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From The Socialist newspaper, 7 September 2011

Reject health bill attacks on abortion

Sarah Wrack

The last couple of weeks has seen to-ing and fro-ing from all wings of the political establishment over Nadine Dorries and Frank Field's amendment to the Health and Social Care bill. The amendment calls for all women seeking abortion to be offered counselling from an organisation that doesn't provide abortion services itself. Pressure has forced Cameron and the health ministers to U-turn, saying they won't support the amendment.

Dorries and Co try to claim that the amendment is very simple and very innocent - the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Bpas) and Marie Stopes get money from the government to provide abortions and so have a 'vested interest' in women deciding to go ahead and therefore cannot provide unbiased counselling.

This is ironic considering the bill they are amending is almost entirely designed to open the NHS up to private companies which will certainly be making decisions based on what will make them the most profit. The interests of businesses, or charities, have no place in our NHS.

NHS investment needed

If the government invested in the NHS rather than attacking it, it would be able to expand its abortion facilities and there would be no need to pay Bpas and Marie Stopes the 150 million a year they currently receive.

But unfortunately, Dorries' amendment does not stem from her concern for keeping the NHS in public hands. She claims that offering 'independent' counselling would reduce the number of abortions by 60,000 each year. This is based on the completely false idea that most women rush into abortion without thinking and then find themselves trapped on the "conveyor belt" while independent counselling would offer them an escape route.

Tory Liam Fox has said he will vote for the amendment because he will "back anything that makes people think twice". To assume that any woman who decides to terminate a pregnancy makes the decision without a great deal of thought is patronising and sexist.

Myth

In fact, it's a myth that we have abortion 'on demand' - women have to have 'permission' from two doctors. And as 10% of GPs are 'conscientious objectors' to abortion, many women have to talk to more doctors before they can get an appointment. What other medical procedure requires such jumping through hoops? And, criminally, abortion is still illegal in Northern Ireland.

It's not true that the process is 'too fast' to allow time to reconsider either. In fact, the waiting lists in some areas are so long that women end up having a surgical rather than medical abortion, which means surgery rather than a pill. At every stage of the process, professionals are on hand to talk to women about their options and about what the procedure involves. 20% of women who seek an abortion with Bpas decide not to go through with it after seeing in-house counsellors.

The idea of 'independent' counselling is a smoke screen. What it would really mean is that women find themselves being 'counselled' by religious or other anti-abortion groups. For example, at the moment the biggest provider of such counselling is CareConfidential whose training manual includes such advice as: "Abortion is undoubtedly a wickedness that grieves God's heart... this point is to deny the life of the human being - a most grievous sin in the eyes of God."

Although this amendment is unlikely to be passed, attacks on women's right to choose will continue.

Dorries is a long-term campaigner against abortion rights, backed by right-wing Christian groups who oppose abortion on all grounds. In 2008 she led a bid to reduce the time limit on when women can have abortions from 24 to 20 weeks. As with many anti-abortion campaigners, she argues that too many women have late abortions and that at this stage the 'baby' could now have a decent chance of survival.

However, there has been no significant increase in the survival rate for premature births under 24 weeks. 90% of all abortions take place in the first 12 weeks. Many of the women who have abortions after this point didn't realise they were pregnant - often because they are young or are going through the menopause and so have no or irregular periods, or are in distressing circumstances.

Hypocrisy

Every woman should have safe and free access to abortion if they choose it. The hypocrisy of these politicians stinks! They've voted for cuts to child benefit, privatised council housing, sacked hundreds of thousands of public sector workers (mainly women) and made hundreds more attacks on working class women and families. The Con-Dems are also slashing funding for mental health services. All of these cuts will limit the right to choose when and whether to have children.

To give women real choice we need:

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In The Socialist 7 September 2011:


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Related links:

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