Plans for changes to the abortion counselling system were revealed on Saturday which show that the Department of Health is actively considering stripping abortion providers of the right to counsel their patients on their pregnancy options, potentially handing the role to anti-choice organisations instead.
The disclosure comes despite MPs having comprehensively rejected similar proposals in September. Although the government had initially signalled its support for counselling changes proposed by conservative backbencher Nadine Dorries, a wave of protest by pro-choice groups – particularly Abortion Rights supporters – forced the government to withdraw its backing for the plans and advise coalition MPs to vote against the move.
However, in the months since the defeat the Department of Health has been preparing a consultation exercise on the future of abortion counselling, with input from pro- and anti-choice MPs and peers.
Draft options to be put to the public include retaining the current pre-abortion counselling system, introducing ‘independent’ counselling – preventing abortion providers from offering this service, or a system of ‘voluntary registration’ which would allow any organisation to provide the service – including anti-choice groups – as long as they met minimum standards.
The fact that ministers have put these misguided, ideologically motivated plans back on the table desite their previous rejection by Parliament and by the Department of Health itself has caused outrage among pro-choice campaigners.
The potential for anti-choice organisations to be contracted to offer pregnancy options counselling is cause for great concern. There is ample evidence to suggest that such counselling, already offered at ‘Crisis Pregnancy Centres’, can be misleading and judgemental.
Of the suggested options currently being considered, only retaining the present counselling system guarantees that women will continue to be offered accurate, unbiased information about their pregnancy options.
Abortion Rights has been working with pro-choice parliamentarians and supporters to ensure that the consultation takes into account views of the pro-choice majority and women themselves. When the final document is published we will be urging supporters to respond to the Department of Health to express, in the strongest possible terms, the pro-choice movement’s objections to these misguided and unnecessary plans.
Read our background on the original counselling proposals.