I don't think it can have escaped any feminists' attention that Nadine Dorries, MP, is is trying to bring about a change to the Health and Social Care Bill as regards abortion. I know that Hazel is going to write a blog about this so I won't go into details on the proposed changes and implications, but at the end of July I wrote to various MPs about this, and received only one decent reply. I wrote to Lynne Featherstone, Andrew Lansley and Tom Harris, the MP for Glasgow South. I didn't receive a reply from Mr Lansley myself, and the response from Ms Featherstone told me that the changes in the H&SC Bill didn't apply to Scotland - as if I would just heave a sigh of relief and not worry about what's going on in England and Wales. My MP, Tom Harris, was the most helpful. He wrote me a very prompt reply saying that he didn't yet know the full details of the proposed changes but he would find out for me and then write me a fuller reply. I then received another letter from him telling me that he had received a reply from Anne Milton, MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - he enclosed a copy of her reply for me to read, and that's what I wanted to pass on here. I've copied it out verbatim, so you can all make of it what you will, and see how it measures up to what actually transpires. Dear Mr Harris, thank you for your letter ... I am replying as the Minister responsible for this policy are. "The amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill being proposed by Franks Field MP and Nadine Dorries MP are not Government ammendments. The current arrangements for counselling related to abortion services can be varies within the existing statuatory framework for the commissioning of such services. The Health and Social Care Bill, now before Parliament, expands that framework. "We are drawing up proposals to enable all women who are seeking an abortion to be offered access to independant counselling. We would want the counselling to be provided bu appropriately qualified individuals. Independant counselling will focus on enabling a woman to make a decision that would benefit her overall health and wellbeing. "Independant counselling will be for those women who choose to have it and will not be mandatory. Full proposals are still being worked up within the Department of HEalth and we are therefore unable to provide detailed answers while this prosess takes place. "However, I can clarify that I do not think that it is necessary to set out the requirement to offer independent counselling in primary legislation. I am confident that the necessary legal mechanisms already exist to enable this to be introduced. "The Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health and HIV (IAG) was abolished in October 2010 following the Cabinet Office review of Advisory Non-Departmental Public Bodies. The newly formed Sexual Health Forum has replaced the IAG, but has a different remit and accountability. "In considering the stakeholder groups that will sit on the core Forum, we felt that it was important to ensure that a wide range of views and interests are represented. This is why LIFE have been invited to sit on the Forum. Other organisations that sit on the Forum include Brooke (the young person's sexual health charity), the Family Planning Association, the Terrence Higgins Trust, the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health, the Association of Directors of Public Health, the British HIV Association, the Sex Education Forum/National Children's Bureau, Marie Stopes International (MSI) and the Association of Directors of Social Services. Everyone on the Forum has agreed to comply with standards of impartiality, integrity and objectivity in relation to the advice they provide. "MSI and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) have similar interests. We offered them shared membership but they declined. We therefore invited MSI to represent independent sector abortion providers on the Forum and they have accepted. "There will be opportunities for further organisations, including BPAS, to become involved in a meeting of the wider Sexual Health Forum that we are planning to hold in the autumn. The core Forum will provide advice to the Government on a range of sexual health issues but ultimately the Government will decide what advice to take forward in terms of policy, based on an assessment of the available evidence. Anne Milton."
As I said, I know Hazel has a blog post to publish so I won't go into details about how these changes will affect women looking for abortion etc, but I thought I'd stick this letter up anyway, for anyone that's interested or who hasn't received a reply from their MP.