[Background/details for those who are new to this; the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Health (Anne Milton) has surprised many (including me) by inviting a religious pro-abstinence, anti-abortion group (LIFE) to take part in “a new sexual health forum set up to replace the Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health and HIV” (source). A leading abortion provider that places heavy emphasis on contraception (bpas) was displaced as a result (more). Nadine Dorries is a Tory back-bencher anti-abortion campaigner with a relaxed attitude to facts, science and what have you (example) with a history of broadcasting dark accusations/implications about ‘pro abortion’ forces, who she claims/implies are so motivated by profit, that they are likely to convince women to have an abortion when it is not the best solution for them example). All emphasis in bold (below) is mine.]
Yesterday, Nadine Dorries published this claim on her site:
The news that the Government has ejected BPAS from the new sexual health forum and replaced them with the charity LIFE is pleasing… – Nadine Dorries
But later, when she was invited on Newsnight to discuss the matter, she put this to Ann Furedi, who appeared on behalf of bpas:
Unfortunately, bpas has taken its bat and ball home and decided that because it can’t sit as well as Marie Stopes that it won’t be involved. Both organisations were offered alternate week sittings and bpas have decided not to be part of the debate. – Nadine Dorries on Newsnight (segment starts 21:49, comment appears at 25:12 onwards)
I sought a statement from bpas in response, and got the following from Clare Murphy:
We note Nadine Dorries’ blog from yesterday stating that bpas was “ejected” from the group and her pleasure at this development. She went on subsequently however to suggest that we had left of our own volition. This is not true.
bpas and Marie Stopes International (MSI) were both invited to the first meeting in January of the Sexual Health Forum but were asked to share membership, alternating attendance. At the meeting the MSI Vice President and the chief executive of bpas both said that this arrangement was problematic: bpas and MSI have quite different structures, values, objectives and approaches, and that the discontinuity inherent in such an arrangement would make it unworkable. The Department of Health seemed sympathetic and said they would reconsider.
On Thursday of last week, Ann Furedi was told by a Department of Health official that the invitation to bpas was withdrawn and that MSI were being asked to represent the independent sector. The justification was that the Minister had insisted that, in the interests of balance, only one abortion provider could attend and that as Ann Furedi had attended the previous sexual health group, SHIAG (a group made up of personal appointments rather than from representatives from each organisation) it was ‘MSI’s turn’. It was also confirmed that, since the founding meeting, the Minister had insisted that Life be invited to join the Sexual Health Forum.
On Newsnight, Dorries claimed that she had spoken to the Department of Health that very afternoon, and (steel yourselves) this does appear to be a carefully spun briefing against bpas from an unnamed source at the Department of Health (i.e. instead of the more frequent occurrence; a lie or distortion devised by Dorries herself).
So far, no-one in the Department for Health is willing to stand behind any assertion that a bpas decision to exclude their organisation from the debate resulted in LIFE being invited in their place.
There is also this, which I will repeat. It’s a matter of interest to anyone surprised by Anne Milton’s stance on this:
It was also confirmed that, since the founding meeting, the Minister had insisted that Life be invited to join the Sexual Health Forum.
On what grounds did Anne Milton specify LIFE for inclusion (or does she perhaps dispute what bpas claim)?
Either way, I think the public have a right to call Milton on this; to ask her to properly explain her thinking/actions, and to take a clear position on what Dorries has claimed on her department’s behalf.
That said, I am not used to straight answers from Anne Milton, and I fear a sense of disappointment looms.