Have BPAS and MSI been inflating their figures?

Simon Caldwell’s article in yesterday’s Telegraph, which tries to suggest that BPAS and Marie Stopes International may have made inflated claims about the number of women who book consultations with them but then decide against having an abortion is, to say the least, another veritable cornucopia of tendentious crap:

Just one in 10 women who book consultations with Maries Stopes and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) decide against having an abortion, according to figures from a sample of clinics.

This is half the proportion regularly cited by the charities, who have claimed that one in five women who have consultations decide to keep their baby.

The disparity in the figures, if replicated across the country, indicates that the charities have exaggerated the number of women who continue with their pregnancies after receiving counselling by 14,000 a year.

Nadine Dorries, the Conservative MP, and former Labour Minister Frank Field will tomorrow (TUES) introduce an amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill stipulating that women must be counselled in the first instance by their GP.

The pair argue that counselling of pregnant women must be taken out of the hands of private clinics and given to independent professionals with no financial stake in the outcome of the woman’s decision.

The measure could reduce Britain’s abortion rate by about 60,000 a year, they claim.

Health ministers oppose the amendment and Downing Street sources have said that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, does not believe that Marie Stopes and BPAS “should be excluded” from offering counselling.

But Mrs Dorries said the figures from six Primary Care Trusts between April 2010 and March 2011 suggested that some private abortion providers were “lying” about the efficacy of their counselling services.

She said: “They are wildly exaggerating the number of women who don’t go ahead with abortions.

“They are lying to make their case. I can’t lie to make my case. But why are they lying when it is actually vulnerable women whose lives are stake?”

Yep, Dorries’s claim that she can’t lie to make her case does mean yet another busted irony meter. Her entire campaign has been based on easily verifiable lies, misinformation, bullshit and smears, setting new records along the way for the Dunning-Kruger effect.

As for the statistics cited in the article…

Caldwell’s claim is based on data obtained from only six primary care trusts out of 150, a 4% sample of the PCTs contacted and the article only cites data from three of the six PCT’s who did provide useable data in response to an FOIA request and this data accounts for only 2.2% of the total number of NHS funded abortions carried out by the independent sector.

There is also a potential discrepancy in the figures given from Hammersmith and Fulham.

According to Caldwell’s figures, there were 1,051 referrals into the independent sector between March 2010 and April 2011 which resulted in 986 abortions. According to official NHS statistics for 2010, only 821 of the 1,056 abortions funded by Hammersmith and Fulham PCT in 2010 (Jan-Dec) were carried out by an independent provider. That could indicate that there has been a sharp increase in the number of women seeking an abortion in Hammersmith and Fulham in the first quarter of this year, or an increase in the number of referrals to the independent sector (and a corresponding decrease in the number of abortions performed in NHS hospitals). Either way, because the figures given for the other two PCTs are in line with the official statistics for 2010, this suggests that something has changed in Hammersmith and Fulham in the first three months of this calendar year and that, as a result, we cannot reasonable generalised the data for this PCT to England and Wales as a whole.

The figures given in the article relate only to women referred to the independent sector by the their GP and does not included women who self-refer to BPAS/MSI with a view to obtaining an abortion privately or women who consult an independent provider before seeking a referral from their GP. In the latter case, any women who see BPAS/MSI before visiting their GP will have already made up their mind about going through with the abortion before asking for an NHS referral while women who decide not to go ahead with not show up in the NHS figures at all

Dorries claims that ‘independent’ counselling could reduce the annual number of abortions by 60,000 appears to be based solely on the wholly unevidenced and invalid assumption that that the introduction of ‘independent’ counselling alone will give rise to a reduction in the abortion rate in England Wales to a similar level to that found in Germany and other EU countries in which counselling is a mandatory element of the abortion process. To date I can find nothing in print which provides any data on the impact that mandatory counselling has in other EU countries nor any data on the number of women who undergo mandatory counselling only to decide against having an abortion.

Caldwell’s article goes on to to claim that:

Marie Stopes and BPAS are paid about £60 million a year to carry out abortions, with BPAS specialising in the more costly late-term procedures.

This is entirely incorrect.

BPAS, which is currently the largest independent sector provider has a total annual income, from all its services, of around £25 million, based on the most recent set of account filed with the Charity Commission, while MSI declared an income of around £14 million for the same year from NHS contracts, giving a total of £39 million, less than two thirds of amount claimed in Caldwell’s article – and that’s another busted irony meeter given that the article accuses BPAS and MSI of inflating their figures.

Caldwell’s article does eventually gets around to the usual caveat in paragraph number 19:

A spokeswoman for BPAS said the organisation had since “double-checked” its own records on the numbers of women opting to continue pregnancies and found that it is “15 per cent”.

A Marie Stopes spokesperson said: “Our records show that in 2010, 21 per cent of women who used our counselling services chose to continue with their pregnancy and between January and June 2011 that figure was 23 per cent.”

But by this time, of course, the damage has been done and the Telegraph has fed its readers a grab bag on misleading information, bullshit and outright nonsense, none of which actually stands up to scrutiny.