Sunday, 28 August 2011

Sunday Telegraph story on government tightening abortion rules is dangerously misleading

A story in the Sunday Telegraph this morning is boldly headlined: "Abortion rules are set to be tightened by the Government in the biggest shake-up in a generation".

The story goes on to say: "Pro-life campaigners suggest the change could result in up to 60,000 fewer abortions each year in Britain." To put it mildly, this is dangerously misleading. Here's the story so far.

Worries that abortion agencies are offering no counselling, or biased guidance, to pregnant women, have led MPs to propose that women should be offered independent counselling. Frank Field MP and Nadine Dorries MP have suggested that any woman who has an unplanned pregnancy should get an offer of seeing
an independent counsellor.

This suggestion is now being taken up by the Department of Health. The Department says it is drafting proposals which are expected to say who can be a pregnancy counsellor and what expectant mothers must be told. These proposals will be published in the form of a consultation, the terms of which have yet to be announced.

Here's how the government replied earlier this month to a question put by Baroness Gould: "To ask Her Majesty's Government when they will finalise their proposals for all women seeking an abortion to be offered counselling; and who will be consulted in determining the proposals"

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe) replied:

" ...  For the minority of women who require formal therapeutic counselling, services should have formal care pathways in place with access to trained counsellors with appropriate expertise. We are looking to strengthen these existing arrangements and are drawing up proposals to enable all women who are seeking an abortion to be offered access to independent counselling. We would want the counselling to be provided by appropriately qualified individuals. Detailed proposals are being worked on. We plan to consult widely on those later this year and will finalise our plans in early 2012."

Here's what my colleague, Paul Tully, SPUC's general secretary, says about the government's latest announcement (in the current edition of the Pro-Life Times):

“Handing the drafting of proposals relating to abortion to the Department of Health is like putting the fox in charge of the chicken-coop. The Department of Health commissions the vast majority of abortions in Britain, and says doctors should provide abortion on demand. Successive governments have regarded abortion as an answer to unmarried teenagers and other vulnerable women who get pregnant.

“Since 2004, most NHS abortions have been transferred to private clinics, and the health department now funds more than 9 out of 10 abortions at these clinics. If the Department now want counsellors to help pregnant women avoid abortions, it would represent a major change of heart. We remain very wary of the
proposals and the Department’s involvement.”

Paul Tully adds: “Pro-life counselling can save many lives but independent counselling is not the same thing. It all depends on the approach of the counsellor and the information provided.”

I urge pro-lifers not to be misled by the Sunday Telegraph story. Instead, write to your MP urging him or her to tell the government that in any proposals put forward:
  • No counsellor should be required to be a conduit to abortion services; 
  • and counsellors who refuse on grounds of conscience or other good grounds to refer women to abortion services are not prevented from operating as pregnancy counsellors.

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