For some time, Nadine Dorries MP has been asking that women considering an abortion are given advice not by an organisation with vested interests in the abortion process (such as an abortion provider), but by an organisation offering independent counselling. She has put down a couple of amendments to this effect on the health and social care bill due to be debated when Parliament returns next week. It would appear that the Government has sought to pre-empt coalition MPs voting for these amendments by announcing that independent counselling should be provided, but not enshrined in legislation. (See this article in the Guardian.)
I wrote about this in May, when I discussed whether it was in fact possible for any organisation to provide truly independent information and advice on abortion without having some sort of vested interests. I see two problems with the suggestion that women considering an abortion should be guaranteed access to independent information and advice from someone who has no vested interest in the outcome of their decision.
Firstly, the conflict between expertise and independence. The people who are best able to provide information and advice about any given subject are those who know the most about it. And those who know most about a subject are most likely to have formed particular opinions. That is the intrinsic problem with expertise, the struggle at the heart of the issue — that as soon as you gain knowledge you lose independence. Only the ignorant are genuinely independent.
Secondly, the issue of vested interests. Ms Dorries has spoken of the vested financial interests of abortion providers. They get paid to carry out abortions, so therefore they must have a desire for there to be more abortions. Except that this isn’t quite right — the role of these organisations is to see whether a women wishes to have an abortion, and so they’ve successfully carried out their role no matter the outcome. Furthermore, vested interests aren’t just financial. They can also be moral or ideological. Beliefs are as important as money. Charities which receive donations for persuading women not to have abortions have just as vested a financial interest — indeed, even more so! — as organisations providing abortions.
If it’s not possible to provide truly independent advice on abortion, if the only independence comes with ignorance, if the only organisations in the field have vested financial, moral or ideological interests, then the Government must choose between expertise and independence. Given the problems with independence, I vote for expertise.
Update: I’ve been tweeting good things about this blog post, written by Niki Molnar of the CWO. She talks about the type of organisations who are “abortion providers”, and what they actually do. It’s a great post.