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Thursday, September 01, 2011 

Let's go round again.

Music isn't the only thing that goes in cycles; politics does as well. If at first you don't succeed in getting your law passed, then try try again. Gordon Brown, convinced that he had to keep the Sun on side after he became prime minister, resurrected Tony Blair's thankfully failed attempts to extend the detention without charge limit for "terrorist suspects" to 90 days, albeit finally settling on only 42 days after much bartering. Having won the vote in the Commons with the support of the Democratic Unionists, it failed to get past the Lords and was eventually abandoned. This was after the Sun had published the private details of his son's medical condition.

Following the same principle, albeit in a far more subtle way, is everyone's favourite 70% fictional Conservative backbencher, Nadine Dorries. Having failed miserably back in 2008 in her attempt to reduce the late term abortion limit to 20 weeks from the current 24, a campaign which it was later revealed had its website created by an intern from the fundamentalist Christian Concern for our Nation group, she's now moved onto a softer target: the charities that advise women on whether or not they should seek an abortion.

According to Dorries and the Right to Know campaign, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service and Marie Stopes have a conflict of interest in providing such advice, as both also carry out abortions for the NHS. This would indeed be an obvious and especially egregious abuse of their position if BPAS and Marie Stopes were essentially telling every woman who walks through their doors to end their pregnancy; clearly however, as the 15.3% who didn't have an abortion after visiting BPAS last year shows, they're doing no such thing. It's also interesting to note that prior to Dorries' and the Right to Know campaign there doesn't appear to have been any cases of women complaining that they had felt pressurised by advisers into having abortions, as you would expect. Little wonder then that those working for BPAS feel more than slighted to be all but accused of killing unborn children for profit.

Dorries and Frank Field both claim that what they want to see is "independent" advice for women. Who after all could possibly argue with that? The problem lies not just in whom would provide that advice, but also in Dorries' far from unblemished record on the issue and her past associations. The coalition recently appointed Life, a group opposed to abortion in all circumstances to its new forum on sexual health, more than giving a hint of where it could potentially look should the Dorries amendment to the NHS be passed. Dorries' friends at Christian Concern, who say on their website that they "resist abortion", and link to Dorries' appearance on Newsnight over the appointment of Life, are urging their supporters to lobby their MPs over the amendments. The other major problem with their proposals is that they would result in women having to visit two separate independent advice centres before they would be able to proceed with an abortion, something which it seems is designed with the intention of making it more difficult to have an abortion rather than improving the service and differentiating the advice given. Indeed, if there were complaints about the service provided by BPAS, it was that the process took too long already.

It's difficult to reach a conclusion other than Dorries is her own worst enemy. If she really is pro-choice, as she continues to claim, yet simply wants "independent" advice and the term limit to be reduced as the science changes, then she would come completely clean about her past associations with groups which are entirely opposed to abortion. She would explain who it was that funded the 20 weeks campaign, as well as the discrepancy between her professed pro-choice stance and her comments that she was adopting a "middle way" as "some progress is better than no progress". By not doing so she limits her own support: those who are uneasy about 24 weeks remaining the limit and worry that there may be vested interests at work are put off by how those most vociferous in support are the same religious groups that want to roll back the Abortion Act in its entirety. The government, originally minded to support the amendments, has since backed off having realised that this is just another pet project from two of parliament's most eccentric figures. When trying again, you're meant to have learned from your past mistakes: Dorries seems to be incapable of doing so.

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