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Termination providers may be banned from counselling women

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Summary of story from The Guardian, June 30, 2011

Charities which provide terminations in the UK would not be allowed to counsel women under plans being considered by the Government.

Instead, pregnant women would receive compulsory counselling ‘independently’, which could delay treatments, charities say.

The measures are being considered by the Department of Health (DoH).

Pro choice advocates and organizations that provide terminations are alarmed by the proposal, and warned that stripping abortion providers of their counselling role would delay women accessing the treatment they needed.

They also said that there was no evidence to say that the current system was not working.

There are also concerns that faith-based groups with strong anti-abortion positions could step in and win contracts to provide the counselling in place of the charities, and that the aim of the proposal is to reduce the number of abortions.

Charities such as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and Marie Stopes offer the compulsory counselling women must undertake before they make a decision on termination.

The measures being considered have come as a direct result of two anti-abortion MPs, who called for the new amendments to the health and social care bill.

Conservative MP Nadine Dorries and Labour MP Frank Field have called for measures to have counselling provided either by a statutory body or a private organisation that do not provide abortions (see WVoN story).

A statement from the DoH suggests that proposals could become reality without the need for a vote in parliament.

A spokesman said: “The Department of Health 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.

“We are inviting interested parties to meet with the public health minister, Anne Milton, and Department of Health officials to discuss the matter.”

Ann Furedi, chief executive of BPAS, said: “We are extremely concerned to learn that the Department of Health is reviewing care pathways for women considering abortion and looking into a ban on counselling by abortion providers.

“In recent years, delays for women in need of abortion care have been reduced significantly and last year nearly 80% of procedures took place within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.

“Pregnancy Advisory Bureaux (PABx) run by charities like BPAS that offer abortion are already licensed and regulated by the Secretary of State, and must conform to a core set of principles regarding the information and counselling.”

Tracey McNeill, vice president and director UK and west Europe for Marie Stopes, said:

“We should be focusing on how abortion counselling is delivered and not by who. What is essential is that we ensure women get comprehensive and unbiased information.

“As a service provider, our advice line ‘OneCall’ speaks with 500,000 people a year who repeatedly tell us how valuable it has been to talk to our impartial and non-judgemental counsellors.”

Diane Abbott, the shadow minister for public health, said “I am deeply concerned that nobody has voted for this.

“I think the way the government is going about these changes, behind closed doors and without discussion with women and in parliament is showing arrogant disregard for millions of women and families across the country.”

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