Thursday, 4 November 2010

Dorries and her "Evidence"

"Oh not her again?" I hear you shout....but yes dear reader, I believe I am yet again justified in mentioning my elected representative. Dorries is a proud and noted campaigner against abortion, and in a civilised society, we of course encourage differing opinions. I do not necessarily disagree with everything she says, any more than I agree with everything either. However, we find ourselves in a position to be questioning her "facts" and "Evidence" yet again.

On her blog, she has very kindly produced the transcript of the debate the other night. In a nutshell, Dorries wants it to be law that women seeking an abortion get counselling and advice on the alternatives. She cites evidence that in other countries that have this as law, that abortion rates are lower. Now this is exactly the kind of evidence and research that gets her into trouble. There is no direct causal evidence that this is the case, but if she states it enough, it seems to become the truth in her eyes. She mentions

"A major longitudinal 30-year survey published inThe British Journal of Psychiatry in 2008 showed clearly-after adjustment for confounding variables-that women who had had abortions had rates of mental disorder 30% higher than women who had not."

It is very clear when you read the report that it does not come to that conclusion at all. The report was produced in response to the 1994 report that came to the conclusion that there was no effect whatsoever on the mental health of those having an abortion. The 2008 report says that whilst it acknowledges that mental health can be an issue, there is NO CLEAR EVIDENCE to suggest that there is a direct link. In fact, it states quite clearly that there has simply not been enough evidence. Where are the stats to compare the mental health of those who were persuaded not to have the abortion? The report clearly explains that there has not been enough research in this field. Whilst the report does state that many women suffer from mental health issues after an abortion, there is no clear way of measuring whether this mental health issue was as a cause of the abortion or whether it existed already. Again, this is all in the report.

We must also look at the law that currently exists. The 1967 abortion act states that a termination can only take place under certain conditions, one of these is as follows;

"The continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman...’"

So there is already provision in the law to ensure that the ongoing well being of the mother is taken into account. In fact the study carried out in 1994 suggest that 94% of terminations are justified on these grounds.

Now I am not suggesting that the law is perfect in this case, but statements such as

"No consideration whatsoever is taken of the state of a mother's mental health when she asks for an abortion"

are clearly not true, and in fact could be quite damaging to the medical profession. Dorries sits of the select committee for health, and should know better.

The conclusion of the report is clearly that there is more evidence required, in fact in it's summary of position, it states

"The specific issue of whether or not induced abortion has harmful effects on women’s mental health remains to be fully resolved. The current research evidence base is inconclusive – some studies indicate no evidence of harm, whilst other studies identify a range of mental disorders following abortion."

It would appear that the 70/30% ratio has been somewhat skewed again.

It would also appear that in presenting this evidence to parliament, Dorries is citing a brand new organisation called "Forsaken", and a booklet that they produced which gives some examples of five women who went through terminations. The "Evidence" of five women cannot, under any circumstances, be accepted as evidence of scientific fact. When you look at some of the connections this group has, it would appear that yet again, Dorries is pushing her pro-life agenda by stealth. In effect, she has allied herself with some, shall we say, eccentric Christian organisations that exist simply to preach their views, and will only use scientific evidence when it suits them. This is of course the same on both sides of the argument, and it makes evidence gathering by impartial scientists extremely difficult. It is a far more complex issue than Dorries suggests.

My concern here is two-fold. Firstly that Dorries has been economical with the truth in terms of what the report actually said

Secondly, that someone within the Health select committee is pushing what is in effect Christian fundamentalism under the banner of "Women's rights"


  1. I agree with your general direction, but might not an argument be that the 67 act is *not* being complied with?

    In which case, the correct cause of action is not to change the law but to enforce it, of course.

  2. I agree with Martin that the Act is not being complied with. Whether the Act says what needs to be said in this day and age is a different matter but as it stands S1 is quite clear:
    - There must be a reasoned opinion of 2 medical practitioners.
    - The pregnancy is not beyond 24 weeks and there is a risk to the physical or mental health of the mother or any of her existing children.
    - Necessary to prevent grave injury to the mother, physical or mental.
    - Continuance of pregnancy is a bigger medical risk than termination.
    - Risk of physical or mental abnormalities or handicap.

    This Act makes no provision for termination "on demand" but nobody can realistically claim that this isn't happening.

  3. I entirely agree with you both, but Dorries' argument was that there is no provision in law, which is clearly not the case