Just when you thought it was safe to go out, the right wing of the Conservative party have resurrected their fact-free campaign about abortion counselling.
It is important to stress that there are already full guidelines on abortion counselling from the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. The Royal College guidelines state: “Women should have access to objective information and, if required, counselling and decision-making support about their pregnancy options”. Such counselling may include:
•Implications counselling: aims to enable the person concerned to understand the implications of the proposed course of action for themselves and for their family.
• Support counselling: aims to give emotional support in times of particular stress)
• Therapeutic counselling: aims to help people with the consequences of their decision and to help them resolve problems which may arise as a result)
Furthermore the Department of Health inspects and regulates abortion clinics, and their inspections have never thrown up breaches of the guidelines.
But, undeterred by the absence of evidence, the anti-abortion lobby has thrown itself into a campaign to promote the need for more abortion counselling. They spew out non-facts in support of a non-problem. But their campaign provides a handy vehicle to attack the motives of the doctors, nurses and clinics involved in providing abortions and to revisit what is fundamentally an anti-abortion case.
Nadine Dorries brought this issue to the floor of the House of Commons last year. Unsurprisingly, she was voted down. Opinion polls shows that the majority of the public are against her.
So, most people imagined that the issue had gone away. But the public health minister Anne Milton has been working behind the scenes to achieve a political “fix”that would enable the government to bring in the changes that the anti-abortionists desire without any more inconvenient parliamentary debate. The government had already made it clear that it believed it could bring in the changes without legislation, by simply changing the regulations. And Milton thought she could get cover for this by setting up an all-party consultation group on abortion counselling and promoting a phony “consultation”. The “consultation” would, in theory, offer a range of options. But there was no doubt which option the Tory anti-abortionists preferred and which option they would ensure that the “consultation” was flooded with support for.
I originally agreed to attend the group in good faith. Although I knew abortion counselling already existed, I was interested in seeing if it could be improved. In particular, I was concerned about a range of faith-based counselling services. I also thought it might be possible to look at offering better counselling over a range of issues like still-birth and infertility.
But after a couple of meetings it became clear where the group was going and I have now withdrawn. Last night I had to debate the issue on television with Nadine Dorries. Nadine is parliament’s leading anti-abortion campaigner and she has made no secret of the fact that she sees the abortion counselling issue as a way of driving down the number of abortions.
True to form, Nadine was ready with a barrage of untrue assertions. She claimed that the abortion clinics are just in it for the money; that the majority of people who attended the MP “consultation” meetings were pro-choice; that I had played no part in the meetings, even that I had slept through one. As she walked off the television set Nadine’s high heels clacked triumphantly.
The trouble is that Nadine’s performance is everything that is wrong with the social conservatives that are resurgent in the Conservative party. They rely on a smokescreen of emotion and personal attacks rather than evidence. And they are attempting to import the worst of the American debate on abortion and other “values” issues into British politics. It is no coincidence that a group of Tory MPs (many of them the same people involved in the abortion counselling campaign) are reported to preparing for a campaign to resist David Cameron’s proposal to introduce gay marriage.
Women’s lives are too important to be just pieces on a political chess board. And the coming “consultation” is a con.
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