I've just received a letter from Frank Dobson, Patricia Hewitt and Christine McCafferty about some amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which is due back in the Commons on Monday for its report stage and Third Reading.
At the Committee stage, some of which was heard on the floor of the House so as to allow for free votes, there was an attempt to reduce the abortion time limit, which failed. Now those who opposed reducing the time limit are putting forward amendments which will remove the "clinically unnecessary restrictions which cause delay in abortions". (I'm quoting from their letter).
The new clauses are:
- to allow an abortion if a doctor certifies that the pregnancy has not exceeded its 24th week
- to permit suitably trained nurses and midwives to carry out certain abortions
- to allow abortions to take place in primary care premises
- to allow women to choose to be at home to complete the last stage of early medical abortion
- to require anti-abortion organisations to make clear they do not offer abortion services or neutral counselling
Not all these amendments will necessarily be selected for debate; that's up to the Speaker and partly depends on what other amendments have been submitted. There will presumably be free votes everything.
The first new clause is probably the most controversial. It removes the need for 2 medical practitioners to consent to a woman having a termination. This will no doubt lead to accusations that we're allowing 'abortion on demand'. The truth is, however, that the current restrictions don't stop women getting abortions; they just make it difficult, humiliating and more stressful for them to do so. If you want to check out all the amendments you can look at the Public Bill Committee pages - and then click on Amendment Papers and Proceedings. Other amendments worth noting: Nadine Dorries is calling again for a reduction to 20 weeks, and Edward Leigh wants to make women to have "a seven-day cooling-off period" and counselling before they go ahead with a termination (which I think implies they're being a bit emotional and irrational when they first make the decision, doesn't it?).
Evan Harris and John Bercow have also tabled amendments along similar lines. Nadine Dorries says on her blog "I would have thought that it would be hard to beat Evan Harris in his evangelical pursuit of gynaecological blood sports" and then goes to to imply that John Bercow has. Bercow also attracts flak on Conservative Home.
There are also amendments on the substantive issues in the bill - i.e. fertilisation treatment and embryology - but I think these will be overshadowed by the abortion debate.