Patrick Craine


Pro-lifers ‘wary’ about UK bill mandating independent abortion counselling

Patrick Craine

LONDON, U.K., August 29, 2011 ( - The head of Britain’s largest pro-life group is warning that news coverage of a government plan to require abortion facilities to offer clients independent counseling before the deadly procedure has been “dangerously misleading.”

John Smeaton, director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, says the reporting has been overblown to suggest the policy could mean 60,000 fewer abortions per year in the country.  He was targeting especially a piece in the Sunday Telegraph that made that claim and that called the proposed policy “the biggest shake-up in a generation.”

This week, Britain’s Parliament is expected to vote on an amendment that would require abortion facilities to offer women independent counseling before they obtain an abortion.  Proposed by Labour MP Frank Field and Conservative MP Nadine Dorries, the effort comes amidst concerns that abortion facilities, which profit from the deadly procedures, are offering biased counseling or none at all.

The Department of Health has announced that they have begun work on such a policy as well, and have begun drafting guidelines to establish who would qualify as an independent counselor and what exactly the abortion-seeking mothers must be told.

Earl Howe, who is the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department of Health, said earlier this month that the Department of Health is “drawing up proposals to enable all women who are seeking an abortion to be offered access to independent counselling. … We plan to consult widely on those later this year and will finalise our plans in early 2012.”

While the proposals would make it mandatory to offer counseling, they would not make the counseling itself mandatory as some bills have done in the United States.

Media reports have claimed the move signals a victory for the pro-life movement under David Cameron’s Conservative government, and that the nation’s crisis pregnancy centres are clamoring for approval as counseling centres.

But Paul Tully, SPUC’s general secretary, says “independent” counseling is by no means the same as pro-life counseling, especially when the Department of Health is at the helm.  Having the Department of Health write the guideline, he says, “is like putting the fox in charge of the chicken-coop.”

“The Department of Health commissions the vast majority of abortions in Britain, and says doctors should provide abortion on demand,” he explained.  “Successive governments have regarded abortion as an answer to unmarried teenagers and other vulnerable women who get pregnant.”

“If the Department now wants counsellors to help pregnant women avoid abortions, it would represent a major change of heart. We remain very wary of the proposals and the Department’s involvement,” he added.  “Pro-life counselling can save many lives but independent counselling is not the same thing. It all depends on the approach of the counsellor and the information provided.”

SPUC has called on concerned citizens to write their MPs demanding that counselors not be required to act as a “conduit to abortion services,” and that counselors who refuse to refer for abortion not be denied status as pregnancy counselors.

Find contact information for Britain’s MPs here.

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