Diane Abbott MP, Labour’s Shadow Public Health Minister and MP for Hackney has walked out of a newly formed cross-party group looking at counselling for women consideration an abortion, in protest at the government’s shock plans to strip abortion providers, such as Marie Stopes and BPAS, of their pregnancy counselling roles, opening them up to tenders from "independent" organisations.
The cross-party group of 10 MPs, which includes Health Minister Anne Milton, and Tory right-wingers Nadine Dorries MP and Louise Mensch MP, have held private negotiations over the changes. However, Diane Abbott MP, has walked out on talks because she believes the group is a ‘front’ for pushing through anti-choice proposals developed by Nadine Dorries MP, despite a recent heavy loss in Parliament, following a vote on the proposals.
Polling shows that under a quarter of Britons support the government’s proposals.
In a letter to Anne Milton, Diane Abbott, the Shadow Public Health Minister says:
‘I entered into the meetings in good faith. I was genuinely interested in improving the quality of counselling available to women. But I now believe the ‘consultation’ will be a front for driving through the anti-choice lobbyists’ preferred option without legislation or a debate on the Floor of the House.’
On the proposed consultation, Ms Abbott said:
‘There is no doubt which option the government wants to drive through. There will be no legislation or debate in Parliament. These changes are unwanted, undemocratic and unsubstantiated with evidence. I think women and families across the country will be as horrified as I am by the way the government is trying to turn the clocks back.
‘The talks that have taken place have been little more than window dressing for what is an aggressive, anti-choice campaign and I am walking away from them. It’s a group of ‘Tea-Party Tories’ who are determined to plough ahead, despite these policies being decisively rejected by parliament, by the medical profession and also by the British public. I think we need to fight back against these policies.
‘Women in this country want to have choice over their fertility and that is a basic human right. It is crucial that we maintain women’s access to impartial, non-directive and clinical information on pregnancy choices. At the moment, there is a duty for women to be fully informed about the choices available to her – including alternatives to an abortion.’
‘The truth is that this is one issue within a larger, resurgent extreme conservative agenda on social issues. British social conservatives are increasingly borrowing language and tactics from the US Christian right's playbook. Slowly turning the clock back on abortion is one front - interfering with sexual education classes is another example.’
The recent attempt to strip NHS abortion providers of their role in counselling women was eventually defeated in the House of Commons. MPs voted by 368 votes to 118 – a majority of 250 – to reject the amendment by the Tory backbencher Nadine Dorries. Diane Abbott MP, the Shadow Public Health Minister led Labour’s response to the debate.
David Cameron attracted criticism of his handling of the issue, after he initially appeared to support the changes, before withdrawing his support, and telling Nadine Dorries that: ‘I know the honourable Lady is extremely frustrated . . .’ in the House of Commons.
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