Pro-life protesters in Washington, DC. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Pro-life organisations are sneaking in to the lives of vulnerable women

Women with unwanted pregnancies need support, not biased misinformation.

Allow me to introduce you to Ella. Ella's pregnant, but she's scared about how her abusive partner, “who can be so sweet sometimes”, will react. “Instead of joy, she feels only terror,” says a video made by Life, a pro-life charity. “It’s all my fault. I’ve got no choice," she thinks, heading to an abortion clinic. “This time next week it will all be over,” says the anonymous doctor, as he hands over what seems to be red abortion ticket.

So begins the fundraising video released a three weeks ago by Life, an organisation that purports to offer non-directive counselling for pregnant women. The video highlights the very real link that sometimes exists between domestic abuse and abortion, and then asks for your money to help fund their help lines.

Women with unwanted pregnancies are in an extremely vulnerable position. Women who are also victims of domestic abuse, even more so. Supportive, unbiased advice and counselling is invaluable in these situations. Yet, a report released earlier this year by Brook, the sexual health charity, found that people working at Life were offering pregnant women with inaccurate and often emotive advice, such as telling women that there is “strong evidence [of an] increase in the possibility of breast cancer following termination of pregnancy”, and that “it is possible that you will be on your own when you abort your baby, you know, possibly in the toilet, that’s what usually happens”. Life have naturally criticised the report’s findings, saying that Brook has failed to differentiate between Life’s pro-life ethos, and the professional counselling they provide in the care room. Yet, on their own website, Life states that they “are open about our ideology instead of pretending we are neutral and don't have one”. Impartial indeed.

Abortions do not increase the risk of developing breast cancer, and Life themselves even lament the fact that they are missing “women in danger of going down the abortion road. In short, we are not saving lives on the scale that we used to do” (my italics). Crisis Pregnancy Centres (CPCs) have been around for a while, but they are on the rise in the UK. As Life has clearly realised, they are having to be evermore creative about the ways in which they target pregnant, often desperate, women.

Brook estimates that there are over 100 CPCs in the UK at the moment, but because they don’t refer women for abortions they are unregulated bodies. The real number may be higher. Some centres operate from GP practices, and Brook even found evidence of CPCs counselling women in prison. Access to medical advice in prison can often be stilted, but still these bodies act (in full knowledge of the NHS) to delay women’s access to abortion, with the risk to the women’s wellbeing increasing as they do so.

I said earlier that the link between domestic violence, or certainly emotional abuse, and forced terminations is real, and it is. As the Finding Hope video tells us, one in four women who seek abortion are victims of domestic abuse, and Life say that they merely hope to "raise awareness" of this fact, and to "reach out and empower women in this situation". Last month, the Independent published a heart-breaking interview with a woman who had been forced by her husband on two occasions to terminate a pregnancy against her will, because an ultrasound scan showed the gender of the unborn baby to be female. The Public Library of Science (PLOS) published a report earlier this year, confirming a link between domestic violence and terminations.

As real as the connection may be, it is only a fraction of the picture. There is also a well-documented trend of men using coerced pregnancies to control women, and of women wanting an abortion for any number of other reasons: failed contraception, poverty, rape, I could go on. Most importantly, a woman may choose to have an abortion because she chooses to have a say in what happens to her body. CPCs say that their work is based on respect for life, but the lives of women are apparently secondary.

Organisations like Life and Care Confidential, which is the other main CPC provider in the UK, do not seem interested in this. They claim to be non-directive, but invoke religious rhetoric to steer women away from abortion: “I do believe that God gives a gift of a baby,” said one Care Confidential counsellor in Reading.  Hiding behind unassuming premises and emotive campaigns, CPCs creep into the minds of vulnerable women, targeting them when they are at their most open to manipulation.

Three-quarters of Britons are pro-choice, and perhaps that is why these pro-life campaigns have had to become more veiled in their tactics. In some ways, perhaps we should be thankful; we haven’t yet had here the US trend for sending ‘Before I Formed You in the Womb’ cards to abortion providers and paediatricians, let alone physical attacks on doctors perform terminations. Still, the emotional manipulation is insidious, and many women may find more than hope in the rooms of these clinics. Women like Ella, pregnant, abused, need to have a better way out. 

Amy Hawkins is a student at the University of Cambridge and deputy editor of Varsity, the student newspaper. Follow her on Twitter @DHawkins93.

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It's easy to see where Berlin is being rebuilt – just hit the streets

My week, from walking the streets of Berlin to class snobbery and the right kind of gentrification.

Brick by brick, block by block, the people are rebuilding the city once called Faust’s Metropolis. To see it clearly, put your boots on. One of the most bracing walks starts by the Gethsemane Church, which served as a haven for dissenters in the last days of the GDR and takes you down ­towards the Hackescher Markt.

Here, in what is still the eastern half of a divided city that wears its division more lightly, is a Berlin experience both old and new. In three decades of frequent visits, it has been fascinating to note how much this part of town has changed. Even a decade ago these streets were rundown. With crumbling buildings showing bulletholes, it wasn’t hard to imagine what the place looked like in 1945. Now there are lilacs, blues, and yellows. Cafés, bars and restaurants abound, serving the young professionals attracted to the city by cheap rents and a renewed sense of community.

 

Breaking the fourth wall

Looking north along Schliemannstraße, you’ll find a delightful vista of well-tended balconies. It’s a pleasant place to live, notwithstanding the gaggle of grotesques who gather round the corner in the square. On Kastanienallee, which forms the second leg of the walk, an old city feels young. It’s a kind of gentrification but the right kind. There’s more to eat, to drink, to buy, for all.

Berlin, where Bertolt Brecht staged his unwatchable plays, was supposed to have been transformed by a proletarian revolution. Instead, it has been restored to health by a very middle-class one. Germany has always had a well-educated middle class, and the nation’s restoration would have impossible without such people. The irony is delicious – not that irony buttered many parsnips for “dirty Bertie”.

 

The new snobbery

The British Museum’s survey of German history “Memories of a Nation” is being presented at the Martin-Gropius-Bau as “The British View”. Germans, natürlich, are curious to see how we observe them. But how do they see us?

A German friend recently in England  said that the images that struck him most forcibly were the tins of food and cheap booze people piled up in supermarkets, and the number of teenage girls pushing prams. Perhaps Neil MacGregor, the former director of the British Museum who will shortly take up a similar role here at the new Humboldt Forum, may turn his attention to a “German View” of the United Kingdom.

There’s no shortage of material. In Schlawinchen, a bar that typifies Kreuzberg’s hobohemia, a college-educated English girl was trying to explain northern England to an American she had just met. Speaking in an ugly modern Mancunian voice that can only be acquired through years of practice (sugar pronounced as “sug-oar”), she refer­red to Durham and York as “middle class, you know, posh”, because those cities had magnificent cathedrals.

When it comes to inverted snobbery, no nation can match us. To be middle class in Germany is an indication of civic value. In modern England, it can mark you as a leper.

 

Culture vultures

The Humboldt Forum, taking shape by the banks of the Spree, reconsecrates the former site of the GDR’s Palace of the Republic. When it opens in 2018 it will be a “living exhibition”, dedicated to all the cultures of the world. Alexander von Humboldt, the naturalist and explorer, was the brother of Wilhelm, the diplomat and philosopher, whose name lives on in the nearby university.

In Potsdamerplatz there are plans to build a modern art museum, crammed in between the Neue Nationalgalerie and the Philharmonie, home to the Berlin Philharmonic. Meanwhile, the overhaul of the Deutsche Staatsoper, where Daniel Barenboim is music director for life, is likely to be completed, fingers crossed, next autumn.

Culture everywhere! Or perhaps that should be Kultur, which has a slightly different meaning in Germany. They take these things more seriously, and there is no hint of bogus populism. In London, plans for a new concert hall have been shelved. Sir Peter Hall’s words remain true: “England is a philistine country that loves the arts.”

 

European neighbours

When Germans speak of freedom, wrote A J P Taylor, a historian who seems to have fallen from favour, they mean the freedom to be German. No longer. When modern Germans speak of freedom, they observe it through the filter of the European Union.

But nation states are shaped by different forces. “We are educated to be obedient,” a Berlin friend who spent a year at an English school once told me. “You are educated to be independent.” To turn around Taylor’s dictum: when the English speak of freedom,
they mean the freedom to be English.

No matter what you may have heard, the Germans have always admired our independence of spirit. We shall, however, always see “Europe” in different ways. Europe, good: we can all agree on that. The European Union, not so good. It doesn’t mean we have to fall out, and the Germans are good friends to have.

 

Hook, line and sinker

There are fine walks to be had in the west, too. In Charlottenburg, the Kensington of Berlin, the mood is gentler, yet you can still feel the city humming. Here, there are some classic places to eat and drink – the Literaturhauscafé for breakfast and, for dinner, Marjellchen, a treasure trove of east Prussian forest delights. Anything that can be shot and put in a pot!

For a real Berlin experience, though, head at nightfall for Zwiebelfisch, the great tavern on Savignyplatz, and watch the trains glide by on the other side of Kantstraße. Hartmut Volmerhaus, a most amusing host, has been the guvnor here for more than 30 years and there are no signs that his race is run. The “Fisch” at twilight: there’s nowhere better to feel the pulse of this remarkable city. 

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage