Abortion advice and pro-life groups – a bad fit?

Labour Party

I was asked by Public Service Europe to write an article regarding my concerns over the amendment Nadine Dorries planned to table to the Health and Social Care Bill which has now been published online. You can read it at Public Service Europe by clicking here, but I have reproduced it in its entirety below:

Abortion advice and pro-life groups – a bad fit?

At first sight, amendments to the UK Health and Social Care Bill put forward by Nadine Dorries MP appears innocuous. Who could dispute that the decision to seek an abortion can be a fraught and difficult one, and that women should have access to high-quality counselling services – if they feel that they need to discuss their options? Unfortunately, the suggestion that government should provide “independent information, advice and counselling services for women requesting termination of pregnancy” is, in fact, far from harmless. It is an attempt to fundamentally alter the delivery of counselling services, holding profound implications for women’s reproductive rights.

At the core of the proposal is the notion that those delivering abortions cannot be trusted to deliver impartial advice, that the staff of not-for-profit organisations like Marie Stopes and BPAS centres are too deeply compromised by cold, hard financial imperatives to offer the support women need. The solution to this, we are told, is to open the service up to a miscellany of “independent” organisations. Under this model, deeply-held anti-abortion beliefs would present no obstacle to bidders seeking state contracts. The likes of Care Confidential, found to have distributed leaflets containing deeply misleading and condemning statements on abortion, would be free to participate in the delivery of state healthcare.

A less obvious, but equally dangerous, aspect of the amendment is the notion that pregnant women are vulnerable and necessarily in need of external advice. Of course, women must have the opportunity to talk through their options – but to compel them to do so is to imply that women are incapable of independently making an informed and rational decision; and that thousands of women are simply drifting unthinkingly into abortion clinics, dimly unaware of the alternatives. This is aside from the fact that this process is likely to delay the procedure.

To me, this seems to be very obvious encroachment upon the now established principle that a woman’s body is her own and that decisions affecting a woman’s body are hers alone.  What is being put forward here is an essentially pernicious proposal, veiled in the liberal language of rights and choice – but framed with the moralistic goal of dramatically reducing abortion rates at its core. If adopted, the bill will strip state-support from current providers, with their wealth of experience acquired from decades of contact with women, and risk placing money in the hands of avowedly pro-life organisations.

Ultimately, this would constrain women’s access to quality and impartial advice. Already, much damage has been done. Dorries has tarnished service providers and circulated damaging accusations about the nature of abortion procedures in her efforts to bolster support for the motion. If women’s reproductive rights are to endure we must stop this amendment in its tracks.