Government drops consultation on abortion counselling

The upper time limit for abortion was debated in Westminster Hall on Tuesday. Nadine Dorries MP called for the debate following the revelation that senior members of the Government, including Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, and Home Secretary Theresa May support a reduction in the limit of weeks after which it becomes illegal to terminate a pregnancy.

Supporters of reform argue that the upper time limit should be lowered from 24 weeks due to medical advances which make it possible for babies to survive a premature birth before 24 weeks.

The current upper time limit is 24 weeks unless the health of the mother is in danger or doctors believe that the fetus has a severe abnormality.

The European average for number of weeks stands at 12 to 13 weeks - the end of the first trimester.

Dorries claimed that the UK's current law is behind the times and inconsistent.

She said: “It is clear to me that we cannot allow the present situation that currently exists in our hospitals to continue. In one room in a hospital there will be a premature, poorly baby born at 22 or 23 weeks, and the NHS will throw everything that it has in helping that baby to survive.

“But in another room in the same hospital, a healthy baby will be aborted at 24 weeks. On the one hand we throw considerable money and resources to try and save a baby's life but on the other we sanction its destruction.”

During the debate the newly appointed Health Minister Anna Soubry MP announced that the Government planned consultation on a review of how counselling is provided to women seeking an abortion would not go forward.

The previous health minister had agreed to review the provision of counselling services for women seeking an abortion, due to pressure from MPs and an amendment tabled to the Health and Social Care Bill last year.

MPs had claimed that a conflict of interest existed between abortion service providers such as BPAS and Marie Stopes, because they provide counselling and abortion on the same premises and the counselling is not always funded by the NHS.

The Department of Health was considering radical reforms to the way advice was offered to women thinking about abortion. One of the changes on the table was forcing clinics to send women to independent advice centres, rather than advising them in house.

While these proposals are off the table, Soubry did announce that ministers will outline plans for improving abortion counselling in a “sexual health policy document” before the end of the year.

She said: “The most important thing is that women get the help they need during a difficult time in their lives. We consider that this important issue can be most effectively addressed by considering counselling alongside all aspects of unplanned pregnancy rather than separately.”

Responding to the news Dr Dan Boucher, Director of Parliamentary Affairs for Christian Action Research Education (CARE) said: “Public faith in abortion provision is at an all time low. To shut down the consultation commitment which was promised in response to concerns about financial conflict of interest is a monumental political misjudgement.”