There’s a certain irony to promoting “non-directive counselling” as a means of reducing the abortion rate. But I’m starting to think that the coalition government doesn’t really understand irony.

The Department of Health announced today that they are planning to use NHS funds to support independent abortion counselling – provided by anti-abortion pressure groups – regardless of the outcome of a debate on the issue in the House of Commons. The Conservative MP Nadine Dorries has proposed an amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill, due to be debated on 6th September, which would ban any organisation that is involved in the provision of terminations from also providing counselling. Ms Dorries and her supporters claim that the counselling offered by abortion providers is biased, because they have a vested financial interest in the outcome (strangely enough, she seems unconcerned about the effects of letting private companies operate other parts of the NHS).

The Right to Know campaign claim to be defending a woman’s right to make an informed decision, but there is precious little truth behind these claims. The allegation that charities such as Marie Stopes International and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service encourage women to have abortions in order to increase their profits is deliberate misinformation – they’re charities, they aren’t making a profit. The counselling services they provide are already tightly regulated, and recent study has shown that their counselling is more balanced and of a higher standard than that which is offered in the independent crisis pregnancy centres which stand to take over from them.

The same study showed that some crisis pregnancy centres are routinely lying to the women who come to them for help. Women who approached these centres claiming to be in the early stages of pregnancy and considering abortion were given wildly inaccurate information about procedure and the potential risks. They were given literature which said that abortion could increase their risk of breast cancer, cause mental illness, or make them infertile, despite the fact that all of these claims have been disproved. These are not subjective arguments about the morality of abortion; they are actual lies about scientifically proven facts, which crisis pregnancy centres are using to prevent women from making informed decisions.

Finally, Dorries herself has been throwing around some spectacularly false statistics to aid her case. In a discussion on the Radio 4 programme World at One (the relevant section starts at about 19 minutes in), she stated that the abortion rate has increased dramatically over the past fifteen years, from around 40,000 in 1996 to the current rate of 200,000 abortions per year. In fact, the number of legal abortions carried out in the UK has never been as low as 40,000, even when it was first made available. Dorries is trying to provoke fear of a rapid moral decline that doesn’t really exist, but then she never has been good at telling the truth.

Dorries claims that changing the rules on counselling could reduce the number of abortions by up to 60,000 per year – that’s more than a quarter of current annual total. This figure is now a target for the anti-abortion campaigners who could soon be using NHS money to manipulate the decisions of vulnerable women. If you believe that our health services should be based on evidence and informed consent, please e-mail your MP and explain why. Unlike Nadine Dorries, you are part of the majority, and we need to remind the government that pro-life lobbyists do not represent public opinion.


And if you find Nadine Dorries’ behaviour just too depressing, you might benefit from listening to this song at high volume.