How can LIFE advise on the implementation of policies they don’t believe in?

The news that anti-abortionists LIFE have been appointed to the new government advisory group on sexual health is a serious wake-up call for all who belive in liberty.

By Jennie Bristow of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service

The news that the anti-abortion organisation LIFE has been appointed to the new government advisory group on sexual health, replacing the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) – which has a solid 40-year-track record of providing abortion counselling and care – has been received as a wake-up call to the changing political climate surrounding abortion in Britain.

BPAS and Marie Stopes International (MSI) were both invited to the first meeting in March of the Sexual Health Forum but were asked to share membership, alternating attendance.

At the meeting the MSI vice president and Ann Furedi, the chief executive of BPAS, both said that this arrangement was problematic: BPAS and MSI have quite different structures, values, objectives and approaches, and that the discontinuity inherent in such an arrangement would make it unworkable.

The Department of Health seemed sympathetic and said they would reconsider. On Thursday of last week, Ann Furedi was told by a Department of Health official that the invitation to BPAS was withdrawn and that MSI were being asked to represent the independent sector.

The justification was that the minister had insisted, in the interests of balance, that only one abortion provider could attend and that as Ann Furedi had attended the previous sexual health group, the Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health and HIV – a group made up of personal appointments rather than from representatives from each organisation – it was ‘MSI’s turn’.

It was also confirmed that, since the founding meeting, the minister had insisted that LIFE be invited to join the Sexual Health Forum. We at BPAS have no objection to LIFE campaigning against abortion, and no problem with engaging in discussion about what is appropriate pregnancy counselling.

There are political and moral discussions about abortion that should be had, and there are a number of public and political arenas in which such discussions could be had. But we are bemused about why the new sexual health forum should be viewed as such an arena.

This is not, however, a body designed for the purpose of debate about contentious ethical issues: it is designed to advise on the implementation of government policy, which is – as enshrined in the law – to provide women with access to abortion and contraceptive services when they need them.

As a provider of abortion services, this is the role BPAS plays. We are not a counter-point to LIFE, in that we do not privilege abortion as always the best option in the way that LIFE sees it as always the worst. We provide women who have an unwanted pregnancy with a choice of all the options available to them; we share their pleasure in continuing the pregnancy if that is what they want, and provide abortion services if they decide to end the pregnancy.

Our interest is in supporting women’s choice. LIFE’s interest, on the other hand, is in opposing abortion – a position that necessarily skews any attempt to engage with a sexual health strategy that very clearly sees a role for abortion as a part of family planning.

Meanwhile in parliament, the vocal anti-abortion MP Nadine Dorries has recently pushed forward a string of initiatives designed to whittle away at abortion provision in Britain.

With a characteristic lack of originality, Dorries has flown all her ideas in from the USA, where debates about sexual abstinence, pregnancy counselling and ‘right to know’ laws have plagued many states for a few years now, and where it is a tried and tested tactic for social conservatives to dress themselves up as advocates for women, expressing concern about abortion harming health, and women being denied support for other options.

In Britain to date, such initiatives have had limited purchase because abortion has been enshrined in national law and policies have been developed centrally by political parties.

Fundamentally, this remains the case: 96 per cent of abortions are now funded by the NHS, and 59 per cent of abortions are provided by charities such as BPAS and Marie Stopes International. But with the coalition government promoting its desire to work more closely with the third sector as part of the ‘Big Society’ agenda, organisations with a vested interest in curbing abortion rights may have more of an impact on the way the service is provided.

This won’t stop women having abortions, but it could well make their experience more uncomfortable, as opponents of abortion seek to put politically-motivated, clinically-unethical hurdles in their way. That is why we need to continue talking loudly about abortion, and providing it proudly.

21 Responses to “How can LIFE advise on the implementation of policies they don’t believe in?”

  1. Sam Barnett-Cormack

    How can LIFE advise on the implementation of policies they don't believe in? //bit.ly/kFEXvO by BPAC's Jennie Bristow

  2. Sally Anne Lowe

    How can LIFE advise on the implementation of policies they don't believe in? //bit.ly/kFEXvO by BPAC's Jennie Bristow

  3. Jen Hall

    How can LIFE advise on the implementation of policies they don't believe in? //bit.ly/kFEXvO by BPAC's Jennie Bristow

  4. kevin Pearson

    RT @leftfootfwd: How can LIFE advise on the implementation of policies they don't believe in? //bit.ly/kFEXvO. OMG

  5. Public University

    How can LIFE advise on the implementation of policies they don't believe in? //bit.ly/kFEXvO by BPAC's Jennie Bristow

  6. Justin Clark

    RT @leftfootfwd: How can LIFE advise on the implementation of policies they don't believe in? //bit.ly/kFEXvO by BPAC's Jennie Bristow

  7. Ode Dixon

    How can LIFE advise on the implementation of policies they don't believe in? //bit.ly/mxyYug

  8. Wendy Rawley

    How can LIFE advise on the implementation of policies they don't believe in?: By Jennie Bristow of the British P… //bit.ly/kxrhAw

  9. maisie mitchell

    How can LIFE advise on the implementation of policies they don't believe in?: By Jennie Bristow of the British P… //bit.ly/l8V0AS

  10. TheWebspot

    //bit.ly/kSYOjV How can LIFE advise on the implementation of policies they don't believe in? //bit.ly/kwUQoj Pregnancy Miracle

  11. Feel Healthy Now

    #Health How can LIFE advise on the implementation of policies they don't believe in? – Left Foot Forward: The Gu… //bit.ly/iSfckq

  12. Denver Reese

    #Health How can LIFE advise on the implementation of policies they don't believe in? – Left Foot Forward: The Gu… //bit.ly/iSfckq

  13. Koreisha Namah

    How can LIFE advise on the implementation of policies they don't believe in? //bit.ly/jBdJGo

  14. 13eastie

    That you appear to believe that the Govt (which, by the way, was democratically elected by people with all sorts of differing views to represent them) should not seek advice from anyone who disagrees with BPAS is as good a reason as any for your exclusion.

    The medical case for reducing the maximum legal gestation at which “lifestyle” abortions are permitted to place (as evidenced by this recent episode involving a baby born by termination at 22 weeks //t.co/3IqdZN3 ).

    This case should be heard by our law-makers and your desire that it should not says more about your argument than it does anyone else’s.

  15. Mr. Sensible

    I’m not sure about the claim that this government was ‘elected’; more like the Lib Dems propped the Tories up.

    At any rate, my view on abbortion is that women should be given the support and advice they need in order to make an informed decision. I read in the Guardian last month of several attempts by Republicans to overturn Roe V Wade.
    //www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/apr/28/abortion-women

  16. Mr. Sensible

    BTW, I must admit that I thought most abbortions were carried out by the NHS in NHS hospitals. Am I wrong, Jennie?

  17. London IWW

    How can LIFE advise on the implementation of policies they don’t believe in? //dlvr.it/T9h4K | #SaveTheNHS #NHS #KeepOurNHSpublic

  18. scandalousbill

    13eastie,

    You say:

    “That you appear to believe that the Govt (which, by the way, was democratically elected by people with all sorts of differing views to represent them) should not seek advice from anyone who disagrees with BPAS is as good a reason as any for your exclusion….

    “The medical case for reducing the maximum legal gestation at which “lifestyle” abortions are permitted to place (as evidenced by this recent episode involving a baby born by termination at 22 weeks //t.co/3IqdZN3 ).

    “This case should be heard by our law-makers and your desire that it should not says more about your argument than it does anyone else’s.

    First point, the so called “medical case you cite is as follows from the Telegraph article, is hardly definitive, lacks any real medical analysis or statistics and concedes the information provided on still born births is not conclusive:

    “A spokesman for the ProLife Alliance said: “There cannot be anybody in the world who is not horrified by a story like this nor anybody in the UK who would not support a massive reduction in the upper limit for abortion.”

    “…The case also comes as figures in Britain revealed last week that the number of babies born weighing only 2lbs has more than doubled in just two years.

    “Yet the proportion of tiny babies born stillborn has nearly halved, the health service statistics have shown. ”

    “The figures do not reveal at what stage the babies were born but a child weighing under 2lbs is likely to have been born at least three months early…”

    And a child of 8lbs is unlikely to have been born three months early! Wow! Alert the Nobel Committee on Medicine.

    As the OP maintains, the purpose of the advisory committee is:

    “This is not, however, a body designed for the purpose of debate about contentious ethical issues: it is designed to advise on the implementation of government policy, which is – as enshrined in the law – to provide women with access to abortion and contraceptive services when they need them.”

    The LIFE Website, cited by the OP in her article does reveal that there is little stated intent of LIFE to perform the functions of the advisory committee. A total of 12000 supporters claimed are not necessarily reflective of the sentiments of the general UK population, nor even representative of those who oppose choice in the question of abortion. The argument of “balance” thus fails, unless by the same token, you would advocate for the BNP or EDL to be included to hear Asylum cases or serve on immigration tribunals.

    It seems that the real reason fostering LIFE’s inclusion can be gleaned by their articles in direct support of Nadine Dorres, and in a number of the reactionary policies she has advocated to date. As such, for their appointment to stand, the legitimate purpose of the advisory committee can be held in question.

  19. 13eastie

    Bill:

    Please don’t let anyone trick you into believing that your silly remarks about Nobel prizes and the BNP constitute an argument of any adequacy – they just make you look childish.

    Where did I say that the medical case against 23-week lifestyle abortions is to be found concealed within the pages of the Telegraph?

    I didn’t.

    I am, in fact, happy to make such a case based on my previous experience at one of London’s neonatal units where both the viability of severely premature babies and their clear response to painful stimuli (no anaesthesia or analgesia) is demonstrated daily.

    Many people would like to see the upper limit for lifestyle abortions brought down substantially. This includes thousands of very well-informed doctors, many of whom object conscientiously to the practice of abortion.

    The desire by the pro-abortion campaign to have such views silenced within earshot of policy makers is highly suspect.

    For you to compare a seat on an advisory panel (where advice, once heard, can be disregarded) with presiding over an immigration tribunal that implements the law directly simply invites ridicule.

    Since you want to talk about the what is “enshrined in the law” my advice would be that you familiarise yourself with it.

    The Abortion Act 1967 requires for lifestyle cases where there is no medical indication that:

    “…the termination is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman”.

    GRAVE PERMANENT INJURY.

    This criterion is being routinely fudged, to the massive detriment of the unborn’s rights under the law, which was never tabled to provide lifestyle convenience for those too irresponsible to make proper use of freely available contraception and education.

    The majority of terminations carried out do not meet the legal criteria and are in fact a miserable “solution” to pregnancies that are simply unwanted.

    If people do not want the law to be enforced, I would like to hear the argument for how it should be relaxed in order that abortion can be used lawfully to get rid of inconvenient babies. It seems the pro-abortionists are happier for doctors to lie and break the law than for such an argument to be tested,

    The 24-week limit is nothing more than arbitrary and, as such, should be subject to continual review due to:

    a) scientific developments
    b) the fact that law makers elsewhere have concluded this limit to be inappropriate
    c) the advancement of other policy aimed at prevention of “unwanted” pregnancies and second trimester terminations

  20. scandalousbill

    13eastie,

    We disagree. Fine, I respect your opinion, but don’t buy it t all.

    The decision an expectant mother must make to terminate a pregnancy, for me, should not be dependent upon the fact of whether or not the unborn child can be sustained outside the womb by medical science. It is hers alone to make, not a matter for parents, spouses, peers or legislature to deny.

    I also do not believe that the notion of permanent mental damage has been fudged to support abortions of convenience. When does mental damage stop? If you and I could establish a set date when mental healing occurs, or a method for damage removal, we would also be of great benefit to rape victims, victims of child abuse, soldiers impacted by the horrors of war, etc. What would we use to independently verify the damage has been undone, impose mandatory psychiatric tests, develop, a happiness index? I feel that compassion in this case should favour the individual, not an external perception that her motives, actions and stress may not be genuine. I do not feel in any way that this is a flaw in the legislation.

    With regard to LIFE, I do not believe that euphemistically referring to contrived tactics of pressurization upon individuals in distress as counselling provides any semblance of balance to these issues. I would be interested to know that of all the individuals whom they have provide services, what percentage did they refer, and support, through the process and aftercare of the pregnancy termination? BPAS, it can be noted, does not exclusively mandate the mother to accept pregnancy termination, I see no evidence of any such balance from LIFE.

  21. Nick Cotter

    How can LIFE advise on the implementation of policies they don’t believe in? //j.mp/lu5AuQ (via Instapaper)

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