Thursday, 26 January 2012

Dorries Rides Again

This week, Nadine Dorries MP failed to get a second reading for her amendment proposing that abstinence teaching should be promoted in schools - but only to girls, which I covered here.

But there really is no getting rid of her.

Now the Government has been accused of pushing ahead with her plans to strip abortion providers of their role counselling women despite her amendment on the issue suffering a heavy defeat in the Commons last year.

MPs voted by a majority of 250 to reject the Dorries amendment in September. It was intended to make women to see ‘independent’ counsellors before they have an abortion rather than be advised by abortion providers like Marie Stopes International or the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.

Public health minister Anne Milton said just before the vote that the Government would try to implement the spirit of Dorries' proposal without the need for legislation. She said: "The Government supports the spirit of the amendments, and we intend to present proposals for regulations after consultation."

It now appears that this is exactly what has happened. It's almost enough to make you believe in Dorries' god.

Shadow public health minister Diane Abbott said she had walked out of a new cross-party abortion group set up by the Government to look at the issue of counselling following the defeat. She said: "I now believe the 'consultation' will be a front for driving through the anti-choice lobbyists' preferred option without legislation or a debate on the floor of the House."

The group has been considering three proposals:
The first would see abortion clinics, such as those run by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and Marie Stopes International, barred from providing counselling, and under a legal duty to refer women seeking it to an 'independent' service.

An second option is for voluntary registration. This would would mean any organisation offering counselling to women with a crisis pregnancy would have to meet minimum standards, and only use appropriately-trained counsellors.

The third option is to retain the current system.

As I wrote at the time, allegedly independent bodies of the kind promoted by Ms Dorries do in fact have a strong religious agenda and use a wide variety of manipulative, emotive and factually wrong tactics to talk women out of having abortions. I also wrote about how Ms Dorries manipulated facts in support of the amendment. Which is putting it politely.

For anyone who may have forgotten, this is the same Nadine Dorries who is on record as saying that her political blog is "70% fiction and 30% fact" and that "I have chosen the facts I wish to believe".

It's easy to dismiss her as someone with little influence who is easily ignored but her persistence and the apparent support of at least some parts of Government mean that she can't be ignored by anyone who cares about choice and women's rights. She really is the wasp at the picnic.

On Newsnight last night, Dorries and Abbott faced off. Abbott's performance was less than sparkling. Dorries made a few interesting points.

1. No abortion counsellor should have an agenda.

In theory, yes. But her idea of having an agenda is being paid by the state to do abortions, You might as well say that NHS dentists shouldn't be allowed to do fillings because they have a financial incentive. The film clip before the discussion showed so-called independent advisors with a strong religious agenda to put women off having abortions. She didn't address this.

2.Dorries says that counselling would mean 60,000 fewer abortions a year.

Her Government wants to cut Child Benefit. How does she envisage providing for these extra children? She has said this before but it's not clear where the figure comes from.

3. University-educated, middle class women who live in London are fine, they know what they want and where to get it. She is concerned for the 'vulnerable' others.

This implies that women who don't fall into her very narrow category are incapable of knowing their own minds or of dealing with what she calls a 'crisis pregnancy'. And, referring back to point 2, it would seem that there are at least 60,000 of them.

4. Dorries listed Frank Field as a pro-choice MP.
He backed her amendment so the choice he is pro would appear to be hers.

The Government says there will be a public consultation before any decision is made, possibly launched next month.

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