Today I received a response from the Department of Health to the letter we sent to Anne Milton MP, the junior minister in charge of public health, regarding the proposed changes to privision of counselling to abortion patients.
Here is the reply in full:
Thank you for your correspondence of 4 and 5 July to Anne Milton about abortion counselling. I have been asked to reply.
The Department of Health is aware of Frank Field's and Nadine Dorries' concerns and Anne Milton recently met with them to discuss this issue.
The Department is drawing up proposals to enable all women who are seeking an abortion to be offered access to independent counselling. The Department would want the counselling to be provided by appropriately qualified individuals. Independent counselling will focus on enabling a woman to make a decision that would benefit her overall health and wellbeing.
Independent 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 it is therefore unable to provide detailed answers while this process takes place.
I hope this reply is helpful.
[Name Redacted]Emphasis mine. While it's reassuring to have it confirmed that there's no question of making counselling mandatory (for now), it doesn't really address the problem of explicitly anti-abortion organisations being allowed access to vulnerable women.
In terms of substantive content though, I was very concerned by two things:
1. That the Under-secretary herself has not responded to us and no comment has come from her office so far (I haven't seen any in the media).
2. That the highlighted sentence conflates advice and counselling in a dangerous and potentially damaging manner; part of the value currently being provided by the likes of MSI & BPAS is precisely that they do not mix advice about medical options with counselling for those in distress.
This is not the first time I've seen this muddle-headed approach to counselling from the DoH - they seem to be ignorant of what these services that they plan to "reform" actually do.
I wrote a response to this effect, but unfortunately the email came from a "do not reply" address, so in order to get this concern addressed properly it looks like I'd need to go though the whole rigmarole of writing to them from scratch, and probably getting a reply from someone completely different with no prior knowledge of the case.
It's like working with a third rate utilities call centre, but if I get anywhere I will immediately post updates!