‘termination’ or ‘ending your pregnancy’ actually is”.

A campaign launched by CBR UK in London in 2020. Photo: PA Images

Rachael Clarke, head of policy and public affairs at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), explains that women with an unplanned pregnancy “need to be able to trust those caring for them to provide evidence-based, impartial, non-directive information about their options”. Needless to say, being directed to watch a graphic surgical video does not meet this standard. 

Crucially, in the video, Attwood advises the trainee to break “into the rush of abortion decision-making and encourage her to take her time”.

This delay tactic is commonly used by anti-abortion crisis pregnancy services, including the US organisation Heartbeat International. Earlier in 2020, Heartbeat International briefly listed the HOPE service as one of its affiliates on its worldwide directory, however it has since been removed.

Heartbeat International offers training webinars to staff and volunteers at crisis pregnancy services advising them to “get the caller to slow down”. The webinars claim that women are more likely to experience “emotional complications” if they “make the decision too quickly”. CBR UK points women who have an unwanted pregnancy to the Heartbeat-run Options Line. 

Heartbeat International has also been accused of sharing disinformation about the mental health impact of abortion – echoed by CBR UK.

Attwood refers to “the deep, painful impact abortion will have on [a woman] for the rest of her life” and its sister project PASE cites anti-abortion activist David C Reardon’s claims that abortion is linked to suicide. The NHS explains that a woman ending an unplanned pregnancy is “no more likely to experience mental health problems” than if she continues with it.

Clarke described the move of CBR UK into “pregnancy support” as “worrisome”.

“This group has one purpose – and that’s to stop women accessing abortion services,” she said. “We have absolutely no faith that people who have, up until recently, stood outside abortion clinics with body cameras and 10 foot signs of dismembered foetuses, could be in any way able to provide the caring, impartial healthcare support that women with unplanned pregnancies need.”

CBR UK’s plans to launch a network of “pregnancy support” raises questions about the lack of regulations governing crisis pregnancy services. This comes six years after Education for Choice revealed how the majority of centres it ‘mystery-shopped’ offered “unacceptably biased and misleading information about pregnancy and abortion”. 

“Previous exposés of crisis pregnancy services have found women being given false medical information by untrained staff about the risks of abortion,” Clarke explained. These include “women being shown videos aimed at coercing them into continuing their pregnancy, and offering ultrasound scans by untrained and unregistered individuals”.

Physical centres have to follow Care Quality Commission standards, but these only regulate medical procedures such as ultrasounds and general hygiene – not the content of support, advice or counselling being provided. And while government guidelines explain that pregnancy counselling “must be non-directive and non-judgemental and should not create barriers or delays”, it is still a wild west when it comes to enforcing fair and accurate advice from anti-abortion groups to women facing an unwanted pregnancy.

In 2018, The Times reported how a crisis pregnancy centre now affiliated to Heartbeat International still peddles disinformation about abortion. How much has really changed? 

CBR UK is fundraising for its HOPE initiative, but a proposed service from an organisation which points women with an unwanted pregnancy to a graphic abortion video and which links abortion to Satanic Ritual Abuse shows that more must be done to regulate who is providing support to women with unwanted pregnancies, and how. 

When approached by Byline Times for comment, CBR UK did not refute the claims that it links abortion with Satanic Ritual Abuse, argued that delaying abortion decisions was justified, and linked it with both suicide and a heightened risk of breast cancer.

As for the criticisms about the ‘directive’ advisory service, a spokesperson added: “We have no interest in giving the impression that abortion is something to be non-directive about. It is an act of violence that kills a baby – it would be just as bad to think we should be non-directive about killing newborns.”


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