Today, at the Annual Representative Meeting of the BMA, members voted in favour of the following motion:
“That this Meeting:-
i) supports the universal availability of neutral counselling for women considering abortion;
ii) believes that any counselling provided for women considering abortion should accord with NHS
iii) believes that women considering abortion should be able to access counselling that is
independent of the abortion provider;
iv) deplores picketing and intimidation around abortion services.”
As the Telegraph reports:
We’re glad to hear that doctors are supportive of neutral counselling for pregnant women which accords with NHS standards. We’re also pleased to see that there is no attempt to make counselling mandatory - not every woman wants or needs additional counselling when making her decision about a pregnancy and forcing women to access this service could simply provide unnecessary delay.
It’s also positive that the motion does not recommend stripping abortion providers of their role in counselling, as has previously been suggested by Nadine Dorries. Should they wish, women are of course currently able to access counselling independent of the NHS. However, this counselling will not be regulated in the same way as that taking place at official Pregnancy Advice Bureaux registered with the Department of Health. Our own research has shown that a number of independent centres offering pregnancy options counselling have given biased or inaccurate information and we therefore remain cautious about any attempts to dissuade women from accessing registered, trusted services.
What is excellent to see is that the motion condemns the picketing and intimidation that has been taking place outside abortion clinics across the country. We know that women who feel comfortable about having made their own, informed decision about a pregnancy are those who have the best outcomes following either a choice to end or continue the pregnancy. It’s heartening that the BMA members acknowledge the detrimental effect harassment of pregnant women can have on their wellbeing and autonomy and how important it is that any counselling given is impartial and non-directive.
This reflects the GMC's guidance on personal beliefs and medical practice, which advises doctors that:
"Patients have a right to information about their condition and the options available to them. You must not withhold information about the existence of a procedure or treatment because carrying it out or giving advice about it conflicts with your religious or moral beliefs."