The Dorries Amendment: What happened? What next?

Pro-choice rally

It’s been all over the news this week, but what exactly is happening to abortion services?

Nadine Dorries amendment on changing the abortion counselling was rejected last Wednesday by an amazing majority of 250. But what was it she was trying to do and why was it damaging?

The amendment if passed would have prevented providers of abortion, such as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) from offering counselling to those facing an unplanned pregnancy. Ms Dorries claimed that these organisations were not impartial and thus the counselling they were giving was not appropriate.

Nevertheless, as Diane Abbott clearly stated in her rebuttal speech the amendment was a ‘shoddy, ill-conceived attempt to promote non-facts to make a non-case – namely that tens of thousands of women every year are either not getting counseling that they request or are getting counseling that is so poor that only new legislation can remedy the situation’.

Despite Dorries best attempts to make us believe that they do, organisations such as BPAS have no vested interest in persuading people to have abortions, they are not for profit and exist purely to help women who face unplanned pregnancies. The current law already ensures that these organisations give impartial counseling to any women who requires or would like it. Any suggestion that this isn’t happening makes the assumption that these counselors are breaking the law and not doing there job correctly. Yet all the staff at BPAS undergo scrutiny by the Care Quality Commission and receive regular feedback from their clients. If the staff were not doing their job – we would know.

If this amendment had of passed then it would have paved the way for anti choice groups, such as LIFE, to offer this ‘independent’ counseling. Also it would have been a further step, a further delay and a further obstacle for women seeking an abortion. A recent observation of a BPAS clinic showed that the process is already too long. Clients commented “Make it quicker,” and “Less waiting, adds to anxiety.” The observation concluded that “no one felt rushed’.

Thankfully the amendment was defeated, however this may not be the end of it. Anne Milton, the Government Health Minister stated that ‘she agreed in principle’ to the aims of the amendment and agreed to look into counseling provision. If they decide to change it, it could result in women being sent to somewhere else, after getting the two doctors permission and meeting with an abortion provider. This is at best an inconvenience but at worst, for those in rural areas, or who have come from Northern Ireland where abortions are still largely illegal, or who cannot take another day of work or who cannot afford the travel costs or cannot find someone to look after their kids ect ect, having an abortion could become an impossibility.

Dorries claimed in her speech that many pro-choice campaigners refuse to discuss changing the abortion provision and that is why they are opposing this amendment, but there is much that we would like to discuss and change. If there was an amendment in favour of getting rid of the two doctor requirement, or allowing Northern Ireland to have abortions on the NHS, or changing the procedure of an Early Medical Abortion so that the second pill can be taken at home (as is done in the instances of miscarriage) then many of us would be supporting it. Pro-choice campaigners want to have these discussions but the debate needs to be turned on its head. In recent years pro-choice campaigners have continually been on the back foot as anti abortionists attempt to chip away at abortion rights.

For our abortion rights to be protected and extended we need to reclaim this debate.