Abortion counselling consultation called off

Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries wants to stop abortion providers giving counselling to women

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A health minister says the government no longer plans to undertake its own consultation on abortion counselling.

Anna Soubry told MPs the government "did not intend to change either the law or the guidelines".

But she said ministers would look at recommendations from an inquiry being held by a cross-party group of MPs.

Anti-abortion campaigners argue there is a conflict of interest because many pregnant women who receive counselling from clinics go on to have abortions.

Instead, they want counselling to be provided by someone, such as a GP, who is separate from the abortion clinic.

The cross-party group was set up after MPs voted last September against proposals that would have stopped abortion providers offering counselling to pregnant women.

The proposals, supported by three cabinet ministers, were brought forward by Conservative MP Nadine Dorries.

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

'Personal belief'

Ms Soubry said: "I am aware that there is a cross-party inquiry into unwanted pregnancy and I think there is some important work that they will do and evidence which they will hear.

"But the simple reality is as follows - we no longer plan to undertake a separate consultation and I am sorry if that disappoints those members of the committee.

"I am grateful for the work that they did and I want to thank them for all their efforts. I am sorry if, as I say, there is some disappointment, but the reality is that we now don't intend to change the law so it is now an otiose exercise."

Ms Dorries, who called the debate in which the minister made her announcement, accused Ms Soubry of cancelling the consultation because of her own personal beliefs.

She said: "This is quite bizarre. What Anna Soubry has said today doesn't improve services for women.

"The government has decided that it is not the right decision, and what makes it even more bizarre is that the British Medical Association voted to support the consultation.

"Anna Soubry has a personal belief. What she has done is try to impose her personal belief on her role and that is out of order."

Shadow public health minister Diane Abbott, who walked out of the cross-party group earlier this year, welcomed the cancellation of the consultation as a "victory for women".

"The message that people have forced this government to listen to is that British women's right to choose is here to stay," she said.

"I think it's been a particularly tough period for those people who provide care and support for women seeking an abortion, who have repeatedly faced the most appalling attacks, smears and misinformation about their work in the media, and in Parliament."

After the debate the British Medical Association responded to Ms Dorries' reference to them, saying: "Our policy states that we support timely and impartial counselling and advice for women requesting abortion should they wish to receive it. However, we have not called for consultation."

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