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Right to Know campaign – “misleading and potentially dangerous”

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Ivana Davidovic
WVoN co-editor

Recent attempts by the Right to Know campaign to restrict abortion access in the UK without a parliamentary vote have been met with stiff opposition from charities and some MPs.

It all started when former Labour minister Frank Field and Conservative MP Nadine Dorries put forward an amendment to the Health and Social Care bill, an amendment which, if approved, could strip charities which provide abortions of their counselling role.

Even more worrying, however, was the statement that subsequently emanated from the Department of Health (DOH) saying that a vote in parliament might not even be necessary (see WVoN story).

So on July 9, hundreds of people gathered in front of Parliament to protest against the proposals.

Among the speakers were women from various groups, including those campaigning for abortion rights to be extended to women in Northern Ireland (yes, you read that right).

Labour MP and women’s rights campaigner Diane Abbott spoke, as did columnist and author Laurie Penny, Green Party London Assembly member Jenny Jones, and doctor and former Liberal Democrat science spokesman and MP Evan Harris.

Ann Furedi, the CEO of the charity British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) believes that the Right to Know campaign is misleading and potentially dangerous as it could cause delays in women’s access to help.

“A large number of people would be under the impression that we hold back on the information when dealing with pregnant women and that could not be further from the truth,” she said.

“We want women to be as clear as possible about all of their options. I am outraged at the implication that our staff are not helping women who decide to give birth as much as they are helping those who decide to have an abortion.”

“Women should be given as much time as possible to reach an informed decision, but unnecessary delays should be avoided. If a woman decides to have an abortion, some procedures become unavailable the further the pregnancy progresses.”

Furedi’s opinion echoes that of Dr Paula Franklin, the clinical director at Marie Stopes International, one of the largest family planning organisations in the world, which has been working with the National Health Service (NHS) for over 20 years.

“Recently we had a 16 year-old girl who came to us with her parents because she said she wanted an abortion. As is our practice, we gave her counselling, during which she was alone.”

“Our counsellor discovered that she actually wanted to keep the baby, but her parents were pushing for an abortion. Therefore we helped her and her family with her decision to have a child.

“I wonder what would have happened to her had we been legally obliged to tell her we couldn’t counsel her and referred her to someone else.”

Almost one in four of all the pregnant women who have come through the doors of Marie Stopes this year in the UK have decided to continue with their pregnancies. Dr Franklin is surprised that anyone would regard the organisation as ‘having a vested interest’.

“All of our counsellors are BACP members [British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy] and offer timely, comprehensive, non-judgemental and impartial advice and counselling. And that is the most important thing”, she said.

“If that is what this campaign is about, then that is already on offer,” she pointed out.

On her blog Nadine Dorries proudly announces that BACP, Europe’s largest psychotherapy and counselling body, is in favour of her proposed amendment.

However, after contacting their spokesman, Phillip Hodson, I am not so sure that their support is as positive as she makes out.

The BACP issued a statement saying that ‘BACP believes that all women (and their partners if required) considering terminating a pregnancy should be offered free, independent, unbiased and ethical pre and post abortion counselling, offered by trained counsellors.’

‘Counselling can help women (and their partners if required), reflect on and understand the often complicated feelings surrounding termination, and can aid decision making.’

However, Ms Dorries fails to mention that the statement continues: ‘BACP has never suggested or implied that organisations like BPAS and Marie Stopes International should stop providing abortion advice or any of their other ancillary services. Counselling and advice-giving are in any case separate activities – “counsellors never give advice”.’

Hodson told me that their main concern is providing more and better counselling to women who are contemplating or have had an abortion, adding that it should be free from the influence of ideological, religious or campaign groups.

Since 2002 BACP has been calling for better pre- and post-abortion counselling as a part of their key message that counselling in general should be a part of the nation’s healthcare.

I am sure that most of us would agree that you can never offer too much fully unbiased, excellent, quality counselling to women facing an unwanted pregnancy.

If that is what Frank Field and Nadine Dorries are campaigning for, then I would be the first to support them.

Otherwise, it would be like opposing more nurseries, schools or libraries. Why would I do that?

On their Right to Know website, Dorries and Field appear in a video explaining the reasoning behind their campaign. Unfortunately Dorries’ office refused to comment, so that is all I have to go by.

In the video they say that they want GPs to refer women to independent counsellors, in other words not those who are also abortion providers.

Considering that BPAS and Marie Stopes are registered with the DoH, are members of BACP and offer NHS-funded treatments, it is hard to imagine why they should not be allowed to continue with their counselling role.

Is there an implication that the Department has been endorsing organisations which perform abortions as if on a production line?

The DoH has issued a very generic statement saying that ‘they are working on proposals to allow all women seeking an abortion to be offered access to independent counselling by appropriate qualified individuals,’ and that it would be ‘only for those women who chose to have it.’

If Dorries is so keen to flaunt the BACP’s alleged endorsement, it is not clear why organisations which are already members of that same Association should not be fit to continue providing counselling services to pregnant women.

After all, as it says on the BACP’s website, ‘all BACP members are bound by the BACP Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy, which sets the standards for good and ethical therapeutic practice’.

And if she is so concerned about organisations with vested interests pushing people into medical procedures they might not want, Dorries should also be against the whole principle of private sector healthcare providers carrying out procedures for the NHS.

She should therefore oppose the NHS reforms her own party is proposing.

The bill narrowly passed its first reading in Parliament. It will receive its second reading in January. However, it is unlikely to become law without support from the government.

Personally, I would not want someone peddling sexist propaganda to “help” me make choices about my own body.

I also have serious reservations whether vulnerable teenagers facing unwanted pregnancies need an advocate like Nadine Dorries. With friends like these, who needs enemies.

You can read more coverage about what Dorries and Field have been up to here.

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