Diane Abbott quits MPs' abortion counselling group

Nadine Dorries and Diane Abbott have a heated exchange on Newsnight over her decision to quit

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A shadow health minister has resigned from a cross-party group on counselling given to pregnant women by abortion providers, dismissing it as a "front" for those who want it outlawed.

Labour MP Diane Abbott said she had "no doubt" the government wanted to bring about such a change.

But Tory MP Nadine Dorries, who is in favour of altering the law, said Ms Abbott's comments were "nonsense".

Health Minister Anne Milton said she was "disappointed" at Ms Abbott's move.

The cross-party group of 10 MPs, including Ms Milton, was set up after the Commons voted last September against proposals by Ms Dorries that would have stopped abortion providers offering counselling to pregnant women.

The government said at the time that it would look at ways of incorporating the "spirit" of the proposals in new regulations - and a consultation is due to be launched.

'Window dressing'

After she resigned, Ms Abbott, the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, wrote in a letter to Ms Milton: "I entered into the meetings in good faith. I was genuinely interested in improving the quality of counselling available to women.

Start Quote

It's disappointing when anyone walks away from constructive talks on such an important issue”

End Quote Anne Milton Public Health Minister

"But I now believe the 'consultation' will be a front for driving through the anti-choice lobbyists' preferred option without legislation or a debate on the floor of the House."

In a statement, Ms Abbott said there was "no doubt which option the government wants to drive through" on abortion counselling.

"The talks that have taken place have been little more than window dressing for what is an aggressive, anti-choice campaign and I am walking away from them," she said.

But Ms Dorries, MP for Mid-Bedfordshire said her proposals had "almost no support" among its members and "overwhelmingly people around the table are opposed to what I'm trying to do".

She added that Ms Abbott had "no clue" about what had gone on at the group's meetings because she had only attended two out of three events.

'Politicised'

In a statement, Ms Milton said: "It's disappointing when anyone walks away from constructive talks on such an important issue.

"Talks are continuing encompassing the wide range of views on abortion. I believe we have all been encouraged about how constructive they have been and how well the meetings are progressing."

But Ann Furedi, chief executive of the charity BPAS which provides abortions, said: "It is shocking that the minister and officials can disregard so blatantly the advice they have received from those who provide care to pursue the ideologically-driven demands of a handful of MPs who know nothing of how services are run - and have made no effort to find out.

"It is wrong for an important aspect of care to be politicised in this way. We are frankly stunned that officials can even consider dismantling the existing care-pathways which have developed in response to what women want and need, and that they have approved and regulated without any concern until Nadine Dorries tabled her amendment."

MPs do not have to follow party lines on abortion, as it is considered an issue of conscience.

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