Tories plan to ban abortion charities on advising women


9:30 am - June 29th 2011

by Sunny Hundal    


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The assault on organisations offering independent abortion advice, counselling and services will intensify, as we feared.

It seems the government is determined to restrict basic abortion rights.

The Guardian reports today:

Charities which provide abortions could be stripped of their ability to also counsel women, under plans being considered by the government.

The announcement has sparked alarm among abortion providers who warned the change would delay women accessing the treatment they needed and insisted there was no evidence that the current system was not working.

Charities including the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and Marie Stopes offer the compulsory counselling women must undertake before they make a decision on termination.

The Department of Health are also pushing for the amendments by Nadine Dorries and Frank Field to become a reality without the need for a vote in parliament, as we pointed out last week.

To no surprise, Dorries welcomes this on her own blog.

I believe that for the purpose of clarity and in order that any change cannot be easily reversed in the future, that the provision requires primary legislation. I have sought a meeting with the Secretary of State to discuss how we can best meet our joint objectives in the full knowledge that this amendment has huge public support”

She not only want to push it through without a vote, she wants to make it much harder for a future Labour government to reverse these changes.

Update: Marina S has an excellent model letter on her blog that you can send to Anne Milton or the Dept of Health.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


Who else thinks that those looking to get in on the counselling gig are going to have a far greater “vested interest” than the current providers?
Will Life be able to provide an unjudgemental and neutral counselling service?
I doubt it.

Excelled news. An extremely sensible policy from this govt. LibCon shouldn’t be so dogmatic with their support from the abortion industry!

Um, primary legislation is an Act of Parliament.

You know, something MPs have to vote on.

Aside from that, fully agree. Conflicts of interest are largely irrelevant on this issue; charities are sufficiently transparent both formally and informally to make any such consideration moot.

4. So Much For Subtlety

The assault on organisations offering independent abortion advice, counselling and services will intensify, as we feared.

If they are offering abortions they are not independent. They have a clear financial interest in advising people to have abortions.

It is entirely sensible to prohibit people who stand to gain financially from their advice from giving such advice. This would never be allowed if it involved pensions.

“I believe that for the purpose of clarity and in order that any change cannot be easily reversed in the future, that the provision requires primary legislation.”

She not only want to push it through without a vote, she wants to make it much harder for a future Labour government to reverse these changes.

You just have no idea what you’re talking about do you Sunny? If Nadine Dorries is calling for this provision to be passed through primary legislation then she is demanding that there is a vote. Sheesh.

So we can expect a retraction of this thread?
http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/06/24/wtf-field-dorries-want-abortion-amendments-passed-without-vote/

Yes, Nadine Dorries, famed for always speaking the truth on her blog, makes the claim that she is in fact seeking to have the measure voted on, and certainly not going to get the DoH to push it through without, must clearly be believed…

6 – I think Sunny just didn’t understand what “primary legislation” means.

Tim:

I think the misunderstanding here is yours.

What Dorries is banging on about is primary legislation to prevent the likes of BPAS and MSI hiving off their existing pregnancy advice bureaux to an independently managed subsidiary.

As I understand the powers that the DoH has at present, the most it can do without risking a judicial review is to direct NHs commissioning bodies to make provision for so-called independent counselling as an option, i.e. it can direct them not to enter into any exclusive contracts with a single provider. This would leave it to GPs to decide, in consultation with their patients, where to make the referral to.

To go beyond that would leave the DoH open to a legal challenge which would force them to produce evidence in support of the claim that the BPAS and MSI pregnancy advice bureaux are operating under a conflict of interest and I doubt very much that that’s would be a sustainable argument if put to a court of law.

All this, of course, presupposes that women who want a termination actuall want counselling – many, if not most, don’t because they’ve already made their decision before they ship up at the GP’s surgery or at a PABx and all they want to do is arrange the appointment.

8 – How enormously embarassing. That’ll teach me to RTQ properly. Sorry Sunny. Unfairly maligned on this occasion.

As a general rule, I still hold to the idea that more or less everything Nadine Dorries says should either be ignored or opposed, depending on how likely it is to achieve anything. If she is strongly in support of this idea, then, like a weathervane, I am probably against it.

10. Chaise Guevara

“It seems the government is determined to restrict basic abortion rights”

Whatever you say, Captain Hyperbole.

Seriously, is it too much to ask that we have a sensible conversation about whether or not counselling by abortion providers represents a conflict of interest that harms personal choice? Rather than, y’know, going “this looks vaguely pro-life ergo it’s EVIL!”

We had exactly the same kneejerk reaction from all sides when debating whether or not to drop the abortion cutoff to 21 weeks – if it’s about abortion, people seem todive behind their favourite barricade before they’ve even stopped to consider the topic.

SMFS:

To reiterate the point I made last week, if you’re so concerned about possible conflicts of interest then would be happy to see the same enforced separation applied to other areas of private sector medicine.

What about elective cosmetic surgery or laser eye correction?

What about the burgeoning health-screening sector?

One of the many reasons why the US healthcare system is twice as expensive as our own is the vast sums of money spent on clinically unecessary testing plus the on-costs for aidditional testing and unnecessary invasive medical procedures arising from false positives.

What about your local pharmacy? Any time you pop in with a minor ailment and ask the pharmacists to recommend an over the counter remedy, is there not a potential conflict of interest? Could their judgement not easily be swayed by their knowledge of the margins they make on different products?

What about public health clinics and health promotion activities in GP practices?

GPs get paid for running smoking cessation clinics and other similar services, so is there not a conflict interest there whenever they suggest that patient might like to go along to one during a consultation.

The constraints placed on the pensions industry, etc. were introduced not because there was a potential conflict of interest there but because there was concrete evidence of misselling and of financial service providers acting unethically in putting their own interests ahead of those of their customers.

If you’re going to lay the same allegation at the door of BPAS and MSI, should you not back up your argument with concrete evidence that the PABx are operating under a conflict of interest?

If you don’t than your argument holds no more water that the kind of ‘pharma shill’ nonsense that gets thrown at critics of so-called alternative medicine which, like the allegations against BPAS and MSI, has no basis in fact whatsoever.

@Unity, I think SMFS is trying to tell us he doesn’t trust the free market.

Chaise:

Seriously, is it too much to ask that we have a sensible conversation about whether or not counselling by abortion providers represents a conflict of interest that harms personal choice?

It’s not a question of representation.

Yes, there is a potential conflict of interest here – it would be daft to claim otherwise.

However, as other situations in which conflicts of interest may arise on has to look not only at what exists in potential but at what happens in actuality. So the debate has to begin from the position of asking whether there is any evidence to show that the PABx operated by the likes of BPAS and MSI have been actively operating under a conflict of interest in such as way as to put the organisation’s financial interests ahead of those of their clients.

We also have to remember that what we’re taking about here is an elective procedure and that, as such, women are entitled to as much or as little information and advice as they choose to ask for unless there are overriding clinical or ethical reasons for proffering certain information without it first being requested.

The latter is already amply covered by the guidance issued by RCOG and RCPsych, both of which are currently being updated to take into account the latest clinical and empirical evidence.

As I’ve already pointed out, many, if not most, women have already made their decision before they seek a referral for a termination and they will neither want nor necessarily need access to counselling. All they want is to book the appointment, expedite the procedure and get on with their lives and in such cases it would not be ethical to compel them to receive ‘counselling’ when that is quite clearly what they don’t want.

Equally, one cannot confine one’s consideration of conflicts of interest just to the PABx operated by BPAS and MSI, on also has to look closely at the ‘independent sector’ in which many of the potential providers are operated by religious or religiously motivated organisations that are doctrinally opposed to abortion in all, or almost all, circumstances.

There is a clear potential conflict of interest there but, unlike in the case of BPAS MSI, there were have well documented evidence of organisations acting in bad faith, failing to openly disclose their position on the legality of abortion and promoting false and misleading information about scakle and nature of the clinical risks associated with abortion.

There is also evidence that while some of these providers operate ethically by taking a rigorous and non-directive approach to advising/counselling their client, albeit one that often not entirely free of bias, others have been found to operate in a wholly unethical manner by seeking to actively dissuade women from choosing to have an abortion.

On very noticeable feature of all these organisations is that they actively promote adoption as an alternative to abortion but, to the best of my knowledge, none of them provide any information about the psychiatric risks associated with putting a child up for adoption depsite the fact that these are fairly well documented in research literature. Indeed, adoption agencies generally appear to exhibit an almost complete disregard for well being of the women who put their children up for adoption to the extent that few, if any, offer any aftercare or post-adoption counselling.

Its not the case that ‘pro-life’ equals ‘evil’ but that there is ample evidence to demonstrate that these organisation do commonly operate in bad faith.

We had exactly the same kneejerk reaction from all sides when debating whether or not to drop the abortion cutoff to 21 weeks

Not here, we didn’t – if you check the archives here for 2008, particular around the Feb-Apr period then you’ll find that the issues were extensively debated and that many of the comments were anything but kneejerk reactions.

Sorry to be a self-publicising twat, but this is for a good cause: I’ve written a letter that I plan to mail in the next 2-3 days, to Anne Milton, the junior secretary for public health, and the person whose head will be on the block if/when this blows up in the Tories’ face. It’s to be found in full here.

Please feel free to copy my text in full, edit it, give me your name to add to the signatures, or take any other action you deem appropriate to protest these proposed changes, and the hideous implication that there is an “abortion industry” in the UK that can even have a “conflict of interest” in these matters.

20% of the women counselled by BPAS end up choosing not to abort; by no means do they or any other organisation “push” abortion on people. We need to nip this rhetoric in the bud, before we end up in a situation like the US is in, where some people honestly believe that Planned Parenthood are a sinister conspiracy ring, sabotaging women’s contraception in order to then induce them to have abortions – like aborted foetuses are some kind of currency that medical staff and callous women deal in. It’s not just wrong in the usual sense that anti-scientific woo is wrong and stupid; it’s a cruel and slanderous way of casting sexually active women and those who won’t condemn us as baby-killing monsters.

Please, don’t jump up and accuse me of hyperbole just yet; look over the pond first, where Ohio has just passed a “heartbeat” law – making abortion basically illegal from 6 weeks onwards. From such seemingly small acorns as implied conflict of interest have these mighty anti-choice oaks grown.

@4 SMFS

“They have a clear financial interest in advising people to have abortions.

It is entirely sensible to prohibit people who stand to gain financially from their advice from giving such advice. This would never be allowed if it involved pensions.”

“bpas is a registered charity and as such does not make any profit from providing our services. Any surplus that is generated is reinvested in the business in order to provide a better service and further our charitable aims”

http://www.bpas.org/bpaswoman.php?page=21

16. Chaise Guevara

@ Unity

You’re right to say that the conflict of interest exists – what I meant was we need to discover whether that conflict of interest is actually being exploited. I agree that this legislation would only be necessary if there is reason to believe that abortion providers are failing to provide balanced, client-centric counselling. I should also say that AFAIK no such evidence has in fact been presented.

The proposal may very well be a bad, or at least pointless, idea. What I object to is Sunny leaping to hysterical conclusions: “It seems the government is determined to restrict basic abortion rights”. That sentence is basically an attempt to interpret this in the worst possible light, on the basis of zero evidence, and it’s not conducive to a sensible discussion.

“Not here, we didn’t”

My bad – by “we” I meant the country generally, not LC, but that wasn’t at all clear from my post. I’m not sure I was around when that issue was addressed on LC. My point was that when it was proposed that we reduce the abortion cutoff (an issue that should have been resolved by discussing whether adapting to recent medical developments justified reducing the amount of time women have to consider whether to get an abortion), most of the country seemed to interpret it as a straight-up lifer vs choicer battle, rather than stopping and considering the issue for half a second.

So what are the viable alternatives to charities that offer abortion in this context? Given that abortion is legal and will be an option for these women, if you exclude charities that can help these women, where do they go for impartial advice? Certainly not to anti abortion charities. They, by their own admission, cannot or will not offer advice on abortion, so where do women who wish to seek an abortion go, exactly?

So we now have three alternatives, as far as I can see.

The status quo with charities/the private sector giving advice for free.

We invent a fully funded public sector advice centre giving impartial advice.

Or we allow the Tory Party to pick the charity on patronage grounds to give ‘advice’, but starts of with the premise that one of the options is not available.

Do we want these self serving moralisers browbeating young women?

”Do we want these self serving moralisers browbeating young women”

No because that is exactly what they are

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8l7eJv8pB0

Dorries and the frankly disturbing Andrea Williams, the puppeteer, at their moralising best.

Was any of this clap trap in the Con Lie manifestos?

Of course not. Neither was privatising universities, or raising VAT, or selling of the health care system.

Fucking liars the lot of them.

21. So Much For Subtlety

11. Unity

To reiterate the point I made last week, if you’re so concerned about possible conflicts of interest then would be happy to see the same enforced separation applied to other areas of private sector medicine.

Of course.

One of the many reasons why the US healthcare system is twice as expensive as our own is the vast sums of money spent on clinically unecessary testing plus the on-costs for aidditional testing and unnecessary invasive medical procedures arising from false positives.

Yes but that is caused by the fear of being sued. And the word “unnecessary” is not quite right. Almost every test is useful, it is just that a lot of them are not worth doing. There is a chance that any one of them might pick up a tumour or something. But the chances are so small and the problems of false positives so great that sensible doctors wouldn’t bother.

What about your local pharmacy? Any time you pop in with a minor ailment and ask the pharmacists to recommend an over the counter remedy, is there not a potential conflict of interest? Could their judgement not easily be swayed by their knowledge of the margins they make on different products?

I would be surprised if the margins were that different, but yes, there is a small potential for conflict here. Which is why we tolerate the industry in the first place (doing a degree to sell people cough medicine is stupid – except that we don’t want GPs’ judgements being clouded by commercial considerations).

If you’re going to lay the same allegation at the door of BPAS and MSI, should you not back up your argument with concrete evidence that the PABx are operating under a conflict of interest?

Well it is self-evident that they are operating under a conflict of interest. I don’t need to prove that. It just is. Nor am I alleging that they have succumbed to this conflict of interest. Just that it is sensible to avoid the problem in the first place. Added to which these groups tend to be ideologically committed to the idea of abortion in much the same way LIFE is ideologically committed to not doing abortions. That makes the conflict all the greater. So it is sensible to avoid it in the first place.

22. So Much For Subtlety

15. Gareth

“bpas is a registered charity and as such does not make any profit from providing our services. Any surplus that is generated is reinvested in the business in order to provide a better service and further our charitable aims”

Then they are using “profit” in an odd and highly restricted way. Do they grow as an organisation (and hence pay more and higher salaries) the more abortions they perform? Yes they do. Do they therefore have a conflict of interest? Yes they do.

It is entirely sensible to insist that the two functions are separate.

Do they grow as an organisation (and hence pay more and higher salaries) the more abortions they perform? Yes they do. Do they therefore have a conflict of interest? Yes they do.

By that logic, needle exchange charities have an interest in the number of drug addicts continuing to grow. I think you’re seriously misunderstanding the nature of the third sector and its motivations; even where there is demonstrable “NGO creep”, for example, it’s not a question of individual volunteers/aid workers covertly trying to exacerbate problems on the ground for personal gain.

In the case of BPAS, the people providing counselling are not the same as those performing abortion – they have different skills and different professional priorities. And again, as keeps being pointed out there is no evidence of a problem. Even in cases of real conflict of interest, law and custom requires that you demonstrate that it exists in practice, not that just that it can be extrapolated to potentially exist from circumstances.

SMFS @ 22

It is entirely sensible to insist that the two functions are separate.

Who should actually do the work then? If not the charity or the private sector, who? And at what cost?What evidence is there that a tender would provide an impartial result?

Given that the current system works, why go to all this bother and without a vote, too?


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

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  6. Richard Brooks

    http://t.co/8FDVc5A Physically ill. At some point this gov't will cease to surprise me, but not yet.

  7. sunny hundal

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  8. Joe Jordan

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  11. Stew Wilson

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  12. Jo Caulfield

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  13. Woodo

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  14. Rep in the Region

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  17. Riven

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  24. Carol Horne

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  29. WelshWomensAid

    Shocking: charities providing abortions could be stripped of ability to also counsel women under new UK Gov proposals: http://bit.ly/lJNvGs.

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  36. Angela Elniff-Larsen

    Shocking: charities providing abortions could be stripped of ability to also counsel women under new UK Gov proposals: http://bit.ly/lJNvGs.

  37. Len Arthur

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  39. Joanna Winfield

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  42. Thomas Swingler

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  43. Vivian Broutsos

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  44. Welsh Feminist

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  46. Roxanne Ellis

    http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/06/29/tories-plan-to-ban-abortion-charities-on-advising-women/

  47. CraigL

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  48. green_cupcake

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  49. Blind prejudice « The Catechesis of Caroline

    […] only Sunny, but also Diane Abbott are intent on peddling the lie, that “basic abortion rights” are under threat. For as long as they continue to push this, it must be pointed out that this is […]





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