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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Nadine Dorries’ abortion proposals – Fact and Fiction

By Tessa Kendall

Nadine Dorries, a Christian MP, wants women to see ‘independent’ counsellors before they have an abortion, not go to abortion providers like Marie Stopes International or the British Pregnancy Advisory Service because they have (she says) a vested financial interest which she compares with pension mis-selling. She, along with Frank Field MP, is proposing an amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill on September 6th to ensure this happens.

Nadine Dorries MP

She is on record saying that her political blog is “70% fiction and 30% fact... I rely heavily on poetic licence”.

She has also said “I have chosen the ‘fact’ I wish to believe”.

Research by Education for Choice has found that ‘independent’ is a word that belongs in Dorries’ 70% category. Current allegedly independent bodies do in fact have a strong religious agenda and are using all kinds of manipulative, emotive and factually wrong tactics to talk women out of having an abortion. On Newsnight, NSS Honorary Associate Dr Evan Harris points out that the Department of Health’s own website warns against independent advisers.

Dorries is being backed by the Right to Know campaign. Despite describing this as ‘our campaign’, she now says “I have no idea how they’re funded” and “They may be ideologically driven”.

Right to Know are bandying about the ‘fact’ that 30% of women who have abortions go on to suffer mental health problems. This claim is based on a paper from the British Journal of Psychiatry. The paper’s conclusion is, quite reasonably, that abortion is not without consequences for some women.

However, the paper also states “The evidence is consistent with the view that abortion may be associated with a small increase in risk of mental disorders”. That may be. It also states that “the overall effects of abortion on mental health proved to be small” and could be the result of “uncontrolled residual confounding”. This means there could have been other factors influencing the results that they failed to rule out.

Most tellingly, the conclusion says: “Specifically, the results do not support strong pro-life positions that abortion has large and devastating effects on the mental health of women”. Nor does Dorries consider the possible adverse mental health effects of not having an abortion.

Dorries is being advised by the Christian Medical Fellowship whose website published some ‘research’ on the consequences of abortion. However, the papers they cite to back up their claims about both increased incidence of breast cancer and mental illness do nothing of the kind. In fact, one of the studies they reference has four separate statements that contradict them.

Another study they cite clearly states that “the time of greatest distress is likely to be before the abortion. While some women may experience sensations of regret, sadness and guilt after an abortion, the overwhelming responses are relief and happiness”. Another large-scale study found that the most important predictor of emotional well-being post-abortion was well-being before the abortion and also noted that “the incidence of diagnosed psychiatric illness and hospitalization is considerably lower following abortion than following childbirth”.

Dorries recently claimed that Dr Evan Harris ‘lost it’ on an interview with Sky TV - an interview which she refused to share with him, insisting on being recorded separately. In it, Evan pointed out yet more flaws in her argument.

There’s a good analysis of the almost total lack of evidence for changing the current abortion counselling position on the Nothing Special blog.

The Government has now done a U turn, saying it will advise MPs to vote against Dorries’ proposal next week. The Conservative Women’s Group has also turned against her. But this free vote could still go either way, given the number of new Tory MPs with unknown affiliations and of Catholic MPs.

Meanwhile, another Tory MP, Louise Mensch, is reported to be tabling another amendment proposing that “women should be offered counselling by independent organisations who are neither abortion providers nor faith groups, although there would be the opportunity for a patient to choose to be counselled by either group if they wished.”

It also says that the Government is denying a U-turn, saying that it never promised to support the Dorries’ amendment in the first place.

See also:

Nadine Dorries’ campaign is grubby and mendacious

Attempts to further restrict abortion rights in Texas overturned by judges

Published Fri, 02 Sep 2011