The real threat to our reproductive rights in the coming years may not come only in the form of parliamentary legislations but ‘through the back door’ via the privatisation of our health system. The Tories Health Bill pushes for increased ‘outsourcing’ of our health services, which, alongside the private sector includes so-called ‘charitable’ organisations, which can be unaccountable and biased by their religious beliefs.
The name to watch right now is Care Confidential, an umbrella group for ‘pregnancy crisis’ centres run by local churches. In 2011, Newsnight and The Guardian revealed that Care Confidential Centres gave misinformation to women seeking advice on whether to seek a termination, and used a training manual which described abortion as an ‘evil’.
We’ve known for a long time that anti-choice organisations such as LIFE have tried to set themselves up as pregnancy counsellors. What’s new about Care Confidential is that they are currently seeking to bring all of its affiliated centres up to‘commissioning status’ standard. This means that under the Health and Social Care Bill they will be funded by our taxes to provide NHS services. One Care Confidential Centre, ‘Alternatives Pregnancy Choices’ in Newham, East London are already operating under the auspices of the NHS-run PCT.
However, the situation is complicated by the fact that while it used to be run by the charity Christian Action Research and Education (Care), which had a more explicit anti-abortion position, it became an independent charity last year and they are now trying to distance themselves (publicly at least) from its religious, anti-choice origins by saying that they are re-evaluating their materials and updating their messages to reflect “the diversity of people, of different faiths and none”. It has become more difficult to condemn Care Confidential outright because of this. Its organisational structure also means their centres are relatively autonomous and therefore variable in quality. This further complicates the picture and is worrying in terms of accountability and consistency of practice in terms of the services offered to women under the NHS banner. We need to consider all of these factors when fighting for the rights of all women to receive an excellent pregnancy advice service.
The fact is that the Health and Social Care Bill with its agenda of privatisation and local decision-making means that we are at increasing risk of finding ourselves in a situation where NHS sexual health services in our area can be run by Christian churches or other unaccountable organisations – all of whom have their own agendas other than putting the health and personal choice of women first.
This represents as much of a threat to our reproductive rights as Dorries’ Abstinence Bill or other parliamentary legislation which reduces the time limit for abortions. We in the Pro-Choice movement need to be alert to the changing political terrain and start seriously resisting the privatisation of the NHS.
This era of austerity marks a continuing crisis within the capitalist system. We are being pushed in many different directions in terms of where to invest our campaigning energies. While we must defend the existing rights of women in relation to the ‘choices’ we make with regards to our own bodies, we can also use the opportunity to demand something even better than the existing level and quality of reproductive-related services.
Feminist Fightback is conducting research about sex and relationships education and the effects of changing political structures on women’s reproductive services. We are hoping to make links with other orgs interested in these issues and campaign on specific areas.
If you want to get involved please get in touch