The Dorries Amendment: What happened? What next?

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.

Pro Choice Rally 2011: Why were we protesting and now what?

On Saturday, I joined in solidarity with women and men, from all across the country to protect a women’s right to choice at the Pro Choice Rally 2011. The rally organised by Welsh Feminist Network brought together many groups including Abortion Rights, Queer Resistance, and Southhall Black Sisters. Inspiring speeches were given by many including Diane Abbott (Labour MP), Laurie Penny (journalist and activist) and Scarlet Harris (TUC Women’s Equality Officer).

So why were we protesting? Recent months have seen an onslaught of anti choice activity make its way to Westminster. These include amendments to the Health and Social Care bill imposing new counseling requirements for women seeking abortions and the appointment of anti-choice group LIFE to the government’s sexual health advisory panel. Nadine Dorries is also pushing her bid to introduce abstinence based sex education, for girls only.

Moreover there have been severe cuts in contraception, sexual health and teen pregnancy services, thus places offering support to women in need of advice about abortion are disappearing. Unfortunately Cameron’s ‘big society’ will allow the well-funded church based anti abortion groups to fill these gaps. Groups such as LIFE already offer counseling to women facing unplanned pregnancies with the sole aim of deterring any women from having an abortion. Damaging lies claiming
mental and physical effects of abortion are being spread by these groups and have even made their way into leaflets in Doctors surgeries across Britain.

Since the 60’s when women gallantly fought for their right to chose there have been people who have tried to erode away at these rights. However, until recently, the UK has always upheld a reasonable standard of debate around the issue of abortion. There appears now to be few boundaries left. American based anti-choice groups have made their way to the UK with their horrific means of campaigning. Two people were arrested earlier this year for the offensive campaign which
compared abortion to the Holocaust, whilst another organisation stood for 40 days outside a Marie Stopes abortion clinic, holding dolls and placards with gruesome pictures and shouting abuse at anyone entering or leaving the building.

If this behavior carries on unchallenged, how long will it be before we turn into America and women will have to be escorted to family planning clinics or the lives of doctors who carry out these operations will be at stake?

So women came together on Saturday to show Nadine Dorries, Westminster and all the anti choice groups that we will not allow this erosion of our fundamental rights. We are the majority, and we can win this. However, with the cuts already taking effect and Westminster becoming increasingly anti abortion, our rights have already begun to be eroded. If our campaign is continuously reactive and on the defensive the pro choice won’t win that way, we can’t win that way. On
Saturday, that message came across, and momentum grew, but that is just the beginning. Its time for pro–active action to extend a women’s right to chose, or the work of women in the 1960’s will be lost.