Leading groups campaigning on women’s and equalities issues have signed an open letter to Lynne Featherstone, minister for women, to express their opposition to proposed changes to abortion counselling arrangements. The full text reads:
1st September 2011
We welcome the news that the Government intends to advise MPs to vote against amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill on abortion counselling tabled by Nadine Dorries MP and Frank Field MP. We hope this indicates that the Government takes seriously the concerns raised by many organisations working in the field of women’s health and equality, which are outlined below.
We believe that these proposals are unnecessary and misguided. Abortion providers such as bpas and Marie Stopes International are obliged to provide full information and advice to women seeking abortion. They are regulated and inspected by the Government, and must adhere to clinical guidelines laid down by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Informed consent from the patient is already required before any medical procedure, including abortion, can take place.
Preventing abortion providers from offering decision-making support opens the door for organisations opposed in principle to abortion to become formally involved in counselling women on their pregnancy options. These organisations may not offer impartial, non-directive information, but rather seek to misinform and dissuade women from accessing abortion services.
We are concerned that introducing further counselling requirements would delay women from accessing services, at a time when waiting periods are rising across the NHS. The proposals would likewise disrupt care pathways for women who choose to self-refer to abortion providers, rather than approaching their GP.
Previous governments have always acted on evidence and taken guidance from expert medical professionals. There is no evidence of a need for change in this area and no support from professional clinical organisations for such change.
We urge you, as the minister responsible for the welfare of women, to intervene within the Government and Department of Health to call a halt to any changes to the current system of abortion counselling, which is robust, complies with law and best practice and serves women well.
Women must be trusted to make their own decisions regarding their reproductive health. It is vital that the information they receive remains scientifically accurate and driven by clinical best practice rather than ideological agenda.
Please see the attached detailed briefing note which sets out in detail why these changes are both unnecessary and dangerous.
Women’s Health & Equalities Consortium (a strategic partner of the Department of Health)
Medical Women’s Federation
National Assembly of Women
National Alliance of Women’s Organisations
Southall Black Sisters
NUS Women’s Campaign
Women’s Resource Centre
AVA (Against Violence and Abuse)
London Feminist Network Black Feminists UK