Thursday, 1 September 2011

Abortion rights - convince your MP: this could be a very close vote

More anti-choice work from the usual suspects, in the continuing attempt to gradually introduce US-style "you can only have an abortion if the moon is full on a Tuesday with the agreement of three doctors, two vicars, and a greengrocer, with a 32-hour waiting period" restrictions to the UK.

More information at Abortion Rights and The F-Word.

If you are a UK citizen or resident please write to your MP and ask them to vote against these amendments if they are discussed at Report Stage.

Initial assessments in the press suggest that the amendment might pass but by a very narrow margin. It is therefore crucial that pro-choice MPs are reminded that they need to turn up and vote against it, that wavering MPs are convinced to vote against it, and that anti-choice MPs are given sufficient doubts that they abstain.

You can get a rough idea of how MPs are likely to vote at Public Whip - anyone who voted 'No' on that vote will likely vote 'No' on the amendment too. However, it's quite possible that many of those who voted 'Yes' can also be convinced to vote 'No' this time. If your MP isn't newly-elected, then you may be able to use this information to tailor your letter to their views.

Also potentially in our favour is that the Health and Social Care Bill itself is highly controversial - it has already been returned to Committee for a massive rewrite once, after major public objections and serious Lib Dem uneasiness with its content. Adding an entirely separate controversial issue to it has the potential to wreck the whole Bill, and this may explain the news that the government is now unlikely to support the amendment.

Nevertheless, we can't take any votes for granted.

Here's my letter.

I am writing concerning the amendments proposed by Nadine Dorries MP and Frank Field MP to the Health and Social Care Bill.

The amendments would prevent any non-NHS body that provides termination of pregnancy (including those providing those services on behalf of the NHS) from also offering counselling to women considering abortion.

This principle - that advice should be given by someone entirely unrelated to the provider - is not demanded, and nor should it be, for any other medical procedure.

Furthermore, women seeking abortions who feel that they would like counselling already have the choice to go to any provider that they wish to, and can already choose a separate provider if they feel this would be beneficial.

These amendments act to reduce their available choices, but also - by requiring women who would not otherwise do so to seek out a separate provider for advice and counselling - will increase the time between a woman deciding to obtain an abortion and actually being provided with one. Since the earlier an abortion can be carried out, the easier and safer it is for the woman concerned, this is extremely unhelpful.

Field disingenuously portrays this as being similar to advice on pensions, where there is a conflict of interest if the company selling the pensions is also advising customers on their choice of pensions. However, this reveals more about the mindset of the amendment's sponsors than about the real situation:

  • medical care is not a commercial product, and it is considered beneficial for all other medical procedures for advice to be given by the provider of the procedure. Termination of pregnancy is no different.
  • counselling is explicitly not about giving advice, but about allowing a client to come to their own decisions.
  • neither the NHS nor non-governmental abortion providers have an interest in maximising the number of abortions carried out (unlike a pension company which does have an interest in increasing the number of pensions it sells)

The amendment is based on a transparently false caricature of the motivations of medical professionals, and a massive underestimation of the ability of women to make decisions about their own bodies.

I ask you to please vote against these amendments if they are discussed at Report Stage on the 6th and 7th September, and to encourage your colleagues in all parties to do likewise. It is also rumoured that the Department of Health intends to implement some or all of the measures set out in these amendments without the need for legislation, and I therefore also ask you to put pressure on the Department not to do so against the will of Parliament.

Thank you