Dutch anti-choice organization spreads misleading information

Their promotional material can be found in GP practices and abortion clinics. Dutch media OneWorld fact-checked the information they were distributing and uncovered a website littered with misleading 'facts'. 

Lara Bullens
Lara Bullens NewsMavens, Western Europe
Dutch anti-choice organization spreads misleading information - NewsMavens
Promotional flag that can be bought on Er Is Hulp's website. It says: "Every life is protected"

Why this story matters:

"Er is Hulp" is the assistance department of the Christian, pro-life foundation "Schreeuw Om Level" (meaning "Scream For Life"). Material provided by the group has been distributed in GP practices and abortion clinics across The Netherlands. 

Along with the help of an abortion doctor and a researcher at the University of Utrecht, a Dutch journalist writing for OneWorld went through and fact-checked all of the promotional material distributed by the organization as well as their website. And what they found was an unorthodox (yes, pun intended) amount of misleading information.

Er is Hulp's website lists external circumstances that could lead a woman to have an abortion, such as pressure from a partner or family, or lack of financial resources to support the child in the future. In choosing to emphasise external influences, the organization suggests that a woman's decision to have an abortion is inextricably linked to external factors. Researcher Jenneke van Ditzhuijzen assured the reporter that, at clinics, doctors "always ask a woman when she's alone whether she is having the abortion because she chose to, or whether the decision came from external pressures." 

The section on their website about abortion techniques is correct but lacks important nuance, such as the number of abortions that are performed per pregnancy term. In the Netherlands, a woman can have an abortion up until the 24th week of her pregnancy. In reality, 50% of abortions are performed before 8 weeks of pregnancy and the most part are before 12 weeks. 

What is most disputed is Er is Hulp's section on the consequences of abortions. They list rare physical consequences such as heavy bleeding, damage to the uterus and other organs, infection, sepsis and even death. But they don't stop there. The website also mentions mental consequences such as regret, sleep problems, grief and depression, and even claim that women are more likely to commit suicide or start using drugs after having an abortion. All of these so-called "facts" have been drawn from pro-life studies and research studies proven to use weak methodology. 

While the existence of such an organization is not directly threatening per se, the fact that their promotional material is distributed in abortion clinics is disturbing. In doing so, Er is Hulp enters the personal space of women facing a difficult choice. 

Women in the Netherlands can look to Fiom as an alternative organisation. It is a neutral and government-subsidized organization that specializes in unwanted pregnancies. 

Details from the story:

  • The organization is funded by donations (500,000 euros in 2017)
  • Er is Hulp (meaning “there is help”) is part of the Christian, anti-choice foundation Schreeuw Om Leven (meaning “scream for life”)
  • Young mother and sociology student Silke Baas found pamphlets from Er is Hulp at her GP in Alkmaar, and she also discovered that her GP and other employees there weren’t familiar with the material
  • Their material is distributed in GP practices and abortion clinics, they organise a yearly anti-choice march in The Hague and they intervene at some Christian schools across the country
  • The most misleading information on their website is found in the consequences of abortions section
    • For example, they list side effects for the unborn child, claiming that it can feel pain at 8 weeks
    • While neurological pathways develop to an extent that the embryo can feel pain at around 24 weeks, the foetus cannot recognise that as pain. Pain is a subjective experience so to judge it, the subject needs to able to self-express
  • The sources of these so-called "facts" are taken from anti-choice studies with weak methodologies, such as the American Elliot Institute, the controversial American documentary "Hush" and data from the American anti-abortion researcher Priscilla Coleman, whose research has been discredited
  • According to most researchers, there is no obvious link between abortion and the development of mental illnesses
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