Nadine Dorries, the Conservative MP for Mid Bedfordshire, has triggered a heated debate after tabling an amendment to the health and social care bill meaning all women seeking an abortion in the UK would be offered counselling that is independent of the abortion provider.
Dorries (picture two above) argued that abortion services have a financial conflict of interest with advising women pre-termination, and also claimed that by offering independent advice, the number of abortions in the UK (currently at 189,574 for 2010) would be cut by over 25%.
Earlier this week, the Department of Health announced it did want to introduce an offer of independent pre-abortion counselling to women - in what many saw as a conciliatory move to Dorries and her backbench supporters.
Although the government has now U-turned on its position by saying it will advise MPs to vote against an amendment for independent counselling, the debate has still raised serious questions about how politics overlaps with issues of women's health in the UK.
Some commentators compared the situation to that of the US, where the issue of abortion carries powerful political implications, with the issue often raised in various election campaigns.
We spoke to Michael Tirrell, Communications Manager for Marie Stopes International, one of the main abortion providers in the UK, for its perspective on the issue of independent pre-abortion counselling.
What are your main concerns over the provision of independent pre-abortion advice?
The critical point in this debate is that women must have rapid access to impartial, non-directive and expert advice from trained counsellors, if they decide they want it and we are confident that the current system offers women the ability to access the information they need to make their decision. The majority of women make a decision about abortion without choosing to speak to a counsellor – in our experience it is approximately 90% of women. But the risk with the current proposal is that the women that want impartial counselling may not be able to access the expert advice of counsellors who are trained in sexual and reproductive health.
Do you agree with Nadine Dorries’ assertion that abortion services have a financial conflict of interest in providing women with advice?
We don’t. The counsellors that we work with are all members of the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists (BACP) and receive regular supervision and training from them and always support women to make the decision that is right for them.
What’s your reaction to Dorries’ claim that 60,000 abortions a year could be avoided with independent advice?
It is unclear where this figure comes from. What we know is that, on average, 20-25% of women that speak to one of our counsellors choose to continue with their pregnancy.
What is the protocol for pre-abortion advice at Marie Stopes at the moment and what is the aim of this?
There are two ways that women can access counselling services from Marie Stopes International, either a face-to-face session or via the telephone through One Call.
Face-to-face counselling sessions at our centres are available throughout the working week. We offer women as many non-directive counselling sessions as they feel they need and provide translators if needed. This counselling is provided on a one-to-one basis.
One Call is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is staffed by trained healthcare professionals and independent counsellors. Telephone counselling appointments through One Call are available from 8am to 9pm seven days a week, an option that is well received by individuals seeking support from the privacy of their own homes.
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