Monday, 29 August 2011

The Field-Dorries amendment and a Government consultation

I do not have the expertise to understand the full implications of the amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill that, so far as I do understand it, would require abortion providers to offer pregnant women approaching them seeking abortion access to counselling services independent of the provider themselves. The Coalition Government appear to have responded to this amendment by announcing a consultation about this very point, the terms of which are at the moment unclear.

Useful blogging comment can be found here and here. This article at the Guardian offers some relevant background, though I would respond to it by saying that the activity of Christian groups described here is the legitimate participation in political and public life that is open to all in a free society, and that Christians are just as much citizens in this respect as are those of a secularist intent.

However, the appearance of Nadine Dorries and Lucy Cavendish on the World at One, BBC Radio 4's lunchtime news magazine programme, this lunchtime put two additional elements into play. The full package can be found on the "I-player" facility for the next 7 days (go to 0:18:30), and I quote below a transcript of a key section of Nadine Dorries contribution.

Firstly, the debate used the words "counselling" and "advice" in connection with the proposed amendment and, apart from one point where the question was asked about the exact meaning of the term "independent" which just hinted at recognising a difference between the two, treated them as if they meant the same thing. The two are different. An advisor will propose to the client that, in the circumstances that have been discussed and reflected upon, and in the light of the facts of the situation, this or that course of action is the one that they believe is best for the client to follow. In most situations, an adviser will have a specialist expert knowledge and training that enables them to offer good advice. The client then makes a decision as to whether or not to follow the advice given, or to take a different course of action. A counsellor will not advise on one course of action over another. So the first question about the amendment is: what exactly is it about - counselling or advice? And does the term "counselling" in the reality of the abortion providers really mean "advice", in which case the separation of advice from service provision does have the precedent in the financial services sector that Nadine Dorries cited at the beginning of the debate? Or, being a bit cynical, do the abortion providers like to use the term "counselling" to permit their own staff to "advise" but to prevent pro-life organisations from doing anything other than "counselling" on the grounds that their "advising" would be biassed?

The second element was Nadine Dorries statement that she would be just as strongly opposed to Catholic groups being considered suitable for independent counselling as the abortion providers themselves. This is a transcript of her words from the I-player facility:

.. counselling would be offered by someone who is totally independent and impartial ..[Interviewer: What does that mean though?] ... Well, it means somebody who isn't an abortion provider, who isn't of a religious organisation. I can assure you that if a Catholic group said they were going to set up and offer advice I would be as against them offering advice as I am the abortion provider; so it would, I imagine, be counsellors who are registered with the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapy, of which there are about eighty thousand in the UK ..
 Nadine Dorries' words are, in the first instance, bedevilled by her lack of clarity about "counselling" vis-a-vis "advising". In other respects, the implications of her position with regard to religious and Catholic groups are staggering.

Does she mean that Catholics are to be excluded (by law?), not just from government funding for advice and support services with regard to abortion (and by ready extension to a range of other medical fields), but from the privately funded provision of those services? Would this extend to Catholic advice services provided for the Catholic community itself? Surely it represents a profound example of religious discrimination, at the very least meeting the standard of "indirect discrimination" though I would argue meeting that of "direct discrimination", to a priori rule out Catholic groups from taking part in this kind of work. Nadine Dorries appears to me to directly deny to Catholics, and other religious believers, the right that they have as citizens to corporately take part in and contribute to the life of our society. Why should those experiencing a crisis pregnancy not be able to seek advice from a range of different providers, remembering that the principle underlying the Dorries-Field amendment is the separation of the abortion adviser from the abortion provider, and not the defining of what should (not) be included in the advice being given? And what is worrying about the Government's consultation is that it looks as if it might seek to specify what should be included in the advice being given by advice providers - and thereby also specify what cannot be said in that advice.

So I don't really know what to make of the amendment and of the announced Government consultation!

2 comments:

berenike said...

Thank you for grubbing out some of the details!

Jackie Parkes said...

I've met Nadine Dorries at a Conservative fringe party meeting..I don't really go for the limiting time for abortion..but a complete end..i think author Colin harte had a book about this..anyway thanks for your post re this subject..I found the comments re Catholics by Norries horrifying..