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A controversial pro-life charity is currently offering pregnancy support service on campus.
The group, which advertises free pregnancy testing, counselling and advice on posters around campus, is provided by LIFE, an organisation whose mission is to “uphold the utmost respect for human life from fertilisation (conception) until natural death”. The posters that have been put up around campus give no indication that the service is pro-life.
The service, which started in January, comes onto campus on Saturdays from 11am-2pm and meets in Grizedale Porter’s Lodge. They were given permission to meet in Grizedale by the college principal, after consultation.
In the latest LIFE newsletter, the establishment of the Lancaster University service was front-page news. Chris Doyle, Caring Officer for LIFE commented: “We have received tremendous support from several members of staff who negotiated with the Students’ Union. We were then allowed to have our own stall at the Freshers’ Fair and staff have welcomed us and helped publicise the service.” Freshers’ Fair was three months before the charity began its counselling service, which has not received Students’ Union support.
Pete Macmillan, LUSU Vice President (Equality, Welfare and Diversity) explains that the Union would always advise students to seek unbiased, medical advice when contemplating a termination. “I had my suspicions that the [LIFE] group was pro-life and as such we as a Students’ Union have not supported it in any way as we see it as a clear freedom of choice matter for the student and if there was to be a situation where a student came into the Education and Support Unit of LUSU our first advice would be to go to the GP Practice,” he said.
With regard to pregnancy, LUSU advises students to visit their GP and provides links to pro-choice charities Marie Stopes International and The Family Planning Association.
Macmillan added: “The GP practice is well equipped to support students in this situation. I think it is fair to say that the GP practice would provide unbiased support as would most medical services in town.”
British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) also commented, on the emergence of LIFE on Lancaster’s campus. A spokesperson said: “We are concerned to hear that LIFE, an organisation fundamentally opposed to abortion, is now the only service offering unplanned pregnancy advice to students on campus at Lancaster University. We believe most women facing an unintended pregnancy would prefer to talk to someone who does not believe that one of the options open to them is wrong, and who can provide them with facts about abortion based on scientific research rather than opinion”.
They added: “This is one of the issues about organisations like LIFE saying they offer ‘non-directive counselling’. [T]his doesn’t mean very much if the information they are providing is skewed by their views on abortion being wrong”.
Nevertheless, students may require extra support beyond healthcare provided by a GP, particularly as many students live away from their family. According to recent figures, women aged between 18 and 24 are most likely to have an abortion, suggesting support is most crucial during the years a woman spends in university.
On the LIFE’s website, the charity lists its objectives as offering non-directive counselling and information on pregnancy, pregnancy loss and abortion; offering practical and emotional support to help women continue their pregnancy and supporting them for as long afterwards as necessary; and educating the public, but most importantly young people, about the rights and dignity of each person.
However, national reports of the charity’s counselling service suggests the counselling becomes more forceful and less unbiased if a woman starts considering abortion. Ann Furedi, the Chief Executive of the BPAS, wrote in article for the online campaign site spiked-online.com: “LIFE does not accept that abortion is a legitimate and safe choice for a woman. When a woman requests an abortion, LIFE counsellors believe it to be in her interests to dissuade her – so they do their best to persuade her it’s a bad idea. They may concede that it is a legal option, but they are clear that it is a worse option than continuing the pregnancy: having the baby, in their view, is always the preferable option.”
As a registered charity, LIFE does provide a service for many women with unplanned pregnancies. It opposes abortion but, should a woman not want to consider abortion and is committed to having their baby and either raising the child or putting it up for it for adoption, LIFE provides assistance. Women are helped with accommodation, and many of the financial costs young children bring, such as baby clothes and toys. The group helps teach women parenting skills, and sometimes acts as a mediator between young parents and their families.
BPAS recognises that the charity provides help and support for a specific group of women, and many students could fall into this category. However, this is not going to apply to every student needing support for an unplanned pregnancy. According to Furedi: “Those considering pregnancy termination, who stumble into LIFE’s counselling service on the misapprehension that they provide comprehensive, non-directive counselling, are ill-served: often subjected to gruesome videos of what abortion involves and information that exaggerates the risks of the procedure.”
The campaign group Abortion Rights said: “Young women dealing with unplanned pregnancy need accurate, non-judgmental advice about all their options. LIFE is opposed to abortion in all circumstances and would like to see it outlawed altogether. Access to information about sexual health, contraception and pregnancy is vital for young people’s physical and emotional wellbeing.
“Unfortunately this is another example of how cutbacks are threatening access to high-quality services and forcing people to rely on biased, non-NHS service provision for their basic healthcare needs.”
Students have expressed shock that a pro-life group has been authorised onto campus. Victoria Crosbie, a third year student said: “The University or LUSU must investigate whether these claims are true, and if so why has this group been allowed onto campus as an unbiased organisation”.
She added, “It is not only misleading but [demonstrates] the need for the University to provide an alternative service. These girls are away from home and in a very vulnerable position and should not be directed by a group whose intention is to influence their decision.”
A total of 189,574 abortions were performed in 2010, a 0.3% increase on the previous year. However, North Lancashire has a comparatively low rate of abortion, with a rate of 12.6 in 1000, compared to the national average of 17.5 per 1000. The rate of abortion for 18-19 year olds in North Lancashire is 18 in 1000 and 10 in 1000 for 20-24 year olds, compared to a national average of 30.7 in 1000 and 30.2 in 1000 respectively.
LIFE has recently been controversially invited to join the Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health and HIV which advises the government on sexual health.