London ~ Friday 30 March 2012
‘Abortion industry’: A slur on the women who support their choiceBy Clare Murphy
When journalists call us at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) – as they do quite often at the moment – they refer without hesitation to the latest stage of their investigation into the “abortion industry”. It is the language of the MP Nadine Dorries, who has herself borrowed it from the US anti-abortion movement. It is used to vilify those organisations which provide care to women who need it and the healthcare staff who deliver it. But this is not an industry, and the people who provide this care are not tycoons. They are people who for the most part have devoted their lives to a vital yet stigmatised area of women’s healthcare. They, and the women they care for, deserve better than this.
One of BPAS counsellors, who has been with us for more than 25 years, told me the other day that this was the worst onslaught on abortion care she had ever known. In the last 12 months, abortion has taken on an unpleasant political dimension which threatens to undermine women’s care. Last March, Nadine Dorries and Frank Field launched their “Right to Know” campaign, at the heart of which lay the charge that those involved in abortion care were incapable of providing objective advice to women considering abortion because they had a vested interest in that woman ending her pregnancy – and by implication that women were being conned into abortions they did not really want. The campaign not only insulted abortion charities, but it also cast aspersions on women’s own ability to make decisions for themselves, about themselves. The MPs’ endeavour to send women to “independent” counsellors was comprehensively defeated in a parliamentary vote. But the Department of Health said it was keen to embrace the “spirit” of Nadine’s ideas and is currently drawing up proposals to that effect, in consultation with a range of MPs – a number of whom have made clear their opposition to abortion. They have not asked for our input, or that of any medical body. Women’s care pathways are on the verge of being radically overhauled not because there is evidence that women are not getting what they need, but because of an agenda pushed by politicians who believe women make the wrong decisions.
The political discussion about the abortion industry, vested interests and the exploitation of vulnerable women is echoing outside our clinic doors. Protesters now seem to believe it is perfectly acceptable to harangue women as they try to access services, to question them about their decision and to suggest to them that once they cross the threshold they will be lied to. For many women, having to make their way past a crowd of protesters makes what is already a difficult day that much harder. “This is not a decision I have taken lightly and I don’t need to be harassed,” wrote one woman recently. “I felt calm coming here and now I can’t breathe and feel panicky and judged. Last thing I needed,” wrote another.
Abortion doctors have also in recent weeks felt their work coming under a political and media scrutiny that has not been applied to any other area of healthcare. Doctors working in this area must of course conform to the law, but writing in a letter to The Guardian yesterday a number of senior clinicians expressed their concern as to how in the current climate “the abortion service will manage to carry on providing what is an already difficult and demanding area of medical practice”. We can already count on our fingers the number of doctors who are trained and willing to carry out surgical abortion up to the legal limit of 24 weeks. Despite the fact that abortion is the most common gynaecological procedure in the country, it is not a routine aspect of medical education and there are concerns as to where the next generation of abortion doctors will come from.
When abortion first became legal in 1968, doctors went into it because they saw assisting women in this way a worthwhile calling. Many had seen the consequences of backstreet abortions. Few people want to turn the clock back to those days – and judging by the number of donations, emails and letters of support BPAS has received in recent weeks it appears there are plenty of people intent on ensuring we don’t.
The Independent Online is partnering with the Battle of Ideas festival to present a series of guest blogs from festival speakers on the key questions of our time.
Clare Murphy is director of press and public policy at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS)
London ~ Monday 2 April 2012, page 1
Anti-abortion climate 'will deter new generation of doctors'
British Pregnancy Advisory Service attacks politicisation of abortion and warns of impact on future healthcare By Ben Quinn and Sarah Boseley
The anti-abortion vigil near the British Pregnancy Advisory Service's Bedord Square clinic, central London. (Corbis)
A new generation of doctors will be put off from becoming involved in abortion services by high-profile protest campaigns and a political "witch-hunt", providers fear.
The current climate is already causing anxiety among doctors who are concerned that their practice will be called into question, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) said, as activists behind a new campaign to demonstrate outside abortion clinics were joined at one protest in London by a Catholic bishop.
The warning comes as the BPAS and pro-choice campaigners say they feel "under siege" after the government ordered an unannounced inspection of more than 250 clinics in England, claiming as many as a fifth were pre-signing consent forms for terminations. The inspections by officials from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) were said to have found evidence of blank forms being signed in anticipation of women seeking a termination. Although doctors do not have to see the woman in person, they must certify that they are aware of her circumstances and why she wants to go ahead with the procedure.
A spokesperson for the BPAS said: "Abortion is a vital yet stigmatised area of women's healthcare which few doctors train in. The current politicisation of abortion provision is likely to make it even harder to recruit a future generation of abortion doctors who are prepared to provide the care that a third of women will need in the course of their lifetimes."
Dr Paula Franklin, medical director of Marie Stopes, which like the BPAS has contracts to provide terminations on the NHS, said she was concerned that the heightened scrutiny was having an effect on "existing clinics and on doctors and nurses who come every day to the centres, many of whom have to navigate through sometimes angry – sometimes not – protesters. That is difficult for them.It isn't easy to find doctors who will work in termination services. For some time now, relatively few of them have chosen to go into terminations. It is a problem."
On Wednesday, the Guardian published a letter from a group of senior clinicians and researchers who said they were "deeply concerned" about the way the public discussion on abortion is proceeding and about how the service will manage to carry on.
One of its signatories, Dr Kate Guthrie, clinical director with Hull and East Riding Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare Partnership, said she had concerns about the impact that increased media and political attention could have on students and younger doctors.
"Of course, there is a lot of stigma around abortion, both having them and to a much lesser extent, even doing them. But from the feedback that I have had, I really do think that the question has to be asked: what impact is this increasingly negative politicisation going to have on future providers of abortion care? Is it going to put doctors and nurses off becoming involved in this work?
"Anyone thinking of becoming involved in abortion will be aware of the recent, very intense scrutiny of services, and I hope will not be put off by uncertainty in interpretation of the law and the thought of Care Quality Commission swoops.
However, another signatory of Wednesday's letter to the Guardian said he believed that the current climate was making things more difficult in the not-for-profit sector, though not for those working in the NHS, where involvement in termination provision was seen as "quite a positive thing".
"The RCOG [Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists] has a series of special skills that they expect senior trainees to undertake before they get signed off to be fully accredited specialists and consultants, and they provide an option of a pregnancy termination module," said Dr Malcolm Griffiths, a consultant and clinical director in obstetrics and gynaecology at Luton and Dunstable hospital.
"The difficulty is with later surgical terminations," said Griffiths.
"Most people in the NHS who do terminations limit themselves to 12 or 14 weeks. Increasingly more and more of those are done medically. Once you get beyond 14 weeks then it is a very small number of people who have the skills to do the later surgical terminations.
"It's probably not a dozen people in the country who are doing the ones around 20 weeks and beyond."
The question of how to step into the shoes of the older generation of abortion practitioners weighs on the minds of future doctors like Matteo De Martino, a fifth-year student at a northern medical school.
"Someone referred to it as the greying of current providers," says De Martino, who is in the process of setting up Medical Students for Abortion Care, which will aim to encourage the involvement of medical students in the debate about abortion and campaign for more abortion-related training in the medical school curriculum.
"Without them, we lose not just technical skill but also that pool of knowledge that has experience of, and treated the potentially fatal effects of, women being forced into backstreet abortion clinics due to its illegality."
Professor Wendy Savage, the country's first female consultant gynaecologist and long-time campaigner for women's healthcare rights, said that few doctors would now see late abortions, since most are now being performed in the private charitable sector.
Few doctors are trained to carry out late terminations, yet the small minority of women who come for them (91% are carried out under 13 weeks) are in the greatest distress. "Our experience is that women who do come for late terminations are often among the most vulnerable, whose lives and domestic situations are the most difficult," she said. They included women who have been raped, cases of incest and vulnerable women with difficult relationships that can include violence.
London ~ Tuesday, 30 August 2011
'Pro-life' MPs refuse to back down over bid to change abortion advice
By Oliver Wright, Whitehall Editor
Conservative MP Nadine Dorries wants to amend the health Bill to stop charities who offer abortions giving advice to women seeking terminations (PA)
Anti-abortion campaigners are pressing ahead with a controversial amendment to the Government’s new health bill designed to cut the number of pregnancies which are terminated each year in the UK.
The Conservative MP Nadine Dorries, who is proposing the amendment, said yesterday she would not be “bought off” by the promise of a Government consultation on whether or not to offer independent counselling to all women considering an abortion.
Instead she said she wanted to change the law to strip abortion charities and doctors of their exclusive responsibility for counselling women seeking to terminate a pregnancy, and hand it to specially trained professionals.
But while she ruled out allowing anti-abortion groups the chance to bid to offer counselling services, she did not explain how the amendment would ensure that individual counsellors could be free of bias on such an emotive subject.
The move has also led to fears that anti-abortion campaigners in the UK are adopting US style tactics of trying to influence the way abortion services are delivered rather than fight on the ethical issues surrounding the principle of abortion itself.
If the ammendment is debated in the Commons the Goverment may allow its MPs a free vote on the issue. There is now a strong socially conservative bent within the Tory Party which is supported by the Prime Minister. In 2008, Andrew Lansley, William Hague and Liam Fox joined Mr Cameron in supporting a cut to the legal limit for "social" abortions from 24 weeks to 22 weeks.
Ms Dorries said that charity-run abortion services – including the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and Marie Stopes – had a financial conflict of interest in advising women seeking terminations since they are paid for the procedures they carry out.
But the charities strongly dispute this and say that her proposal would add another layer of bureaucracy which could cause distress by delaying access to abortions.
They added that the counselling they offer is already independent and entirely separate from the other services they provide.
In addition they said any suggestion that women would have to discuss an abortion with their GP before being referred to them could deter or delay them from seeking help.
At the weekend the Government attempted to head off the amendment by proposing a consultation to examine whether independent counselling was practical.
But speaking yesterday Ms Dorries rejected the compromise and insisted it should go to a vote in the House of Commons. “The amendments won’t be withdrawn whatever the Government says,” she told the World at One.
“If they believe they are going to buy me off by making soothing noises and they are going to look at this and go into consultation? that isn’t going to buy anybody off. This will go to Parliament on 6 September. It will be debated.”
Ms Dorries said that the process and procedure of abortion was “so factory efficient” and “speedy” that she wanted to give people a chance to “talk through their own situation”.
“I don’t have the figures in front of me but I can guarantee you that 15 years ago the incidence of abortion was far, far fewer than it is today. Today we have 200,000 abortions carried out per year and we have more abortions than any other country in Western Europe.
“We don’t think it is right that the people who are giving the advice for the product procedure process should be the same people who are carrying out that process.
“So all we are saying is that Marie Stopes and BPAS are run as businesses, they are paid £60m per year of taxpayers money and what we would just like to see is that when a woman presents a GPs practice with a crisis pregnancy that she is offered counselling, not compulsory, just offered counselling.
Ms Dorries said she would be just as opposed to anti-abortion groups offering advise as she was to those charities which carried out terminations and suggested that the work could be carried out by counsellors registered with the British Association of Counsellors and psychotherapy.
“Counselling would be offered by someone who is totally independent and impartial,” she said.
“It means somebody who isn’t an abortion provider, who isn’t of a religious organisation. I can ensure you that if a catholic group said they were going to set up and offer advice I would be as against them offering advice as I am the abortion advisor.”
But BPAS Chief Executive Ann Furedi said she believed the amendment might be the start of a slippery slope restricting an individual woman’s right to choose. “BPAS is always happy to engage in debate around the ethics of abortion,” she said.
“But, as has happened in the USA over recent years, we are increasingly seeing those with a opposition to abortion trying to influence the way services are delivered rather than engage in ethical debate. Abortion care, just as any other area of healthcare, must be based on the needs of patients and clinical evidence.”
Dorries launched her campaign for the change alongside the Labour MP Frank Field. They are backed by the campaign group Right to Know, which has set up a website and Facebook page to promote the idea.
Dorries, a former nurse who says she is campaigning on the issue after witnessing botched terminations, says she does not oppose abortion. However, she has previously campaigned to reduce the abortion time limit and said that her explicit aim was to reduce the number of terminations, claiming that 60,000 could be prevented each year if women were given independent advice.
'I was completely unprepared': Anonymous, 26, operations manager
“I have had two abortions; the first when I was 17 and then again when I was 24.
"During my first experience, like many women I opted for a medical termination which I was assured was the simplest method. I felt reassured but the process began far earlier than anticipated and as a result I was completely unprepared for what I witnessed and for the physical and emotional pain afterwards.
“I do not remember being offered any counselling, only being given wads of leaflets detailing the benefits of contraception. I chose to deal with it in secrecy and it wasn’t until a few months later when all aspects of my life: academic, social and personal began to suffer did I actively go and seek help.
“Seven years later I found myself in the same position again. The same contraceptive advice was administered but on this occasion before I underwent the process and not during, as it was the last time. It was a well known private clinic and the members of staff were indeed more attentive but the experience nevertheless was impersonal.
“Whilst ideally the process should be as quick and as pain-free as possible, the real care should be invested into women’s mental health following the termination and for as long as is necessary. On that first occasion, I remember feeling so angry towards the other girls on the ward who were laughing and joking. I now realise that it was probably because they hadn’t been able to face up to it yet and more importantly, they hadn’t been warned. You are discharged as being physically well but the emotional toil has yet to kick in.
“There is definitely a need for a separate charity with women who have shared experiences, shared ways of dealing with the fragile emotional states women are left it.
“However, it is certainly not appropriate to involve religious groups to dole out advice to women who are already battling with insufferable guilt.”
'This is a cynical and patronising policy': Anonymous, 24, public relations
“Some people say that an abortion is the hardest decision a woman ever has to make. I have to disagree.
“Of course for some women it is. And those women need access to sound, impartial advice. But for a lot of women it is one of the easiest decisions they will ever make. Not a nice decision to have to make, but for some, an easy one.
“When I had an abortion in a country where it was illegal – on a semester abroad when I was 20 – I had no access to any advice, just a whispered, rather judgmental indication of what steps to take next.
“To have had the option to speak to a medical professional about the options available would not have gone amiss, but luckily I knew that for me I was making the right decision.
“Nadine Dorries's call is cynical, patronising and unnecessary. To assume that charities such as Marie Stopes and BPAS [the British Pregnancy Advisory Service] offer weighted advice seems terrifyingly naive and unfounded. I also don't even understand the aim, which she has stated explicitly, which is to reduce the number of terminations by 60,000 procedures a year.
“To assume that somehow these 60,000 terminations could be saved or prevented is completely the wrong way to look at it. These women don't need more advice once they are already pregnant and time is a real factor, they need advice before they even get pregnant.
“Sex education in the UK needs a new approach. Treating women like they are unthinking children and family planning charities as if they have an agenda is not going to help anyone.”
'They just want to restrict our access': Anonymous, 30, healthcare worker
“I was 17 and I was coerced into sex with someone who thought a baby would bond us forever - he actually wanted me to be pregnant.
“I had to sit my A-levels with morning sickness and then arrange an abortion. Because of all the other things going on in my life (leaving school, planning university etc) and because the whole thing was so traumatic, I waited until I was 8 weeks pregnant before going to a GP.
“Because I saw a sympathetic GP and was able to see a gynaecologist quickly, and because the waiting list in my area was short, I was able to have an abortion at 10 weeks, which meant a lower risk of complications.
“I don't think the advice is a real issue. It's a red herring. An abortion/termination of pregnancy is a medical procedure. Every medical procedure you have in the UK, you have after being fully informed and signing a consent form. To say women need extra counselling for one particular procedure is patronising as well as derailing from the more important issue, which is the agenda of some members of the government who want to restrict access to abortion.
“The requirement for 'independent' counselling is going to delay abortions, and it isn't necessary. There is no evidence for it.
“In any case, I didn't regret having an abortion, and I feel I was informed well beforehand. To be honest, though, this is a data-rich age and I was already well informed - I had read about what it would entail beforehand.
“Why can't we just assume people will know their own minds, as with any elective surgery?”
London ~ Thursday 5 April 2012, page 2
NHS watchdog attacks blitz on abortion clinics
Andrew Lansley's directive seen as an attempt to placate Tory right as concerns grow over monitoring of patient care
By Randeep Ramesh, social affairs editor
Andrew Lansley has denied acting under pressure on abortion issue. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
The healthcare regulator was forced to divert resources away from monitoring patient care in the NHS after Andrew Lansley, the health secretary, ordered unannounced inspections of more than 300 abortion clinics in England, it has emerged.
In a tersely worded letter to the Department of Health, Dame Jo Williams, chair of the Care Quality Commission, wrote to officials saying the "fulfilment of [the health secretary's] request has clearly impacted on planned regulatory activity by the CQC".
The surprise inspections and the ensuing media furore led to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service and pro-choice campaigners claiming they were "under siege" owing to the growing attacks by politicians. Anti-abortion MPs such as Nadine Dorries, a standard-bearer for the Christian right, called for the 1967 Abortion Act to be debated in parliament "and redrafted to deal with the number of illegal abortions which take place every day".
The CQC's leaked letter opens a new front in the abortion debate, raising questions over whether precious time and money was being wasted on essentially political scheme to placate elements of the Conservative party. However, Lansley denies acting under such pressure, saying that he had a duty to act if the law was being broken. [See footnote]
His intervention was sparked by evidence on 14 March that as many as a fifth of clinics were pre-signing consent forms for terminations. Although doctors do not have to see a woman seeking an abortion in person, they must certify that they are aware of her circumstances and why she wants to go ahead with the procedure.
Five days later, on Monday 19 March, Lansley called in the CQC boss and pushed for 320 locations to be inspected that week. The four-day blitz on abortion clinics meant, said the CQC, that 580 inspections on other parts of the health service had to be "forgone".
Williams said that including planning and management time, 1,100 days of the CQC's time had been absorbed by the request. "This equates to a total of 580 inspections foregone and a total of 16 inspectors being utilised on a full year basis at an estimated cost of £1m."
The chair of the CQC also claimed that the visits, paperwork and anticipated enforcement would also have a "considerable impact on our capacity to deliver our annual targets".
Sources close to Lansley said that the health secretary had been "happy" to give the regulator extra resources to do the task if needed, "but they did not ask for them at any point. They never raised this impact with him when he discussed it with their chair at the time."
The vexed political climate around abortion has led to anxiety among doctors, concerned that their practice will be increasingly called into question. In a letter to the Guardian last month a group of senior clinicians and researchers said they were deeply concerned about the way the public discussion on abortion was proceeding and about how the service would manage to carry on.
There also appears increasing political pressure on independent abortion clinics, run by charities such as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, which fear that if rightwing Tories get their way planned revisions to their licence to operate may make it harder to offer women abortions.
The issue has now become a battleground for Whitehall infighting. The regulator appears to be launching a fightback after recent months where MPs raised "serious concerns about the commission's governance, leadership and culture" and the Department of Health's own review questioned the effectiveness of its spending.
In February the CQC's chief executive, Cynthia Bower, announced that she would step down later this year after weeks of criticism.
Last night in a statement, a Department of Health spokesman said the programme of inspections had been agreed with the regulator and it was up to the CQC to "prioritise its inspections ... so that no patients were placed at risk".
"The CQC's statutory duty is to uphold the law. The CQC was one of the organisations who warned us of this issue at the time, and agreed with us that a programme of inspections should take place as a proportionate response to the serious allegations being made," the spokesman said.
"We would expect the CQC, like any good regulator, to be able to prioritise its inspections and are told that in this case they did so, so that no patients were placed at risk.
"The CQC has around 900 inspectors, only some of whom were involved in these inspections the vast majority of which were completed in four days."
• This footnote was added on 5 April 2012 to clarify the text reference to the CQC letter as having been leaked to the Guardian [among others]. The letter was also, and separately, obtained by the BBC under a freedom of information request
London ¬ Saturday March 24 2012, page 6
Anti-abortionists grow bold after making friends in high places
'This is a witch-hunt,' say abortion providers, who claim spot checks on clinics have political motives
By Lizzy Davies
A vigil outside a branch of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service abortion clinic. (Andrew Winning/Reuters)
A leading abortion provider and pro-choice campaigners have said they feel "under siege" and at the mercy of a political "witch-hunt" after the government ordered an unannounced inspection of more than 250 clinics in England and claimed that as many as a fifth of them were pre-signing consent forms for terminations.
The health secretary, Andrew Lansley, ordered the Care Quality Commission to carry out spot checks on abortion clinics this week, saying afterwards he was "shocked and appalled" to learn of evidence that blank forms were allegedly being signed in anticipation of women seeking terminations.
The CQC is understood to have found evidence of non-compliance at between 15% and 20% of clinics inspected. The CQC, which sent officials to clinics including those run by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), Marie Stopes and the NHS, is expected to publish its findings within weeks.
However, criticisms of the inspection mounted on Friday. Ann Furedi, chief executive of BPAS, said that, while she "absolutely accepted" that clinics should be, and were, open to "robust" regulation, the way the investigation had been carried out smacked of political motivations. In the past, she said, any allegation of malpractice would have been "sensibly worked out" without "the CQC being absorbed in a three-day inspection".
"The conclusion that I'm drawing is … that what the ministers from the Department of Health are concerned about at the moment is not finding out what is actually happening in services, whether people are genuinely working within the law and whether they are genuinely meeting the needs of women," she said. "Instead what is happening is they are playing to … a constituency of backbench MPs who have been pressing hard for a tougher line on abortion."
Labour MP Diane Abbott said there were questions about the inspections that Lansley should answer. "Of course we must stamp out poor practice," she said in a statement. "But women could be forgiven for thinking that what we are seeing is a steady drumbeat from anti-choice activists and their friends in the media and Westminster."
Darinka Aleksic, spokeswoman for the pro-choice campaign group Abortion Rights, said staff at providers and sexual health organisations were currently experiencing "an unprecedented amount of scrutiny" after several weeks during which anti-abortion activists have been mounting daily protests outside clinics, handing out leaflets and on one occasion filming women arriving and leaving a BPAS clinic in central London.
Earlier this month a West Midlands man pleaded guilty to hacking into the BPAS website and stealing thousands of personal records. Next Friday, the 40 Days for Life group is planning to hold a prayer vigil outside the BPAS clinic in Bedford Square, which Alan Hopes, the Roman Catholic bishop of Westminster, is due to attend.
The pressure was further ratcheted up by an undercover investigation by the Daily Telegraph last month which claimed that some doctors had agreed to perform so-called "sex selection" abortions – an allegation that providers and pro-choice groups have unreservedly condemned.
"We feel that we are under siege, basically – that every week there is another drip-feed of allegations," said Aleksic. "I don't want to sound too hysterical about it, but … we just feel that there's a certain section of society, both the radical fringe and an anti-choice political group, that are not working in the best interests of women." While the pressure was having the positive effect of galvanising more women to the pro-choice lobby, she added: "We're just waiting for the next blow to fall."
Furedi said she was "disappointed" in Lansley and accused him of pandering to the socially conservative wing of the Tory party, which includes Nadine Dorries, who tried but failed last year to prevent providers such as Marie Stopes and BPAS from offering counselling services to women. A cross-party group is now preparing to open a consultation on the issue. Proposals could include stripping those providers of that function.
Furedi said the challenges of recent months had made her concerned for the future. "It feels at the moment that there is a witch-hunt into abortion provision to try to uncover, by fair means or foul, any deficiencies in practice," she said. The "ideological shift" of recent years was fuelling and legitimising the activities and rhetoric of some of the extreme anti-abortion groups operating in the UK, she added.
In a statement, Marie Stopes said that its nine main centres, along with 10 smaller units, had been inspected by the CQC, and that "to the best of our knowledge, all of our centres have been found to be working within the law". Tracey McNeill, the director of Marie Stopes UK and Europe, said: "We work very much within a legal framework; we comply with all the CQC regulations. We would never support back-signing or pre-signing of HSA1 forms."
BPAS also said that, as far as it knew, none of its clinics had been found to have been pre-signing HSA1 consent forms, which Furedi said was "not best practice". Two doctors must certify an abortion having first familiarised themselves with the woman's circumstances, a process that does not necessarily have to involve them meeting her as long as an assessment is carried out by a doctor or nurse.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said Lansley had felt compelled to order the inspections after the CQC showed him evidence of forms being pre-signed at "one or two" clinics. "The CQC came to the secretary of state with evidence that people were being non-compliant and it is his duty to ensure that the Abortion Act laws are enforced," she said.
The CQC said it would be considering what "regulatory action" it would take against those found to have flouted the rules. It said the impact of the inspection on its other activities had been "limited".
London ¬ Saturday 24 March 2012, page 6
Anti-abortion campaign aims to remove women's choice by the back door
Campaigners who think woman's reproductive organs are their business are finding inventive ways of pushing their agenda
By Zoe Williams
Anti-abortion campaigners picket outside a family planning in London. (Susannah Ireland/Rex Features)
Take a second to track the anti-abortion moves that have been made, in and outside parliament, since the coalition took office. Nadine Dorries was quick out of the blocks, tabling the following amendments to the health and social care bill: the need for "independent" counselling for women who seek abortions; and the need to move responsibility for abortion guidelines from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to the National Institute of Clinical Excellence.
That sounded pretty mild, until you looked closer at the measures: first, the reason she wanted to take counselling duties away from abortion providers is that she characterised them as salespeople – she was attempting to show that they couldn't possibly provide impartial and balanced advice, because of their own commercial concerns.
I was quite polite about it at the time, because I thought it was so obviously, off-the-scale absurd that it didn't need detailed examination. The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), the main focus of Dorries' disapprobation, is a not-for-profit organisation staffed by women (I hope they won't be offended) for whom the term "do-gooder" was intended. The idea that they would try to steer you in any direction for the sake of their own salaries is absolutely laughable – you might just as well suggest that the reason there were so few copies of The Da Vinci Code in your Oxfam bookshop was that the staff were in the pay of the Vatican.
The slur against the RCOG was similar. Dorries told me: "There is a specific committee which develops the guidelines for the care of a woman seeking terminations. They're all abortionists. They all earn their living from abortions." Again, I thought this was self-evidently ridiculous. They're not "abortionists", they're doctors. The idea that a gang of specialist doctors would get together to cook up guidelines in which the health of the patient was irrelevant, just to improve market conditions for their specialism – even if you were about to privatise the health service, you couldn't really believe this. But apparently she did.
It turns out I was right on the obvious stuff – nobody swallowed the arguments, and the amendments were defeated by 250 votes – but possibly wrong on Dorries' original intention. It didn't matter whether the amendments went through; it just created a huge amount of static around those opening propositions, that abortion providers were snake-oil salesmen and the RCOG were mercenary. It has now become routine, in the name of balance (balance!), to suggest that BPAS counsellors aren't "independent" (whereas Christian groups suddenly are).
The RCOG – and I have never had a satisfactory explanation for this – did not defend themselves. Despite the huge defeat of the amendment, the original plan to strip BPAS of its counselling role is going ahead. Diane Abbott walked off the cross-party committee in disgust. The effects of this – a total bypass of parliamentary process in favour of an anti-abortion agenda, dressed up as an unfounded paranoia – have yet to be seen.
What you can see are the ambient changes. The anti-abortion group 40 Days for Life harassed women going into the BPAS clinic on Bedford Square in London every day through Lent. They film the women coming in and claim they're keeping a visual record for their "own protection". "They've become emboldened recently," said Jenni Bristow, editor of the BPAS magazine. "I think because they've detected a shifting climate on abortion."
They haven't detected it from nowhere. Alongside the growing anti-abortion influence in Westminster, you have the Telegraph's campaign against sex-selective abortion. In what was essentially a sting operation, they sent a journalist around a number of clinics to pretend to want an abortion on the basis of sex. Very few doctors bought it, because it never happens. Women don't march into clinics saying, "I want a sex-selection abortion" unless they're undercover journalists. But three unfortunate doctors made the mistake of saying, "It's none of my business", and now they've been suspended. If you saw it as a plot line in a soap opera, you'd reject it for being too dated and too improbable. In real life, the health secretary Andrew Lansley weighed in and the police are investigating. Sit tight, and watch it unfold into nothing.
It's a useful reminder, if one were needed, that there's no technique too mendacious, too meddlesome or too unpleasant for people who think other woman's reproductive organs are de facto their business. Ignoring them, as tempting as it is, probably won't make them go away.
London ~ Monday 29 August 2011, page 1
Ministers back anti-abortion lobby reforms
Charities warn of 'distress and delay' as they are stripped of principal responsibility to counsel women seeking a termination
By Polly Curtis
MP Nadine Dorries says 60,000 terminations a year could be prevented if women were offered 'independent' counselling (David Levene)
The government has caved in to calls from anti-abortionists to overhaul existing protocols and strip charities and medics of their exclusive responsibility for counselling women seeking to terminate a pregnancy .
The Department of Health confirmed that it would change the rules to ensure that women are also offered counselling "independently" of existing abortion services. Its announcement was made in advance of an attempt next week led by the Tory backbencher Nadine Dorries to amend the health and social care bill to force such a requirement. Dorries says that the charity-run abortion services – including the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and Marie Stopes – have a financial conflict of interest in advising women seeking terminations. She says that by offering independent counselling, 60,000 of the 200,000 abortions each year could be prevented.
The charities say that another layer of counselling could cause distress by delaying access to abortions. They also say that the counselling they offer is continuous throughout the process of seeking a termination and that there is no evidence they are biased in the care they provide.
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said the government's decision was based on prejudice rather than evidence.
The DH confirmed that it wanted to change the rules to offer women independent counselling in addition to that currently offered by abortion services and said it was consulting on the precise method to use, with sources acknowledging that it was a direct response to lobbying from backbenchers.
An aide to the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, said: "We remain of the view that we can do this without legislation but we aren't shying away from a parliamentary debate. We want women to have the offer of independent counselling, independent of the abortion provider.
"We believe that it would be an improvement on the current system. Equally, the timing of it has been determined by cross-party push by backbenchers on all sides of the house to ask the government to look into this issue."
Dorries launched her campaign for the change alongside the Labour MP Frank Field. They are backed by the campaign group Right to Know, which has set up a website and Facebook page to promote the idea.
Dorries, a former nurse who says she is campaigning on the issue after witnessing botched terminations, says she does not oppose abortion. However, she has previously campaigned to reduce the abortion time limit and said that her explicit aim was to reduce the number of terminations, claiming that 60,000 could be prevented each year if women were given independent advice.
"The important thing is that the government have highlighted themselves and agreed that counselling by organisations that are paid to conduct the procedures is not independent. That's the most important. That's very reassuring. It validates the amendment and what we're doing," she told the Guardian.
"The abortion process is so fast – seven to 14 days. Women who do have doubts or niggles are on the other side before they have a chance to think it through. The majority may feel it's fine but there are a growing number thinking it wasn't what I wanted to do. As it gets faster and faster more women are falling off the edge. This is a women's rights issue."
Dorries said she did not know how the Right to Know campaign was being funded, claiming that it represented "hundreds" of people and was run by a lobbyist. She would not reveal the lobbyist's name, or the other organisations the lobbyist represents but did say that she was receiving advice from Dr Peter Saunders, the head of the Christian Medical Fellowship.
Saunders led the Alive and Kicking campaign, a group of anti-abortion groups including the ProLife Alliance, which campaigned for an immediate cut in the abortion time limit, prohibition of abortion for "social convenience" and a cooling-off period.
Right to Know refused to reveal how it is funded, saying only that it relies mostly on individuals. A spokeswoman said: "This is a campaign that has attracted support from people of very different backgrounds and beliefs (including atheists) who simply share the common view that the support and information that women receive ahead of an abortion should be improved."
Pro-choice supporters and charities such as the Family Planning Association, who are mounting a lobbying campaign of MPs, warn that the proposed amendment to the health bill would restrict women's access to impartial and non-directive information . They also predict that the counselling role could be taken up by organisations ideologically opposed to abortion.
Ann Furedi, the chief executive of BPAS, said: "The thing I find most frustrating about this discussion is the assumption behind it that we want to encourage women towards the abortion option, rather than the option of continuing the pregnancy.
"Nothing could be further from the truth. I can say with hands on heart that the last thing that anyone involved in abortion wants is for a woman to be having treatment that they are not sure about. Everybody wants people to walk away feeling that the right thing has been done."
The health and social care bill is due to be debated in the Commons when parliament returns next week, and a decision on whether to select the amendment – one of the first submitted – will be taken on 6 September.
Dorries claimed that private polling has suggested that up to 80% of MPs could back the amendment. All three parties confirmed that, as is traditional with matters of conscience, there would be a free vote on the issue.
Lib Dem sources said that they had not opposed the decision to introduce independent counselling within the DH but that the coalition agreed the legislation was unnecessary.
Cooper said: "These plans are based on prejudice rather than evidence. This could make it harder for women to get proper health advice and counselling when they need it most. Health ministers need to urgently think again. David Cameron should not put politics before the interests of women's health and women's lives."
John Healey, the shadow health secretary, said the Labour health team would vote against Dorries' amendment: "The Tory backbenchers are hijacking the health bill to make arguments that are entirely irrelevant to the huge and fundamental changes being made to the NHS. MPs will only get two days to debate the bill, and that limited time would be spent on more important matters than this amendment."
A DH spokesperson said the department "wants women who are thinking about having an abortion to be able to have access to independent counselling. Work is under way currently to develop proposals … on which the department will consult externally".
London ~ Wednesday May 25 2011, page 1
Anti-abortion group drafted in as sexual health adviser to government
Coalition appoints pro-abstinence charity Life to key sexual health forum, while omitting British Pregnancy Advisory Service
By Ben Quinn
Abortion has often divided opinions in the UK. (Martin Argles for the Guardian)
A group which is opposed to abortion in all circumstances and favours an abstinence-based approach to sex education has been appointed to advise the government on sexual health.
The Life organisation has been invited to join a new sexual health forum set up to replace the Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health and HIV.
Stuart Cowie, Life's head of education, said: "We are delighted to be invited into the group, representing views that have not always been around on similar tables in the past."
In contrast, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) has been omitted from the forum despite its long-term position on the previous advisory group and 40-year track record in providing pregnancy counselling nationwide.
"We are disappointed and troubled to learn that having initially been invited to the sexual health forum we have been disinvited, particularly now we understand that Life have been offered a seat at the table," said Ann Furedi, chief executive of BPAS. "We find it puzzling that the Department of Health would want a group that is opposed to abortion and provides no sexual health services on its sexual health forum."
Cowie said Life would seek to build "common ground" with other members of the panel. "If we can be involved with other people in reducing [the number of abortions], then that fits with our charitable objectives and I don't think is unpalatable to anyone else, regardless of their position on when life begins."
However, Life's support for greater emphasis on abstinence when it comes to sexual education is likely to be one of a number of areas where it will be on a collision course with other members of forum. For example, Life has been critical of literature about contraception distributed by the sexual health charity, Brook. They will sit alongside each other at the forum. Life claimed that teenagers were not being told that condoms only gave partial protection against some STIs (sexually transmitted infections) and little or no protection against others.
Brook's national director, Simon Blake, said its literature was based on clinical evidence, and linked the provision of such information to underlying figures from abortion statistics released on Tuesday which showed a reduction in teenage conceptions despite an overall rise in the number of abortions. The under-18 abortion rate has reduced from 17.6 per 1,000 women in 2009 to 16.5 per 1,000 women in 2010.
Blake said: "Having made such massive progress, what we have to do is sustain that … and not go back to a time when the young had really poor sexual and relationship education and see a rise in teenage pregnancy rates and sexually transmitted infections as a result."
The new committee has held one meeting but Life was not represented. The invitation to the group by Anne Milton, the public health minister, appears to have caught some forum members by surprise.
It could yet open up another area of disagreement within the coalition. The former Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, warned that the organisation's presence could prevent the panel functioning properly. "When you have an organisation campaigning against the law and against current policy on sexual health, which is pro-contraception and about ensuring that abortion is a choice, then the risk is that you prevent the panel being given access to confidential information," he said.
"It can prevent the advisory panel having frank and open discussions because you have a group there that is committed to opposing current policy."
A Department of Health spokesperson said: "To provide balance, it is important that a wide range of interests and views are represented on the forum.
"Marie Stopes International and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service have similar interests. We offered them shared membership but they declined, and after careful consideration we concluded that it was not feasible to invite both organisations."
BPAS asserts that the department withdrew the offer of 'shared membership'.
The forum consists of representatives of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV; the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists; the Association of Directors of Public Health; the British HIV Association; the Terrence Higgins Trust; Brook; the Family Planning Association; the Sex Education Forum and National Children's Bureau; Marie Stopes International; and Life.
The department said the criteria applied in terms of appointments to the group was that the core membership would be drawn from national level organisations with a remit covering sexual health across England. They also had to be able to demonstrate clear evidence of impact in improving sexual health and must have a sufficient infrastructure to be able to field deputies at a senior level in the organisation.
Life also became a founding member last week of a new Sex and Relationships Council, which was launched in parliament with the endorsement of the education secretary, Michael Gove.
The council, which includes the Christian-run pro-abstinence group the Silver Ring Thing, says it aims to bring the voice of what it describes as "value-based, parent centred" sex and relationship education (SRE) providers to policy discussions on the future of SRE in schools.
A total of 189,574 abortions were performed in 2010 – a 0.3% increase on the previous year, the figures released on Tuesday show.
Marie Stopes described the rise as small but warned that the figures sent a warning for the government's family planning strategy.
"There are three key areas that need to be focused on: education, access and choice," it said, calling for the delivery of "comprehensive and standardised sex and relationship education in all schools".
In its response to the figures, the Family Planning Association said: "Clearly there needs to be a much better relationship and tighter integration between local contraceptive and abortion services. Despite the advances, women still live in a postcode lottery. Where you live dictates how quickly you'll get an abortion. This is unacceptable."
Life, which provides its own pregnancy counselling services and describes itself as non-denominational, reacted to the figures by suggesting that a "cooling off" period before abortions could play a role in reducing the number being performed.
Some secular organisations have been growing increasingly worried that Tory ministers are opening up government to the agendas of faith-based and pro-life groups.
Some of the same groups have already been preparing to capitalise on the government's big society agenda, which would potentially allow them to replace secular groups in terms of providing services.
In Richmond, south-west London, the Catholic Children's Society has taken over the £89,000 contract to provide advice to schoolchildren on matters including contraception and pregnancies. Another Christian-run charity, Care Confidential, is involved in providing crisis pregnancy advice under the auspices of Newham PCT in east London. Care's education arm, Evaluate, was one of the founding members, alongside Life, of the Sex and Relationships Council.
Meanwhile in parliament, the battle lines on abortion are set to be drawn again after cross-party amendments to the health and social care bill were put forward by anti-abortion MPs in a bid to tighten the rules on terminations.
The first amendment, put forward by Nadine Dorries and Frank Field, would establish a new precondition for any women having an abortion to receive advice and counselling from an organisation that does not itself carry out terminations.
London ~ Thursday May 26 2011, page 38
Softly, softly is working for the anti-abortionists
Thanks to new stealth tactics, anti-abortionists are having an undue influence on policy By Clare Murphy
There is a moral divide between freedom of speech and deliberately intimidating women at a difficult time – as we found when protesters waved their banners of dismembered foetuses at women as they entered our British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) clinic in London last month. But at the very least, a pro-life protester does exactly what it says on the tin. There is a transparency, if not necessarily an honesty, which we involved in abortion services are starting to appreciate.
The same cannot always be said for some of our politicians. There is a consensus that an all-out assault on abortion would be unfeasible in this country, given the weight of public opinion in favour of a woman's right to choose. However, other tactics have successfully been employed by the anti-abortion lobby in the US which are slowly finding their way over here.
"Right to know" and "informed consent" bills have been a key component of recent anti-choice legislation at state level. Do they sound familiar? Yes, because they are being spearheaded by a group of MPs, including Nadine Dorries and Frank Field, who argue that women considering abortion should receive counselling from an organisation not itself involved in terminations. The BPAS, they say, has a vested interest in withholding information from women and pushing them into procedures they do not really want. The same MPs argue that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists should be stripped of its role providing evidence-based guidance for women requesting abortion, because it has doctors who provide abortion on the panel.
The MPs' intention is pernicious, deliberately seeking to undermine women's confidence in their own decision-making and their trust in the organisations that offer support and services. The beneficiaries of their proposed amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill are likely to be the crisis pregnancy centres to which we know some GPs are already diverting women who are considering abortion.
Many of these centres fall under CareConfidential, a network with links to Philippa Stroud – Iain Duncan Smith's special adviser, who has received plaudits from the Tory right. CareConfidential is supported by Care, a Christian organisation committed to the preservation of life from fertilisation.
There may well be great, non-directive counsellors working in these centres, which are usually attached to a local church. However, the fact that many of them make no mention of their Christian affiliations or their view on abortion is troubling. Women have a "right to know" from whom they are seeking advice. Many women may well appreciate Christian support at a time of need. But transparency is key. At BPAS, we do not hide what we believe.
The flourishing of these church-based pregnancy counselling centres fits almost too neatly into the "big society" agenda. We should have no problem with faith-based organisations reaching out to those in need: but before they are incorporated into public services, we have to be clear we have shared aims. The same point applies to public health minister Anne Milton's decision to include Life on the Department of Health's new sexual health advisory body. There is much debate to be had within the field of sexual health services as to best policy and practice, but a starting point should be that women are able to make choices.
Life should not be muzzled – far from it. We welcome public debate about abortion – in fact maybe now is the time for more of it. Abortion is not a shameful secret that should simply be tolerated. We should be proud of the services which women in this country are legally able to access, and of the fact that women, in planning the timing and size of their families, can play a full role in society.
London ~ Thursday May 26 2011, page 12
Labour opposes voice for anti-abortion group on sexual health forum
Yvette Cooper says appointment of Life organisation to panel raises question over ministers' continuing support for abortion
By Ben Quinn
Yvette Cooper: 'Many women will be alarmed to hear that an organisation that campaigns against abortion in all circumstances is now advising the government.' (Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
The Labour party has said that the appointment of a campaigning anti-abortion group to a new government advisory panel on sexual health raises concerns about whether abortion will continue to have support from ministers in future.
The Life organisation, which is opposed to abortion in all circumstances and favours an abstinence-based approach to sex education, has been invited to join the sexual health forum, the Guardian revealed on Wednesday.
The forum has been set up to replace the Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health and HIV, which was abolished last year by Anne Milton, the public health minister.
Yvette Cooper, shadow home secretary and shadow minister for women and equalities, said on Wednesday: "Many women will be alarmed to hear that an organisation that campaigns against abortion in all circumstances is now advising the government.
"Abortion is legal in this country but the appointment of this group raises a concern about whether that will continue to be supported by ministers in future."
She added: "We know that women don't take decisions about pregnancy and abortion lightly. They will want reassurances from ministers that the appointment of this group does not signal a backwards step in independent advice, proper health support for women and safe access to abortion."
There has also been criticism of the government's decision to omit the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) from the new forum, despite its long-term membership of the previous advisory group.
The Department of Health has justified its decision on the basis that it was important that the forum represented "a wide range of interests".
However, news of the invitation to Life and omission of the BPAS has caused anger. Education for Choice, a pro-choice charity that provides education and training resources, used Twitter on Wednesday to "urge all those with interest in young people's health to write to public health minster Anne Milton to express disapproval".
Lisa Hallgarten, director of Education for Choice, said that sexual health professionals had played a key role advising the government in improving sexual health services in recent years.
Women have particularly benefited from developments including greater investment in contraception and improvements to abortion access, she said.
"It is hard to see how an organisation dedicated to opposing provision of abortion would support these kinds of advances and our main concern would be that Life might seek to obstruct further advances in contraceptive and abortion access or even turn the clock back on some of them," she added.
But the move was welcomed today by the Conservative MP and pro-life campaigner Nadine Dorries, who won backing from MPs this month for a motion proposing that teenage girls must be given lessons in how to say no to sex.
"The news that the government has ejected BPAS from the new sexual health forum and replaced them with the charity Life is pleasing, as it was the right thing to do," she wrote on her blog.
MPs voted 67 to 61, a majority of six, to let Dorries bring forward her bill, which would provide classes in abstinence for girls aged 13 to 16. It will receive its second reading in January, though it is unlikely to become law without government support.
She added: "Journalists who have contacted me have asked the question 'do you agree that this decision was taken quickly, as a result of the success of your 10-minute rule bill calling for abstinence to be included in sex education teaching' and 'do you think the government have been caught off guard by the amount of public support for your bill'? I have no idea, what I do know though is that it is a very good step in the right direction."
The MP has also tabled amendments to the to the health and social care bill to tighten the rules on terminations.
The new sexual health forum also includes representatives from the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health, the Association of Directors of Public Health and the British HIV Association.
Also on the panel are the Terrence Higgins Trust, sexual health charity Brook, the Family Planning Association, the Sex Education Forum and National Children's Bureau.
London ~ Monday June 6, 2011, page 13
Pro-choice campaigners fight moves to turn back clock on abortion rights
Diane Abbott among those opposing involvement of anti-abortion charity in possible amendment to law
By Ben Quinn
Diane Abbott has described the inclusion of the charity Life on the government's sexual health forum as a "dangerous move". (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
Pro-choice campaigners and their political allies are coming together to stage a fightback against what they view as attempts by the Christian right and social conservatives to chip away at established abortion rights as MPs stage a cross-party attempt to tighten legislation.
It comes as a "rising tide of opposition and concern" is emerging about the agenda of figures in the government, according to Diane Abbott, the shadow minister for public health, who is to address a pro-choice meeting in London on Monday.
The gathering will bring together women's rights activists, trade unionists and others and is one of a number being organised nationwide in which liberal-left bloggers are playing a key role.
A pro-choice rally in London on 9 July is also being organised following the Guardian's report last month that the government had appointed an anti-abortion charity, Life, to a new sexual health advisory forum and omitted the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS).
Life, which is opposed to abortion in all circumstances and favours an abstinence-based approach to sex education, is expected to take up its seat at the second meeting of the forum this week.
BPAS said it had been "disinvited" after attending the forum's first meeting in January. The government maintains the panel reflects a "wide range of interests and views".
Pro-choice supporters, however, are particularly concerned about an amendment to the health and social care bill that would create a new precondition for women having an abortion to receive advice and counselling from an organisation that does not carry out terminations. The amendment is part of a campaign called Right to Know, launched by Nadine Dorries, a Conservative MP, and Frank Field, a former Labour minister.
"We cannot allow Nadine Dorries and some of the anti-abortion groups currently advising the government to turn the clock back for millions of women," said Abbott.
"Mainstream medical opinion is united in its agreement that, when carried out in a legal setting where sterile facilities are available, abortion is a safe procedure carrying a low risk of complications.
"And we must not underestimate the chilling news that the government has appointed anti-abortion group Life to their expert advisory group on sexual health. This appointment, coupled with the retraction of an invite to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, one of the UK's leading abortion providers, signals a dangerous move."
She added: "Increasingly, people up and down the country are looking to take a stand against what they see as an attempt to chip away at abortion access for women in England, Scotland and Wales.
"There is a rising tide of opposition and concern about the agenda being pushed by figures in this Tory-led government, and David Cameron must come clean on where the Tories now stand on a woman's right to choose."
The first meetings will examine how pro-choice supporters can reframe the debate, according to Sunny Hundal, editor of the leftwing blog Liberal Conspiracy. The F-word, an online feminist magazine, is also involved in organising the campaign.
"It was born out of frustration and as a response to Nadine Dorries's agenda," said Hundal.
"People were not aware until recently about the real threat that is emerging to existing rights, but it's also part of a wider battle against an agenda pushed by the Tories, which includes the role of religious groups in areas like sexual education."
Darinka Aleksic, campaign co-ordinator at Abortion Rights, the national pro-choice campaign, added that the appointment of Life to the forum was a "tipping point" that had galvanised pro-choice supporters growing increasingly concerned about a new threat to the 1967 Abortion Act.
"We have had legal abortion since 1967 so in some ways perhaps we have got used to the idea that it is always going to be there, but the fact is that people are becoming aware that those rights are under threat and need to be protected," she said. "There is a groundswell of support for that protection.
"Things have been quiet since 2008 when there was an attack on the time limit for abortionbut in the last few months a change has been happening."
A Department of Health spokesperson said: "We want to improve sexual health services and information for women.
"That's why we have set up the forum so we move the discussion about sexual health forward. To do this it is only right that a wide range of interests and views are represented."
The Right to Know campaign has stated that the purpose of the Dorries-Field amendment is to ensure that women considering an abortion would be guaranteed access to independent information and advice from someone who had no vested financial interest in the outcome of their decision.
London ~ Sunday September 4 2011
Abortion law pioneer David Steel asks MPs to reject change
Former Liberal leader and architect of 1967 act speaks out amid fears of an American-style anti-termination agenda
By Tracy McVeigh
David Steel insists that there is no need to amend the bill as Nadine Dorries has proposed. (Graeme Robertson)
David Steel, the former Liberal leader and architect of the 1967 Abortion Act, has lobbied ministers to vote against a bill to change the counselling system for women who want terminations.
Lord Steel, who has talked of the need to amend his original legislation to limit late abortions, said that there was no need for the proposed amendment to the health and social care bill, which MPs will vote on this week. He has written to key figures in the government to urge them to reject it.
The amendment, put forward by the Tory MP Nadine Dorries, would strip established abortion providers and charities of their role as counsellors to women with unplanned pregnancies. Critics say the move would create a gap that would be filled by religious anti-abortion charities and medical professionals.
Steel said: "Under the Abortion Act, the Department of Health has complete power over licensing and de-licensing clinics. If there were any evidence of failure to carry out proper counselling of patients, they can close clinics. More positively, there is nothing to stop them issuing guidelines on counselling if they think that necessary. There is no need to amend the health bill."
Dorries has emerged as the figurehead of the "right to know" campaign that has emerged in the run-up to the vote. Her amendment is almost certain to be rejected this week after the government indicated it did not have the support of David Cameron or the Department of Health. But there is unease among pro-choice campaigners that a US-style anti-abortion agenda is starting to take root in the UK, supported by American Christian evangelical movements.
Ann Furedi, chief executive of BPAS (formerly the British Pregnancy Advisory Service) said: "Over the past couple of decades, anti-choice organisations in the US have moved away from arguing about the morality of abortion, towards presenting their cause in the language of women's health. This often leads them to promote misinformation – for example, that abortion causes breast cancer, infertility or mental illness – as a means of scaring women about abortion, or encouraging legislators to restrict access to abortions. There are important moral and political arguments that should be had about abortion; hiding behind non-evidence based, pseudo-scientific health claims reveals the moral bankruptcy of some anti-abortion campaigns today."
She added: "The Dorries amendment – tagged on to a bill which has nothing to do with abortion – seems to be an example of using legislation to interfere with women's access to a legal abortion service, with the goal of making the experience more unpleasant."
Other providers are worried they may have to take on a new role. "We are not the place for moral or political arbitration," said one pregnancy counsellor. "Our job is to support women and make sure they are making the right decision for them. The last thing I want is to have to spend my time defending the rights and wrongs."
The Royal College of GPs and the BMA have said they do not see any reason for the amendment. Any GP who has an ethical or religious object to abortion is allowed to "conscientiously object" and take no part in referring or treating a woman with an unplanned pregnancy.
Dr Peter Saunders, of the Christian Medical fellowship, which has more than 4,500 doctors as members, said GPs were the right people to give independent counselling. "They would not need to state their own ethical position until it gets to the point that the woman says she would like an abortion and then the doctor can explain to her that they are not able to help," said Saunders, who has advised Dorries.