An organisation set up to provide “a constructive and compassionate alternative to abortion” has been providing counselling services at a London hospital’s termination clinic for the last four years under an NHS contract.
Seen Charity, formerly called the Crossway Pregnancy Crisis Centre, has been contracted to give counselling at West Middlesex University Hospital’s termination clinic in Twickenham, southwest London, since 2019. Records show that Seen has given and accepted donations from the Pregnancy Centres Network during this time, which has previously collaborated with a Christian anti-abortion lobbying group and focuses on Christian ethics around abortion care.
Reproductive rights advocates told VICE News it was “extremely concerning” to discover that a group with links to anti-abortion organisations could be operating within the national health service.
A spokesperson from the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust of which the West Middlesex hospital is part of told VICE News a counsellor from the charity attends a weekly termination clinic, and that counsellors attend roughly 4 hours a month at an average cost of £300. The spokesperson said no evidence of an anti-abortion approach had been observed from their counselling notes, or from any feedback on Seen. But the spokesperson added that “the current contract is up for renewal, and we will be reviewing the arrangements and considering next steps for the service.”
“Although we cannot comment on wider NHS policy, as a trust we seek assurances from contractors that the counselling services they provide meet professional standards and are non-judgemental. Seen Charity have confirmed with our Trust that they have no links to anti-abortion networks,” the spokesperson said.
Seen did not respond to multiple requests for comment from VICE News. The disclosure around the charity’s work at the hospital comes after VICE News revealed the NHS website was directing individuals to seven “crisis pregnancy centres,” which have been labelled “fake clinics” and faced criticism for lack of regulation and attempts to persuade people against seeking terminations.
The Crossway Pregnancy Crisis Centre – now called Seen – was set up in 1999 and achieved charitable or non-profit status in 2005. According to Seen’s website, it only offers unbiased help and counselling. The charity is run out of an evangelical church in Twickenham. According to Seen accounts, 271 patients were given counselling between 2019 and 2021.
Matthew Richards, the unit manager of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service’s abortion clinic in nearby Richmond, told VICE News that Crossway Pregnancy Crisis Centre approached the clinic in 2018 or 2019 to offer a counselling service. Crossway made assurances that it was not anti-abortion and had changed how the organisation was run, he said.
Within a week, Richards said that one of the BPAS clients who had been signposted to the centre’s counselling services had contacted BPAS to say they felt the counselling they received following their termination, which was in the church Crossway is run out of, was “pushing a religious motive. It was very much anti-abortion. They were very unhappy.”
BPAS “completely disengaged” with the group following the experience, Richards said.
Christine Scott, a GP, was previously a director of the Crossway Pregnancy Crisis Centre and helped to set the group up. In 2013 she wrote in a publication from the Christian Medical Fellowship that “our parish contains one of the largest private abortion clinics in the UK” and that the Centre developed “in response to the desire to provide a constructive and compassionate alternative to abortion.”
Pregnancy Centres Network, the charity that Seen receives annual grants from in addition to donating back to it, helps new so-called crisis pregnancy centres set themselves up in addition to offering training courses on what it describes as “pregnancy choices” and “post abortion support”.
It says on its website: “We exist to resource and encourage pregnancy centres in their work of non-directive support for those facing unplanned pregnancy or struggling with pregnancy/child loss concerns, exercised with care and compassion based on Christian principles. We are currently in touch with more than 70 centres across the UK.”
The anti-abortion lobbying group CARE (Christian Action Research and Education) has previously held a partnership with the Pregnancy Centres Network via their OPEN initiative, where retreats and events are held for those who have experienced miscarriage or “where crisis pregnancy and post abortion concerns can be shared.” CARE has also previously expressed its support for the Pregnancy Centres Network, and says it has helped to equip and encourage volunteers there.
Pregnancy Centres Network hosts annual conferences and later this year will host Professor John Wyatt, who has previously spoken at anti-abortion conferences about ethics, as well as Dr Susan Barnes who is described as a “committed Christian” and who will run a seminar on the “physical and psychological effects of abortion”. Barnes is a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at West Middlesex University Hospital, the same hospital where Seen has a contract.
Seen did not respond to repeated requests for comment regarding its views, financial relationship with a group associated with an anti-abortion network or the qualifications of its hospital counsellors. In its charity accounts, Seen states that it was set up by a group of Christians in the Twickenham area who “wanted to provide a different response to the polarised pro-life or pro-choice debate. Its creation was the practical expression of the desire to offer unconditional and non-directive support to people with unplanned pregnancies.” It adds, “It is of central importance that this is a non-campaigning organisation, that it has no political position, and that it only seeks to offer unbiased help, counselling and education services.”
“It is extremely concerning to hear about the findings linking Seen Charity to anti-abortion individuals and networks,” said Dr Hayley Webb, a London GP and co-chair of Doctors for Choice UK, a group that campaigns for abortion rights. “I would worry about how a charity with such clear anti-abortion links could provide impartial advice, even if they may be under the impression that they are doing so. They may be using stigmatising language, whether aware or unaware of the harms caused by this.”
Webb added that in visiting Seen Charity’s website, its “unplanned pregnancy” section used terms like child and baby, words which are not recommended by healthcare providers who instead use terms like foetus, embryo and “the pregnancy.”
In Britain, the Abortion Act 1967 made abortion legal up to 23 weeks and 6 days of pregnancy, though there is no gestational limit if there’s evidence of a fatal foetal abnormality or risk to life.
Seen says on its website that it holds itself to the ethical framework for good practice for counselling and psychotherapy as laid down by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). The charity has not responded to requests from VICE News about whether all of its staff that provide counselling for NHS patients are registered with the BACP or not.
Anybody in the UK can call themselves a counsellor without any specific training or qualification, as it is not a protected title. It is not compulsory for those seeking abortion care to be routinely offered counselling, but it should be a standardised part of the wider service offer, according to government guidelines.
Lisa Hallgarten from Brook, a charity supporting young people’s sexual wellbeing, said it was “concerning to know that organisations like these could be practising not just in the community, but within our national health service.”
“There is no national framework to address the provision of pre-abortion consultation by groups in the community, or to define good practice in delivery or commissioning of these services,” she said.
“So we continue to be concerned about the spectrum of practice from groups providing an ethical service i.e. accurate information and impartial support, to groups and individuals that are driven by their opposition to abortion and are unprofessional, stigmatising and deliberately obstructive.”