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Pro-life ‘crisis pregnancy centre’ set to open in Edinburgh city-centre next term

American pro-life group Stanton International plans to launch a ‘crisis pregnancy centre’ in Edinburgh in a move Back Off Scotland’s co-founder says “should worry us all”.

The Student can exclusively reveal that the centre will open next term in a city centre location, putting it in close proximity to two of the city’s universities.

A Stanton centre in Belfast has been criticised for misleading visitors into believing that they provided terminations and that abortions can cause cancer and infertility.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh plans to help publicise the clinic, according to a church newsletter.

Speaking to The Student, Lucy Grieve, the co-founder of clinic buffer zone advocacy group Back Off Scotland said:

“The opening of a ‘pregnancy crisis centre’ in Scotland should worry us all. These clinics are known to push harmful propaganda and act as a barrier to legitimate abortion care.

“Those accessing abortion need evidence-based care, anything less does not have a place in modern-day Scotland.”

Responding to this statement, a spokesperson for Stanton Healthcare in Edinburgh said:

“We’re sure a genuinely pro-choice viewpoint will welcome support and practical help being given to women who have requested it and have decided to keep their babies.”

The Student has learned of the location and timing of the new centre via email conversations with a representative from Stanton Healthcare in Edinburgh, as well as a student at the University of Edinburgh who reached out to The Student in support of the new centre.

Stanton Healthcare in Edinburgh describes itself on its website as “a pregnancy support service providing alternatives to abortion, advice and practical help.

“We exist to help women who need support in continuing their pregnancy.”

Crisis pregnancy centres, common in the United States, are non-profit groups which seek to encourage pregnant people not to have abortions.

Many operate above board, however some such clinics in the United States use incorrect medical and legal information in order to mislead visitors about pregnancy terminations.

Stanton Healthcare Belfast has been subject to criticism for providing misleading medical advice and for allegedly threatening people seeking abortions.

In 2021, an article by The Independent about abortion rights in Northern Ireland carried claims by Alliance for Choice co-convener Emma Campbell that the centre threatened pregnant visitors that their neighbours would be contacted if they elected to get an abortion.

Ms Campbell’s claims reported in the article further included allegations that the clinic was sending pregnant visitors for unnecessary scans in order to push them past the 12-week window during which abortions are allowed in Northern Ireland.

An investigation by The Times in 2018 saw an undercover reporter told she was “too beautiful for abortion” and that her breasts would “fill with cancer” if she went through with the procedure.

Further, the reporter was told that getting an abortion would cause her to become infertile.

Speaking to The Times, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Lesley Regan said that the claims Stanton Healthcare Belfast made about abortions causing breast cancer and infertility were untrue.

Stanton’s Belfast centre’s website also does not say that they are anti-abortion, and further notes that post-abortion pastoral care is available on-site.

A representative of Stanton Healthcare in Edinburgh said in an email conversation with The Student that the group disputes the claims made in the 2021 Independent article.

Further, the representative said:

“We’ve repeatedly asked the Times to substantiate their 2018 claims with a transcript or recording and they have been unable to do so.”

Stanton Healthcare in Edinburgh did not respond to a request to provide evidence for their claims that the two articles contained inaccurate information before time of publication.

Speaking to The Student, a spokeswoman for Stanton Healthcare in Edinburgh said:

“We know from experience that many women choose abortion reluctantly and without knowing what support is available. A key cause of abortion in Scotland is poverty and, according to Public Health Scotland, women in the most deprived areas have abortion rates twice as high as those in wealthy areas.

“It means women are being forced into abortion in Scotland by economic circumstances. According to the BBC, 15 per cent of women are pressured to have an abortion they didn’t want.

“Stanton Healthcare reduces this pressure and offers women alternatives to abortion including baby supplies, items such as prams and baby seats, tailored 1-2-1 ante-natal care, breast feeding support, help with appointments and travel, as well as benefits advice before and after birth.”

Stanton Healthcare in Edinburgh was in December 2021 involved in a row after Scotland’s charity regulator controversially gave the group charitable status.

At that time, Back Off Scotland said in a public statement:

“It is in our opinion that Stanton is an organisation with a long history of misleading women, providing erroneous clinical information to clients, and seeking to make political points through the exploitation of vulnerable people.

“The opening of such a centre in Scotland should give us all pause for thought.”

Stanton Healthcare in Edinburgh is a legally distinct entity from Stanton Healthcare Belfast, and the Edinburgh group has in the past said its medical advice would be based on NHS “You and Your Baby” information for expectant mothers.

A representative for Stanton Healthcare in Edinburgh said:

“We agree … that those accessing maternity services need evidence based care about all pregnancy options so they can make a fully informed choice.”

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh is involved in publicising the centre.

According to an archdiocese newsletter from October 2021, it intends to “support Stanton’s much needed work through our parishes, the pro-life network and our communication resources.”

An informational flyer from the archdioce’s pro-life office about Stanton further discusses their involvement with the centre, reading:

“[T]he Archdiocese supports Stanton’s work through the Pro-Life Office by raising awareness of its services in our parishes with the help of the Archdiocesan Communications Directorate and through parish pro-life representatives.”

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh said to The Student:

“The Archdiocese endorses all manner of pro-life organisations which offer women alternatives to abortion should they want it. We look forward to seeing this pregnancy support centre open soon.”

The spokesman further said that the archdiocese had no formal ties to Stanton Healthcare in Edinburgh.

The archdiocese’s pro-life officer Paul Atkin is listed in a Companies House filing as one of the four directors of the charity behind Stanton’s Edinburgh operations.

The Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh told The Student that Mr Atkin is serving in that role as a private citizen, not as a representative of the archdiocese.

Mr Atkin has previously publicly opposed abortion clinic buffer zones, having in 2021 urged Edinburgh councillors as a private citizen to reject a petition to create 150-metre no-protest areas around clinics.

Mary, a 4th year Mathematics student, spoke positively of the new centre, saying to The Student:

“I’m delighted at the announcement that Stanton are opening a crisis pregnancy centre in the heart of Edinburgh.

“They are an organisation which empowers women, allowing them to choose life for their baby despite the range of difficult circumstances in which they might find themselves. 

“It is very important that Stanton will open in an area populated with many students as this will allow them to practically support students, helping them continue their pregnancies as well as their studies.”

Amidst an increase in pro-life organising and activity in Scotland, the Scottish Government has announced an intention to put buffer zone legislation to Parliament.

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, 12 May, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that she plans to chair a summit on buffer zones and barriers to accessing abortion services.

The First Minister stressed that legislation put to Parliament would have to be robust enough to avoid legal challenges currently holding up a similar law in Northern Ireland.

Also on 12 May, Women’s Health Minister Maree Todd confirmed that in-home self-administered abortions, introduced to Scotland during the pandemic, would be made permanent going forward.

Abortion rights are a devolved matter, meaning decisions on them lie with the Scottish Parliament rather than Westminster.

Stanton International did not respond to requests for comment for this piece.

If you have been impacted by any of the issues raised in this piece, pregnancy services are available for free on the NHS in Edinburgh and the Lothians via Chalmers Sexual Health Centre. You can find more information about their services here.

The University of Edinburgh provided further resources to The Student, with a spokesperson saying:

“Supporting our students’ health and wellbeing is an absolute priority for the University. As well as our own health and wellbeing services, we want to ensure students are aware of the NHS services available to them.

“Free sexual health care and advice is available to all students through NHS Lothian Sexual Health, including emergency contraception, pregnancy support, and guidance and advice. Details can be found on our website here.

“The University’s Health & Wellbeing Centre at 7 Bristo Square is the main base for Student Counselling and Disability Services, the Sexual Violence & Harassment Liaison Manager, the University Health Centre and the independent Pharmacy. More information can be found here.

“The University Health Service is an independent medical practice. It offers full GP services to patients who live in the practice area.”

ImagePro-choice Activists Demonstrate Against The ‘Rally for Life’ by William Murphyis licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

By Joe Sullivan

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