Anti-choice counselling plans: what’s the latest?
The proposals to introduce new counselling arrangements for women seeking abortion are moving ahead – but exactly how the government plans to proceed is unclear at the moment.
For those who aren’t familiar with the situation, in March Nadine Dorries MP and Frank Field MP tabled amendments to the Health and Social Care (HSC) bill which would require GPs to provide ‘independent advice and counselling’ to women seeking abortion – stripping abortion providers of this responsibility and opening the door for anti-choice organisations to become involved in counselling women with unplanned pregnancies.
We now know that the final stages of the HSC bill will be heard in Parliament on 6-7th September. If the Dorries/Field amendment is selected by the Speaker it will be debated and voted on then.
However, it was recently announced that the Department of Health believes that it does not even need this new legislation to implement these proposals. Public Health Minister Anne Milton has stated that it will be possible to proceed via regulatory change. At present the DoH is ‘drawing up proposals’ to put the counselling changes into practice and will be consulting on them later in the year.
So it seems that whether the plans are heard in Parliament or not, the government is keen to press ahead with these damaging changes.
The 6-7th September is the first key date though and over the next few weeks we will be asking even more of our supporters to write to their MP and make them aware of the looming threat (we’ll be putting an ‘Email your MP’ tool up on our website soon).
Many thanks to all of you who have already written to your MP and to Anne Milton and the Department of Health expressing your concerns – and for passing on their responses to us. It’s been hugely helpful. Please keep the pressure on – here’s our model letter, or you can email Anne Milton at the Department of Health.
Abortion Rights is meeting with and contacting MPs from all parties to raise awareness of the issue and urging them to oppose the changes. We’ll keep you regularly updated on our progress.
We raised our voice for choice – Demo Report
Hundreds of pro-choice activists came together on Saturday 9th July to protest against recent attempts to restrict abortion access and to support the right to safe, legal abortion. And we had a great time doing it!
The sun shone (most of the time), the music played and hundreds of pro-choice supporters raised some very loud – and angry – voices in opposition to the anti-choice proposals we’ve been seeing over the past couple of months, particularly moves to introduce new counselling requirements for women seeking abortion.
Supporters gathered outside Parliament to hear speakers, including Diane Abbott MP (who wrote this great piece on demo day) and London Assembly Green Party member Jenny Jones, condemn attempts by MPs Nadine Dorries and Frank Field to introduce further pre-abortion counselling requirements without consulting Parliament.
As the Guardian reported, Dr Evan Harris, former Lib Dem MP and pro-choice supporter told the crowd:
“The British Medicial Assocation recently overwhelmingly voted against limiting the time limit on abortion, but there is a pressing need to mobilise now against any move that would result in women being compelled to go for pre-abortion counselling, especially when there is no guarantee that the counsellors will be balanced and regulated.”
We had rousing speeches from Lisa Hallgarten, Director of Education for Choice; TUC Equality Officer Scarlet Harris; journalist and activist Laurie Penny; Mara Clark of the Abortion Support Network and from AR Campaign Co-ordinator, Darinka Aleksic.
We also heard from Queer Resistance, from AR vice-chair Kate Smurthwaite (doing some noisy chant-leading) and from demo organiser Adele Jones of Swansea Feminist Network who did stirling work on MC duty.
Abortion Rights would like to thank everyone who turned out to make it such a successful day, all the speakers and helpers, and to all the websites and bloggers who publicised the event. And we’d also like to take the opportunity to say…
Hello new supporters!
A big welcome to all our new members and everyone who signed up for news alerts. It’s great to have you with us. As you know, this is a really key time for the pro-choice movement and we need your support more than ever as we work together to oppose these new threats to our reproductive rights.
And remember to follow us on Twitter @Abortion ˍRights for up-to-the-minute of news of repro rights issues at home and abroad.
Abortion and the medical profession: a mixed outlook
In recent weeks we have posted two stories on our website highlighting the differing attitudes of medical professionals towards abortion access and service provision.
They remind us that although much of our campaign’s focus necessarily centres on legislative and political attitudes to abortion, the support of medical professionals is crucial if equitable access is to be maintained.
BMA members reject bid to cut abortion time limit
Last month the British Medical Association offered a strong vote of confidence in the current abortion time limit, when a two thirds majority of delegates voted to oppose calls for a cut from 24 to 20 weeks at the organisation’s annual conference.
61% of BMA delegates voted against a motion to cut the association’s support for the current time limit, from 24 weeks to 20 weeks. Around a third of delegates voted in favour of the motion (32%), while 7% abstained.
The chairman of the BMA’s ethics committee, Dr Tony Calland, said that there was no evidence that the limit should be cut from a medical or scientific viewpoint.
Quoted in the Guardian, Dr Calland said: “There’s recent evidence that once you slip below 23 weeks it’s extremely difficult to ensure that the child survives.
“It’s a difficult issue but we have got to a position where it works. I would ask you not to change BMA policy on this issue. It’s already where it should be, based on the evidence.”
At a time when elected officials are increasingly offering a platform to anti-choice advocates, whose arguments frequently rest on misleading and medically inaccurate information, it is heartening to see a majority of doctors looking to scientific evidence to support backing the current abortion time limit.
Training doctors to perform abortions: a slow burning crisis
A study carried out in the Journal of Medical Ethics and reported in the media this month shows that access to abortion services in future could be threatened by the increasing number of medical students who object to abortion in principle and who would refuse to carry out the procedure.
“The survey revealed that almost a third of students would not perform an abortion for a congenitally malformed foetus after 24 weeks, a quarter would not perform an abortion for failed contraception before 24 weeks and a fifth would not perform an abortion on a minor who was the victim of rape,” said Dr Sophie Strickland, the study’s author, adding that, “In light of increasing demand for abortions, these results may have implications for women’s access to abortion services in the future.”
Abortion providers expressed their concern at the findings and emphasised the need for medical students to receive appropriate training in this area.
Dr Patricia Lohr, Medical Director at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service commented:
“It’s extremely important that abortion is included in the medical school curriculum. Medical students may not currently engage much with the reasons why a woman may find herself with an unwanted pregnancy and the decision making process women undertake when determining whether to continue or terminate a pregnancy.
Abortion is the most commonly performed gynaecological procedure in the country. Regardless of whether a doctor specialises in this area or not, they will during their career come across many women facing an unintended pregnancy and considering abortion.”
Calling all teachers!
Education For Choice are a pro-choice education charity offering a range of services and resources for talking to young people about abortion, including their FPA award-winning Talk about Choice programme.
Speakers give presentations or smaller class-sized workshops in schools, colleges or youth centres which allow young people to consider the realities of unplanned pregnancy and abortion, promoting evidence-based information and an impartial, non-judgmental approach to the issue.
For more information on EFC’s resources and training visit their website.
To book a Talk About Choice session contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remembering pro-choice heroines
In recent months the pro-choice movement has lost two of its staunchest advocates.
Terry Marsland, the hugely influential trade unionist and abortion rights advocate passed away in May.
During a career which saw her champion equal pay, women’s role in the trade union movement and the right to choose, Terry was the first to move a motion on abortion at trades union congress in 1975. In her historic speech to delegates she said “One of the basic principles of equality is that women should have the right to control their own destinies”.
An obituary for Terry appeared in the Independent last month and a memorial service is planned for later this year.
We were also saddened to hear that Jane Barker passed away last month. Like Terry, Jane was a trade unionist and women’s rights advocate. In the early 1970s she was a founder member of the National Abortion Campaign – the forerunner of Abortion Rights – when she was leader of the Women’s Health Group at Essex Road Women’s Centre.
Abortion Rights would like to sincerely thank all those who made a donation to our campaign in Jane’s memory and to Ursula Huws for arranging this. Read Ursula’s tribute to Jane here.
Next month Abortion Rights will be at UK Feminista Summer School in Birmingham on 13-14th August. We’re having a stall and running a session so come and say Hi!
And in September we’ll be at Labour Conference in Liverpool, from 25th to 29th September and the Labour Women’s Conference on the 24th too.
If you’re attending Labour or any of the other party conferences this year, do email us and let us know.