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‘The churches have been pathetic’

Tory MP Nadine Dorries tells Ed West that she felt badly let down by Christians in her fight to reform abortion law

By on Friday, 21 January 2011

Nadine Dorries appears on the BBC Two programme Daily Politics

Nadine Dorries appears on the BBC Two programme Daily Politics

How unfortunate: in December I arranged an interview with the MP Nadine Dorries, admiring her bravery in talking about abortion and its impact on women. And less than a week before the interview is scheduled she’s front-page news, the Mail having reported that the Tory MP has started a relationship with a family friend. That means her guard will be up and I will be forced to ask her about her private life. A straightforward and high-minded interview will now be awkward.

But then, on the very morning of the interview, it is announced that the British Pregnancy Advisory Service is taking the Government to court to allow women access to “DIY abortions”. Despite the media interest in her private life, Dorries is all over the television and radio debating the subject almost single-handedly.

The proposals, she says, “send out a message that abortion is a form of contraception, rather than the ending of a life, or a potential life, depending on your view”.

She says it will lead to “very young girls going home with a couple of tablets alone in their bedroom, to experience pain in a way they have never experienced”.

She adds: “They will have no professional help or assistance at hand, and they will not know when the pain is too great and the bleeding is too much, or whether they should seek further help and advice. I don’t think we want to see young girls frightened and alone without the right advice.”

A colourful and high-profile figure, much reviled in certain quarters, Dorries has attracted an unsurprising amount of attention since her election in 2005. Previously a successful businesswoman who sold her childcare business to BUPA, she hails from working-class Anfield in Liverpool and her parents benefited from Margaret Thatcher’s right-to-buy scheme. Her family liked to talk politics.

“In Liverpool the conversation was either football, religion or politics,” she explains. “It’s hard to grow up in Liverpool and not be political.”

Dorries, the MP for Mid Bedfordshire, belongs to the socially conservative wing of the Tory party and belongs to the Cornerstone Group, nicknamed the “Tory Taliban” by opponents. She “entirely” subscribes to the Broken Britain theory and says that the work Iain Duncan Smith is doing is “nothing short of amazing” and his research is “what’s driving our most progressive policies”.

While she says the state “does almost everything badly” compared to local communities, she does fear that some of the cuts will harm just the people the Government wants to help “because of the position this country was left in financially”.

So how did Broken Britain come about?

“The problem is the churches have withdrawn,” she replies. “Where I grew up the priest was king. We were scared of priests – the same with the vicars. The Church played a very important role. The Church set boundaries. So did schools, doctors, district nurses. But the Church withdrew, the state became anonymous and society went into freefall. One of the things about the Big Society is to try to put those boundaries back.

“But the Church has to step up to the plate. Although they get involved in charitable works they tend to be on the state-funded fringes and I’m not talking about that type of role. I’m talking about a micro level. I’m talking about priests working with communities and admitting to a level of authority they used to.

“Charity has been eroded, it’s just become another arm of the state. The Catholic Church has had a huge beating and it has to recover from that. Maybe the Big Society and the opportunities it presents to the Catholic Church may be part of the healing process for the Church.”

Leaving Merseyside alongside her husband Paul, from whom she split six years ago, Dorries trained as a nurse, which left at least one lasting mark on her: witnessing abortions.

“It’s something that has stuck with me my whole life,” she says. “I can still smell the sluice stream. I can still hear the sluice machine while I stood by the bed, watching this child die in the bedpan.”

That unborn baby was 24 weeks old, although Dorries witnessed a number of other abortions.

“That did not leave me, that moment,” she says. “I remember the shock as a young nurse, thinking this is what nursing was about.”

She argues that one of the reasons that abortion providers are pushing for home abortions is that doctors are refusing to carry out late-term medical abortions. In 2008 she campaigned to reduce the abortion time limit to 20 weeks and she believes that public opinion is moving against abortion.

“People say to me: ‘Your abortion campaign failed’, but it was a massive success because the liberalisers withdrew all the amendments in the face of mine, because they wanted to focus all their energies on defeating me. We were left with the status quo. Had I not done what I’d done the High Court case wouldn’t be taking place today. It would be much more accessible.”

She argues that late-term abortions should be put on television “because it’s so graphic and so horrendous”. But it would never be allowed because it would change the debate.

“I went to witness one and what I saw was a baby in a uterus flinching away from the cannula as it was being inserted,” she recalls. “It was totally horrific.”

She partly attributes the changing public opinion to the number of women who have had abortions and regret it, and who often feel they were not given all the facts. This is the theory behind her “women’s right to know” campaign, which has attracted such hostility.

“Women don’t know that they have a 30 per cent chance of experiencing mental health problems after having an abortion,” she says. “They don’t know there are links with various other medical conditions. They are given no advice.

“If you want to continue with the pregnancy and give the baby up for adoption you are not given support or help. They are just spoken to and channelled straight in to an abortion clinic where they have their abortion in a factory-like manner, then [they are] ejected into the street, given no follow-up, no support, no kindly words of help or advice and only provided with any degree of counselling after the abortion if they’ve already signed and agreed to continue [with the abortion]. The way abortion takes place in this country is an abuse of women.

“Women go in and come out slightly confused, thinking: ‘Could I have done something different?’ And they are left to carry the guilt themselves.”

Those unfamiliar with the world of blogs and social networking site Twitter will not fully appreciate how much hatred Dorries attracts over this issue, the majority of which seems to come from men, who devote an almost demented amount of time tapping at keyboards explaining why they hate this woman. “What have I done to justify this level of vitriol?” Dorries asks. “What’s it about? The only controversial issue I’ve ever taken up is abortion, and that’s the only hook to hang it on.”
Yet she is not even “against” abortion as such, in that she does not wish to re-criminalise it.
“I’m neither pro-choice nor pro-life,” she says. “I take the middle ground, and I find it hard to understand why anyone – especially feminists – could disagree with what I say if they are really concerned with women and their health issues.” Both sides of the argument, she says, are “ghettoised” on the issue.

One of the problems, I suggest, is that perhaps the pro-life movement is seen as exclusively religious, although there is no reason why it should be. In fact, she says, she doesn’t even get that much support from the churches.

“I need religious support,” she says. “It is our core support. I need the churches being more involved, and the churches have been pathetic, pathetic, during the abortion debate in their support for what I was trying to do.

“The Church of England was the worst and the only person in the Catholic Church who made any comment was Cardinal O’Brien. Everybody was silent because the churches were weak and cowardly in their position.

“I was even told by one envoy from the Church [of England] that Psalm 139 was ‘just poetry’. Weeks later they timidly came out and squeaked their words of support, which were no use to me at this point. The churches have really angered me during this debate.”

She describes herself as being a “bit low” following the press treatment of her private life, the expenses scandal (which she describes as “unbearable”) and the story in that morning’s Mirror alleging that she is being investigated for her expenses.

“It’s a ridiculous story, and its been planned to put out on the day I’ll be on breakfast TV on abortion,” she says. “All it is is nasty, Left-wing politicking.

“I can’t believe that journalists by and large can be happy people because I don’t think its possible to write in such a vitriolic and hateful way and be happy, and for good things to happen to you.”(She’s right about the unhappy part. And we’re not even paid that well, I want to point out.)

So, she wonders, what’s the point of it all? Why would anyone want to deal with that sort of thing on a daily basis?

“Do I just move away from the net, move away from Twitter?” she asks. She finds the social networking site, used by many MPs as a way of communicating with the public, addictive but hateful, especially the use of the @ button which allows people to write abusive public messages to anyone they like.

“I think: why do I want this bit of evil? Somebody’s words are a little bit of evil in your life.”

  • Samantha_7845

    She is a very brave woman and I have always admired her. I like the suggestion that we can use abortion as a pro active way to ‘heal’ our church.

  • Jackie Parkes

    I met Nadine Dorries at a fringe meeting of the Conservative Party at a Catholic Church. I think she should change her statement. I disagree with Nadine’s views on abortion though the reduction to 20 weeks is at least a step in the right direction.

  • Michael

    “Women don’t know that they have a 30 per cent chance of experiencing mental health problems after having an abortion”

    I’ve heard Nadine make this statement before, but unfortunately she makes no attempts to back it up with any proper research studies.

    This makes the job more difficult. As soon as someone accuses you of making up the numbers, your entire credibility in the debate is wrecked.

  • Sim-O

    Nadine Dorries offers “a plethora” of evidence for relating to mental health and abortion. It’s a pity what she points to doesn’t support her view –

  • Jimmy Sands

    “I don’t think its possible to write in such a vitriolic and hateful way and be happy,”

    But it’s not going to stop her trying.

  • FrTucke

    Psalm 106 particularly vv. 36-40 is also apposite to the abortion debate and this topic

  • Scrutiny, not vitriol

    Dorries attracts a lot of attention because of the manner in which she goes about her business.

    To those genuinely puzzled about this, start here:

    Dorries smears someone who has challenged her “evidence” suggesting a “serious breach of parliamentary procedure”. The smear is shown to be completely unfounded. After initially publishing a few comments which supported her, she shut down comments on her blog rather than publish any comment relating to the post above. She never apologised and never publically withdrew the smear.

    This is standard operating procedure for this MP.

  • The Moz

    I actually didn’t even know that Britain had any pro-life politicians or public figures.

  • Anonymous

    I read some of the report posted on your website, and although I am an advocate of abortion, immediately I find some of the arguments in the report as poor and as ill-thought out. At least in America the upper limit of abortion is based on the argument of viability; whereas here the idea is that as survival rates have not decreased under 24 weeks it is still acceptable to allow potentially viable foetus to die?

    Its is obvious that any tampering with the abortion laws would be political suicide, and therefore understandably they have been left untouched. I ask why is it always viability that is the standard? I think it is nonsensical personally; after all if I am on a machine in a hospital after a car crash I am hardly viable, but I would hardly want you pulling the plug! Surely we should delve deeper and look at what we value in keeping as far as life is concerned, that is the real question to answer – not viability rates!

  • MarkB

    I agree on the issue of viability Paul. I’ve always thought the arguement on this basis is like saying, well it’s okay to slaughter hundreds of dolphins whilst they are in the ocean, because if we were to take them out of the ocean and put them on the beach they wouldn’t survive anyway. Why not just leave them where they are and let nature take its course.

  • Anonymous

    Is it not ironic that Church has an issue with abortion, when the loving God you worship, killed every first born child in Egypt. Can this bloodshed of fully born and living children be excused whilst criticizing abortion? A very hard question… can anyone explain this away logically?

  • Johnshackleton

    I think Paul that the whole narrative of the early chapters of Exodus needs reading. Focus on one event like the death of the first born alone can skew things a bit but in perspective and context of the sufferings of the Hebrews and the unwillingness of the Pharoah to set them free this did in the end call for extreme measures. At any point during the series of plagues the Hebrews might have been released without the death of the firstborn but in the end it took a horrific judgement like that to achieve it. A suffering Hebrew would surely not have shared your point of view.
    How highly do you rate your freedom? What would you do to keep it? Millions were killed in WW2 on the basis of preserving our freedom.

  • Anonymous

    Most people believe that murder can be justified in the case of a personal threat to our lives; or a taking of freedom by force. This is why in war we do not refer to dead enemy soldiers as having been murdered – they are instead causalities of war.
    This rationalisation of killing is understandable from a human perspective, in that sometimes it can be the only way to solve a problem. It is a morality compromise, and a last resort.

    Now granted in the case of Moses this child killing was a last resort – he had already reaped devastation amongst the rest of the innocent people of Egypt, including making all livestock diseased and locusts that ate all the crops – but he still had other options open if he is omnipotent. If he can part the red sea, split his person into three parts, turn water into wine, cure the sick and raise men from the dead, then he has the power to resolve this in another way. Why did he not kill the Pharaoh, or remove him from Egypt?

    Instead he committed a mass genocide through the population of Egyptians, specifically through those in the population that would have been the most innocent and the least to do with the enslavement of the Jews.

    A very strange form of justice this is, and it would appear more to be cold-blooded revenge inflicted on the most vulnerable, in a situation in which other obvious other actions were available.

    Your WWII example is a good argument, but firstly as I have shown this being a human conflict is subject to different moral judgements, and secondly in that most of the modern historians regard one of the most deplorable acts of the Second World War was the targeting of cities for bombardment, winning a war of people’s minds by bombing their peoples into giving up hope. The Blitz and the British bombing of Berlin and Dresden, is hardly a principle I would want a loving God to emulate. This action of bombing civilian targets, was first initiated by the Nazis themselves.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for your comment. Bear in mind my metaphor is not one that is meant to fight against abortion, in that it is a practise for the most part I support.

    My point on viability is that it is a poor standard of morality, in that it stands for nothing more important than lack of self-sustaining life, which I hardly see as a moral concept to argue.

    In fighting for when life has a ‘right’ to be saved the following are all the arguments I have heard:

    The Catholic Church fights on the basis of inherent person-hood or soul, created at conception, which is a concept I don’t buy.
    Also, many people argue on the basis of a future person’s life being stopped or abolished, (this is not the Church’s line, although many think so), and I find this a logical philosophical argument.
    Others, often politicians, draw the lines based on viability, this I believe is laziness on their behalf, and also used because it is a firm standard that pro-choice members of the public are likely to take at face value and not question.

    My current thinking goes along with Catholic thought, in that I believe it is the individual ‘person-hood’ of the foetus that gives it the right to life. However, I find the claim that the person-hood can exist in the ball of stem cells that is an embryo, that is biologically speaking like saying the skin cells that come off your body have an innate soul to them and must be preserved at all costs.
    No my definition of person-hood or ‘soul’ if you will is based around the brain development of the foetus. I consider this to be the origin of the person-hood of us as humans.
    Emotive imagery such as the beating heart or fingernails of the foetus bears no influence to me as I see them as of no importance to what makes us human.

    Any thoughts on my thinking?…

  • Magslaycock

    You could do worse than look up the ‘’ website. There you will find committed people trying to make a difference to abortion and euthanasia in Parliament. Lord Alton, Anne Widdecombe the Wintertons etc. all participating politicians doing their best to make the powers that be take notice.

  • Eric Conway

    It’s quite ironic that the Brit’s pride themselves, quite rightly, on playing a major part in defeating the Nazi’s ; yet they can still countenance such an evil as abortion being performed in their hospitals. Why did they sacrifice so much, only to perform similar obscenities as the Nazis did. Very sad, & a blight on a once great country. As an Irishman, I hope & pray you come to your senses.

  • Bonydiver

    The catholic church must show leadership and provide its full support to this brave women who stands against the enemies of God.