Below is a campaign update from Abortion Rights – to recieve updates, visit www.abortionrights.org.uk and sign up for emails.
Welcome to our latest round-up of campaign news and pro-choice issues on our radar – abortion counselling, public health reform, anti-choice protests, global news and a look at what Abortion Rights has been up to recently. Where next on counselling?
On the abortion counselling front, there has been little movement from the Department of Health since the Parliamentary debate. As many of you will know, amendments to the Health and Social Care bill tabled by Nadine Dorries, which sought to strip abortion providers of their role in counselling women about their pregnancy choices, were comprehensively defeated in Parliament in September. At that time the Department of Health committed to holding a consultation on abortion counselling to further examine whether any change was needed. Since then, there has been little in the way of public pronouncements on the issue from the DH. When Diane Abbott sought clarification from Public Health Minister Anne Milton, she was told they were still ‘developing proposals’.
However, it now seems that the Department of Health aims to complete their planning for the consultation but the end of 2011, suggesting a launch in the New Year. We have also learned that that Departmental officials are conducting site visits to inspect current counselling systems. As we would expect, abortion providers BPAS and Marie Stopes have received visits, but alarmingly, the officials are also visiting the pregnancy counselling services offered by anti-choice groups LIFE and Care Confidential.
It would seem that ministers are seriously considering allowing these organisations, which are ideologically opposed to abortion and which have a track record of providing misleading and judgemental advice to clients, to be formally involved in NHS abortion and pregnancy decision-making care. Although it now seems that future changes to counselling regulations will not strip abortion providers of their right to advise patients on their choices, which is a victory in itself, allowing anti-choice groups to join them in offering this service would be an extremely negative step, undermining the right to accurate, unbiased information, as well as creating many practical problems and in all likelihood, serious delays. Abortion Rights will keep you updated as we hear more about the consultation – this is an issue that hasn’t gone away and we need a robust response from pro-choice supporters and groups.
Why pro-choice supporters should care about Public Health reform
Another key campaign issue which pro-choice advocates will need to focus on in the coming months is the government’s planned reform of the public health system, which will potentially have far reaching consequences for the delivery of abortion services. The plans, laid out in the government’s Public Health White Paper, mean that responsibility for abortion and most sexual health services will be transferred from Primary Care Trusts to Local Authorities. Abortion Rights, alongside healthcare professionals and sexual health groups, is concerned that this move threatens to turn the commissioning of abortion and sexual health services into political issues at local level, potentially resulting in some areas of the country voting to severely limit abortion service provision on financial or ideological grounds. Allowing elected local counsellors or even representatives of anti-choice or religious groups to serve on planned ‘Health and Wellbeing Boards’ opens up clinical commissioning decisions to political and ideological influence. Have a look at our briefing on the issue to find out more.
The issue is starting to attract the attention of MPs and anti-choice advocates. Following Parliamentary Questions on the issue, anti-choice group SPUC have started a campaign to ensure that Local Authorities are not required by the Department of Health to commission abortion services at all. Abortion Rights is raising these concerns with colleagues in health, equalities and trade unions groups and is urging them to include the issue in their campaigning work on NHS reform. We will also be discussing the issue at a Parliamentary Group meeting this month and will update supporters on what we find out.