An anti-abortion group in the UK that gives talks to schoolchildren and medical professionals about what it terms “coerced abortion” is receiving tens of thousands of dollars from anonymous US-based backers, VICE World News can reveal.
Nearly £73,000 ($91,885, €85,330) has been donated anonymously via a donor agency called NPT Transatlantic in the past two years to the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child’s (SPUC) registered charity, one of the UK’s most active anti-abortion groups. The agency allows US and UK taxpayers to donate to organisations across the Atlantic without revealing their name and without qualifying for any tax deduction.
It is believed to be the first time that a donation of this kind – from a US donor to a British anti-abortion group – has been revealed.
While experts have been aware that funding may have been happening for some time, many groups have set up private companies or process grants through shell charities in order to hide where the money is coming from or going, or support has been targeted at providing resources for individuals, like the organiser of a recent anti-abortion protest outside a Scottish abortion clinic.
In its accounts, SPUC said it used the funding to teach primary school children about development in the womb and to organise a conference “aimed at medics to help them understand the tell-tale signs of coercive control from partners, sex traffickers, parents etc. who may force a woman/girl to have an abortion against her will” and to “train medics to recognise and prevent cases of coerced abortion.”
Rachael Clarke from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service said that the funding was “deliberately obfuscated and shadowy” and that the group’s agenda “dangerously blurs the lines between value judgement and social and clinical reality.”
Ruth Wareham, Education Policy Researcher at Humanists UK, said: "Any external organisation delivering Relationships and Sex Education [RSE] in schools ought to be doing so in a factually accurate, balanced manner, not using it as a vehicle to spread harmful, ideologically driven anti-abortion messages.
“The fact that SPUC is disingenuously trying to link their agenda to the very real problems of sexual coercion, abuse, and trafficking is particularly alarming. It also flies in the face of Government guidance which says that RSE teaching resources must be evidence-based and feature robust facts and statistics.”
Pam Lowe, Senior Lecturer at Aston University who researches anti-abortion sentiment in the UK, says that in Britain “the overwhelming majority of anti-abortion activists are motivated by conservative Christian beliefs” where women are seen as natural mothers, and that the high proportion of abortions is explained by seeing “all abortion as an outcome of pressure and coercion. This could be direct from partners, friends or family members, or indirectly from cultural ideas.
“By exposing, and giving support from this alleged coercion, anti-abortion activists believe that they will give space to women to recognise their natural maternal feelings and reject abortion.”
Although coerced abortion does happen, experts believe that organisations such as SPUC are falsely inflating the issue to persuade individuals to support an anti-abortion agenda. On its website, information around coerced abortion does not reference the research that has said findings in this area “do not support the assertion that women are frequently coerced into abortions, but rather, that they are more often coerced into continuing a pregnancy.”
SPUC also seem to be involving what they call ‘DIY abortion’ in its materials around coercion, a term that they use to describe telemedicine abortion. Also known as pills-by-post or at-home abortion, telemedicine abortion is widely supported by health bodies and gender violence charities – but often erroneously labelled by anti-abortion groups as ‘DIY abortion’ to make it sound less safe.
Recent legislative changes around telemedicine abortion in England and Scotland have made the practice permanent after countries introduced it during the pandemic. SPUC was active in campaigning against this law change, and announced a flurry of new initiatives in May, many of which appear to discuss this type of abortion.
In a YouTube video posted on the 17th of May, SPUC’s education and outreach manager Emmet Dooley says that he has a new presentation on “coercion and DIY abortion”, in which he goes from talking about any form of coercion to a section on “how this drastic change in abortion law was pushed through at the beginning of the COVID pandemic; what the reality of at-home abortion looks like. We read some stories that made the news and we hear from a courageous girl who regrets her abortion.”
Dr Jonathan Lord, consultant obstetrician and spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: “We are concerned that some anti-choice organisations and websites are providing biased and incorrect information that will further stigmatise abortion, and mislead young people to believe that at home early medical abortions are unsafe.
“The UK Government has approved the permanent provision of telemedicine for early medical abortions because there is a wealth of evidence to show that this telemedicine pathway is a safe and effective service which is preferred by women, and enables women to access abortion care sooner.
“It is vital that Relationships and Sex Education in schools provide factual, unbiased and evidence-based information about abortion care. All women and girls have the right to access non-judgemental abortion services, as an essential healthcare service.”
The presentation is one of nine that SPUC gives in schools as part of its “Love and Responsibility” package, which also teaches young people that sex is something to be “saved through the virtue of chastity.” Extensive research has demonstrated that comprehensive sex education delays sexual initiation and encourages safe sex practices more than abstinence-only education, which has additionally been found to promote sexist values.
In the same video, Dooley states that these presentations have been delivered in 10 percent of Scottish schools and are now being made available in the UK. His Instagram account shows he has spoken at schools in the last month in London, Plymouth and Birmingham.
In early May, SPUC also announced an “innovative new drama-based approach to key topics within the Relationships & Sex Education curriculum, which respects and promotes pro-life values” called Life Voice.
On its website, it states that the dramas are based on six real life testimonies surrounding crisis pregnancy and abortion. Its creative, cultural and youth development manager Tom Rogers said in a press release: “We have already delivered these sessions to over 1,000 students during our pilot period.”
In an email to a teacher obtained by VICE World News, Rogers said that they would also be sending a play to the Edinburgh Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival that takes place in Scotland every year, about “coercion and sexting”. SPUC told VICE World News that all of Life Voice’s upcoming performances this summer and autumn were about abortion, but the Edinburgh Fringe confirmed that the performance they had listed from Life Voice also did not mention the word.
Last month SPUC also ran two days of discussions with medical professionals in Edinburgh and London, where medics heard from anti-abortion speakers including a midwife who in 2014 lost a case in the Supreme Court that found she and a colleague did not have the right to avoid supervising other nurses involved in abortion procedures.
“Anti-choice groups like to claim they are concerned about coercion, but the answer to reproductive coercion is more choice, fewer barriers, and stronger reproductive rights,” said Louise McCudden, advocacy and public affairs adviser at MSI Reproductive Choices. She added that 9 out of 10 people in the UK support abortion rights.
“They’re deliberately using language which implies there is no support, safeguarding or scrutiny. In fact, abortion is one of the most heavily regulated areas of healthcare,” she said.
“SPUC has no pretence at impartiality and has shared untrue information in the past. The idea that this organisation should be trusted to manage sensitive discussions with young people on complex topics is truly alarming.”
McCudden added that the tactics anti-choice groups use to attack abortion rights in the UK is often “cut and paste” from the US. “Misinformation and feigning concern about young people are all textbook anti-choice moves from the US.”
In a statement, SPUC’s executive director of public affairs and legal services Michael Robinson said: “We agree with the Government that educational resources must be evidence-based and feature robust facts and statistics. We, therefore, follow this standard.”
SPUC did not respond to further requests for comment regarding the transparency of their US funding or claims that it links its agenda to other issues.
A spokesperson for NPT Transatlantic said: “NPT Transatlantic donors recommend grants that support a variety of organizations, all in good standing with the IRS or the Charity Commission of England and Wales (as applicable), which may be on differing sides of a cause.
“NPT Transatlantic does not take a position on which causes our donors support, however we carefully follow strict due diligence procedures to ensure compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.”