The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Who you gonna call?

I recently read a Marie-Claire article about abortion counselling in Australia. The article worryingly showed that the main free phone lines for abortion counselling across the Tasman were all related to, or run by, anti-abortion groups. There were some horror stories about the kind of advice being given out to women seeking open minds and all the options, but finding only guilt trips and judgement in spades.*

I decided to do a little sleuthing of my own in NZ to see if there was a similar trend here. Now of course this isn't at the level of investigation a proper journalist would do, but...

Of the 52 "pregnancy services"** listed on the Yellow Pages site:

The first listing is Family Life International, whose tag on the Yellow Pages site is "Our mission is to bring the pro-life family message to as many people as possible in NZ and polynesia. We are here to help you!" Now their toll free counselling number, 0800 FOR LIFE, would hopefully give some women an idea of the politics of this organisation, but for many, looking for an objective counsellor and someone to talk to, they wouldn't necessarily pick up on this, particularly as many of the listings don't mention the words that the numbers spell. FLI also promote on their websites various Catholic organisations, including Project Rachel, a "post-abortion supoprting and healing" service. I'd say there may well be a heavy guilt focus, judging from these quotes:

"Are you hurting from a recent or past abortion?
"Do you experience feelings of guilt, anxiety, shame, or fear whenever you recall your abortion experience?
"An abortion is one of the most traumatic experiences that a woman
can go through. It is much more than just a simple medical procedure and it has
serious implications for a woman's emotional, physiological, and spiritual
"While every woman's experience is unique, the common thing that
is shared amongst those that have experienced an abortion is the overwhelming
sense of loss and grief."

The sixth listing is a counselling service called Education for Change which appears to be totally focused on quitting smoking (including during pregnancy) and SIDS. They pop up a number of times in the listings.

In the eighth spot is Pregnancy Counselling Services' National Office. Their rules at the time of foundation can be found on the Voluntary Organisations Register and include the following gems:

4. ... (b) That all human life is inviolable from conception.
5. ... (c) That the killing of children by induced abortion is not a proper or
necessary solution for women having difficulty in coping with their
pregnancies or in need for any reason.
(d) That the killing of children by induced abortion is bad medical practice and is harmful to the mental and physical health of women.

They have a toll-free number that isn't at all transparent (0800 NEED 2 TALK) and branches in 22 towns and cities through-out the country. Nowhere on their website (which is quite spartan) does it mention that they are a pro-life group.
The eleventh listing is PCS again. The fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth services are local PCS branches.

The seventeenth listing is for The Pregnancy Centre in PN, which I couldn't find anything out about, other than the fact it is run by (or just supported by?) PALM, a church group. I couldn't find anything overtly pro-life or pro-choice in their mission statement. If anything they sound very open-minded, but I note that they seem to be an umbrella group for a very wide variety of denominations, and as such it really depends who runs The Pregnancy Centre as to whether it provides independent counselling or not.

The eighteenth listing is for Parents Place in Hamilton. From a quick skim of their details on the Voluntary Organisations Register they appear to be basically a pro-parent group more than anything else.

The twenty first listing is PCS again, the twenty second is the Family Life Crisis Pregnancy Centre in Pt Chev, which I think I can assume with a high amount of probability is run by FLI, as the Pregnant and worried website FLI run mentions a "Crisis Pregnancy Centre".

The twenty third listing is for an organisation called The House of Grace Trust Inc. Now to be fair this one doesn't put itself out there as a pregnancy counselling service, it is a house for pregnant teens which gives them a safe environment for their pregnancy and teaches them life skills, which I tend to think is a much needed opportunity for many young women. Just as well it isn't a counselling service really, as it is affiliated to Heartbeat International, a well-known anti-abortion group.

The twenty ninth listing is FLI again. Thirty eighth on the list is FLI yet again.

Listings thirty nine and forty are for Pregnancy Help Inc. This is an organisation with a number of pregnancy and maternity services including counselling and free local phone lines. I didn't notice anything in their rules on the Voluntary Organisations Register that indicated a tendency either way on the abortion issue, and there is nothing on their website either.

Listing forty two is for "Pregnancy Counselling 24HR Services Inc", which gives a Tauranga number on the Yellow Pages site. A few cursory searches didn't come up with anything about them, but there is no such incorporated society listed in the Voluntary Organisations Register (the aforementioned PCS is the closest in terms of name).

The remaining listings, of the 52 total, don't appear to offer counselling, but cover such services as midwifery, family planning, maternity, fertility and baby clothing and the like.

Going solely on the Yellow Pages site, it appears that there are three organisations that dominate pregancy counselling in NZ; Pregnancy Counselling Services, Family Life International and Pregnancy Help Inc. Two of these, as explained above, are clearly anti-abortion organisations, the third doesn't appear, from my cursory investigations, to have an opinion. And it is PCS and FLI who certainly dominate the Yellow Pages listing.

Now the Abortion Services in NZ counselling page has some interesting information. It's clear that many of those who receive counselling will do so via another medical service that they access eg GP, hospital, clinic, etc. The Abortion Supervisory Committee's standards of practice for counselling seem to apply mainly to these situations.

But I suspect that many women who find themselves pregnant and unsure about it are going to find the provision of 0800 numbers highly attractive. It's likely they'll prefer an anonymous counselling session over the phone to fronting up to the family GP for the very first conversation on their options. If they turn first to the Yellow Pages, to find that number, it's highly likely they'll end up chatting with a member of a group that is staunchly anti-abortion, which is bound to undermine the informed consent process.

Wouldn't it be great if there was an independent pregnancy counselling services, with a nationwide free phone line, a 24 hour service, and enough money to advertise widely enough that it was the clear first option to call, rather than relying on groups whose commitment to empowering women through honest and open discussions of their options was limited by their pro-life stanch?

In related news, Ms Magazine is running a campaign to show that the women who have abortions are real, that it's a choice not just made by Those Loose Chicks In That Part of the City I Don't Live In.

*Unfortunately the article itself doesn't seem to be available online, but there is an update on the campaign sparked by Senator Natasha Stott Despoja's bill to seek transparency about the nature of pregnancy counselling lines.
** Initially I searched for "abortion counselling" and "pregnancy counselling" on the Yellow Pages site. Both of these searches only brought up one result - Family Life International. From their listing I noticed the category "Pregnancy services" which is the list the above analysis is from.


Chaucey said...

Very interesting Span. There was a recent tv programme where this topic was explored, maybe it was "without a trace".
The girl went to a fake clinic where they kept making excuses to not perform an abortion until it was too late for her to legally get one. It was very thought provoking.

Span said...

I haven't seen that episode, but that kind of situation in real life would be very sad.

On some of the American feminist blogs there's been quite a lot of coverage lately of a blogger called Biting Beaver who was denied emergency contraception and subsequently has ended up pregnant and now has to get an abortion. I haven't been following it in detail, but she has been facing a lot of criticism about the abortion (not from the other feminists!) when the problem here was actually that she was denied EC by pro-life medicos. I'll see if I can find a link to her post about her conversation trying to get the emergency contraception.

I find it incredibly frustrating that it is sometimes the same people who say "no you shouldn't use contraception" who also say "no abortions either" - how can women avoid pregnancy if they follow these dictates??

Ghet said...

Lesbianism, Span. I have to assume that the whole 'can't have contraception can't have an abortion can't be a single mother' brigade are trying to promote lesbian sex. Can't get pregnant from it, can't even catch AIDS from it, and as we know God invented AIDS to punish sinners, Lesbians must therefore be God's chosen people.

This whole thing just makes me nauseous. I've sat and held the hands of two friends in abortion clinics, one of whom was pressured into it by her boyfriend. Neither of them had told their families or any but their closest friends, so the normal avenues of support are cut off at what is a hugely traumatic time. For other people to use that vulnerability to push their own agenda, no matter what that agenda is, is disgusting.

Span said...

Here is a link to Biting Beaver's experience trying to get emergency contraception (in the USA). If you are interested there are more posts on her blog detailing what happened next, as she did end up pregnant and has now had an abortion.

As for lesbianism Ghet, it would seem a preferable choice to abstinence!

muerk said...

"I've sat and held the hands of two friends in abortion clinics, one of whom was pressured into it by her boyfriend. Neither of them had told their families or any but their closest friends, so the normal avenues of support are cut off"

I'm involved with the people who run FLI in Christchurch and that's exactly why these people do what they do. If women are feeling pressured into an abortion FLI will front up and provide whatever support a woman needs in order to be able to keep her baby. And it's not aupport that stops at some point either, there is an ongoing commitment to these women and their children.

I can't speak for other organisations, but I know that FLI is up front on their website as to their nature and pro-life message. No one is required to contact them and for some women the organisation has given them a vital chance to be able to keep thier wanted baby and to avoid a pressured abortion.

Span said...

I have absolutely no problem with support that is centred on giving the woman the right to choose. That definitely includes choosing not to have an abortion.

But what would the FLI response be to women who contact their counselling service and do genuinely want an abortion?

This is, I think, one of the most difficult things to discuss without giving or taking offence. I'm really glad that hasn't happened here. I sure that FLI's support is appreciated and valuable for many many of the women they help. But I do feel uncomfortable about a staunchly pro-life group being the most likely organisation a woman seeking pregnancy counselling from the Yellow Pages would find.

Thanks for your comment muerk, I appreciate what you have shared.

muerk said...

(I'm posting this on behalf of muerk who emailed it to me as comments seemed to be in a bad mood at the time - Span)

"But what would the FLI response be to women who contact their
counselling service and do genuinely want an abortion?"

Love, encouragement and hope.

My guess (and it is only a guess since I don't counsel pregnant women)
is that they would be very open about their anti-abortion stance. Now I
know that each 'side' changes the name of the other, so we get
pro-choice becoming pro-abortion and pro-life being anti-choice, but I
think it is safe to say that FLI is openly and unashamedly anti-abortion
and anti that as a choice too, being honest.

Now politically this rhetoric isn't popular, but lets face it, it's the

Now FLI don't contact women, it's women who decide to talk to them. So
my guess is that they would offer information about what help they could
give and then the woman would have to seek out help elsewhere in order
to obtain the abortion and the door would always be open if they want to
talk about their pregnancy more.

I have seen pamphlets at FLI's place and these are in the vein of "your
baby in the first trimester" and I know they will pay for a sonogram for
women who are considering abortion so that they can see their baby, they
also have infomation on adoption.

Some may see this as manipulation, however that's the idea in a way - to
help persuade women to choose to bear their babies. To show them what
their pregancy means.

I know these people are honest and wouldn't lie, but they aren't there
to help women make a choice in a value-neutral way. These people (and me
too) really do think abortion is murder and they sincerely want to save
these babies' lives and save a woman from future hurt. We can't be
neutral about that. We'd be sociopaths if we could.

And if it takes supporting these mothers forever more, then so be it. It
really is seen as a lifelong commitment to the child and the mother.

It's the women that contact them and it's the women who maintain contact
with them. They could easily decide it's not for them and walk into
Family Planning.

Also the place is _screamingly_ Catholic with pictures of Jesus and Mary
and the Pope for miles, there's rosaries on the walls and prayer cards
on shelves. You'd have to be from Mars to miss the Church's input into
the place.

To put a real face on this I have met a baby whose life was saved by
FLI. The young mother (17) was raped, the baby has Down Syndrome and the
mum's family wanted her to abort. On top of that the mum has a short
term memory problem which means she can't care for bubs without
supervision. She forgets to change nappies, bathe, feed etc.

Mum and baby are being fostered by a Catholic family whose children are
grown and who has one Down son of their own. Mum loves her baby and
wants to care for her but can't without support. These people took her
and baby in so that she can stay with her. And they have the skills to
help because they had a Down baby of their own - who is now a lovely
young man.

This will possibly be a 20+ years commitment. But I have to say that wee
baby, she was 3 months old when I met her, is the most beautiful little
person with the bluest wee eyes and the sweetest smile and giggle on
her. She exists because her mum really wanted to keep her and because
people were prepared to help her, even to the point of giving her a

I'm sorry this post was so long, but I wanted you to understand that we
want to be the first pregnancy counselling call for mums in trouble.
Society seems (to us) to be so cold about women and their babies. Almost
as though abortion makes a problem go away. We feel lost in a sea of
calmness and acceptance about abortion.

The sad thing is that we see the good intentions on the other side.