UK Politics

David Cameron 'won't back abortion advice change'

  • 1 September 2011
  • From the section UK Politics
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Nadine Dorries MP
Nadine Dorries has campaigned to reduce the time limit for abortions

David Cameron "cannot support" an attempt by a Conservative MP to change the rules on the advice that can be offered to women seeking abortions.

The PM's office said he was sympathetic to Nadine Dorries' view that women should be offered independent advice.

But he was concerned the planned amendment to the Health Bill would prevent abortion providers like Marie Stopes from giving counselling as well.

Ms Dorries claims such clinics have a financial motive to encourage abortion.

At present, women seeking an abortion need the consent of two doctors, which can be obtained through an NHS clinic or GP surgery, or at a private provider, like Marie Stopes or the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), affiliated with the NHS.

In both cases, staff have a duty to provide counselling to the women who use them - and under Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists' guidelines that advice should be impartial, objective and unbiased.

Faith-based groups

Ms Dorries' amendment - which is also supported by Labour backbencher Frank Field - would remove that duty from Marie Stopes and BPAS.

It says the NHS - specifically GPs - should provide "independent information, advice and counselling services for women requesting termination of pregnancy" - and it defines "independent" as an organisation that does not itself provide abortions.

There are no other stipulations about who those independent bodies could be and pro-choice campaigners say they could be faith-based groups morally opposed to abortion, who will seek to persuade women that going ahead with one would be a sin.

The Health and Social Care Bill is due to be discussed by MPs in the Commons next Tuesday and Wednesday, but it is up to the Speaker, John Bercow, to decide whether or not to call Ms Dorries' amendment.

Downing Street said the prime minister may not be there for the debate, but if he was, he would vote against the amendment.

Number 10 also stressed that it was a free vote and no pressure was being applied to Conservative MPs to vote in a particular way.

'Conveyor belt'

Ms Dorries told the BBC she believed the prime minister would change his position before the vote when he saw "polling evidence" in the weekend newspapers.

In an article for the Daily Mail, Ms Dorries - a former nurse who has campaigned to reduce the legal time limit for abortions - has written that she wants women "to be offered genuinely independent counselling, so they can at least consider their options and not necessarily feel, at a time when they may be desperately vulnerable, that a termination is the only option".

"Under present legislation, doctors or pregnancy advisory services have no duty to offer professional, impartial help to women considering an abortion," the MP for Mid-Bedfordshire said.

"Moreover, most counselling is offered by the big abortion providers themselves, like the British Pregnancy Advisory Service or the Marie Stopes clinics, which are paid millions by the NHS to carry out terminations - and so profit from the process."

Ms Dorries has also written on her blog that "thousands" of women seeking abortions "feel they were put on a conveyor belt to the operating theatre the minute they stepped through the clinic door".

But she insisted her stance was not about religious belief, writing: "No organisation which is paid for carrying out abortions and no organisation that thinks it's appropriate to bring God into a counselling session with a vulnerable woman, should be allowed anywhere near the counselling room."

Consultation

The Department of Health says it is looking to consult over the advice available to women seeking terminations and has not finalised any proposals yet.

But it says any requirement to offer independent counselling would be in addition to what is already provided by GPs and clinics, not instead of it, and the government was not proposing stripping abortion charities of their ability to provide advice.

"The Department of Health wants women who are thinking about having an abortion to be able to have access to independent counselling," a spokesman said.

"Work is underway currently to develop proposals around counselling on which the department intends to consult externally."

The government also says all abortion providers are subject to a robust regulatory framework underpinned by good medical practice to ensure that women receive high quality care.

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