Nadine Dorries and Frank Field have proposed an amendment to the health and social care bill that would bar charities which provide abortions from also counselling women. The Nothing Special blog has written to the Department of Health (DH), concerned at the lack of a public or parliamentary debate on the amendment and asking for evidence that the proposal would be beneficial to women. This prompted me to read the Guardian’s report on the proposed amendment, and then to contact the DH myself.
Here’s my email:
Dear Sir or Madam,
I write to express my concern regarding the possible implementation of Nadine Dorries’ and Frank Fields’ amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill regarding abortion counselling.
Dorries has been quoted as stating that the objective is to remove “the financial vested interests of the abortion provider and the provision of counselling”. The Guardian, meanwhile, reports that there are concerns that faith-based groups with strong anti-abortion positions could step in and win contracts to provide the counselling in place of the charities. It would be complacent and unwise to pay heed only to competing interests of a financial nature – faith-based groups opposed in principle to abortion have important and relevant ideological competing interests.
It has been said that Field and Dorries hope the amendment would reduce the number of abortions. I would hope that the Department of Health would consider all available evidence relating to abortion rates and counselling in order to discover whether there was any basis for this hope. I would also note that there have been issues elsewhere when those ideologically opposed to abortion have become involved in counselling: link. The potential risks of any proposed amendment should be considered alongside any potential benefits.
Update 14th July: I’ve received a reply today from the DH.
Thank you for your correspondence of 4 July to the Department of Health about abortion counselling. I have been asked to reply.
The Department of Health is aware of Frank Field’s and Nadine Dorries’ concerns and Anne Milton recently met with them to discuss this issue.
The Department is drawing up proposals to enable all women who are seeking an abortion to be offered access to independent counselling. The Department would want the counselling to be provided by appropriately qualified individuals. Independent counselling will focus on enabling a woman to make a decision that would benefit her overall health and wellbeing.
Independent counselling will be for those women who choose to have it and will not be mandatory. Full proposals are still being worked up within the Department of Health and it is therefore unable to provide detailed answers while this process takes place.
I hope this reply is helpful.
Dorries claimed (on Newsnight) that her stance on the time limit for abortions was on the basis of the science. I found that claim implausible. As well as promoting those dubious pre-term survival figures, Dorries propagated the hand of hope hoax.
Update, 5th August 2011
I’ve now emailed my MP regarding the proposals of Dorries and Field. As well as the links I sent to the DH, I sent a link to this recent article from the Guardian – abortion: pregnancy counselling found wanting. I don’t expect Philip Davies to agree with me. Here’s why: Skeptical Voter on Philip Davies, abortion, and sex education.
I’ve already had a response from Philip Davies: “I am afraid that I do not agree with you about this issue and should the amendment proposed by Frank Field and Nadine Dorries come to a vote I will almost certainly support it“.
Update, 6th August 2011
Interview with Nadine Dorries in the Guardian: link.
I went to Leyton to speak to a group of girls; they were all black, they were all aged between 15 and 18. And they all had one baby each. And every one of them supported what I was trying to do on abstinence teaching.
They all had one baby each? Shocking! Well, no. As Zoe Williams notes: it turns out this was a meeting specifically set up for her to encounter teenage mothers. It might be true that every one of them supported what Nadine was trying to do on abstinence teaching, but that in no way indicates that what Nadine is trying to do is at all effective. I’m not familiar with the literature on abstinence teaching or sex education, but a brief poke around in Google Scholar found papers like this one. Conclusions: Teaching about contraception was not associated with increased risk of adolescent sexual activity or STD. Adolescents who received comprehensive sex education had a lower risk of pregnancy than adolescents who received abstinence-only or no sex education.
Dorries then claims that teachers are not allowed to inform pupils that underage sex is illegal. Williams checked with the charity that sets the guidelines on sex education. It turns out that a teacher would normally tell a classroom that underage sex was illegal. Williams makes a point that others have previously noted:
Like the banana claim (Dorries said on The One Show she’d seen a class of seven-year-olds being shown how to put a condom on a banana), I can’t prove it never happened, but it sounds improbable.
Quite a lot of Dorries’s rhetoric occupies this territory: it doesn’t sound likely, but it’s totally unfalsifiable.
No-one should have to attempt to prove the negative (that the incidents Dorries referred to never happened) – if Nadine Dorries wants people to believe that such incidents have occurred, then the onus is on her to substantiate her claims.
Williams summarises Dorries’ viewpoint as being that BPAS, a charity, tries to increase the number of abortions for reasons of profit. BPAS: “All income generated from our services is invested in UK services and advocacy work.” There’s more:
“The BPAS chief executive’s package is at least £200k a year, so that’s why she wants to keep her market share going,” Dorries says. As a charity, BPAS has no obligation to disclose Ann Furedi’s salary, but says she earns nothing like that.
So, yet another claim that Dorries is unable to substantiate. And she’s not finished yet:
Dorries continues: “When you go in for an abortion, you’re counselled in this room which has no end of soft-marketing techniques around you, you are told, don’t worry, ‘three out of four women have had this at your age’. That’s like going into an off-licence and saying ‘Is this wine nice?’ and them saying, ‘Well, we sell a lot of it.'”
The figure given by the BPAS is one in three, over a lifetime, not three in four ‘at your age’. According to Zoe Williams, “Dorries has never contacted the BPAS and asked about its consultations; nor, the BPAS says, has Frank Field, who is the second MP on the counselling amendment”.
Dorries makes a lot of assertions about sex education, abortion, and the charities that provide abortions and counsel women. Most of them seem to be wrong. Dorries is fond of providing anecedotal evidence, but claiming that she can’t substantiate these anecdotes due to “confidentiality”. This means that when she relates one of her tales, Dorries is expecting us all to simply take her word for it without any verification. If someone has previously stated that their writings are “70% fiction and 30% fact” and told a committee they “rely heavily on poetic licence”, it makes it even more tempting to dismiss any unverifiable anecdotes they provide. In the case of Nadine Dorries, I think that would be the most sensible approach.
I’ve now written to the DH pointing out several specific instances of Dorries making unsubstantiated / incorrect statements regarding abortion and the charities that provide counselling (including some of those in the Guardian article I link to in today’s update to the post).
I’ve asked them if they’re going to fact-check any submissions Dorries makes.
Update, 23rd August 2011
Response from the DH:
Thank you for your correspondence of 8 August about abortion. I have been asked to reply.
I should explain that BPAS is independent of the Government and that all queries about its governance should be directed to BPAS itself, contact details for which are available at http://www.bpas.org.
Turning to your comments about Nadine Dorries MP, it would not be appropriate for the Department to comment on her statements. However, I would like to assure you that the Department formulates policies based on evidence and that it listens to views from a wide variety of sources.