Abortion advice and pro-life groups - a bad fit?
by Mary Honeyball
Under reforms proposed in the UK, anti-abortion beliefs would present no obstacle to bidders seeking state contracts
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.
Mary Honeyball is a British MEP
What upper limit on abortion is sensible?
Perhaps Britain could return to the test, which prevailed prior to 1990, when abortion was prohibited for any child that was 'capable of being born alive' – argues Chris Whitehouse
Speaking as an American, who is very familiar with the tactics which these groups use here - false claims about suicide, breast cancer, alcoholism, infertility - "you'll be sending your baby straight to hell" and calling up the woman's parents, boyfriend, pastor and employer to tattle on them for considering abortion are not "neutral advice on options".
crowepps - Soldotna, Alaska, USA
Thank you for this excellent article. As pro-choice support gets stronger, the opposition has to resort to pretense - pretending to care about women while bent on restricting their rights. You almost have to laugh when Nadine Dorries says she's pro-choice - it's just a smokescreen covering up her distrust and disrespect for women - and abortion providers.
Joyce Arthur - Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada