HoGPI

In regional New South Wales a group of anti-abortion protestors backed by the Catholic Church have set up a US-style “fake abortion clinic”. The so-called ‘Women’s Life Centre’ (WLC) is located in Albury and claims to offer “the information you need to know about abortion”.

The Catholic activists behind WLC run extensive advertisements in the local Fairfax owned newspaper, the Border Mail, where they seek out women “facing an unplanned pregnancy or worried that they may be pregnant”.

The ‘Women’s Life Centre’ is modeled on the ‘Crisis Pregnancy Centers’ popular among anti-abortion activists in the United States. These centres purport to offer free medical advice (although their Australian imitators are careful to avoid the word ‘medical’ for legal reasons), when in reality they offer a variety of deceptive practices intended to prevent women using effective emergency contraception or obtaining an abortion.

The establishment of the pseudo-clinic in Albury is part of a long running attack on women’s rights by Catholic fundamentalists in the NSW regional city. Albury is home to a branch of Melbourne’s Fertility Control Clinic, which has been under sustained attack by anti-abortion activists for approximately a decade.

In 2011 I was involved in a campaign to defend that clinic from a sustained campaign of harassment perpetrated by the so-called Helpers of God’s Precious Infants (HoGPI).

The FCC in Albury is the only dedicated fertility control clinic available to women in between Melbourne and Canberra. HoGPI are determined to discourage women accessing the clinic, and for approximately a decade they have staked-out the clinic whenever it has been open.

HoGPI’s self-described “prayer vigils” have included the surveillance and harassment women seeking to access fertility control.

The ‘Women’s Life Centre’ has been established by these same anti-abortion activists. The Director of the ‘Women’s Life Centre’ is Peta Evans, a spokesperson for the HoGPI campaign in Albury. The WLC’s domain name is registered to the ‘Trustee for the Catholic Parish of the Holy Spirit Lavington’.

Retired obstetrician and Albury based pro-choice campaigner, Dr Pieter Mourik, has repeatedly sounded the alarm about the WLC’s dubious “free pregnancy help”:

The Director of WLC is Mrs Peta Evans; her husband Dr Paul Evans, a general practitioner at The Gardens Medical Centre, is referred to for medical issues, despite the fact that Dr Evans has no specific women’s health qualifications. Dr Evans refuses to provide any contraception, other than “natural” as it is “against his strict religious beliefs”.

Volunteers at the WLC purport to offer counselling, pregnancy testing, education and “emotional support”. According to Dr Mourik:

The “volunteers” have no credentials (other than faith-based programs) to give emotional or medical advice …

They do not give unbiased advice, only anti-abortion rhetoric; their pamphlets are inaccurate and alarmist. The only “family planning” advice is “natural family planning”, which has a huge failure rate.

Prior to recent cuts at the Border Mail, the local paper provided extensive and rigorous coverage of the ongoing issue.

However, following significant staff cuts in 2015, the Fairfax owned paper has degenerated to the point where articles on important local issues read suspiciously like regurgitated press releases.

In a recent article, the Border Mail’s Jodie O’Sullivan explains how the ‘Women’s Life Centre pseudo-clinic is paired with a cafe, according to O’Sullivan it’s…

An unexpected oasis of loveliness tucked between a line of Lavington shops is serving up generous dollops of care with its coffee and cake.

At the ‘Esencia Cafe’ pregnant women can “listen to their baby’s heartbeat between coffee and cake … it’s beautiful”.

As Dr Pieter Mourik notes, in practice the “free ultrasounds” provided by these pseudo-clinics are intended to “[coerce] women to continue an unwanted pregnancy by increasing emotional distress”. It is the same reason that anti-abortion campaigners in the United States have campaigned for laws forcing women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasounds and other invasive procedures.

Women’s rights are under attack in regional and rural Australia. In Albury alone there are GP’s refusing to prescribe effective contraception, and pharmacists refusing to supply it when it is prescribed.

Women seeking an abortion have to walk a gauntlet of religious protestors to access the only Fertility Control Clinic for three hundred kilometres, and this is assuming they went to the one that will actually perform an abortion, rather than the religious run guilt tripping look-a-like clinic.

Now more than ever, town’s like Albury need strong campaigns in defence of women’s rights. If you are in New South Wales I would recommend checking out Children by Choice and the Women’s Abortion Action Campaign.

The Fake Abortion Clinics of America

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