Review by Philippa Taylor
CMF Head of Public Policy
In June the BMA held its annual representative meeting, where a motion supporting the universal availability of non-directive counselling for women considering abortion was passed by an 'overwhelming majority' of members. (1,2)
This is a small but significant step, recognising the need for women who have an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy to be able to access unbiased counselling before they make a decision to have an abortion.
CMF member, Dr Mark Pickering, proposed the BMA motion and explained his thinking behind it: 'On an issue that is often heated, emotive and controversial I've tried to put forward a proposal that people from all viewpoints can support.' He acknowledged that while some women will definitely want an abortion, and not want counselling, there will be others who: '... are less certain, and perhaps be looking for a safe space to think through the options and the implications for them. We owe each one of them a duty to ensure this opportunity is available... When I've seen women as a GP... one of the most common phrases I've heard is "I feel I have no choice". Instead, any woman should know that, if she wishes, she can get counselling through the NHS.'
Another part of his motion called for counselling to be independent of the abortion provider. Pickering explained: 'By no means would all women want this separation for them but it should be an option. If a woman may feel more comfortable discussing her situation elsewhere then surely this should be offered... this motion is about extending choice to women, not limiting it.'
Due to wording technicalities, this particular part was not passed as policy but was passed as a 'reference to Council'. In other words, the meeting was supportive of the spirit of it, and the BMA is still mandated to take the motion and do what they can to enact it, but is not bound by the exact wording.
A third part of the motion, also passed as reference, commits the BMA to working with the Department of Health to develop national guidelines for counselling, as there are currently none.
Overall, this is a great outcome in view of recent debates on counselling in Parliament, in the media and the promised public consultation on independent counselling provision. (3)
Many people assume that women considering abortion have access to independent counselling and advice. However there is no legal guarantee that they do. The drive to make abortion swift and easily accessible has meant that many women enter the process rushed, confused and panicked. Abortion is not always a fully informed, rationally made decision.
Many women are unaware of, or unable to access, truly independent counselling from providers who are not tied into the abortion industry, and can feel that they are on a conveyor belt towards just one option, abortion, rather than considering adoption or keeping the baby. It is right that independent counselling is offered to all women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, and it is encouraging that the BMA now recognises and supports this principle.