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Does the Government really intend to ‘tighten the rules’ on abortion? What governments say can’t always be trusted: Catholic bishops should be wary

Nadine Dorries wants to stop taxpayers’ money going to ‘counselling’ by abortionists: but will the Department of Health actually back her?

By on Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Nadine Dorries's amendment on pre-abortion counselling seems to have prodded the Government into action

Nadine Dorries's amendment on pre-abortion counselling seems to have prodded the Government into action

Despite all the apparent evidence that, in the words of the wild-eyed Private Frazer in Dad’s Army, “we’re all doomed”, I tend to hope that any counter-indications that we’re not can be believed. I’m one of the world’s natural optimists. I think David Cameron is right about our “broken society”: but I’m not yet convinced that it can’t be mended. Not yet.

So when I saw a story in the Sunday Telegraph headlined “Abortion rules to be tightened in biggest shake-up for a generation”, I wanted to believe it, and I still do. Have a look at this:

The proposed change comes ahead of a Commons vote, due to take place next week, on amendments to a public health Bill put forward by Nadine Dorries, a backbench Conservative MP.

The amendments would prevent private organisations which carry out terminations – such as Marie Stopes and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Bpas) – from offering pre-abortion counselling. Women would instead be offered free access to independent counsellors.

This sounds fine, but it poses questions: why isn’t the government simply accepting Nadine Dorries’s amendment: or is it proposing something that is just as good, but maybe better drafted, or something of the sort? The way the Telegraph story proceeds doesn’t really clear things up:

Mrs Dorries, a former nurse, claims abortion providers are not independent because they have a vested interest in conducting abortions. Last year, Marie Stopes and Bpas carried out about 100,000 terminations and were paid about £60 million to do so, mostly through the NHS.

OK: so why doesn’t the Government just get behind Mrs Dorries in putting a stop to abortion counselling from such sources? Do we need to read between the lines of her reactions to the Government’s demarche to perceive a disappointed politician who has been leaned on? Look at the wording of this:

Mrs Dorries said she had hoped that her proposed amendments to the health Bill would prompt the Government into taking the kind of action which it has now done.

Frank Field, a Labour MP, said: “I’m anxious that taxpayers’ money is used so that people can have a choice – we are paying for independent counselling and that’s what should be provided.”

So does that actually mean that she had hoped that her amendments would get Government backing but that she fears that actually they are not? And will she now withdraw her amendments? If so, why? And does Frank Field’s reaction, that “we’re paying for independent counselling and that’s what should be provided”, indicate a certain scepticism that it actually will be provided?

Who, exactly, will be providing this “independent” counselling”? The Department of Health says it hasn’t made up its mind. What we need to know is this: will funding for counselling now actually be withdrawn (as Mrs Dorries wants to happen) from people like Marie Stopes and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service? We shall see. But John Smeaton of SPUC is sceptical. Under the headline “Sunday Telegraph story on government tightening abortion rules is dangerously misleading”, he quotes his colleague Paul Tully:

“Handing the drafting of proposals relating to abortion to the Department of Health is like putting the fox in charge of the chicken-coop. The Department of Health commissions the vast majority of abortions in Britain, and says doctors should provide abortion on demand. Successive governments have regarded abortion as an answer to unmarried teenagers and other vulnerable women who get pregnant.

“Since 2004, most NHS abortions have been transferred to private clinics, and the health department now funds more than 9 out of 10 abortions at these clinics. If the Department now want counsellors to help pregnant women avoid abortions, it would represent a major change of heart. We remain very wary of the proposals and the Department’s involvement.”

Paul Tully adds: “Pro-life counselling can save many lives but independent counselling is not the same thing. It all depends on the approach of the counsellor and the information provided.”

This all reminded me strongly of a previous occasion when a Tory government seemed to be proposing counselling: then, it was put forward (today we would say “spun”) as a means of insisting on a breathing space before couples thinking of divorce actually got into the hands of the lawyers (who, like the abortionists, have a vested interest in going ahead rather than drawing back). This time, the counsellors were involved in something called “mediation”. All this sounded so good that the Catholic bishops’ conference, having been gulled by the pious Free Presbyterian, Lord Mackay, the Lord Chancellor, enthusiastically backed it. Alarmed, Valerie Riches of Family and Youth Concern, who had actually read the proposed legislation (the Family Law Bill; it became the Family Law Act 1996) went to see Cardinal Hume to remonstrate, and was shouted at for her pains; to his credit, however, he did look at the Bill again, and the bishops withdrew their backing. For, the point was that, as the government-sponsored divorce charity Wikivorce (“Our organisation helps 50,000 people a year through divorce”) put it,

Family Mediation helps couples, who are separated or divorced or in the process of separating or divorcing, reach agreement about important issues – especially those concerning their children.

Couples are invited to meet together with a mediator in an informal, confidential atmosphere instead of exchanging correspondence through their solicitors or appearing separately in a formal court. They are helped to identify the issues they want to sort out, to express their own views about them and then to negotiate together to find common ground and reach solutions acceptable to them both which are the best possible for their children.

Mediation, in other words, was supposed to make divorce less painful, not to make it less likely. Indeed, by removing the pain of the proceedings, it could even be argued that it made it less likely that a final effort to stay together would be made. You only got mediation when you had already decided to divorce; the counselling wasn’t for the purpose of advising you to reconsider: so the Catholic bishops shouldn’t have touched it with a barge pole. I remember the fight over the Family Law Bill extremely well, for the Daily Mail waged a campaign against it and its predecessor, the Family Homes and Domestic Violence Bill, and I was their lead writer on the subject. I was very shocked at the time by the bishops’ unbelievably ill-advised support.

But could it happen again? “After all, “Abortion rules to be tightened” sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Something a bishop should support? If the Telegraph has got it it right, “Pro-life campaigners suggest the change could result in up to 60,000 fewer abortions each year in Britain”. But do they really suggest that? Exactly which “pro-life campaigners” say that? The bishops should be cautious: they have a bad record in their support for government legislation hostile to Catholic values which, if they had scrutinised it more closely, they would have understood better: remember their astonishing support for Ed Balls’s Education Bill, which, if it had been enacted (only Tory opposition stopped it), would have forced Catholic schools to give sex education telling children, among other things, how to “access” contraception and abortion?

Maybe John Smeaton is being unduly sceptical, who knows? But let’s just be careful about this: let’s see what exactly the Government does propose in the place of Nadine Dorries’s amendments: and then, even more importantly, let’s see what its civil servants allow it actually to do before we give it Catholic support. As I say, I’m a natural optimist; but there just could be something fishy about all this.

  • Anonymous

    I thought the government had merely agreed to a “consultation”. Weasel indeed.

  • Anonymous

    The usual suspects are shrieking already, of course.
     
    Cf the Independent.

     http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/leading-articles/leading-article-more-hindrance-than-help-2345904.html
     

  • Anonymous

    Dr Oddie I’m somewhat bemused:

    That Ship has already sailed!

    Bishops’ Conference ALREADY directly and indirectly conspires with the Culture of Death.

    The CESEW has given permission for the Connexions program in Catholic Schools – ergo Sex advice and counselling, contraception and abortifacient provision and abortion referral occurs IN CATHOLIC SCHOOLS.
    [This also includes those under the age of consent - in an age where the Church is indicted for covering up clerical sexual abuse it has with the deepest, most scandalous irony given permission for Connexions' confidentiality clause to conspire with the statutory rape of minors!]

    Conference has given official backing to the Liverpool Care Pathway as the recommended procedure for  palliative care. This includes considering Nutrition and Hydration as forms of medical intervention which may be removed i.e. The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales have authorised the use of Euthanasia.

    Cardinal Cormac [and Archbishop Conti] approved the use of condoms among married hiv serodiscordant couples [following the Ivereigh/Rhonheimer line] thus contravening the fifth commandment and risking infection and possibly death among healthy spouses.

    …and Heaven knows what +Vin meant when he said last year :
    “I think when it comes to Third World
    poverty, and the great pressure under which many women are put by men,
    I can see the arguments why, in the short-term, (the) means that give
    women protection are attractive,” the archbishop said. “The use of
    condoms doesn’t lack for champions – there are plenty of champions
    around, giving and distributing condoms.”

    …but it certainly wasn’t “Those with hiv should abstain from sexual activity and not risk the life of their partner”

    In Westminster The St John & St Elizabeth Hospital – many years after His Holiness while Cardinal Ratzinger directly ordered Cardinal Cormac to bring abortifacient provision and abortion referrals to a halt – continues to do so!

    Need I remind anyone that Conference’s Ethical Spokesman Archbishop Smith sent a note to the House of Commons during the debate [incidentally during a rebellion] on the pro-euthanasia Mental Capacity Act [2005] declaring the Catholic Church did not have a problem with the Bill???!!!

    …and when Keir Starmer the DPP RELAXED the law on assisted suicide and prosecution of those involved [25th Feb 2010]  – what did our illustrious Archbishop Smith do? HE WELCOMED THE GUIDELINES!!!!!

    A Pro-Life Bishops’ Conference Dr Oddie?
    In our dreams Sir…
    …for we are in the midst of a nightmare.

  • David Devinish

    I have no doubt that Nadine Dorries means well, but it is a bit of a paradox in her pro-life stance that she strongly supported Trident and declared on Question Time that Trident were not weapons of mass destruction. One Trident bomb would kill more people than all the so called deaths from abortion world wide in five years.  The reason the government do not heed Nadine is that she is given to faux-pas and self promotion, as her photograph depicts. The government must heed the electorate and not Catholic Bishops. Each person has the right to decide what is best for them, and not Nadine Dorries, thank goodness.

  • D. Corrigan

    Other than being a very junior nurse for a short time Nadine Dorries has no significant scientific background to qualify her to make her scientific claims about abortion. The interviews she gave on ‘Newsnight’ show that her political knowledge of the subject is facile and her scientific knowledge is superficial and silly. For example why according to Nadine Dorries, is it OK to kill an unborn child at 20 weeks instead of 24 weeks. It is never OK at any time to abort a healthy foetus. This piece of audacious flummery is going nowhere and Nadine Dorries knows this. Not for the first time, Nadine Dorries invites political melodrama and histrionics’ that frequently turns out to be without much very substance, and usually ends up to be a symbol of laughter and mockery. Look at Ms Dorries attendance and voting record in the House of Commons, and for good measure, examine the content and logicality of her blog.  It would be most unwise for any self respecting Catholic to get over enthusiastic about any imminent radical change to laws on the termination of pregnancy or to get onto this celebrity ‘bandwagon’ that is becoming a farce and is going nowhere fast.

  • D. Corrigan

    Other than being a very junior nurse for a short time Nadine Dorries has no significant scientific background to qualify her to make her scientific claims about abortion. The interviews she gave on ‘Newsnight’ show that her political knowledge of the subject is facile and her scientific knowledge is superficial and silly. For example why according to Nadine Dorries, is it OK to kill an unborn child at 20 weeks instead of 24 weeks. It is never OK at any time to abort a healthy foetus. This piece of audacious flummery is going nowhere and Nadine Dorries knows this. Not for the first time, Nadine Dorries invites political melodrama and histrionics’ that frequently turns out to be without much very substance, and usually ends up to be a symbol of laughter and mockery. Look at Ms Dorries attendance and voting record in the House of Commons, and for good measure, examine the content and logicality of her blog.  It would be most unwise for any self respecting Catholic to get over enthusiastic about any imminent radical change to laws on the termination of pregnancy or to get onto this celebrity ‘bandwagon’ that is becoming a farce and is going nowhere fast.

  • Anonymous
  • ms catholic state

    Stomach churning really.  What kind of govenment and politician try to bar a mere level playing field for the unborn child facing abortion??!!  Truly demonic.

    Let’s hope and pray the MP’s rebel…….and vote in the best interests of the most vulnerable of their citizens….the unborn child.  Immaculate Heart of Mary pray for them.

  • ms catholic state

    Stomach churning really.  What kind of govenment and politician try to bar a mere level playing field for the unborn child facing abortion??!!  Truly demonic.

    Let’s hope and pray the MP’s rebel…….and vote in the best interests of the most vulnerable of their citizens….the unborn child.  Immaculate Heart of Mary pray for them.

  • Cjkeeffe

    Can the government be trusted to amend the law on abortion? Simply no, when Evan Harries introduced a Bill to eliminate anti catholic discrimination in the Act of Succession the than Justice Secretary Jack Straw, said that the government itself was brining forward legislation on equality – thus giving the impression that it would legislate in this area. When the Bill appeared it contained nothing to redress this state enshrined anti catholic legislation. Given that this was a health bill that Nadine Dorris sought to amend the law it is highly unlikely that the government would introduce another health bill anytime soon. And given that the PM gave Nadine Dorris some undertakings and then appeared to back out of it, should he not answer her question at PMQs and say who is the boss him or Clegg? If our bishops believe the government then they are daft!

  • David Devinish

    What is the matter? Nadine was an embarrassment to herself, her party and to the House of Commons and made the most outrageous claims that cannot be substantiated, and people just laughed at her bungling and disorganised facile rhetoric. She has been very foolish in her attempt to besmirch the integrity of the Prime Minister on the floor of the House, and she will never get another chance to present a bill. He was supportive to her initially, but then things got out of hand when she ‘mouthed off’ to the press and gave the most ludicrous interviews on the radio. She accused everyone and anyone of being against her and claimed to have received death threats. She is not pro-life or anti-abortion, but showed that she is a self serving politician. She was very miffed when perspicacious people twigged that she had another agenda in the form of her support for American Evangelical groups, with the intention of having faith based counsellors in the UK as they have in the United States. Quite rightly, Parliament said: ‘Not on your Nelly’.