I want to speak, if I may, on new clause 28. I thought a consultant who wrote to me summed it up very well: “Of course, we recognise that the Bill is important in view of widespread psychological, physical and emotional sexual abuse of women.” That is a view we all share. However, new clause 28 relates to the enabling of access to abortions in abusive relationships and the effect of the new clause will be to lead the way to coercive abortions within the concept of abusive relationships.
The consultant continued: “From a clinical perspective, I cannot understand how there would be any confidence in detecting an abusive relationship on the basis of a telephone conversation or audio-visual interview. How can the clinician distinguish between a false claim of abuse in order for the women to access a home abortion and a genuinely abusive relationship in which the woman might well be coerced into having an abortion by a partner or other family members? As a consultant”—I stress that this is not my argument, but the consultant’s argument—“I would take any abusive relationship very seriously, as it may directly impact upon patient welfare and raise important safeguarding issues. Indeed, what would be the situation if the doctor believes in ‘good faith’ that a ‘home abortion’ is being forced on the woman as the result of an abusive relationship with the father? The presumption behind the new clause is that the woman wants an abortion, but is prevented from proceeding because of the abusive relationship. However, it is likely that in the context of an abusive relationship she is being forced to have the abortion by her partner. New clause 28 would enable access to such coercive or forced abortions in abusive relationships.” That is a very clear argument from a consultant working in the field about the dangers of new clause 28.
There is also quite a lot that is unclear about new clause 28. For example, it is unclear whether a woman could have abortions anywhere and also whether the unborn child would have to be of a certain gestational age. That is why it is important that my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce set out in her amendments that there should be a proper inquiry before the temporary order is made perfect. I think the Government share that point of view.
All these arguments indicate that, since these changes have occurred, we have not had the time or the means to properly scrutinise the consequences of these changes. Such consequences include: women suffering from severe complications; and a woman afraid to phone for advice after experiencing severe complications due to a controlling partner. Perhaps most importantly, the at-home abortion policy could result in more women being coerced into unwanted abortions. As Dr Gregory Gardner, a GP and honorary clinical lecturer at the University of Birmingham, highlighted in his witness statement:
“It will be difficult if not impossible to verify by phone or video whether a woman is undergoing any kind of duress to have an abortion. There does not seem to have been any consideration given to this in the proposed change in policy. There will be women who need delicate counselling to discover coercion or other forms of abuse.”
His testimony highlights the fact that, if we pass this new clause, it will go against the very aims of this Bill, as a phone call often fails to illustrate whether a woman is in a domestic abuse situation.