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The Truth About Anti-Abortion Advertising

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Copyright © Pro-Choice Action Network, June 1999

Pro-Life BC is currently sponsoring several ads on local TV that try to persuade pregnant women to carry their pregnancies to term. Although these slick ads are subtle and reasonably tasteful, they represent the snowy-white tip of a very large and dirty iceberg. Most anti-choice propaganda uses misinformation and fear-mongering to dissuade women from having abortions.

More typical of anti-choice advertising is a recent 12-page insert in a local community newspaper. This insert is very similar to others that have appeared in community newspapers over the years -- they all contain the same twisted mass of misinformation. It would take a book to adequately refute the many errors in these ads, but let me address three of the most dangerous ones.

First, the anti-choice ads claim that abortion greatly increases the risk of breast cancer. Most scientific studies show no such link. The anti-choice rely on one or two flawed studies to make their claim, and deliberately ignore evidence contrary to their position. Many independent experts, including the Canadian Cancer Society, have concluded that a link between abortion and breast cancer has not been established. Even if a link did exist, the risk would be so miniscule as to be statistically insignificant. The anti-choice are shedding crocodile tears over the issue of breast cancer, because if they had any real concern for women, they would not bully them with false and threatening scare tactics.

Second, the anti-choice ads claim that abortion is physically risky for women, often resulting in serious complications, such as hemorrhage, perforation of the uterus or bowel, and a future risk of infertility or problem pregnancies. In reality, abortion is one of the simplest and safest medical procedures of all. In Canada, the maternal death rate for abortion is 0.1 per 100,000 procedures. Complications occur in about 1% of patients, the majority of them minor, such as fever or abdominal pain. Safe, early abortion has no effect on a woman's future ability to bear a healthy child. In contrast, in developing countries where abortion is illegal and unsafe, the maternal death rate for early abortion is 330 deaths per 100,000 procedures, and the rate of complications averages 25%, most of them severe, such as infertility or sepsis.

When a very rare maternal death from abortion occurs in North America, the anti-choice shed another flood of crocodile tears for women, publicizing it as an example of the dangers of abortion. Meanwhile, their proposed solution, illegal abortion, is one of the most efficient woman-killing machines ever invented.

Third, the anti-choice ads claim that abortion causes "post-abortion syndrome, " a condition characterized by serious and chronic psychological side-effects, including guilt, rage, nightmares, and sexual dysfunction. There is no such disorder. Most women feel primarily relief and happiness after their abortion, and never regret their decision. Any negative emotions that women experience tend to be mild and temporary, and often stem from the unwanted pregnancy itself, not the abortion. On rare occasions, some women do suffer chronic emotional after-effects from their abortion, but this is usually linked to other factors, such as previous psychiatric problems or a coerced abortion decision. Ironically, new mothers are much more likely to suffer serious psychological effects, such as post-partum depression.

When women do have some emotional problems with their abortion decision, what's really the root cause? The depiction of abortion as an immoral, shameful, and guilt-ridden activity has been honed to a fine art by the anti-choice. Women who arrive at abortion clinics are often surprised at the professional, compassionate care they receive. Apparently, they expect second-rate care, and an atmosphere of disapproval. That's because the public well has been poisoned by years of relentless anti-choice propaganda.

Various anti-choice agencies advertise that they help pregnant women in distress. But most, like Crisis Pregnancy Centres, do not refer for abortion, give out false information on abortion, and instill anxiety and guilt for an abortion decision. Some Christian counselling agencies claim to help vulnerable women who are troubled by a past abortion. Usually, they try to convince the woman that she murdered her own baby, then teach her to somehow forgive herself. Needless to say, such wounds may never heal.

The next time you see or read a "pro-life" advertisement, question the accuracy of every image and every word. Don't be swayed by a superficial, caring exterior, and don't be fooled by crocodile tears for women. The anti-choice agenda is profoundly anti-woman, even anti-child. Because if they really cared about babies, they would care about mothers just as much. Their supposed concern for the fetus disguises a lack of respect for all women, especially those who insist on controlling their own bodies and lives.

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