An amendment to the health and social care bill concerning abortion counselling was defeated in Commons by a majority of 250 on Wednesday. Tory MP Nadine Dorries was acting as the figurehead for a lobby group that wanted non-state abortion providers to be stripped of the ability to give counselling to women in need to open up the “market” for independent counsellors. It was argued that charitable organisations like Marie Stopes or the British Pregnancy Advisory Service are receiving money for providing abortions so as such have no desire to actually reduce the number. It sounds relatively innocuous, but the reasoning behind this argument is flawed leaving many to wonder what the true motives might be.
What distresses me most about this recent challenge to the right to abortion is that in wielding the legislative sledgehammer it is individual people that will be hurt. It’s all well and good to try and reduce the numbers of abortions, it is incredibly traumatic and I’m sure any women who have to go through it would rather it didn’t have to happen. But that is very different from saying that the only alternative to an unwanted abortion is unwanted pregnancy. No-one in the commons debate was arguing for abortion to be abolished, but that’s not how politics works. Its much easier to erode the support for it and strengthen opposition and try and get what you really want later. The concept was rather well put by Mrs Dorries herself when talking about the abortion time limit “If I were to argue that all abortions should be banned, the ethical discussions would go round in circles … My view is that the only way forward is to argue for a reduction in the time limit … it’s every baby’s right to have a life.”
I think first we should look at Nadine Dorries track record on the subject of abortion. She’s been campaigning for the reduction of the time limit of abortion to be reduced from 24 to 20 weeks, that there should be a 10 day cooling-off period after seeking an abortion from a GP in which a woman would be required to have counselling and that abstinence should be further promoted in schools. Now, that women seeking an abortion require in addition to two separate GP’s signatures but must seek an “independent” counsellor. This clearly represents an attack on the right to choice, in the fact that it makes it more difficult and time consuming. This plays directly into the pro-lifers hands, the more time elapses the more the woman has to battle her own conscience, the less clear the line between alive and not becomes and the more traumatic the whole experience. To claim that this legislation is for the good of these women is a lie.
There is no evidence that the current system isn’t working. Dr Evan Harris a member of the British Medical Association said on the subject “"As far as I'm aware, despite there being many many abortions every year, there's not been a single complaint that someone has been misinformed by the current professional counselling that exists." The real issues at the moment are the lack of providers in certain areas and the waiting lists in the rest. Women that want abortions have no desire to seek advice from organisations that are actively trying to change their minds.
Mrs Dorries consulted with the Prime Minister on the amendment to the bill, it was David Cameron that added the “independent” to the counselling services. It really shows his attitude to the word. As in the appointment of various buisness and industry “independent” advisory boards, what he seems to mean is independence from the obligation to provide accurate and un-biased advice. An opening of the door for bodies that seek to promote their own agenda for change.
Most of the counselling services that would have filled the gap left by the amendment will be fundamentalist Christan groups with a pro-life message. Counselling will mostly consist of using guilt and shock tactics to change women’s minds on the subject. An investigation by Education for Choice showed that many of the pro-life services were involved in shady practices. Leaflets provided to young women included incorrect statements like “85% of abortions are carried out using vacuum aspiration. It stated that “the unborn child is sucked down the tube” and that “the woman should wear some protection. She has to dispose of the corpse [in the case of chemically induced abortion].” Or “Part of the healing journey to post-abortion recovery involves repentance – the only remedy for guilt. If we are to walk this journey with a woman then we need to clearly see which boundaries she has crossed … immorality, coveting, lying, as well as taking innocent life.” Potential mothers were also subjected to being shown baby clothes.
For a Christian organisations it seems they are surprisingly willing to induce emotional trauma on vulnerable women to get their way (or is it that surprising?). They were also bluntly uncooperative “When asked whom to talk to about arranging an abortion, the counsellor stated that the organisation was pro-life and could not recommend any service. She claimed not to know the names of abortion providers.”
Clearly the pro-life counselling is more a case of emotional blackmail, it is obvious that if you want impartial advice the only port of call should be a pro-choice organisation, the key word is choice. Nadine Dorries seems to have confused a non-profit organisations promoting their own work because it genuinely helps women in need with a company trying to “sell” abortions.
The only beneficial way to lower the number of abortions is to lower the number of pregnancies, trying to force women into unwanted pregnancies is not only more damaging but entirely missing the point. We need better provision of contraceptives and better, more realistic sex education. But I think what we most need is a re-wiring of the sexual stereotypes that children are presented with an an increasingly younger age, namely that men want sex, and that women give it to them. Women get a lot of flak about sexualising themselves inappropriately, but it runs both ways, not much is heard about the counter argument of men slavering over women and the “quick-fuck” lad culture.
Its great that this amendment was defeated so comprehensively, but this represents a tiny victory in the fight against the NHS reforms. Its the same story there, an unbaised public service being opened up to the whims of organisations with an agenda, except that in the NHS there’s a lot of money to be made so we can expect even fewer (if any) scruples to be shown.
And a little extra reading: