Illiberal schmiberal

So the pro-choicers are rather unnecessarily getting their knickers in a knot about the proposed “tightening of the abortion rules”, in what is described as  “the biggest shake-up of a generation”. The word “illiberal” is being applied liberally to the proposed amendments to the abortion laws. The discourse determined to denounce and disseminate dirty Dorries’ disturbing deeds has re-commenced with renewed vigour and enthusiasm.

Before pro-lifers and pro-choicers get over-excited, a little word to the wise. Sorry to disappoint you all, but nothing has changed. The abortion laws and/or access to abortion is not being altered and neither is the time-limit. Mandatory counselling is not being introduced. All that is being suggested is that if a woman requests counselling prior to an abortion, then the counselling should not be provided by someone with a vested financial interest in the outcome of the counselling, but an independent provider. That.is.all.

“But, but, but, the counselling is going to be provided by Christian pro-life crazies” they all splutter. No it isn’t. (Although whether or not Christians who believe in the sanctity of human life are ipso facto mentally impaired is another matter entirely.) The Department of Health have said that they have not yet decided on who should provide this counselling.

“But, this could result in a delay and abortion being carried out at a later stage which will be more difficult for women. Surely it’s better if an abortion is carried out earlier”.  It is likely that a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy who seeks counselling before deciding upon the next course of action, has already recognised that a human life is at stake. She needs time to consider all the options and in a society that offers abortion on demand, decide whether or not this is the only option available to her, what might constitute the barriers to childbirth and whether or not with the right help and support these might be overcome. Abortion clinics do not, at present, offer this advice;  their counselling constitutes of discussing and validating a woman’s innate feelings, which are normally borne out of panic, worry or anxiety, otherwise she would not be in that situation.

It is unethical that organisations who are paid by the taxpayer for every single abortion procedure they perform on the NHS, should also receive taxpayers’ money for counselling that simply seeks to encourage and validate a decision which is very often just a knee-jerk reaction, rather than explore the decision on whether or not to abort in any real depth. The issue of time is irrelevant, given that all abortions are legal under 24 weeks. An abortion is an abortion regardless of when it is carried out, an early medical abortion (one which involves taking the RU486 pill) may carry less medical risk than surgery, but it is a matter of conjecture which method may prove the more distressing. A woman deciding whether or not to have an abortion should not be thinking about which method of abortion will be right for her, nor pressured into making a speedy decision on the premise that she has little time left to decide. True pro-choicers should be equally concerned that the advent of the early medical abortion means that women are often pressurised into taking a decision which they later come to regret as they are under the false impression that their time is limited. At 9 weeks, there is still plenty of time to receive counselling and have a legal abortion. Time only comes into play, if a woman presents seeking an abortion at a later stage, which presents a whole different set of ethical issues. The abortion is still the same whether carried out at 12 weeks or 20, it is only the procedure that may vary and of course the development of the fetus.

It is disingenuous of the pro-choice lobby to claim that the requirement for  counselling to be independent will delay or impede an abortion. 24 weeks is a long time. A few weeks delay at the most, for a woman who is undecided, far from being the attack on women’s health, is actually in her best interests, regardless of her outcome. Whatever she decides  it will at least be considered. The reason that the clinics are fighting this tooth and nail is because a surgical abortion is more costly, consumes more resources and often a psychological deterrent. An early medical abortion is so much easier for them on all counts, regardless of whether or not it is right for the woman. Which is what we are supposed to be discussing.

“A woman won’t have access to the right information”. Why not? Or are they claiming that their counselling is not all it should be? If a woman decides to proceed with an abortion, following counselling, why will she not have access to the right information? Surely the clinic will be able to provide her with all the information she requires about her procedure? What they mean is “we are worried that independent counsellors might give women information that might deter them from an abortion that they might otherwise have had”.  I’ll say it again, this counselling is at the request of the woman who is undecided. It is imperative that she does not feel pressured or bounced into an irrevocable decision. Playing devil’s advocate for a minute, even if the “Christian crazies” talked her into keeping her baby, why is that so very dreadful? Is every undecided woman a potentially bad mother whose child is going to suffer physical and emotional deprivation? In any event, with the Department of Health involved, it is hugely unlikely that any organisation who does not hold BACP accreditation will be asked to provide the counselling.

“But BPAS and Marie Stopes aren’t businesses with financial interests, they’re charities!”  Any organisation that has to rely heavily on government subsidy and contracts can hardly call itself a charity. Like many other organisations, the charity label is simply a tax status. They have no shareholders and do not pay a dividend. That is all. They still aim to generate a profit which goes back into the business charity which goes towards generating more business and more outlets, as well as paying their directors very high salaries. They do not offer free counselling to undecided women, nor do they offer free abortions or free sterilisation. For charities, their corporate governance and marketing activities are extremely business-like indeed. These clinics exist solely to offer abortion and have stated aims of increasing the scope of their services. The NHS contracts out to them for the reason that many of its doctors are conscientious objectors who do not wish to perform abortions.

Of course when the 1967 Abortion Law was drafted, the issue of counselling was not considered. Far from enshrining any sort of legal right to abortion, the law left this in the hands of the doctors. Abortion was seen as being a method of last resort and it was anticipated that any woman seeking an abortion would have talked the issue through in depth with a doctor before the decision was made. It was deemed to be so serious that the signature of a second doctor was required to validate the procedure, as a check and a balance. Independent counselling changes absolutely nothing other than to reinstate that check and balance at the behest of the woman herself.

The net result may be fewer abortions. Why is that so problematic? And what is quite so illiberal about ensuring that whatever a woman decides, it is her own free choice, based on all the information that is available? Surely the epitome of liberalism is making one’s own free choice and not being influenced or pressured by those who may stand to make financial gain from your choice? For if your decision has been based on an incorrect information such as time limit or trauma, how may it be said to be truly free?

Postscript:

H/T to Thirsty Gargoyle who has helpfully pointed out that in law bias is deemed to exist where an impartial observer might suspect there is grounds to doubt impartiality.

4 thoughts on “Illiberal schmiberal

  1. “money for counselling that simply seeks to encourage and validate a decision which is very often just a knee-jerk reaction”

    At which point, suddenly your argument took on a whole different colour. Pseudo-slanderous accusation of professional bias, much?

    1. Not at all. Surely Marie Stopes and BPAS should have BACP accreditation as proof of their impartiality? A good counsellor should not simply be there to validate feelings, but to challenge and to help explore. Abortion providers categorically do not help a woman to explore her feelings in any depth. I know from personal experience. They do not, for example provide any practical information which may help a woman in her decision making, such as the benefits that may be entitled to her or her employment rights. They simply listen to a woman’s feelings about wanting an abortion and validate them, making no attempt to challenge.

      Can you provide me with evidence that counsellors provide comprehensive information on the logistics of keeping a baby, in order that a woman may explore ALL options?

  2. I have been reading the counselling debate with interest. My views on abortion have changed, as an above the age of consent teenager and in my twenties, I had no qualms about the idea of abortion. Now I am a parent and now I am aware of the heartbreak that some people go through to start a family, I am less comfortable with it.

    That said, my stance is still pro-choice. I’m not going to start hand-wringing about women’s rights to do what they want with their bodies, there’s also a moral hazard argument. Would people think more carefully about their so-called rights if the morning after pill and abortion was less easily available? I’m not saying that they should be restrictive, it’s just a thought.

    Anyway, the original point to this was to remind everyone, what ever side of the fence they are, that the legislation is built on a fiction. I can’t paste the link with an iPad but the Abortion Act 1967 still says that it is “not an offence” if an abortion is carried out in any of the following circumstances:

    -that continuing the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family
    -that the termination is necessary to prevent grave or permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman
    -that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated
    -that there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from physical or mental abnormalities such as to be seriously handicapped.

    In light of the legislation and the breadth of interpretation, is the availability of counselling a bad thing? So long as it’s offered by some one who does not have a vested interest in the abortion going ahead, or some one who has an agenda, be it religious or otherwise, in encouraging or discouraging the woman’s decision, is it such a bad thing?

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