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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Dorries abortion counselling amendment defeated

MPs have rejected Nadine Dorries’ bid to change the law on abortion counselling for women by 368 votes to 118. Her amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill were debated in Parliament on September 7.

During the debate, Dorries continued to use discredited ‘facts’, unsubstantiated anecdotes and emotional statements. She portrayed herself as a valiant David struggling alone against the well-funded Goliath of the left-wing media and Abortion Rights, funded by various unions. At one point, she even claimed ‘I’m broke’. She allowed interventions from as many supporters as she could, some of them vehemently anti-abortion. She also still persistently denied any knowledge of how Right To Know is funded.

At one point, Dorries bemoaned the fact that she had lost the Prime Minister’s initial support for her amendments. She blamed NSS Honorary Associate Dr Evan Harris, saying that he is blackmailing the Prime Minister and the Government. At this point, there was uproar in the House. It will be interesting to see if she dares to repeat this potential libel outside the safety of parliamentary privilege.

She did not stand unchallenged, however. The MPs who spoke strongly against her included several doctors and Diane Abbott who said ‘this is a shoddy, ill-conceived attempt to present non-facts, the opposite of evidence-based policy making’.

Julian Huppert pointed out that the current system works well and that what is needed to reduce abortion numbers is better access to contraception and better SRE (sex education) for both boys and girls.

Health Minister Ann Milton ended the 90 minute debate, commenting ‘the amendments won’t work for women’. However, she also said that the Government supports the ‘spirit of amendments’; there will be a consultation and another vote in Parliament – so there is yet more work for campaigners to do. Dorries has claimed that she ‘won the war’ and will continue the fight both for this and for a reduction of the upper time limit on abortions. She is also still blaming the LibDems, saying on her blog (with no sense of irony) that ‘politics yesterday was certainly at its dirtiest and most complex’.

It was reported that Frank Field withdrew his support for the Dorries amendment after Anne Milton said the government would try to implement the spirit of her proposal.

Members voting in support included Cabinet Ministers Iain Duncan Smith, Liam Fox and Owen Paterson. Those voting against the amendment included George Osborne, Nick Clegg, both Milibands, William Hague, Ed Balls, Ken Clarke and Graham Allen. David Cameron was not present.

Read the full division list to see how your MP voted.

Published Fri, 09 Sep 2011