Nadine Dorries is back – Hallowe’en debate on abortion

On 31st October, Nadine Dorries has been granted a 90 minute debate in the House of Commons on reducing the time limit for legal abortions in the UK from 24 weeks to 20 weeks.

In 2011, less than 9% of the total number of abortions carried out in England and Wales were performed after 13 weeks. The number of abortions and the abortion rate have been falling (UK and worldwide: abortions and the abortion rate fall as women get access to contraception and teenagers are routinely educated in the use of contraception). A girl or a woman who is pregnant and doesn’t want to be, will try to get an abortion as early as possible: that’s common sense and it’s confirmed by the statistics.

NHS pre-natal care includes offering a scan between week 18 and week 20 to find if there are major physical health problems with the foetus. The scan is offered at this point because of the timescale of human foetal development: basic biological science which neither 50,000 years nor modern technology has changed.

Less than 2% of abortions are carried out after 20 weeks. About 1.1% of all abortions are carried out because the scan or other tests revealed a problem with the foetus. That would leave a few hundred abortions each year that are carried out because the two doctors who are required to approve each abortion in the UK agreed there was a significant problem with the pregnancy continuing that impacted on the pregnant woman’s health. A pregnant teenage girl, for example, raped, too scared to tell: or trapped in a forced marriage and unable to escape: or tortured by mental health problems – psychosis is a known health risk in pregnancy.

If Nadine Dorries got her way, a woman who discovered a major problem at her 20-week scan could have days or even hours to decide if she needed to have an abortion: or she might find she would have to fly to Belgium or the Netherlands and to pay for her abortion there. How this would benefit anyone except Easyjet or Ryanair is left as a problem for others, not for the pro-life MPs who support Dorries.

Please write to your MP and ask them to attend Dorries’ Hallowe’en debate in the House of Commons, and to speak against reducing the limit: if they haven’t got time to sit through the debate, please ask them to vote against reducing the limit.

If you need other reasons to give them:

Claims that the UK is an “outlier”

The UK is an outlier in most EU countries. Abortion in Northern Ireland is only available if the life of the woman is at risk. Abortion on demand is not legally available under the 1967 Act: a pregnant woman who needs an abortion must get two doctors to agree that it’s necessary for her health. Access to abortion in early pregnancy on the NHS has become gradually more widely available.

In the EU countries that Jeremy Hunt and Mehdir Hasan love to cite, the limit at 12 or 13 weeks is the limit for abortion on demand. After that time, the law becomes the same as the law in most of the UK apart from Northern Ireland: a woman can have an abortion if doctors agree it’s medically necessary – in the UK, this can include socio-economic necessity. Map here. Note most of Europe is green – abortion on demand.

Debunk claims of gendercide

The 18-20 week scan is not offered so that parents can find out the sex of the foetus: if that is possible (sometimes it isn’t) it’s a bonus if the parents want to know.

Earlier this year, the Daily Telegraph ran a sting operation on clinics that provide abortion earlier this year, and made great play with how leading questions about sex-selective abortion to unsuspecting healthcare workers who did not know they were talking to pro-life undercover journalists, got the Telegraph answers that were not unequivocably condemnatory:

NHS consultant Prabha Sivaraman was asked by a mum-to-be if illegal, sex-selection abortions were really available on demand. The woman said she thought she was having a girl, after a test in France, but she didn’t have actual proof. Was that a problem? “Oh, no,” replied Miss Sivaraman blithely, “we don’t ask questions. If you want a termination, you want a termination.”

This 13-word response was taken by the Telegraph, and other prolife campaigners, to be sufficient evidence that in the UK, private clincs will do sex-selective abortions on request.

There is no evidence of this. Sting operations in health clinics are becoming a feature of pro-life campaigning in the US. Health workers have been sacked because of injudicious comments they made to women whom they believed to be clients asking for help. The same argument has been made in the US, a claim that late-term abortions must be banned because women may be trying to have a sex-selective abortion:

A broad spectrum of civil rights groups and reproductive rights and justice organizations stand united in opposition to these proposed abortion bans as both unenforceable and unwise. Advocates for the welfare of Asian American women are particularly adamant in protesting that such laws have the potential to do much harm and no good for their communities. Moreover, they argue that proposals to ban sex-selective abortion proffered by those who would ban all abortions are little more than a cynical political ploy and that the real problem that needs to be addressed is son preference – itself a deeply seated and complex manifestation of entrenched gender discrimination and inequity….’

I think it’s as certain as anything that Nadine Dorries will reference claims about “gendercide in the UK” in her debate on the 31st, and if so, it should be debunked severely.

Update – my letter to my MP

I found to my horror that on 31st October Nadine Dorries is to have a debate in the House of Commons on lowering the abortion limit from 24 weeks to 20 weeks.

I hope you will be able to attend, and I hope you will be able to ask Dorries questions / challenge her misinformation. I very much hope that her proposal is thoroughly defeated – as I recall last time Dorries got a Commons debate on one of her pet topics, it passed because so few MPs had attended.

You may already be aware of this, but just to pass on some more accurate information:

Very few abortions (less than 2%) take place after 20 weeks: over 90% take place before 13 weeks.

Standard NHS pre-natal care offers a scan for “anomalies” between 18 and 20 weeks. This may be the earliest a woman can discover that a much-wanted pregnancy is going seriously wrong – that she may not be able to carry her baby to term, that if she does the baby may not live – a whole range of serious problems.

Nadine Dorries and other supporters may bring up the idea that it’s wrong to terminate a foetus for disabilities. But whether or not we agree with her reasons, a woman has a right to decide *for herself* if she can cope with the level of disability indicated by the scan. This is an immensely personal and difficult decision, and the change in the law Dorries is arguing for would ensure merely that:

1. A woman may be told of her baby’s disability in the scan and told she must decide *that day* to have an abortion, since if she waits even a week to decide, abortion won’t be legal. How is that going to help?

2. A woman may have her scan and discover it is *already* too late to have an abortion in the UK – she must endure months of pregnancy knowing her baby will die at birth or may die inside her. How is that going to help?

(It is particularly ironic that MPs who have consistently supported cutting services and benefits that people with disabilities and their carers rely on, should then argue that women who discover their baby will have a major disability should not have the legal right to choose abortion. No woman should have to choose abortion for financial reasons, but Tory cuts to services may mean some women feel they have to.)

Or – If she can afford it, she can fly to another EU country such as France, Belgium, or the Netherlands where a late-term abortion for medical reasons is legal. How is that going to help anyone except Easyjet or Ryanair?

The UK is unusual among other similar EU countries in having no legal option for abortion on demand. In France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, countries have abortion on demand up to 12 or 13 weeks: thereafter their abortion law becomes similar to the UK’s, requiring two doctors to confirm that the abortion is medically necessary. A good deal of misinformation has been spread about this, claiming these countries have a limit at 12 weeks and the UK’s is unusual at 24 weeks.

Nadine Dorries and others have claimed there is evidence that babies born as early as 20 weeks are surviving. No medical authority supports this view: specifically, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists explicitly refutes it. Between 24 and 28 weeks newborn babies have a very low chance of survival: before 24 weeks there is virtually no chance, certainly of survival to healthy later childhood past the age of five.

The Daily Telegraph ran a sting operation and claimed, on the basis of injudicious remarks made by medical staff to journalists whom they believed were worried patients, there was evidence that sex-selective abortions were being carried out in the UK. (The 18-20 week scan may provide physical indication of the baby’s sex: not always.) There is no evidence of this: such sting operations have been carried out by right-wing prolife organisations in the US.

More and more, the prolife campaigners in the UK are acting like radical and abusive campaigners in the US, demanding the right to “picket” health clinics with signs and banners to cause discomfort and anguish to the patients entering.

Which brings the question again – where is Nadine Dorries getting her funding from?

Yours sincerely,

(my real name)

Update, 30th October

I got an answer from my MP by email:

Thank you for email. I can advise you that the debate secured by Nadine Dorries is simply one of the 15 debates allocated each week to back bench members to raise an issue. Any back bench member can put in a request for a debate, and they are allocated by ballot. They are purely for expressions of view, and do not make binding policy. There are no votes at the end of these debates.

Mark Lazarowicz
MP for Edinburgh North & Leith
For news about my work in Parliament and in the constituency, visit
Follow me on twitter @marklazarowicz.


Filed under Healthcare, Human Rights, Women

9 responses to “Nadine Dorries is back – Hallowe’en debate on abortion

  1. It’s really really easy to write to your MP, MSP, MEP, Councillor or member of the Welsh or Northern Irish assembly (is there an acronym?) via

  2. pakasuchus

    The Science & Tech Committee 2007 report – it’s a great (and pretty readable) summary of the science and statistics around the abortion limit for anyone who wants it or wants to reference it in their MP letter:

    Thanks for another good article.

  3. I knew this debate was coming up, but I didn’t realise Nadine Dorries had been given a platform for her hate-filled, ill-informed misogyny. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I have written to my MP as a consequence.

  4. Pingback: [petition] War on Women: The Abortion Battle (and Nadine Dorries’ upcoming debate) « slendermeans

  5. Pingback: quick hit: War on Women: The Abortion Battle (and Nadine Dorries' upcoming debate) (petition) | feimineach

  6. Pingback: War on Women: The Abortion Battle (and Nadine Dorries' upcoming debate) (petition) (feimineach)

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