by Robert Halfon MP
This week, I voted for Amendment 1221 during the Health and Social Care Bill, because I thought it important that women who were considering an abortion, had access to independent counselling services – only if they wished. If the Amendment had succeeded, women would have been offered an entirely optional alternative to abortion providers or their subsidiaries.
So, this amendment did not compel a woman to have counselling, it did not stop Pregnancy Advisory Bureaus or independent clinics meeting their obligations to ensure that a woman is fully informed about the medical procedure being considered.
This amendment did not prohibit abortion providers or their subsidiaries from continuing to offer a counselling service. It did not prevent the NHS from providing ‘independent’ counselling under the proposals, nor create a situation where all those offering an alternative source of counselling would be ‘faith based’.
I was astonished by how much controversy, this seemingly mild amendment caused. Of course their were the usual Twitter ‘bullies’ who sought to intimidate the female mover of the amendment, with online abuse, rather than debate. And that is to be expected: bullies often use the Internet to hide behind. Its a bit like those people who drive big fast cars down the motorway, flashing at you closely from behind to move to another lane – because you dare to travel on ‘their’ road space.
But, beyond the internet, much more disappointing was the attempt to close down proper debate, because the amendment challenged – albeit in a small way – a particular world view.
That is why I am glad I voted for the Amendment – the reaction of the opposition made me even more determined to do so.
I was disappointed that the Government chose not to support the Amendment – partly on grounds of the legislative framework – but was very heartened that Health Minister Ann Milton said she supported the spirit of the proposals.
Ann Milton made a very thoughtful speech, saying: “Before we legislate, we want to think through all the implications—including financial and legal—of a definition. We also want to consult widely and publicly as part of our proposals to help us ensure that we really improve services for women at what we all know is an extremely difficult time in their lives. We need to consult the public; indeed, we need to consult the women about whom we are talking… I also stress that the regulations would be subject to affirmative resolution. Whether women want to take up the offer of independent counselling will be a matter for them, but we are clear that the offer should be made… We intend to ensure that the independent counselling offered to women follows the highest standards of good practice… the Government support the spirit of the amendments, and we intend to present proposals for regulations after consultation.”
PS. I was sent a note by Labour MP, Jim Dobbin about a ComRes Poll. It showed that the measure proposed by Nadine Dorries was supported by 84% those who voted Liberal Democrat at the last election compared to 80% of Labour and 81% of Conservative voters respectively. The ComRes poll also found that women are more likely than men to agree with the principle of independent counselling (80% vs. 76%) and more likely than men to want to see their MP support proposals to implement it (67% vs. 63%). Two out of three women agreed with the statement: “I would like my MP to support proposals to ensure that women have access to independent abortion counselling from a source that has no financial interest in her decision.”