This article was submitted yesterday. The 'yesterdays' in the article therefore refer to Wednesday.
Despite being called every name under the sun and having my motives questioned at every turn, I have been consistently clear about the changes I would like to see to the UK abortion laws. I want a lower legal limit at which terminations can be carried out. My prefererce is for the limit to be lowered from 24 to 20 weeks and, in addition, every woman facing a crisis pregnancy to receive a non-compulsory offer of independent counselling.
In response to the debate about my amendment to the (then) Health and Social Care Bill in September 2011, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, Anne Milton MP stated that, “We also want to consult widely and publicly as part of our proposals to help us ensure that we really improve services for women at what we know is an extremely difficult time in their lives. We need to consult the public; indeed, we need to consult the women about whom we are talking.”
Since that time a Government reshuffle has replaced Anne Milton with Anna Soubry MP. The Department for Health and the wider Government are the poorer for this change. Yesterday morning, responding to my Westminster Hall debate on lowering the legal limit, Anna Soubry reneged on the promise given by Anne Milton and threw out the counselling consultation.
In fact Soubry said, “I can see no purpose in a consultation, because we do not intend to change either the law or the guidelines.” So once again a member of the feminist elite has taken it upon herself to make the decision for other women, many of whom will be disadvantaged, less educated and less able to have their voice heard. Women may want counselling, but Minister Soubry has decided both that they cannot have it and they won’t even be asked if they want it. When her boss Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was asked his personal view on abortion, he repeated that he would like to see the legal limit reduced to 12 weeks. He is, however, a professional and quite capable of separating his personal views from his professional responsibilities. If only the same could be said of Ms Soubry. Instead, she has allowed her professional stance to be influenced by her personal background as an aggressive and lifelong pro-choice activist.
Ms Soubry appears not to even understand the difference between commissioning health care services for women in the form of counselling and abortion provision. To inappropriately have announced the dumping of the counselling consultation in the middle of a debate on abortion limits highlighted this very fact.
The doctor’s union, the BMA do however and they recently voted that women should have access to independent counselling. Ms Soubry makes the argument that we should listen to one set of doctors when it comes to upper limits, but ignore them on another issue – the issue of counselling.
The announcement that a consultation would take place was made by former nurse, Anne Milton, in the Chamber and to the House. Anne Milton understood the difference between abortion and commissioning support services.
Ms Soubry’s decision to drop the consultation, after months of hard work, should also have been made to the House, after the members of the committee had been informed. Instead, she chose to drop the bombshell in a Westminster Hall debate. That was un-professional and inappropriate.
Unfortunately, people like Ms Soubry in positions of power and influence think all women are exactly as they are. Well educated, articulate and comfortably off. The young woman who aborts at twenty four weeks because she hoped to get past the twenty four week stage and stand up to the coercion, but gave in as her partner told her he would ‘beat the baby out of her is she didn’t abort’ is of no consequence. She distorts the politically correct ideological argument. She doesn’t fit the ‘right on’ mantra that all women know exactly what they are doing when they ask for an abortion. Neither does the Asian girl marched into a clinic by two male family members. Or the sixteen year old who lives with her parents who speak on her behalf, hiding the fact that she is terrified.
I will not rehearse the abortion arguments on here however. Soubry, in her announcement yesterday will not impact those who have support and are strong and articulate. The people she failed will be the vulnerable.
The offhand manner and callous words used by Soubry to jettison the abortion counselling consultation tell us a great deal about her as a Minister. She is deeply unprofessional in allowing her personal views to have such an effect on policy. Such lack of impartiality will be carried through in all aspects of her work and there must be serious questions now about what else she has done in the few weeks since being appointed that adheres to her personal agenda rather than implementing Government policy.
Ms Soubry has form. One of her first comments as a Minister was to make sympathetic noises about the right-to-die. You wouldn’t want her as a friend, when her neighbour Andrew Mitchell, was going through his toughest time, she stuck the boot in during her appearance on Any Questions.
What I will do next is to write to the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary to ask why Ms Soubry was allowed to act with such bad manners and disregard for all those in Parliament who worked towards the goal of consulting the experts on providing additional help to women? Why have the government – after declaring an intention to help vulnerable women – performed yet another U turn and decided that they won’t after all?
There were some very angry MPs in the Commons yesterday and if Ms Soubry thinks that she has hear the last of it, she had better think again.