Government makes U-turn on abortion consultation
The Government has dropped its plans to hold a public consultation on whether women seeking an abortion should be offered independent counselling.
In a parliamentary debate this week, Health Minister Anna Soubry announced that the Government “did not intend to change the law or the guidelines”. She said that pressing ahead with a consultation on the issue would therefore be nothing more than an “otiose exercise”.
Last year, MP Nadine Dorries introduced proposals to ensure that women considering an abortion would be guaranteed access to independent advice prior to being referred to an abortion provider.
Currently, women considering an abortion are often referred to abortion providers themselves for advice.
Ms Dorries argued it was necessary for such women to receive impartial advice and to remove the conflict of interest that exists for abortion providers in the procedure going ahead.
The proposals were defeated in a Parliamentary vote in September 2011, but the Government nevertheless committed to undertaking a full consultation on the issue. The then Health Minister, Anne Milton, said:
“The Government is supportive of the spirit of these amendments and we intend to bring forward proposals for regulations.”
But on Wednesday (31 October) Miss Soubry said in a parliamentary debate on abortion (called by Ms Dorries) that holding the consultation would be a pointless exercise since the Government had no intention of pressing ahead with the proposals.
She added: “But the simple reality is as follows - we no longer plan to undertake a separate consultation,” she said.
“I am sorry if as I say there is some disappointment but the reality is that we now don't intend to change the law so it is now an otiose exercise.”
“There is other work we should be doing on counselling. I take the view that this is not the primary function we should be addressing.”
In a statement released after the debate by the Department of Health, Miss Soubry said the decision to abandon the plan had followed “cross-party talks” on improving abortion counselling.
The decision has been criticised by Ms Dorries, who said that the Health Minister had forced her "personal beliefs" on the rest of the public.
She said: “This announcement comes down to Anna Soubry's very personal belief on abortion. She is as pro-choice as many Labour women MPs.”
Dan Boucher, from the social policy charity CARE (Christian Action Research and Education) accused the Government of failing to fulfil its promise.
“Public faith in abortion provision is at an all time low,” he said.
“To shut down the consultation commitment which was promised in response to concerns about financial conflict of interest is a monumental political misjudgement.”
Andrea Minichiello Williams, CEO of Christian Concern, commented:
“This is very disappointing and very little has been given to justify the decision to drop the consultation.
“Little has changed since the Government pledged to launch a consultation last year. Abortion rates are still too high and women still have a right to independent counselling”.