The Dorries amendment was flawed from the start. We can’t let it split the pro-life movement

Nadine Dorries speaking in the Commons yesterday (PA photo)

I have worked for over four decades in the United Kingdom in crisis pregnancy support and pro-life political activism, and like many other colleagues I privately voiced serious concerns with the wording of Nadine Dorries’s amendments on abortion counselling. Our arguments need to be aired and understood. There should, however, be neither finger pointing nor point scoring, let alone tearing up of membership cards, following the defeat in Parliament. There is always difficulty in keeping pro-life supporters working together, and it would be a major victory for the devil if the divisions which continually infect us were to become even more auto-destructive after this recent vote. And those of us who opposed the amendments should not be vilified.

We acknowledge that Ms Dorries has done a valuable service in focusing a vital spotlight both on the issue of abortion itself and the inadequacies of the current counselling processes. Some pro-life critics expressed opposition simply because Ms Dorries openly reiterates that she does not hold pro-life beliefs, but for the majority of us this was not the reason for opposition. We sensibly realise that politics is as ever the art of the possible, and that the abortion battle will always be an incremental one as we chip away at a law which has produced a genocide of 7,000,000 tiny lives since 1967.

So why, then, were we opposed? Because of what were seen as fundamental flaws in the construction of the amendments, making them either dangerous or simply impracticable. In essence the aim was to take provision of counselling away from abortion providers, on the basis that they are financially motivated to perform as many terminations as possible and therefore not likely to be objective. We agree that objectivity is a genuine problem but the idea that abortion clinics are motivated by loads of money, while tenable in the US, where abortions are performed by private clinics, simply does not have weight in Britain. The vast majority of UK abortions are subcontracted by the Department of Health to registered clinics who are paid from the public purse a price that has been officially established. After many encounters with those who work in abortion clinics in our country, I truly believe that these people are motivated, not by any desire to amass a fortune, but by a burning ideological commitment to a woman’s right to abortion.

The Dorries’s amendment wanted counselling provision removed from abortion clinics on the basis that it would inevitably be biased, and immediately the pro-choice lobby levelled (logically I would suggest) similar accusations against pro-life counselling. They then gathered their forces and turned on the pro-life centres, doing unhelpful damage with high-profile “stings”.

The financial arguments are minor compared to one intrinsic problem in the amendments: namely, the proposal to remove the responsibility for counselling from the clinics performing abortions. Far from removing this responsibility, we should be enforcing it on abortion providers. They should have an absolute duty to give the most up-to-date information possible relating to the psychological and physical risks of abortion, as well as accurate details of fetal development, plus information regarding support and help for those not wishing to terminate their pregnancies. This is how legislation in the US (Ohio, Texas and others) has been formulated successfully.

The reality in Britain is that most women go directly to the abortion clinics where abortions can be arranged within hours or certainly days, and with minimum counselling. It is imperative that proper information and slowing-down mechanisms are in place, reinforced, and delivered at the actual point of abortion provision.  

Hopefully the consultation taking place later this year, as proposed by Health Minister Anne Milton, will determine robust parameters for information and advice to which abortion providers will have to adhere. We are grateful that abortion is firmly on the agenda, we hope to influence positively the forthcoming consultation, but are relieved that pitfalls in the proposed amendments have been avoided. It is time for the pro-life movement to work together for a new deal for women and their unborn children – both of whom deserve better than abortion.