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Sunday, 4 September 2011

Health Ministers Vow A United Front Against Plans To Tighten Up Abortion Laws

Health ministers promised yesterday to vote en masse against Commons moves to tighten up Britain’s abortion laws.

Backbenchers are seeking an amendment that would change the law to stop charities carrying out abortions, such as Marie Stopes and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, from offering advice to women considering a termination.

In a letter to Tory MPs last night, public health minister Anne Milton said she and ministerial colleagues would not support the change.

David Cameron said that the was sympathetic to the proposals on abortion made by Nadine Dorries and other MPs, but he would not in favour of them.

She said she had no evidence that organisations such as the BPAS were causing ‘any harm to women’, despite claims from pro-life groups that the charities are biased because they earn money from terminations.

And she said she did not want to create an extra ‘hurdle’ for women seeking an abortion.

Mrs Milton reiterated that the Government would put forward proposals this year to ensure women had access to independent counselling.

The Health Bill amendment, to be tabled by Tory Nadine Dorries and supported by Labour’s Frank Field, aroused fears that faith groups opposed to abortion on moral grounds would start to offer counselling.

Offering advice: Charity Marie Stopes, based in central London, is against the backbench proposals.

David Cameron has already signalled that he will vote against it.

Mrs Milton said in her letter: ‘We are very sympathetic to the aim of ensuring that all women requesting abortion are offered impartial, informative counselling.

‘However, on the issue of preventing abortion services from offering counselling, we disagree with the amendment.

‘What matters is the quality and independence of view of the advice given. Counsellors should stick to the facts, not promote a particular view, and most importantly help to support women to make their own decision.

‘It is important to be clear that the Government’s position neither represents a criticism of existing counselling services, nor hopes to create an extra hurdle for women to pass before successfully requesting an abortion.

‘We have no evidence that existing abortion counselling services are causing any harm to women.

‘If pressed to a vote, my ministerial colleagues in the Department of Health and I will vote against the amendments. This is because the amendments exclude existing abortion services from offering counselling.’

Tory backbencher Louise Mensch has said she will also put down an amendment, saying women should be offered counselling by independent organisations that are neither abortion providers nor faith groups.

A source at the Department of Health said that although ministers had not yet seen the text of this amendment, they were likely to vote against it because they did not see the need for legislation defining independent counselling.

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