Britain’s abortion laws would be tightened for the first time in more than 20 years under cross-party proposals recently unveiled. Senior MPs, including former Labour minister Frank Field and Conservative Nadine Dorries, a former nurse, will attempt to change the law so that women must be referred to an independent therapist for counselling before they can have a termination.
If approved, it would be the first tightening of the law since Parliament decided in 1990 to amend the Abortion Act 1967 to lower the time limit from 28 to 24 weeks. Dozens of MPs are expected to back the move to ensure vulnerable women get proper counselling before being granted an abortion. David Cameron has indicated that he supports new restrictions, including a move to lower the time line for legal terminations.
Mrs Dorries, MP for Mid Bedfordshire, argues that an organisation such as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), which carries out abortions, also offers counselling despite its ‘vested interest’. BPAS denies any bias, arguing that just a fifth of women seeking advice do not choose termination.
But critics say the authorities have ignored medical evidence showing a risk of mental illness in women who have had abortions. Mrs Dorries warned that under existing laws GPs could get into trouble for even trying to refer women to independent counsellors. She said: ‘Women are treated like they are unable to emotionally deal with the information surrounding abortion. Vital information is withheld from them. They are not told that they are 30 per cent more likely to suffer from a mental health issue if they have an abortion, in case they change their minds.’
Mrs Dorries, a former nurse, who insists she is not ‘anti-abortion but pro-woman’, wants them to be referred to independent counsellors through their GPs in their local communities. She said that if her amendments were accepted there would be a ‘dramatic fall in the number of abortions because evidence shows us that when women are given advice before they get the abortion, many change their minds.’
Clare Murphy of BPAS said: ‘The bottom line is that like any other medical procedure, women have to consent before they receive abortion treatment. We have no interest in pushing women into procedures they do not want. We are about giving women choices.
The Guardian, Therapy Today