“Illegal” abortions? Distortions from Dorries, Lansley and the Telegraph

The Telegraph thinks it has a scoop. ONE IN FIVE ABORTION CLINICS BREAK THE LAW, it screams. Womb enthusiast Nadine Dorries and other uterus-fanciers have also jumped on this bandwagon, wheeling out faux-concern with the implicit subtext that maybe we should just shut down everything.

The Telegraph alleges:

The Daily Telegraph understands that more than 250 private and NHS clinics were visited and more than 50 were “not in compliance” with the law or regulations. Doctors were regularly falsifying consent forms and patients were not receiving acceptable levels of advice and counselling in many clinics, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) discovered.

I immediately decided that a better source of information on the matter would be to find the original CQC report, rather than a right-wing newspaper which has been quietly agitating against women’s bodily autonomy for the last few months. I searched and I searched. And it appears that the CQC report does not exist online. All search terms simply led back to a string of Telegraph articles on gender-selective abortions. On the CQC’s own website, precisely one search result for “abortion”, which is a response to the Telegraph articles and a promise to investigate, unhelpfully undated.

With this in mind, it is impossible to tell exactly how the abortion clinics are breaking the law, if the “one in five” statistic is true in the first place.

There are several ways in which the “one in five” statistic could be true. The first is the way the Telegraph spins the story: that 20% of abortion providers are evil baby-killing fraudsters who will stop at nothing to whip a girl-foetus out of an unwilling woman. This scenario seems extremely unlikely.

The second–and more plausible–way in which this can be true is if one worker in each of the “one in five” clinics was breaking some sort of law in some sort of way. The magnitude of the offences is largely unknown due to the fact that we cannot read the report to find out. 

It is impossible to tell exactly who is breaking the law here. The inspections happened at 250 clinics, who may or may not have been a representative sample of abortion providers across the UK. All we are told about the facilities is they were a mix of private and NHS providers: again, we cannot know whether these “illegal” occurrences were more likely to happen under private or public healthcare. Considering that the notably right-wing Telegraph hasn’t bothered making a fuss over “taxpayer’s money” paying for these “illegal” abortions, I’d hazard a guess that the private clinics were the ones with the bigger problems. This is purely, of course, an educated guess in a complete lack of information, given that we cannot read the report to find out. 

The “major” problem which was possibly discovered by the CQC if this report were actually available is “pre-signing” of paperwork. Under UK law, two doctors must sign off on the procedure, and in an unknown number of abortions that were not adequately following procedure, some doctors signed the form without bothering with the consultation. While possibly negligent, this also suggests that perhaps some medical professionals do not believe it is necessary for two doctors to complete the procedure: it may be that this is a redundant safeguard which is rejected by those with more knowledge in the area. Pre-signing, though, is a different kettle of fish entirely to the alleged “falsified consent forms”

Along with the probably-not-entirely-fictitious CQC report, it is interesting to note what the Telegraph has chosen to lump in with its screaming about “illegal” abortions: patients not receiving acceptable levels of counselling. The thing with this is, that this isn’t illegal at all. There is nothing in the 1967 Abortion Act making this compulsory. To imply otherwise is highly disingenuous and clearly misleading.

To summarise, the Telegraph “investigation” and Nadine Dorries’s interpretation thereof is dodgy because:

  • There is a vast difference between “illegal” and “not in compliance with regulations”
  • The report cited is not available to the public to critically appraise
  • We do not know who has been failing to comply with regulations
  • We do not know how exactly they were failing to comply with regulations
  • We do not even know if any of the report cited is true at all
  • Throwing in references to “counselling” is irrelevant to any discussion of abortion providers breaking the law

So what function does all of this distortion serve? Odious twat Andrew Lansley makes it clear, his head sadly still not perched atop a pike:

“I was appalled,” he said. “Because if it happens, it is pretty much people engaging in a culture of both ignoring the law and trying to give themselves the right to say that although Parliament may have said this, we believe in abortion on demand.”

Mr Lansley warned that so-called abortion on demand was not acceptable. “It’s not what Parliament intended and it’s not what the law provides for,” he said. “My job is to enforce the law.”

That’s right. Abortion on demand is apparently not acceptable. We do not live in a free society wherein any person can choose to end a pregnancy. Despite the illusory freedom we have, it has become abundantly clear that there are some elements who wish to control the bodily autonomy of women, and will gladly do this through misleading–or perhaps outright lying. Abortion on demand is nothing more than a loaded term for “choice”.

This story highlights the precariousness of our freedom. The body fascists have opened up new avenues of attack, and we must be ready.


Update: It has just come to my attention that there is yet another distortion in the Telegraph piece: although they mention sex-selective abortions, they never state that any instances of this were actually found. Had the report identified this occurring, and given the Telegraph have been banging this drum for months, they would definitely gloat about this. Therefore, the only reason this is mentioned at all is in order to foster this implicit association in readers that sex-selective abortions are commonplace. Which they aren’t at all.

Update 2: @bloggerheads has found the date of the only CQC search result for abortion: 23rd February 2012.

16 thoughts on ““Illegal” abortions? Distortions from Dorries, Lansley and the Telegraph”

  1. Your criticism appears to be based only on the fact that you haven’t seen it.

    On a point of information, as the regulations are statutory a deliberate or negligent breach is illegal.

    1. I’d hope all my regular readers possessed the critical skills to understand that without seeing the data we can’t substantiate any of the claims.

  2. Useful. I note that links to sources are entirely absent from Newspapers, with the sporadic exception of the Financial Times.

    Adam Bernard ( @Pseudomonas ) built some software tools and (I think) assists in a web service that finds the original scientific publication whenever there’s a ‘science story’ in the press: distortion and exaggeration are universal, claiming things the paper doesn’t support is common, and claiming something contradicted in the source paper paper is entirely unsurprising…

    However, this isn’t a science publication, it’s an HMG report; so @Pseudomonas probably can’t help you.

    Assuming a source can be identified at all. “We just made it up, and said there’s a study” is more common in the Daily Mail than other papers, but the Telegraph is not above such things.

  3. Surely it’s of the essence of a scoop that the information isn’t available elsewhere? I’m not comfortable, either, with the idea that doctors can break the law because they know better – what next? Accountants ignoring those tax regulations they find annoying or burdensome?

    1. Research is almost always (unless it’s HIGHLY dodgy) available for free.

      If you fancy a slippery slope argument, let’s try it this way: imagine you have a wisdom tooth that needs removing. Rather than pulling it, the dentist must seek a second opinion from another dentist and faff around for a while before you can have the procedure.

  4. Great piece I’m not familiar with Nadine Dorries but she certainly sounds like a Michelle Bachman type, uncompromising never let facts get in the way, guided only by religious dogma.

  5. Well, if people are ignoring the law, we just abolish the law so they can’t break it. That is how the coalition roll according to the Chancellor. In order to prevent “pre-signing”, no signatures will now be needed.

    1. While satirical, there is a good point here: the “two doctor” rule is somewhat archaic, and if medical professionals are rejecting it, perhaps it ought to genuinely be revised!

      1. I think that’s the crux of it. If the guidance is redundant and pointless it should be scrapped. Same with abortion on demand – if it’s the right thing to institute then the law should change to support it.

        I’m not sure I’m too keen on the idea of doctors not following mandated procedure just because they don’t personally agree with it – and falsifying patient consent is Serious Business, even if its done for the ‘right’ reasons.

        If you want to get a copy of the report, you can get it through an FOI request to the CQC. It’s people like you that should be using that sort of law, rather than biased journos.

        1. Dear God, I hadn’t entertained the prospect of FOI-ing the document. I shall get on this immediately.

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