It was revealed on Friday (24.06.11) that Frank Field will attempt to have his controversial abortion counselling proposals put into effect without a parliamentary vote or scrutiny.
Earlier this year the former Labour minister, together with conservative backbencher Nadine Dorries, tabled amendments to the Health and Social Care bill which aim to impose new counselling requirements on women seeking abortion, while preventing abortion providers from offering pre-abortion counselling.
The proposals have met with stiff opposition: not only do they create further delays and obstacles for women waiting for abortion treatment, the amendments pave the way for anti-choice organisations such as LIFE and Care Confidential to become formally involved in advising women facing unplanned pregnancy.
It now appears that Frank Field is seeking to work with the Department of Health to introduce these new counselling arrangements via regulatory change, rather than through legislation, circumventing the need for a debate or vote on the issue in Parliament.
He revealed on Friday that he had been invited by Secretary of State for Health Andrew Lansley to discuss the possibility of regulatory change.
A DoH spokesman confirmed the talks would take place, saying: “The department wants women who are thinking about having an abortion to be able to have independent counselling.
“However, we do not believe it is necessary to set out this requirement in primary legislation, as the necessary legal mechanisms already exist to enable this.”
Asked if the talks could result in a ban on counselling by abortion clinics, the spokesman added: “We are considering these issues.”
The possibility that such a serious and complex change to abortion procedure could be introduced without proper parliamentary oversight has been greeted with dismay.
Under current regulation, abortion providers are obliged to ensure that women seeking abortion are advised of all potential side-effects and complications of the procedure and are licensed and thoroughly regulated by the Department of Health.
The proposed changes could mean that women seeking advice about their pregnancy options are sent to unlicensed, unregulated counselling organisations which are under no obligation to offer medically-accurate, unbiased information.
Any attempt to introduce such potentially damaging arrangments without scrutiny or legislation would be highly controversial and undemocratic. Coming on the heels of the Department of Health’s recent appointment of anti-choice group LIFE to its new sexual health advisory forum, the move will increase concerns that the government is attempting to covertly undermine and restrict abortion access while minimising attention, debate and scrutiny.