Abortion Rights Blog

The national pro-choice campaign

Comment: thoughts on the ‘Dorries debate’

Our guest blogger, Maggie Henebury, offers an overview of the debate on the recent abortion counselling debate and the current state of UK abortion law.

On 7th September, following a 90 minute debate in the House of Commons, the amendments to the Health & Social Care Bill proposed by Nadine Dorries were rejected by an overwhelming majority of 250 MPs. Reassuring, certainly, but by no means a great victory in the fight for female autonomy; as far as the pro-choice majority of the UK is concerned, many find it a little embarrassing that Dorries’ proposals made it as far as Parliamentary discussion in the first place.

Just in case you’re yet to be acquainted with Nadine Dorries, perhaps I might offer you an introduction: she is a former nurse, and currently a Conservative backbencher who calls herself pro-choice while trying her very best to set back abortion policy in the UK, amongst other decidedly pro-choice and “pro-women” activities such as calling pregnant women considering abortion “vulnerable,” referring to her time as a nurse assisting a late-stage abortion procedure as akin to taking part in ‘murder’, and trying to reduce the abortion time limit from 24 weeks to 20 back in 2008.

Thanks in some part to her inability to deliver a convincing argument during the debate, but mostly to the 318 MPs who filled the ‘No’ lobby, Dorries’ proposals to remove the rights of abortion providers to offer counselling and instead give it to “a private body that does not itself provide for the termination of pregnancies,” were outright rejected by Parliament, and on the surface it may appear that the battle is won, and all is well again. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Free, unbiased access to abortion is not only still under threat, but the fact is, it still isn’t good enough anyway.

As it stands, a woman considering an abortion must obtain permission from two separate doctors, who assess the evidence and judge whether or not she is fit to undergo a termination. If one of these doctors denies access, the process must be repeated. It is true that by being referred to an abortion provider, rejection is unlikely, but surely the matter of unwanted pregnancy is one that should be kept between a woman and her chosen physician, and no one else?

Moreover, women seeking abortion who are living in Northern Ireland cannot access the procedure at home, so instead their only access is via raising enough funds to travel mainland, find accommodation, and then pay for the procedure themselves, in spite of the fact they are UK taxpayers. For many women this is not an option. There are volunteer-run organisations such as the Abortion Support Network who work to provide such women with financial assistance and accommodation in order to obtain a safe, legal abortion, but it isn’t good enough.

It is a huge injustice to the UK’s pro-choice majority that the subject of abortion only seems to come up in Parliament when someone is pushing for backward steps. This year, Nadine Dorries attempted to undermine women by mollycoddling them as vulnerable creatures who need to be protected from money-grabbing abortionists hell-bent on killing their babies for profit.

The truth is that abortion providers such as Marie Stopes and BPAS support female autonomy; the suggestion that abortionists are awarded some kind of commission for every termination they carry out is nothing but fantasy. These organisations do not have a vested interest in ending your pregnancy; their interest is giving women choice, giving women options.

It is thoroughly disheartening to see the 118 MPs who voted for Dorries’ amendment, as well as many members of the public, being misled by false information which seeks to demonise the role of abortion providers.

It’s about time our government started doing more to improve abortion policy, rather than simply vetoing those who want to damage it. Perhaps our one gratitude to Nadine Dorries is that she has brought abortion to the forefront of current affairs, and those who have been stirred or outraged by recent events will be inspired to speak out, demand more, and work to better the lives of all women in the UK, as many of us are already doing. We are not vulnerable. We know what we want, and we won’t stop until we get it.