The NHS Website Promoted 7 Counselling Centres Linked to Anti-Abortion Groups

Exclusive: Users were directed to “crisis pregnancy centres” affiliated with anti-abortion networks for antenatal, carer and mental health support.
Photo: NHS website

The website for the National Health Service (NHS) in England and Wales promoted the services of “crisis pregnancy” centres, which are affiliated with anti-abortion networks in the UK and which are not part of the formal referral system for abortion care. 

VICE News discovered NHS pages for seven such centres, described as “staggering” by British abortion care providers. 


So-called “crisis pregnancy” centres usually claim to offer choices and judgement-free counselling to individuals seeking advice. Some are independently run as charities, often with support from a local church or anti-abortion network.

But they have also been labelled "fake clinics" and faced criticism for their lack of regulation and attempts to dissuade individuals from seeking terminations, sometimes with medical disinformation.

An NHS spokesperson told VICE News the listings would be removed. The seven centres spanned England, covering areas in London as well as across the centre and south of the country. 

This follows an investigation from us last year that revealed the NHS website had directed users to an anti-abortion group’s local services in the English Midlands under “antenatal classes.”

The seven pages had all been uploaded automatically by third party providers, including Netmums, a resource website for parents, Serco, a public service provider, and Youth Access, a national network of youth and counselling services. Netmums was the third party responsible for the anti-abortion group listing VICE News discovered last year. 

A spokesperson for Netmums said that the page “clearly contravened” its own site’s terms and conditions around user-generated material.

A sign for a crisis pregnancy centre in Massachusetts in the US, pictured in July last year. Photo: Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

A sign for a crisis pregnancy centre in Massachusetts in the US, pictured in July last year. Photo: Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

After someone is considered a suitable contributor to the NHS’ online directory services, there is no approval process for the content posted.


The centres had either been listed as antenatal classes, pregnancy testing, carer centres or mental health centres in the NHS services directory. 

“We are pleased that these listings have been removed,” said Katherine O’Brien, a spokesperson for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service. “However, it is staggering that the NHS website has been signposting to anti-abortion organisations at all. It is nearly a year since VICE first highlighted this issue, yet still there appears to be no real process in place to vet the organisations listed.” 

“This is serious – we know that so-called crisis pregnancy centres can cause immense harm and distress, spread medical misinformation, and try to prevent women from accessing safe, legal abortion treatment. It is one thing to remove these links when asked, but safeguards must be put in place to prevent this from happening again.”

When VICE News alerted the third party providers of the listings, they were all removed.

A spokesperson from Youth Access said: “We believe that young people should be able to access high quality advice and counselling services that respect their rights and meet their individual needs. To be a Youth Access member, organisations commit to implementing our values and principles in their work. In light of this investigation being brought to our attention, we are taking action to assure ourselves that service listings align with our values.”  


Netmums said: “Some establishments list themselves as pregnancy crisis centres because they provide listening services and support but do not provide referrals for abortions.”

“We don’t believe in the use of vague wording to obscure the type of services that are provided. In this case, visitors who follow the link to the official websites will see the services that these establishments do – and don’t – provide.”

“We urge all women looking for health advice to speak to their GP or the NHS first, especially regarding pregnancy – whether planned or unplanned.”

A Serco spokesperson confirmed that the listings VICE News raised would be removed from the NHS website, and added that Serco was not the originator of the information. They declined to comment on who was. 

Louise McCudden, UK head of external affairs for MSI Reproductive Choices, said: “Medical misinformation, especially when targeted at people seeking a time sensitive procedure like abortion, can be extremely dangerous. While it is good news that these listings have now been taken down, it's important to make sure that any NHS signposting only directs people to clinically reputable organisations, to ensure this doesn't happen again.”

A spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said:

“It is vital that women and people have access to high-quality and non-judgemental information and advice about abortion throughout their lives to support them making informed decisions.”