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Termination of Pregnancy (Counselling and Miscellaneous Provisions)

Volume 461: debated on Tuesday 5 June 2007

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require counselling of a pregnant woman as a condition of her consent to termination of her pregnancy; to require the pregnant woman to see a registered medical practitioner prior to receiving counselling; to introduce a minimum period of 7 days following counselling before registered medical practitioners may certify an opinion referred to in section 1(1) of the Abortion Act 1967; to require the forms used for certifying and giving notice of the reason for termination of a pregnancy to state risk to the physical and mental health of the pregnant woman as separate grounds for abortion; and for connected purposes.

Whenever an attempt is made to change the law on abortion, MPs and the press are inundated with ludicrous claims from abortion groups. One such claim is that women are being kept waiting for abortions, and that any amendment, however minor, will cause that wait to be even longer. In fact, the latest figures show that 67 per cent. of abortions are carried out before the 10th week of pregnancy, and 89 per cent. are undertaken before 12 weeks. One young woman said recently:

“I had the pregnancy test on Monday, had a scan on Tuesday and the abortion on Wednesday, and no one asked me if I was sure.”

What is the reason for pressurising a young woman into making a major decision affecting her future without providing her with the full facts and a short period of reflection to give her time to consider her future?

This ten-minute Bill does not aim to tighten the law on abortion. Its primary purpose is to ensure that women are properly informed of the possible effects on their physical or mental health following abortion. It seeks to inform women what grants and help are available, to which they are entitled should they decide to exercise their right to proceed with their pregnancy. Such women also need to be made aware of any groups to which they can turn for help and which will provide support, both during their pregnancy and thereafter. Let us be clear: such groups still operate, despite attempts by pro-abortionists to blacken their reputation and to prevent them from continuing their valuable work. Rather than welcoming assistance for their peer group, however, the abortion sisterhood do everything that they can to obscure and block it.

The second aim of the Bill is simply to ensure that proper records are kept of the reasons for abortion. At present, abortion on demand is carried out on the catch-all ground of risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the woman. Members will be interested to learn that of 186,416 abortions on resident women in 2005, 178,341 were carried out on that ground—96 per cent. in total under that criterion.

An increasing number of doctors are becoming seriously concerned about the possible effects of abortion on women involved in this destructive form of medicine. Even the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has been forced to admit that increasing numbers of the younger generation of their members are refusing to have anything to do with the operation, which is causing considerable anxiety and is probably the reason why so many NHS abortions are carried out in clinics and paid for by the NHS. We are finding the same development among general practitioners, who are refusing to refer girls for abortion—and believe me, it will not stop there. Younger doctors are showing a great deal more mettle than their forebears on any number of issues. They are certainly willing to counsel those seeking abortion, but they are not willing to send them off for an operation which can, in the long term, do them a great deal more harm than good.

The general public, too, are unhappy with the present situation, as a recent survey of opinion by CommunicateResearch has shown. Seventy-eight per cent. of women would like a compulsory cooling-off period between diagnosis of pregnancy and abortion, 85 per cent. want more help to be given to those who want to keep their baby, 87 per cent. think that public funds should go to charities offering alternatives, and 96 per cent. want a right to be fully informed about the health risks involved in abortion.

One of the factors in the abortion lobby which I find most difficult to understand is the manner in which it sets out to destroy any evidence that does not fit its aims. To understand this, we have to remember that the abortion-on-demand lobby was established by people like Margaret Sanger—an elitist who quite openly called for abortion for the poor, for people who had been in prison, and for any of those she regarded as second-class citizens. Margaret Sanger was not interested in women’s rights, and that ethos is still basic to the abortion movement. That is why it sets out to destroy the reputation of people doing genuine research in this field.

The latest piece of major research on the possible effects of abortion on women’s mental health was carried out in New Zealand and was led by a scientist who supports abortion on demand. Evidently, however, he also supports a woman’s right to know what she is choosing, and he was in no way hesitant about publishing the results of his work. He is to be commended for that. The results appeared in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry in January 2006. The research made more psychiatrists and doctors aware of the possible dangers to their patients of abortion and resulted in the American Psychological Association withdrawing an official statement denying a link between abortion and psychological harm. It also resulted in a group of leading psychiatrists and psychologists writing to The Times and calling on the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Psychiatrists to change their guidelines on abortion—guidelines which an increasing number of people regard as shameful.

However, we have to face the fact that we are dealing with a hardcore group of doctors who have built their careers on the acceptance of abortion. Not only that, but a considerable number of them were involved or remained silent—[Interruption.]

Order. Let the hon. Lady speak, because another hon. Lady is going to have an opportunity to rebut the case.

A considerable number of those involved remained silent in bullying campaigns against colleagues who refused to support their total denial of any human rights for pre-born infants. Fortunately, a younger generation of more enlightened doctors will see them out.

In the meantime, we have the question of women’s rights to consider. We can ensure that women receive adequate information by making independent counselling mandatory. By that, I do not mean simply therapeutic counselling but rather crisis management and the provision of relevant information. No woman would be forced to have counselling but, if she refused, she would have to sign a document indicating that she had done so. That would ensure that doctors did not get away with claiming that the woman had had counselling when, in practice, it had not even been offered.

In addition, we must also ensure that clear information on the grounds for abortion is available to doctors or scientists who carry out research. Even pro-abortionists admit that women who have suffered any kind of psychiatric illness should not have abortions. However, the New Zealand study showed that even women without past mental health problems are at risk of psychological ill effects after abortion. It showed that women who had abortions had twice the amount of mental health problems and three times the risk of major depressive illness of those who had given birth or never been pregnant.

In December 2005, Finland’s National Research and Development Centre for Welfare and Health published a three-year study of the entire population of women in Finland. It found that, compared with women who had not been pregnant in the previous year, deaths from suicide, accidents and homicide were 248 per cent. higher in the year following an abortion. The study showed that the suicide rate among women who had had abortions was six times higher than that of women who had given birth in the previous year, and double that of women who had suffered miscarriages.

Whatever I feel personally about abortion, the Bill does not seek to tighten the grounds. I simply ask the House to support the measure to ensure that women who present for abortion consider carefully what they are choosing, that they are fully informed of the health risks and the available alternatives—

I understand that people have deeply held views on the subject of the debate. On the 40th anniversary of the Abortion Act 1967, I am gravely concerned about the motivation behind the Bill and the measure’s impact on women. I believe that I speak on behalf of the silent majority who value the 1967 Act and understand that it has saved hundreds of women’s lives.

The Bill will lead to delays for women seeking an abortion. Inevitably, the more socially deprived and excluded women would be the most affected. They would have to travel several times to see a doctor, attend counselling, revisit the doctor and then turn up for the procedure. That is a requirement of the Bill. When a woman faces an unwanted pregnancy, she is already under great stress. In my view, creating further obstacles is unethical.

As we have heard, of women who have abortions, 89 per cent. have one in the first trimester and 67 per cent. have one under 10 weeks. That allows for the procedure to be medical or early surgical, thus offering women greater choice. The Bill will push more women into having later abortion, which is more invasive and more expensive to the NHS and women.

Despite the widely held belief, women in Great Britain do not have abortion on demand. All women who currently seek an abortion must go through their pregnancy options with two medical practitioners before they are granted permission to have an abortion. They must qualify under the conditions of the 1967 Act and prove to the doctors that they meet the criteria, as outlined by Parliament.

Women do not make such a decision lightly. Those who seek an abortion from a medical practitioner tend to have made up their minds for themselves long before they turn up for the procedure. Of course, counselling should be—and is—available to those who want it. The British Pregnancy Advisory Service has an excellent scheme to train counsellors in non-directional counselling, if it is required. That is the important point: counselling should be non-directional and voluntary. Making counselling a requirement for access to abortion goes against the principles of counselling. Unregulated counselling can be distressing and misleading. It would also be costly to provide and, if many women do not want it, a waste of resources.

I ask the House what would be the purpose of such compulsory counselling. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists states in its 2004 guidelines that abortion is not directly attributable to psychological trauma and that few women suffer long-term distress. Why put women through extra delays? In some states in America, misleading information is given to women through this counselling and with the clear intention of deterring them from choosing an abortion. My question is whether that is the purpose of this Bill, too.

The Bill also proposes that women wait a minimum period of seven days following the counselling before an abortion is granted. That could mean that women could be seriously disadvantaged and pushed into later abortions that would not have been necessary without the imposed delay. Cooling-off periods prolong the anguish of women who have decided that they cannot continue with their pregnancy. They effectively reduce the time limit further and may prevent a woman from getting an abortion, even if she presents before 12 weeks, as there is restricted access to post-12-week abortions in some areas. The earlier an abortion takes place, the less invasive it will be for the woman and the possibility of complications will be reduced.

In 2005, the Family Planning Association published research by Newcastle university, which found that reducing the waiting time for an abortion by 10 days permits more abortions to take place at an earlier stage of pregnancy, using less invasive measures, and at a lesser cost to the NHS. A delay in treatment results in abortion taking place later and at greater emotional and financial cost. It would undoubtedly force some women to continue a pregnancy against their wish, but the best way to reduce the numbers of unintended pregnancies is to improve women’s access to contraception, as well as educating women—and men—about sexual health.

This Bill is an attack on women’s reproductive rights. It would without question force a small number of vulnerable women to continue with a pregnancy against their will and it would deny every woman seeking an abortion the ability to make her choice within the time scale that is appropriate for her. I urge this House to reject the Bill today, to stand by the rights of women and to ensure that, in this anniversary year of the 1967 Act, we protect the rights of women and safeguard the Act itself.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):—