The claim
“You tell Bpasyou (sic) are usure (sic) what to do and would like to talk to someone and you are told to get on your bike and travel to Richmond because the only hour for a clinic with the largest thru (sic) put of abortions has been taken.”
Nadine Dorries’ blog, Dr Death and the Central London Clinic, 4th September 2011

Cathy Newman checks it out

You can’t fault the vigour with which Nadine Dorries is pursuing her campaign to change abortion advice offered to women in England. But just as truth is often the first casualty of war, so it seems that as the Tory MP steps up her parliamentary offensive, the facts are in danger of being distorted.

At the moment, women who want an abortion are given counselling. Guidelines from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists state that that advice should be impartial and unbiased.

But Ms Dorries says that charities like the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Bpas) can’t guarantee being impartial, because they not only carry out abortions but give women counselling too.

She’s proposed an amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill to stop charities doing both. Pro-choice campaigners say that could mean faith groups morally opposed to abortion will have too much influence. We FactChecked Ms Dorries’ claims on this last week and found her wanting. But today she had another go, so we’ve returned to the fray.

The analysis

Nadine Dorries’ latest charge is that the British Pregnancy Advisory Service’s (Bpas) central London clinic only has an hour a week that it dedicates to counselling sessions. And if you can’t make that session at London’s “largest” Bpas clinic, or if it’s booked, you’ll be unceremoniously packed off to their Richmond clinic.

Dorries argues that while medical consultations are widely available, non-medical counselling sessions are not. She told FactCheck that her claims were based on the findings of an investigative newspaper journalist whom she’d spoken to.

In essence, Dorries is right about its central London clinic only offering an hour a week in counselling. Bpas confirmed this to both Dorries’ journalist source and FactCheck. But, there are some crucial facts from Bpas that have been ignored.

And today Bpas hit back at Dorries for what it called “another wilful misrepresentation” of its services. (read last week’s charges here).

Bpas told the investigative journalist in an email: “Our Central London clinic is much smaller with one session reserved for women who request stand-alone pre-abortion counselling a week. Some weeks this is not used at all, but our service is flexible enough to provide more such sessions as and when they are requested, and does so.”

This means that if there’s demand, Bpas will meet it. While the journalist omitted this fact to FactCheck when reading the email out, Bpas forwarded the correspondence.

Bpas has insisted to FactCheck that if the hour’s slot has been taken, it can switch one of its ‘consultation’ slots to a counselling appointment. It also told us that consultations include counselling, and are normally the first stop for women who might then ask for further counselling if needed.

Bpas told FactCheck that last week, there were 67 consultation sessions at the London clinic, but not one counselling session booked in. The clinic, which incidentally is not its largest as Dorries claims, is open 8/8.45am to 5pm Monday – Friday, alongside a late Thursday session and Saturday opening.

Bpas’ central London clinic only treats women who are up to nine weeks pregnant – it is dwarfed by their Richmond and Streatham clinics – which provide services for women up to 24 weeks pregnant.

Richmond, for example, booked in 117 consultations last week. It offers two hourly counselling sessions a day, and of these, while Bpas couldn’t provide exact numbers (as it is now closed for the day) it told us that more than double that number were booked in – proving they are capable of responding to any demand which might arise.

Bpas told us: “We can definitively say that the one hour session is not the only session available, and not the only counselling that takes place.”

Incidently, since FactCheck contacted Dorries this afternoon, she has updated her blog – claiming to have given us the “research” she referred to on Radio 4 – in actual fact anecdotal findings passed to her by an undercover journalist.

Cathy Newman’s verdict

Nadine Dorries has in the past described late abortion as ‘murder’.  She speaks with some authority, because as a nurse she assisted in terminations.

And that is precisely what’s motivated her tenacious campaign to restrict abortion rights.

But Ms Dorries does herself a disservice by failing to stick to the facts. A distressed 16 year old who finds herself pregnant would not be sent on her way by Bpas.

To suggest otherwise is a scare story which doesn’t befit an MP, let alone a former nurse.

The analysis by Emma Thelwell

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