4:18 pm - May 14th 2008
1) On March 19th Nadine Dorries MP published a blog-post titled The Hand of Hope, which featured this image of a small hand apparently coming out of a uterus. She said:
When the operation was over, baby Samuel, at 21 weeks gestation, put his hand through the incision in the uterus and grabbed hold of the surgeon’s finger, a gesture which was apparently met with a huge amount of emotion in the operating theatre. Dr Bruner said that it was the most emotional moment of his life and that for a moment he was just frozen, totally immobile.
Except, it was a hoax and Dr Bruner himself had said so. This was pointed out on several blogs including LC and Dorries wrote another post defending her actions with the view that the photographer, a born-again Christian, should be believed over the surgeon (who she had earlier quoted herself).
The Hand of Hope also makes an appearance on the pictures and video section of her new campaign. In other words, a member of parliament is actually perpetuating a hoax that has been debunked several times.
In many ways, this sums up her entire campaign.
2) Her 20 reasons for 20 weeks includes the assertion that:
17. The British Medical Association’s opposition to lowering the limit is not supported by the majority of its members and almost 1,000 BMA members recently signed a petition against attempts to further liberalise BMA policy.
Except that doctors from the BMA overwhelmingly voted against reducing the 24 week limit.
3) She also claimed initially that Marie Stopes International favoured reducing the 24 week limit. This was not the case.
A proper debunking of Nadine Dorries’s 20 reasons can be found at rhetorically speaking.
4) Yesterday, she wrote more rubbish on her blog.
That’s how John Bercow, the Conservative Member for Buckingham described members, (inc me) who want to reform the abortion law. He also used words such as prejudiced. Antediluvian isn’t a word you hear much on the housing estates across Britain, so I had to ask what it meant. Before a flood apparently.
All faiths, including Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus and Christians are all antediluvian. But of course, John Bercow must be right and I believe that maybe the three quarters of women across Britain are grateful to him for being there to point out the error of their judgment.
Professor Anand, incredibly well respected and acknowledged as the world’s leading expert in foetal pain, believes that a foetus feels pain as low as 18 weeks gestation.
This is like shooting fish in a barrel. Firstly, there is no religious consensus on abortion, even if people followed their faith to the letter.
Secondly, where’s the evidence that 75% of women share her view? What she has are a series of opinion polls carried out by ComRes over the last 3-4 years, all of which were commissioned by pro-life organisations and all of which follow the same basic format, even if the wording and ordering of some questions differ slightly from poll to poll. Do they prove that 75% of women share her view? No, but they are a near classic example of the art of manipulating opinion poll results by means of careful use of leading questions and are almost deserving of a case study in their own right.
And then there’s Dr Anand and the other scientific evidence that Dorries claims supports her position…
5) She said in a recent article:
Yesterday’s report on neonatal survival rates, along with resounding evidence produced by the world’s leading foetal pain expert, Professor KJS Anand, that a foetus feels pain from quite an early stage – certainly at 20 weeks – makes the recent science and technology committee report redundant. It also serves to highlight the selective way in which the evidence was presented.
The report on neonatal survival rates is a study conducted by Professor John Wyatt of University College London Hospital (and the Christian Medical Fellowship) and, of course, there’s the inevitable reference to Professor Anand and an attempt to write-off the report of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee as biased and out of date.
There’s no easy way to tackle the science. It’s complex and pretty impenetrable to anyone who doesn’t have a reasonable background in the sciences and that’s what Dorries is relying on in this debate. Many people don’t have the knowledge or skills to work their way through the evidence, so they have to trust what the men (and women, of course) in white lab coats have to say – and Dorries would rather you trust her ‘experts’ rather than anyone elses.
Tackling the science is difficult but not impossible. The Science and Technology Committee report (pdf) is as good a place to start as any and commendably clear in its assessment of the evidence. For the UCLH study by Professor Wyatt, try Ben Goldacre’s assessment of Wyatt’s evidence to the Science and Technology Committee (ST&C).
The relevance, or rather lack of relevance of Professor ‘Sunny’ Anand’s work on foetal pain is discussed by Unity here at his own blog and again at Liberal Conspiracy in the wake of a staged public ‘debate’ organised by Dorries. Anand is an excellent physician and respected academic in his field, but his field isn’t abortion and at best his work on foetal ‘pain’, much of which remains theoretical and far from conclusive at this point in time, amounts to no more than an argument for the use of foetal anaesthesia in late-term abortions and not one that supports a reduction in the current upper limit.
All of which leaves us the final plank of Dorries’ “scientific” arguments, Professor Stuart Cambell’s ’4D’ ultrasound scans, which have some small value as an aide to diagnosing physical abnormalities but which provide about about as much information about critical areas of foetal development, such the brain and respiratory system, as the animated dancing baby that used to appear on Ally McBeal.
Even Dorries’ favourite anti-abortion doctor, Professor John Wyatt had to concede to the ST&C that “at the moment I think the consensus is they do not add a great deal in terms of the science.”
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
· Other posts by Sunny Hundal
Story Filed Under: Blog ,Campaigns ,Coalition For Choice ,Conservative Party ,e) Briefings ,Equality ,Feminism ,Nadine Dorries ,Religion ,Westminster
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