Monday, July 7, 2008

Ireland's Crisis Pregnancy Agency: Part of the Problem not the Solution

Ireland’s Crisis Pregnancy Agency (CPA) was set up to reduce the numbers of crisis pregnancies in Ireland. This agency lists thirteen organisations under what it describes as its “positive options” campaign two of which are pro-life agencies. The remainder all offer to provide information on abortion services which far from being a positive option is to most negative option possible. The CPA in 2007 set out a 4 year strategy to lead to an “integrated approach to reducing crisis pregnancy”. European Life Network will over the coming weeks consider different aspects of the CPA and its remit.

This week we focus on the CPA Think Contraception Website which claims to be “a practical guide to reproductive health” with the promise that “each method is presented in a clear and simple format.” The format is certainly simple and instructions such as ‘get comfortable with condoms’ is clear enough. However, a brief look at the information provided about some methods made me wonder precisely how this site is supposed to educate anyone. For example, the section on Natural Methods is clearly out of date. It gives very little actual information about the different kinds of Natural Family Planning available and falsely claims that it is ‘only suitable for women with regular menstrual cycles.’ Whilst this may be true of some methods, Billings Ovulation Method and the Sympto-thermal Method (to name just two) can be used by women with both regular and irregular cycles. Likewise the commentary on, “lack of knowledge and events which they say can disturb the woman’s cycle make the method less reliable” is a false generalisation. Most modern methods of Natural Family Planning make allowances for disturbances in a woman’s cycle and will in fact alert the woman to potential problems. For example, if a woman is not ovulating regularly, this will become apparent.

The section on abstinence is more honest, pointing out that it is “the most effective way of preventing pregnancy, STIs and HIV” though why “requires good communication” is listed as a drawback is a little puzzling. It is also hard to understand, given this admission, why the approach the CPA is making towards the education of young people is based on systems that have already failed in other countries.

Then there is the whole section on ‘emergency contraception’ which falsely claims it "does not cause abortion" because, it is claimed "abortion can only take place after a fertilised egg has implanted in the womb". This ignores the fact that a new human life with its own DNA exists from the moment of fertilisation and that this new life can be terminated by so called emergency contraception. It concedes however that "people who believe that life begins when the egg is fertilised may not wish to use this method." The basic message seems to be: ‘the morning after pill is fine, it isn’t an abortifacient, but if you have this irrational idea that it might be, don’t take it.’

The other major problem with this approach to contraception is that it gives the impression that contraception is more reliable than it is in practice, by using theoretical failure rates rather than the more realistic user failure rate that many of these methods have. The effectiveness of individual methods will be stated on the site as very high, typically over 90% with the qualification of ‘with very careful use’, ‘higher failure rate with less careful use’ and ‘with careful and consistent use’. Whereas the Fertility Awareness section can’t emphasise enough the fallibility of natural methods (unfairly in some places), the fact that no method of contraception is 100% reliable goes - as ever - almost unnoticed.