MPs are currently debating whether charities who carry out abortions should also be allowed to offer patients counseling over whether to proceed with a termination.
Tory MP Nadine Dorries, together with Labour backbencher Frank Field, have tabled an amendment to the health bill saying that the likes of Marie Stopes should not be allowed to give advice on the basis that, as providers of abortions, they cannot be neutral.
It is a charge that has infuriated the pro-choice lobby, which is furious that womens’ health charities such as Marie Stopes have been tarnished as abortion peddlars – particularly since a significant proportion of women who do go for counselling in their clinics do not in the end have an abortion.
Instead, the amendment is seen as another way for Ms Dorries to put barriers in the way of women seeking abortions. Ms Dorries herself admits that forcing women to go for ‘independent counseling’ could reduce abortions by 60,000 a year.
A free vote, the amendment pits the bulk of Lib Dem and Labour MPs against the Tories. But in an unusual twist, Ms Dorries is also being challenged by the very lot that the pro-choice lobby believe she is trying to help.
The Society of the Protection of Unborn Children wrote to MPs on Monday
urging the pro-lifers among them to also vote against the amendment to say that it could not support the amendment. SPUC said the amendment could make matters worse for pro-lifers since it might mean such groups could no longer offer women advice.
[UPDATE] The paragraph above has been corrected, as per the comment at the end of this post from Anthony Ozimic (anthonyozimic).
“The effect of this amendment is extremely uncertain,” wrote SPUC in an email. “It is not clear who would be commissioned to provide counselling, of what the distinct elements of ‘counselling’, ‘advice’ and ‘information’ would entail”.
“There are reasons to think abortions may increase – as has happened will ill-judged amendments in the past.”
One pro-life Tory MP told me that SPUC’s email was enough to put him off supporting Ms Dorries. If more follow, the supporters’ numbers may be come somewhat subdued and that in turn may help the health department kick the subject into the long grass once it carries out its consultation on the issue of advice later this year.