Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Nadine Dorries and abortion law

 I heard this evening that Nadine Dorries bill on abortion counselling had been defeated in the Commons and I thought this might be worth some comment. First of all, can I say that I am no supporter of Dorries, some of her proposals and attempts to change law on moral and social issues, such as her call for teenage girls (but not boys!) to be given lessons in abstinence, are on the lunatic fringe. However, I must confess that I am somewhat uneasy about the idea that abortion providers should be the sole source of counselling for women when those providers are set to profit financially from a decision in favour of a termination.

I have previously commented on an undercover report  that pro-life organisations are giving women factually misleading advice about abortion and using emotive tactics to pressurise them into making a decision not to terminate. If this is true, then it is clearly not acceptable. I do wonder how far it is even possible for a pro life organisation to offer truly impartial advice on this matter? Some might say that a "pro-choice" organisation, if it is truly concerned with allowing choice, might offer more impartiality - but this argument falls down when the pro-choice organisation is also the abortion provider and has a vested financial interest?

Surely women should be offered truly independent advice - it seems to me the only thing that is right in this situation? I am not sure I would wish to ban organisations such as Marie Stoppes offering counselling, nor to stop pro-life organisations offering counselling - but, in such cases, I would like it to be made clear to women exactly what the underlying ethos and involvement of each organisation is, and for them to be offered alternative, truly independent advice if they so wished.

I thought that Anne Milton, the Government's health provider's response was measured and judicious. Milton told MPs:
"The government is … supportive of the spirit of these amendments and we intend to bring forward proposals for regulations accordingly, but after consultation. Primary legislation is not only unnecessary but would deprive parliament of the opportunity to consider the detail of how this service would develop and evolve."
I hope the Government does bring in a requirement for women to be offered independent counselling. Yet I suspect that if the only solution were to offer such counselling at tax payer's expense they would fight shy of this move. At the very least, I hope that they bring in further regulations of abortion counselling. The decision to bring a child into the world is a very serious one with far reaching consequences, but this does not mean that the same is not also often true of a decision to terminate.

NB: Since writing this piece, I have realised that "independent advice" is not the same as "impartial advice." I realised this after doing some reading around in response to some comments on CareConfidential on this post. CareConfidential is "independent", but it is not impartial, it is pro-life (see video above.) When Dorries says she wants women to be offered independent advice, I think this is because she knows that most such independent charitable counselling  is pro-life. Marie Stopes alleges that many women have told them that such  organisations pressurised them to continue with a pregnancy and were not honest about their christian ethos. I have also read one article pointing out that Marie Stopes is not "profit making" in the way that Dorries seems to imply. Any profits must be ploughed back into the organisation, no individual benefits financially. Having said this, I am still dubious about an abortion provider offering counselling, even when the financial gain from a decision to terminate would be invested in the organistion. I'd like to see independent and impartial counselling available on the NHS. I don't think this will happen! Why? Well,  given the number of abortions carried out, the cost would be significant. Is reducing the number of abortions as much of an issue for our Government as reducing the number of underage pregnancies - well, you know the answers!


  1. I've read the undercover report in question. I've recently done some interviews and research with CareConfidential for an article idea. I can't speak for Life - the other organisation - but all my research into CC has shown that they aim to be first and foremost loving and informative, and counsellors are not supposed to 'bring their views' into the counselling room.

    I have two friends who work at (different) CC centres - both of whom would strongly disagree with any workers who tried to push an 'agenda' on a client. One of them drew my attention to the report in question precisely because she believed that those criticised were criticised justly.

    I know I'm not responding to the main ethos of your post, but I felt it was worth mentioning!

  2. Suem

    Thanks for this. I have just come off the phone to a friend of mine in Parliament and his comment was that Nadine Dorries is just regarded as a joke by many MPs and officers in the Commons. ‘She’s just a Right-Wing and bonkers harridan’ seems to be the thinking in the House! Which perhaps explains the vote!

    I think you make several good points – the main issue is that of bias; the presumption is that professionals from a charity or voluntary organisation that is linked with an organisation that offers abortion are going to offer pro-abortion advice (a view often promoted by Pro-Lifers fixated on the conceited view that anyone who works for a non-Christian or non-pro-life organisation MUST be pro-abortion and a militant secularist to boot).

    I am deeply angered by some of the drivel that pours forth from the mouths of Christians who think that they, and they alone, are the only people with a moral voice or the ability to deal even-handedly with a given situation. As you note there is evidence that pro-life pregnancy counselling can likewise be biased and emotive.

    The whole point of counselling is to provide space for a person to make up their own mind, by telling them the facts about a given situation – it is up to the person themselves to own the decision they make; but they need access to unbiased facts about the nature of abortion, what help is available to mothers, the psychological damage abortion/an unplanned pregnacy can give rise to, the reality of motherhood etc. etc.

    A few years ago I helped organise a conference for social work professionals on sexuality and transgender (about 300 professionals and students attended). One of the ‘case studies’ discussed in the parallel sessions concerned a 15 year old boy ‘coming out’ – because I was leading the group I got the feeling the group members were trying to steer the decision making process to an outcome I (as the openly gay man) would approve of. The net decision was that the boy should be helped to tell all and everyone that he was on Dorothy’s Christmas card list; the group then looked at me, hoping (I think) they had made the right decision. They were a bit deflated when I said that I thought this very unwise: 1) because coming out is best done when you have your own life and social network ‘set up’ before risking destroying your existing social network, telling friends and family you’re gay; 2) a teenager may think he is gay, but perhaps it would be better to wait and see and not be so hasty as to channel someone down one path, when he may just be experimenting with his sexuality; 3) the real choice is the young person’s – all professionals can do is present evidence and advice and leave the person to make their own decisions. My thinking shocked a few straight social work colleagues who misguidedly believed a gay man would be eager to follow a ‘pro-gay’ plan of action.

    Yet this is professionalism – one’s own views are incidental when working in a professional capacity with individuals. I think it smacks of unbelievable arrogance and (ignorance) on the part of some of our prolife brethren that they believe just because someone doesn’t work for a prolife organisation they are unable to give unbiased counselling. Tho’ by an odd coincidence they are often the very same people who moan when a nurse, doctor, registrar or other public servant is chastised for being unprofessional and allowing their Christian beliefs to interfere with the service they are paid to provide. Perhaps these pro-lifers are judging others by their own failings?

    What is needed is some independent research on the nature of the advice given by non-pro-life and pro-life organisations before ‘prejudgement’, prejudice and (sadly) slander get the better of some!

    For the record, I am pro-life (before I get nasty e-mails, as I have received in the past from Christians making judgements about me because I haven’t said what they think I should say, if I really was a member of their faction!)


  3. I'm sure you are right, Lucy. I am sure the majority of counsellors, whether pro-life or pro-choice, aim to be ethical and compassionate, and maybe I should have said that. But what about the minority who act upon a bias - on both sides? You say your friend felt those who were criticised were criticised justly? If that is so, then isn't it true to say that there will always be some who use the system to "push" an agenda, whether that is pro- life or pro- abortion? That is my concern - and it is an even handed one, I have mixed views on the subject of abortion.

  4. That's really weird, Peter, because it did occur to me that Nadine Dorries had "burnt her boats" already in the House by some of her previous interventions. I tutted deeply (honestly, I do!) when I heard her going on about female abstinence, not that I am not drawn to the idea of telling teenagers to abstain (the older you get, the more natural the whole idea of them waiting until they are at least 21 becomes!!!) but because it was so sexist and unworkable and offensive. Why can't we tell heterosexual men to behave for a change, they seem to be the only group immune from criticism for their sexual behaviour!

    Anyhow, I digress! Nice to have my hunch about the perceptions of Dorries contributing to the wholesale defeat of her vote confirmed.

  5. As a hot-blooded male, I wish it to be known I have totally abstained from Nadine Dorries.

  6. Sue - yes. In all areas of life, there will 'always be some'. Which can get disheartening, but I do think it's important to distinguish between the 'all' and the 'some', which in some (!!) reports does not seem to happen.

  7. Right, I've looked at CareConfidential's website and (sorry, I am probably going to upset you now!) I have the following issues.

    1. I can't find any place where they state that they are a Christian organisation (I assume they are?) I think it should be clearly stated on the front of their website, or at least in their "About us". That is not fair or honest.

    2. Although there are generalised "neutral" comments such as "you have to make the right choice for you", the vast majority of "personal stories" on their website seem to promote continuing with a pregnancy as the best choice. I've no problem with this IF they were upfront about having a pro life slant - but this is never mentioned. Why isn't it?
    3. Many of the stories mention God and some of the question and answer sections have comments such as "I am glad you had the courage to go through with the pregnancy", there is a mention in one of the main leaflets about not doing things you think are "wrong." Again - fine IF there is transparency about the pro-life aims.

    4.. The section on "Making a complaint" refers the complainant to

    "The Counselling Manager (who)will then deal with the complaint. She will investigate the circumstances and report back to the complainant.

    If the complainant remains dissatisfied, he/she may take the complaint to the
    Director of CareConfidential and report to the individual on the action taken.

    The final arbiter in all disputes will be the CareConfidential Executive."

    At no point is any complainant offered an outside arbiter or the address of someone impartial or unconnected to the organisation to raise an issue with. Why isn't CareConfidential answerable to an outside body ?

  8. CareConfidential also doesn't seem to be registered with any of the accredited counselling associations - such as BACP. Why not? Again, they are not clear on their front page that they are not accredited (maybe they are - I hope so! It's not very clear!)

    I believe the law should be changed so that all counsellors should have to meet a certain standard and be accredited with, and accountable to, an outside body.

  9. No one is independent in this, and it will forever be an issue which completely polarises society. The terms 'Pro-life' and 'Pro-choice' are bad for a start. The fact is that a measure introduced to permit abortion in extremis is now effectively a free-for-all. After all, is anyone ever refused an abortion?

    I'm sorry that this failed, Dorries may be a loon, but the reason she keeps banging on about this is that it is important. That people (other MPs) seem bored by the subject is a tragedy.

  10. Peter B; It is very, very rare for someone to be refused an abortion before 24 weeks. A woman can be refused an abortion after this date, unless her life is at risk, or if the child would be born with a severe physical or mental disability. But I don't know what happens in practice. I do know of someone who was refused an abortion (it was her third) unless she was sterilised following it.

  11. If it's me you're talking about upsetting than no problem - I am not that easily upset! I don't have the answers to your questions I'm afraid; I do know that the CC counsellors I've met have external supervision but my knowledge is admittedly only second hand...if I discover more I'll let you know!

    (I hope that made sense - am very tired and eyes are about to pop out!!)

  12. Thanks Lucy, glad you don't get upset.I was a bit surprised though, as you said you'd done some "research" and written some articles about CareConfidential. It took me all of five minutes checking out their website and reading about the content of their manuals and literature to raise serious concerns! It doesn't look as if CC is registered with an accredited professional counselling body - I'd be interested to know how "external" the external supervision was, it is a term that means very little if CC has handpicked "supervision" that is in sympathy with the comments in their manual about abortion as a "grievous wrong" -see the video above.

  13. Hi Sue,

    I take your point, although I should clarify that I didn't say I had 'written articles about' CC but meant that I had been doing some research involving interviews with some CC staff for one article 'idea' (which is not yet fully written and neither is it focusing on political issues - I know that's not my forte!). Apologies if I was unclear. It was simply a comment arising out of my own experience of chatting to them - I probably shouldn't have said anything.

    I'm reluctant to make statements on their behalf not to distance myself but because I do not want to misrepresent anybody (especially since my own cognitive abilities/memory are rather muddled at the moment for various reasons I won't go into here!! I'm afraid my information retention is currently very poor.).

    Over and out :)

  14. Lets face it, with all the best male brains & privilege in the country the Corporate Politicians still messed up big time.
    A slight lack of common sense & integrity all round I'd say.
    So I look forward to the day when 50% of the cabinet is made up of women. Let the male bastion snigger then!!
    Now that would be equality.

  15. the abortion question is simple - if in doubt, terminate. if you decide you made the wrong decision, well no problem, just start again. anyone who is unable to make that simple decision is clearly not mentally fit to have children anyway and should be sterilised for their own mental health !