September 2011 (To print, click the print icon on your browser
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UK’s House of Commons Vetoes Amendment to Deny Abortion Providers Ability to Counsel Women

In a sweeping victory, abortion providers in the UK were assured by the House of Commons that there would be no changes in the near future to their ability to counsel women seeking abortions. On September 7, 2011, Members of Parliament rejected a bid by Conservative Nadine Dorries to have the National Health Service present women with the option of receiving “independent” counseling services, which would have included advising by those with an anti-abortion agenda.[1]
 
Despite support from cabinet members including Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, Defense Secretary Liam Fox, and Northern Ireland Secretary Own Paterson, the Dorries amendment was rejected, 368–118, enjoying a 250-vote majority. The outcome effectively upholds Shadow Minister for Public Health Diane Abbott’s view that the “amendment [was] a shoddy, ill-conceived attempt to promote non-facts to make a non-case – namely that tens of thousands of women every year are either not getting counselling that they request or are getting counselling that is so poor that only new legislation can remedy the situation.”[2]
 
The September 7th vote was on the least onerous of three proposed amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill by Dorries, who has previously campaigned to reduce the time frame for women to receive legal abortions.[3] The backbone of her efforts lay in her amendment which would end the counseling services provided by abortion providers, including major organizations like the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and Marie Stopes International on the grounds that they have a “vested interest” in seeing that the women choose abortion and are therefore not “independent.”[4]
 
To the contrary, such providers are already required to provide comprehensive, impartial counseling that is highly monitored as they are obligated to adhere to the Department of Health’s Procedures For The Approval Of Independent Sector Places For The Termination of Pregnancy. This includes making available information, counseling resources, and literature on alternatives to abortion.[5] Among other institutions, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), England’s independent regulator of heath and social care services, also ensures that such services are non-directive.[6] BPAS notes that an estimated 20% of women do not choose to have an abortion after visiting with a BPAS bureau.[7] Alternatively, BPAS notes that outside counseling networks, such as Care Confidential, were recently investigated and found to exhibit “poor practice and factually incorrect advice, while the quality of counselling differs widely.”[8]
 
Health Minister Anne Milton had an influential role in setting the course for the rejection of the proposed amendments. She not only urged Dorries to withdraw her proposal but also wrote a letter to conservative MPs nearly a week before the debate, clarifying that, “We are very sympathetic to the aim of ensuring that all women requesting abortion are offered impartial, informative counselling. However, on the issue of preventing abortion services from offering counselling, we disagree with the amendment.”[9] This correspondence came just before amendment co-sponsor, former Labor Minister Frank Field, withdrew his support entirely, signaling the unnecessary nature of new legislation in this area. David Steel, who designed the UK’s 1967 Abortion Act and former Liberal leader, also voiced his criticism of Dorries’ amendment to the government’s ministers.[10]
 
During the debate, Dorries relied on broad generalizations of women who she said later regretted having an abortion and harked on the £60 million received annually by abortion providers from taxpayer money.[11] She also accused the Liberal Democrat party of sabotaging her allies, which included, at one time, Prime Minister David Cameron, who was unable to vote on the amendment. Because abortion is considered an issue of conscience, MPs were able to vote regardless of party lines.
 
The British Humanist Association “has welcomed the vote as ‘strongly reinforcing the pro-choice majority’ found in the United Kingdom,” and Labor deputy leader, Harriet Harman, added that the vote sent a “strong message that the work of Marie Stopes, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas), and others is valued.”[12] While news sources and high-profile columnists are wondering, in light of the Dorries amendment, if “US-style anti-abortion agenda is starting to take root in the UK,” the decision in the House of Commons on September 7, 2011 makes it clear that the laws will remain pro-choice for the time being.[13] As bpas Chief Executive Ann Furedi remarked in a press release following the Commons decision, the focus must remain on ensuring that women considering abortion can do so in the context of evidence- and fact-based counseling; “Bpas is pleased to see Nadine Dorries’ amendment so overwhelmingly rejected.  We look forward to being able to focus our efforts on the issues which pose a genuine problem for women considering ending a pregnancy.”[14]
 
 
 

[1]“MPs reject call to change abortion advice,” BBC News – UK Politics, 7 September 2011, accessed 14 September 2011, <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-14817816>.
[2]Nicholas Watt, “Nadine Dorries’s abortion proposals heavily defeated in Commons,” The Guardian, 7 September 2011, accessed 14 September 2011, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/sep/07/nadine-dorries-abortion-amendment-defeated>.
[3]Jason Groves, “MP loses bid to curb abortion providers’ advice to women,” Daily Mail, 8 September 2011, accessed 8 September 2011, <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2034624/Nadine-Dorries-abortion-reform-Services-right-advice-terminations.html>.
[4]Ned Simons, “Nadine Dorries: MPs Overwhelmingly Reject Abortion Law Amendment,” Huffington Post, 7 September 2011, accesses 14 September 2011, <http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/09/07/mps-overwhelmingly-reject_n_951987.html>; see also Nadine Dorries’ Amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill, given 31 March 2011, accessed 14 September 2011, <http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmbills/132/amend/pbc1323103p.1833.html#top>.
[5]British Humanist Association (BHA), “BHA Briefing: Health and Social Care Bill, 2010-2011, Report Stage: Nadine Dorries’ ‘Informed Consent’ Amendments,” Press Release published September 2011, accessed 14 September 2011, <http://www.humanism.org.uk/news/view/887>.
[6]Marie Stopes International, Emma Griffiths, “Abortion counselling amendment defeated in Parliament,” Press Release published 7 September 2011, accessed 14 September 2011, <http://mariestopes.org.uk/PressReleases/UK/_Abortion_counselling_amendment_defeated_in_Parliament.aspx>.
[7]British Humanist Association (BHA), “BHA Briefing: Health and Social Care Bill, 2010-2011, Report Stage: Nadine Dorries’ ‘Informed Consent’ Amendments,” Press Release published September 2011, accessed 14 September 2011, <http://www.humanism.org.uk/news/view/887>.
[8]Ben Quinn, “Abortion: pregnancy counselling centers found wanting: Evidence of poor practice and factually incorrect advice discovered following undercover investigation,” 2 August 2011, accessed 19 September 2011, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/aug/02/abortion-pregnancy-counselling-found-wanting>.
[9]“UK: Health ministers oppose Dorries amendment,” 4 September 2011, accessed 14 September 2011, <http://www.abortionreview.org/index.php/site/article/1017>.
[10]Ibid.
[11]Jason Groves, “MP loses bid to curb abortion providers’ advice to women,” Daily Mail, 8 September 2011, accessed 8 September 2011, <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2034624/Nadine-Dorries-abortion-reform-Services-right-advice-terminations.html>; see also British Humanist Association (BHA), “BHA Briefing: Health and Social Care Bill, 2010-2011, Report Stage: Nadine Dorries’ ‘Informed Consent’ Amendments,” Press Release published September 2011, accessed 14 September 2011, <http://www.humanism.org.uk/news/view/887>.
[12]Ned Simons, “Nadine Dorries: MPs Overwhelmingly Reject Abortion Law Amendment,” Huffington Post, 7 September 2011, accesses 14 September 2011, <http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/09/07/mps-overwhelmingly-reject_n_951987.html>.
[13]“UK: Health ministers oppose Dorries amendment,” 4 September 2011, accessed 14 September 2011, <http://www.abortionreview.org/index.php/site/article/1017>.
[14]British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas), “bpas Comment on Nadine Dorries MP's Amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill,” Press Release Published 6 September 2011, accessed 14 September 2011, <http://www.bpas.org/bpasknowledge.php?year=2011&npage=0&page=81&news=456>.