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Abortion counselling review axed

The Government has called off a consultation on the way counselling is offered to women who are thinking of having an abortion, Health Minister Anna Soubry said.

Ms Soubry said that as ministers had no intention of changing the law, there was no point in continuing with the review into independent counselling which began earlier this year.

The Department of Health was considering radical reforms to the way advice was offered to women thinking of having abortions. One of the changes on the table was forcing clinics to send women to independent advice centres. Ms Soubry said she realised the decision to call off the consultation would disappoint some MPs but added there was little point in continuing with it when the Government had no intention of changing the law.

Ms Soubry said: "I am aware that there is a cross-party inquiry into unwanted pregnancy and I think there is some important work that they will do and evidence which they will hear.

"But the simple reality is as follows - we no longer plan to undertake a separate consultation and I am sorry if that disappoints those members of the committee. I am grateful for the work that they did and I want to thank them for all their efforts. I am sorry if as I say there is some disappointment but the reality is that we now don't intend to change the law so it is now an otiose exercise."

Mid Bedfordshire Tory MP Nadine Dorries, who called for the debate in Westminster Hall in which the Health Minister made her announcement, accused the Government of reneging on its promise to consider the issue of abortion clinics offering women seeking terminations counselling advice.

There have been concerns among Tories and pro-life campaigners that the current situation creates a conflict of interest as many women who accept advice from clinics' in-house counsellors go on to have abortions.

In a question to the Health Minister, Ms Dorries said: "It is not a case of changing the law, it is a case of changing the Government's commitment. There was an absolute commitment by the Government that a consultation would be taken. In fact, the BMA (British Medical Association) themselves moved a motion to agree to this. So please could you tell us why the Government has changed its mind on independent counselling?"

Ms Soubry replied: "I make it very clear, as the committee identified, it is the case there is undoubtedly patchy counselling throughout the NHS. I don't think that is acceptable. But the committee also decided that it was of primary importance that, when a woman is seeking a termination, there is no delay in her achieving that. That is why it is so important that, if a woman is going to have a termination, she does it as quickly and as soon as possible and that was the unanimous agreement of the committee and I welcome that.

"There is other work we should be doing on counselling. I take the view that this is not the primary function we should be addressing and that is why I have taken the decision that I have."

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