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Is scandal-hit anti-abortion charity operating in secret under new name?

NHS websites are still signposting pregnant people to ‘crisis pregnancy centres’ despite warnings from campaigners

Nandini Archer
1 August 2023, 10.31am

Care Confidential appears to have resurfaced as Pregnancy Choices Direct. The organisation had a network of affiliated 'crisis pregnancy centres', where staff have been accused of giving misinformation to pregnant people with the goal of dissuading them from having abortions


Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing/ArLawKa AungTun/Getty (image edited by James Battershill)

An anti-abortion charity that claimed to have shut down following a scandal nine years ago may have resurfaced as a directory of so-called ‘crisis pregnancy centres’ (CPCs), an openDemocracy investigation has discovered.

And at least half a dozen government websites are still signposting people to the controversial centres, despite accusations that workers at some CPCs try to talk vulnerable people out of having abortions.

Care Confidential was hit by scandal in 2014 when a report found misinformation and bias rife in a number of CPCs affiliated with the charity. The centres were also accused in media reports of “poor practice”, dispensing “factually incorrect advice” and making “fictitious claims”.

The charity ceased all operations the following year, removing itself from the charity register and claiming: “Care Confidential no longer has a network of affiliated centres.”

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Our investigation, however, has found evidence linking Care Confidential to the more recently established Pregnancy Choices Directory, which is listed in the service directories of local councils including Peterborough, Torbay, Surrey, Milton Keynes, Wokingham and Tameside.

openDemocracy also found the Pregnancy Choices Directory signposted on NHS websites (Knowledge Anglia and Cambridge University Hospitals), a 2017 NHS pregnancy nutrition leaflet, and the Nottingham Trent University website.

Care Confidential’s former website – careconfidential.com – now redirects to the Pregnancy Choices Directory page.

The new site appears to have been registered in April 2015, but contains a handful of what appear to be older pages that still refer to Care Confidential – in one case actually directing a reader to contact the charity. The “about” section of the Pregnancy Choices Direct site has read simply “coming soon” since at least 2017.

In addition, Peterborough Council’s website lists a Care Confidential email address as the contact for the Pregnancy Choices Directory entry on its website.

And the Pregnancy Choices Directory website is owned and operated by Mark Gifford, who was previously employed as web developer for Care Confidential. 

openDemocracy was unable to find any filings for the Pregnancy Choices Directory at Companies House.

Not alone

Crisis pregnancy centres affiliated to Care Confidential are not the only ones to have attracted controversy. openDemocracy’s own year-long investigation across 18 countries in 2020 and 2021 found CPCs often pose as neutral health facilities while hiding their religious, anti-abortion agendas. We uncovered widespread disinformation in these centres, and lawmakers and campaigners at the time called for greater regulation.

Lisa Hallgarten, head of policy and public affairs at Brook, who compiled the 2014 report, said our latest findings suggested Care Confidential had “shape-shifted”.

And she warned: “Experiencing unintended or unwanted pregnancy can be distressing. It is really concerning that people in this situation, who need impartial support to make a decision, are still being directed to organisations that might add to that distress by providing misinformation and judgement and even delaying or obstructing access to abortion.”

Janey Starling from Level Up, who is campaigning for abortion to be decriminalised in full, told openDemocracy: “The NHS and media must be vigilant. Abortion is healthcare – it’s not up for debate – and it’s crucial that these people are not given any legitimacy or airspace.”

Katherine O’Brien, associate director at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, added: “We see women who have been told by CPCs that they risk drug addiction and serious mental illness if they have an abortion, or that their ability to love their existing children will be compromised.”

Though these centres “try their best to obfuscate their real aims,” she said, “there is a huge body of evidence that shows they are not impartial sources of support”.

Hallgarten’s 2014 report similarly found that many crisis pregnancy centres had established links to the NHS and were signposted on the NHS Choices website (which has since been taken down), and that at least four Care Confidential affiliated centres were located in GP practices or hospitals.

Undercover reporters posing as pregnant people were told that abortions might make them want to steal, and that they may suffer from post-traumatic stress from having an abortion. Meanwhile, centres were handing out literature suggesting infertility or increased risks of breast cancer, if they were to have an abortion.

Care Confidential was previously a department of CARE, the Christian charity, but became an independent charity in 2011 before its closure in 2015. In 2022, an investigation by openDemocracy revealed that 20 MPs had taken staff members from CARE in the last decade.

CARE told openDemocracy that it has “no present or historic relationship with Pregnancy Choices Directory”.

Pregnancy Choices Directory claims to offer “free, confidential, non-judgemental help for unplanned pregnancy or following an abortion”. “Centres listed on Pregnancy Choices Directory provide counselling services,” its website reads. “They are not abortion providers”.

Many of the centres in its directory are clear about their “spiritual content”.

One centre in Swansea claims: “Few women readily choose to have an abortion.” Another in Crawley says it has an interactive education programme and provides a lesson plan for Year 9 and 10 students, “giving them the opportunity to consider the feelings and emotions that could arise in an unplanned pregnancy situation”.

openDemocracy approached Pregnancy Choices Directory for comment on its apparent association with Care Confidential, but did not receive a response. 

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