The members of the British Medical Association have voted in favour of a motion which states its support for independent counselling for people considering an abortion, the text of which has been published by Education for Choice:
“That this Meeting
i) supports the universal availability of neutral counselling for women considering abortion;
ii) believes that any counselling provided for women considering abortion should accord with NHS standards;
iii) believes that women considering abortion should be able to access counselling that is independent of the abortion provider;
iv) deplores picketing and intimidation around abortion services.”
The motion, proposed by a member of the Christian Medical Fellowship, has been leapt on by anti-abortion activists, notably Nadine Dorries MP, who tweeted: "BMA have passed motion in support of independent abortion counselling. At last!"
The Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph both reported the news under misleading headlines, respectively "Women considering abortions should be given independent counselling, says BMA" and "Women considering abortions should get independent counselling, say doctors".
The BMA motion states its support for "the universal availability" of independent counselling for people thinking of an abortion - not that women should get counselling.
In any case, the motion holds no power other than the symbolic, as the Telegraph reported:
"Dr Tony Calland, chairman of the BMA ethics committee said the wording of the motion was unfortunate in that it referred to counselling that was independent of the abortion provider, because in most cases the NHS provided the abortion and it was not being argued that the NHS should not also provide counselling.
"For that reason, although the motion was passed, it will not become official BMA policy."
While Abortion Rights is pleased that the motion does not support stripping abortion providers of the opportunity to provide counselling nor suggests that pre-abortion counselling should be mandatory, it is important to note that the counselling currently provided by organisations such as BPAS and Marie Stopes already is neutral, non-directive and adheres to NHS standards.
It is widely believed that the kind of 'independent' advice and counselling called for by anti-choice MPs such as Nadine Dorries is likely to be provided by organisations opposed in principle to abortion. This type of counselling is already available to women considering abortion from 'Crisis Pregnancy Centres', and has been widely criticised for its biased and judgemental nature. It is vital that such services are kept out of the NHS.
The final sentence of the motion - deploring "picketing and intimidation around abortion services" - is also something Abortion Rights supports wholeheartedly. It is very good news to get such strong backing on this issue from BMA members, and we urge the government to bear this in mind as anti-choice activists escalate their protests. For example, the extremist anti-abortion group Abort67 has stepped up its protests outside a BPAS clinic in Stratford, East London, according to a press release.