Proposed amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill could delay access to abortions

Labour MP Frank Field and Conservative MP Nadine Dorries have tabled amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill which, if accepted, could result in a delay to women seeking an abortion.

The amendment, backed by the newly established ‘Right to Know’ campaign which has been set up to support anti-choice changes to abortion law, will require new GP consortia to refer women with ‘crisis pregnancies’ to independent organisations who do not themselves carry out the abortions, rather than refer them directly to an abortion provider. The proposal’s alleged aim is to ensure that advice and counselling is not carried out by organisations which may have a ‘vested financial interest’ in women going ahead with abortions, and to ensure that women are presented with ‘all the information’ by unbiased organisations. However, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) has been critical, suggesting the campaign is misleading, stating: ‘Information is not withheld from women seeking abortion’ and that the amendment ‘is a misguided attempt to solve a problem that does not exist.’ See here for their full statement

The British Humanist Association’s position on abortion is pro-choice and is concerned about any efforts to unnecessarily delay, restrict or harm a women’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. The BHA is concerned that this amendment will infringe on that right, including through there being no guarantee that the organisations to which women would be referred do not have an anti-abortion and/or religious agenda.

Naomi Phillips, Head of Public Affairs at the BHA commented, ‘It is of course crucial that pregnant women should have access to impartial, truthful and unbiased information regarding abortion, so that they can make informed decisions for themselves – but there is nothing to suggest that this information is not already available. Our concern is that this amendment will pave the way not only for delays for women who choose abortion but also for a proliferation of organisations who claim to provide counselling and advice services from an unbiased perspective, but who may actually have a distinctly anti-abortion ethos.

‘During the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in 2008, Nadine Dorries and others who oppose women’s right to choose, sought to amend the abortion law to reduce the number of weeks that a woman could access an abortion, using biased and unproven ‘evidence’ to support their claims. Thankfully, those attempts were defeated. However, there is a clearly a revived threat to women’s rights, supported by those with vested interests and, again, supported by little, if any, substantial or real evidence. With a new parliament and the views of many of those now in power relatively unknown, we must be more vigilant than ever against attempts to reform law and policy on abortion in a restrictive way.’

Read more about the BHA’s position on abortion, including a ‘Humanist discussion of abortion’

The BHA will be working with other organisations and its supporters in parliament to oppose any amendments to the Bill which would restrict women access to free, legal and safe abortions.

Notes

For further comment or information, contact Naomi Phillips at [email protected] or 020 7079 3585.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of ethically concerned, non-religious people in the UK. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.