By Jonathan Isaby
"All those countries with good informed consent legislation had significantly lower than average daily abortion rates than the countries that do not have such informed consent legislation. Although a causal link is impossible to prove, these figures suggest that informed consent legislation might prove a good way of reducing Britain's abortion figures. I think that all Members of all parties are agreed that we want to see that happen.
"In this country, if a woman requests a termination from her GP, no questions are asked. I have spoken to numerous GPs and posed this question to them: "When a woman sits in your surgery and asks for a termination, what do you say?" The answer I frequently receive is that the GP does not say anything, but writes a referral letter. That is the process at the GP stage. A referral is made to a hospital or clinic and the abortion is performed, for the woman's sake, as quickly as possible and without fuss.
"Minimal counselling or no counselling is provided in some NHS hospitals and some clinics. Minimal counselling is provided by BPAS-the British Pregnancy Advisory Service-which carries out a large number of abortions on behalf of the NHS. However, BPAS carries out some counselling, but also carries out the abortion, so there is a clear conflict of interest there."
"Does not the way in which abortions are carried out in this country today almost amount to abuse? We need to take lessons from our European neighbours. In Germany, women are offered counselling and a cooling-off period. That gives them a chance to breathe and think. It gives them support. They are informed about the procedure, and of the possible consequences. They are provided with alternative routes other than the surgical removal of a life. They are given information about adoption-and yes, I know that people throw up their hands in horror when that is mentioned, but it is not our pregnancy, and it is not our baby."
"Women are entitled to an option. They are entitled to give informed consent, which should be explicitly supported by pro-choice and pro-life campaigners. When it comes to a decision of such magnitude, it is vital for women to receive information that is absolutely accurate and is given calmly, without coercion or a principled bias and, in particular, without political ideology… I hope the Minister agrees that it is time that we took a little more care of women undergoing such a procedure. It is time that we introduced a statutory process of informed consent and a cooling-off period. The European evidence shows that that could provide us with a considerable reduction in the number of abortions, and everyone would surely welcome that."
In replying to the debate, Health Minister Anne Milton stated that reducing the abortion rate was "an absolute priority" for the Government:
"For me and for the Government, reducing the abortion rate is an absolute priority, and to do that we have to ensure that women and men are given information and support to make responsible sexual health choices."
"The total number of abortions currently being carried out is just over 189,000 a year. Since 1992, the number of abortions has steadily increased, with the exception of the past two years when there was a fall in the number, albeit small. Just under half of teenage conceptions end in an abortion. However, the trend in both teenage conceptions and births is downward and the teenage pregnancy rate for 2008 was the lowest annual rate for more than 20 years. We should welcome that, although we should never be complacent because that figure of 189,000 is still way too high.
"Repeat abortion is a continuing issue. Some 34%-one third-of women undergoing abortions had one or more abortions, a figure that has risen from 29% in 1998. Some 25% of repeat abortions were to women under 25. There are also significant and concerning variations between primary care trusts in repeat abortion rates, with rates in some areas as high as 45%. Abortions are traumatic and stressful, and they are not a form of contraception, but sadly they are clearly used as such in some instances. Women are offered a follow-up appointment within two weeks of the abortion. That also provides an opportunity to have another conversation about contraception needs if the woman was unclear as to contraception requirements at the time of the abortion, but that is not always taken up."
The minister also emphasised her desire to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place:
"Young women and men need to think about contraception before having sex. People have busy lifestyles-and, in some instances, very chaotic lifestyles-and there are barriers to accessing contraception. However, with long-acting reversible contraceptives there are ways to prevent unwanted pregnancy for everyone, whatever their lifestyle. We need young women and men to be equipped with the information and knowledge to look after their physical, mental and sexual health so they are not put in this position in the first place."
"Some advances have been made to ensure that women are able to have safe, legal abortions, but we need to stop the tide of unwanted pregnancy. That is the position that we want to be in. That will take an effort on a number of fronts, and later this year we will publish our White Paper on public health, which will set out our approach in a great deal more detail."