Nadine Dorries and Anti-Abortion Activism

As has been widely reported, the MPs Nadine Dorries and Frank Field recently put forward an amendment to be discussed in Parliament on the subject of abortion; according to Dorries:

Our amendment seeks to make provision for a woman presenting with an unplanned pregnancy to be offered counselling via her GP. At the present time, it can only be requested and paid for via the abortion provider. We think that presents a vested interest. 

In particular, Dorries complains about the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists:

The RCOG was charged by the previous government with the task of reviewing the 2004 guidelines regarding the care of a woman seeking an induced abortion.

Eighteen eminent members were formed into a working group to redraft the requested guidance, however, many doctors and professionals have been dismayed at the way the RCOG group has gone about its business.

The first point of concern is the group itself. Eleven of the group are abortionists, two are abortion clinic providers and one is a celebrity doctor.

…The very least members of the working group should have to do is declare their interests and state how much they earn from working in the abortion industry and where the money comes from.

Daylight is the best disinfectant. It’s time for the RCOG to move into this century and realise that operating in such a cloak and dagger manner is no longer acceptable. The public want to know what they are doing and why.

Dorries and Field have cooperated in the area of abortion law previously, and Dorries purports to take the middle ground:

This is the problem with pro-life and pro-choice. Pro-life want abortion banned entirely and pro-choice would like to go all the way to partial birth abortion. There is no place for either position in today’s society…

I apologise to those who are fed up reading about my position on abortion. I will not allow either pro-life or pro-choice to put me into each other’s camp.

I am in my camp, with Frank for company. That camp is pro-women. It is the middle, sensible, common sense ground and it’s where I am staying.

The problem is, though, that Dorries has a history of misrepresentation in this area (and in other areas, for that matter): back in November she introduced a pregnancy counselling organisation called Forsaken into a Parliamentary debate; she described it as being “neither pro-life nor pro-choice”, when its only publication is a booklet explaining that human life begins at conception and that women who have had abortions can find peace and God’s forgiveness by converting to Christianity. Her claim to be neither “pro-life nor pro-choice” is described by Unity at Ministry of Truth as a “wedge strategy”, and he notes her links to religious lobby groups:

A Powerpoint presentation produced by Dr Peter Saunders of the Christian Medical Fellowship for the Lawyers Christian Fellowship in 2007… indicates that Dorries’ current campaign and amendments are part of long-term strategy put together by an alliance of prominent anti-abortion organisations with the overall objective of securing the complete prohibition of abortion in the UK on any grounds, including rape, serious foetal abnormality and even serious risk to the life of mother.

There are already altogether far too many ‘coincidences’ between Dorries’ campaigning activities over the last five year and the contents of Peter Saunders presentation to plausibly sustain the fiction that Dorries is somehow operating independently of the UK’s highly organised anti-abortion lobby.

Saunders’ presentation was for a campaign called “Alive and Kicking”. Further:

In 2008, Dorries fronted a relatively high-profile campaign for a reduction in the upper limit to 20 weeks during which it emerged, in a Channel 4 documentary, that she was working behind the scenes with Saunders’ buddy, Andrea Minichiello Williams (ex-Lawyer Christian Fellowship, currently heading up Christian Concern and a director of the Christian Legal Centre). Her campaign website was also the work of one of Minichiello Williams’ operations (Christian Concern), a detail that Dorries chose not to mention at the time and, of course, having run a very public campaign for a 20 week upper limit, she actually voted for a 12 week limit, although not before she’d expressed a preference for a 9 week limit in comments at the Spectator.

I blogged on the Channel 4 documentary here; Christian Concern (at that time called “Christian Concern for Our Nation”) in turn has close links with the Alliance Defense Fund in the USA. Unity’s writing has drawn a hostile response from Dorries and from Saunders, both of who accuse him of having constructed a conspiracy theory (in Dorries’ case, she was for some reason moved to create a blog post using an exceptionally large font size). Unity has responded here, further noting that

Alive and Kicking self-consciously toned down its act during the [2008] Bill’s passage through the House of Commons in an effort to convey more of a ‘moderate’ image of their campaign to the general public, and they did this largely by limiting the information they included in press releases and relying on the press not to bother doing a full background check.

…Some of the information in the Saunders’ presentation was in the public domain at the time, but this did not include the information contained on the slides relating to abortion and rape, foetal abnormality or where a woman’s life is at risk – this information would have proved particularly toxic has it been made public at the time – nor did it include the information on other slides which outlined AAK’s acceptance and adoption of a gradualist approach to securing the total prohibition of abortion and set out its intentions to target both the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Psychiatrists in an effort to push their agenda.

Meanwhile, an anonymous “Right to Know Campaign” has appeared on the internet to complement the new amendment:

The Right to Know Campaign is backing an amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill being laid by Nadine Dorries MP and Rt Hon. Frank Field MP. The amendment would ensure that women considering an abortion would be guaranteed access to independent information and advice from someone who had no vested financial interest in the outcome of their decision.

…How can women be sure that they are getting independent information and advice when it comes from organisations that rely so heavily on charging the NHS for each abortion they carry out and so have a vested financial interest in an abortion going ahead.

Tim Ireland has looked for some more information about the campaign:

The people running the web presence for the Right to Know campaign have been asked via Twitter if they will declare who is funding/supporting their efforts, but they have declined to answer. They have also been asked via their YouTube account to provide some scant information about who is working the pumps, but have responded by deleting every such question without answering, and disabling comments on their campaign videos so these questions might be hidden from the public.

Further, a WHOIS lookup for the relevant domain name revealed that the registrant had violated the terms of service of the provider (Nominet) in order to hide their identity; they used a generic description in place of a name (‘Web Officer’) and hid the registering address from public view with a false claim that the site was the work of a private individual.

When Tim looked into Forsaken a few months ago, Dorries threatened to have him arrested for daring to do so, but he has  nevertheless persevered with Right to Know:

The registrant has so far refused to update the details to bring it in line with Nominet’s requirements, but last week Nominet did exercise their right to withdraw the privacy settings on the address.

…At this address is the office of the law firm Cooke Matheson, part of Wellers Law Group.

None of the people I spoke to initially at Wellers Law Group knew anything about any of this until Paul Martin popped up to theorise that it had not been registered by anyone in their organisation, but had instead been registered by a client.

The client remains undisclosed, although Tim notes that Paul Martin, like Dorries, has links with Christian Concern.

Of course, a hidden motivation or interest – whether religious or strategic – does not in itself invalidate the substantive content of an argument (“argument is argument”, as Johnson put it), but as Tim points out:

…Right to Know bases their entire argument on the position that women have a right to know about vested interests that influence the information they receive, and yet they do so without declaring their own interest(s).

As a complement to her efforts on the abortion counselling front, Dorries is also seeking to influence sex education; a 10 Minute Rule motion is to be discussed in Parliament in early May on the benefits of abstinence:

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require schools to provide certain additional sex education to girls aged between 13 and 16; to provide that such education must include information and advice on the benefits of abstinence from sexual activity; and for connected purposes.

Alas, the idea of Dorries pontificating on “the benefits of abstinence” is inherently ludicrous, given that just four months ago a man left his wife to become her lover. She does not explain to what “certain additional sex education” she has in mind, although it’s very likely to be materials derived from conservative evangelicals in the USA; such materials tend to stress female “purity”, which would explain the otherwise strangely exclusive focus on girls.