06.09.11 – Abortion Rights today hosted a press conference in Westminster on the abortion counselling amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill, ahead of tomorrow’s key Parliamentary debate on the issue.
We were delighted that so many pro-choice MPs and advocates were able to attend and share their views.
Opening the meeting, Abortion Rights co-chair Lorene Fabian said:
“We are delighted that the government has listened to the objections raised by Abortion Rights supporters, thousands of whom have written to their MPs in recent weeks.
There is across the board opposition to these counselling plans, from women’s groups, medical and equalities organisations, trade unions and MPs of all parties.
We welcome the news that the government is now advising MPs to vote against the amendments, but we now call on them to drop these misguided plans to change the abortion counselling system once and for all.”
Ann Furedi, Chief Executive of abortion provider BPAS said:
“It is offensive and insulting to describe BPAS staff as sales people pushing abortion services when we are a genuinely pro-choice organisation providing information and support to women deciding whether to proceed with pregnancy or have an abortion.
The most recent polls suggest that 70% of people think that politicians should stay out of women’s pregnancy decisions.
There are two levels of debate around abortion; one concerns moral and ethical questions and politicians are entitled to consider them. There is a separate discussion about how abortion services should be delivered – this is a clinical matter and policy should be based on best clinical practice.
There are huge problems with abortion services, particularly lack of access to later abortion. But there are no problems with access to good counselling services. It would be far better if politicians concentrated on these genuine problems.”
Julian Huppert, Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge, who has tabled a pro-choice amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill said:
“Is there a problem with abortion counselling that needs to be fixed? No. There is no evidence that the current system is not working well.”
He emphasised the need for women to have access to medically accurate advice, as BPAS and other providers currently offer and commented:
“There is already unpleasant language being used in the debate, Dr Liam Fox has said that women should be encouraged to ‘think twice’ before having an abortion – it’s likely they think about it far more carefully than that.”
Diane Abbott MP, Shadow Minister for Health, said
“Parliament has a tradition of viewing abortion as an issue of conscience and not as a party political issue, and I think that’s something worth defending. We can see what has happened in the United States where women attending abortion clinics are attacked and doctors have been killed. I deplore the fact that some elements within the Conservative party have sought to politicise the issue for political gain”.
“This is part of a wider debate about a conservative values agenda. This is a shoddy, dishonest campaign, smearing charities and the RCOG, saying they can’t be trusted and that they’re in it for the money. It’s a phoney campaign and I believe it will be defeated tomorrow”.
She concluded, “The Labour party health team have made it very clear that they will be voting against the amendments”.
Dr Evan Harris, BMA Ethics Ctte member and former Lib Dem Health spokesman, highlighted the need for pro-active efforts which could achieve change away from Parliament, saying, “Our only victories have been defensive ones. There needs to be a campaign which will put us on the front foot.”
He emphasised the importance of ensuring that the Department of Health do not concede that there is any need for change to the counselling system and that they do not proceed with any changes without the support of professional medical organisations, which they do not currently have.
“Anne Milton’s letter to MPs is hard to complain about, but it is not the only thing the government has said on this issue, even in the last week. Downing Street has said it is sympathetic to the need for more counselling.”
The meeting also heard from Katy Clark MP, Fiona Mactaggart MP, Dame Anne Begg MP, Natalie Bennett, Chair Green Party Women, Sheila Gilmore MP, Kate Green MP and Sarah Veale, Head of Equality and Employment at the TUC.