A push to further tighten the UK’s abortion laws, that was heavily backed by religious conservatives, has been defeated after the Government announced it would not go forward with a planned consultation.
During a debate in Westminster Hall earlier, [Health Minister] Ms Soubry said she had decided to call off the consultation because the Government had no intention of changing the law, adding that if ministers were to plough on regardless it would be an “otiose exercise”.
The minister added: “There is other work we should be doing on counselling. I take the view that this is not the primary function we should be addressing and that is why I have taken the decision that I have.”
Currently, termination procedures are open under certain circumstances for women up to the 24th week of pregnancy. Statistics show that over 91 percent of abortions are carried out before 12 weeks, and only 1 percent take place after 20 weeks.
This latest attempt to tighten abortion laws saw religious conservative anti-abortion groups attempt to inject their religious counseling into the UK’s abortion requirements. This charge, led by MPs such as Nadine Dorries, saw the Conservative and Lib-Dem coalition government begin, to much condemnation, a consultation on whether the UK’s abortion guidelines should be amended.
Anti-abortion groups wanted a change in the abortion law to bring down the legal window for a termination to as low as 20 weeks, despite the fact that all the main healthcare bodies support the 24 week limit.
Anti-abortion groups also decided to take issue with the fact that clinics which provide termination procedures are currently the only facilities allowed to provide women with the required pre-termination counseling — this, anti-abortion groups charged, meant the women were likely receiving biased information.
Evidence to support these concerns has not been offered however, and it should be pointed out that while termination providers do receive funds from the government, those funds are not target dependent and therefore there would seem no monetary interest in pushing women to have an abortion.
Regardless, the groups wanted their own religious counselors, GPs and other outside groups not affiliated with termination procedures, to be able to provide counseling services to women.
MP Dorries had also called for a greater deferral period where women would be given a larger window of time to consider the abortion procedure before the day of the procedure itself–this proved a less controversial point and was one of several generally non-threatening notions up for debate.
With news that the consultation would not go ahead, Dorries accused Soubry of bias, saying she had put her own beliefs over the interests of women.
She said: “This is quite bizarre. What Anna Soubry has said today doesn’t improve services for women.
“The government has decided that it is not the right decision, and what makes it even more bizarre is that the British Medical Association voted to support the consultation.
“Anna Soubry has a personal belief. What she has done is try to impose her personal belief on her role and that is out of order.”
Indeed, and much to the consternation of women’s rights groups, the British Medical Association had supported a review of the current laws. The BMA, however, released a statement following Dorries claims to clarify that it had not in fact supported the consultation:
Our policy states that we support timely and impartial counselling and advice for women requesting abortion should they wish to receive it. However, we have not called for consultation.
Bpas, Britain’s largest single abortion care provider, praised the decision to abandon the consultation, saying in a statement:
Current abortion counselling arrangements serve women well, and so bpas is pleased to see the government has dropped its plans to unnecessarily overhaul services. Calls to do so had been driven by a handful of MPs with an anti-abortion agenda who wished to create barriers in women’s access to care. bpas hopes that government policy can now focus on efforts to support women trying to prevent pregnancy, and ensure the highest quality care for those who do need abortion services.
Health Minister Soubry did clarify the government will still consider recommendations made by a cross-party group of MPs into possible areas of guideline reform.
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