Debunking Dorries

Time for another episode of ‘Debunking Dorries’ in which your genial host – me – takes a look at some the claims made by Nadine Dorries in support of her campaign for greater restrictions on access to legal abortion…

…and then takes them apart.

And for your delight and delectation, its two for one night on Debunking Dorries as her claims that Britain risks becoming the abortion ‘capital’ of Europe, or maybe the world depending on how hysterical you prefer your newspapers and that it has the most liberal abortion laws in the European Union/Europe as a whole, go under the scanning electron microscope and come out the other side in tiny little pieces – just like Dorries’ public reputation and credibility as an MP.

So, what about this abortion capital business? Where does that take us…

Well, for one thing, we’re not even top of the European league at the moment, as depending on how your score it, that honour goes either to the ‘cheese-eating abortion monkeys’* over the other side of La Manche (France) which racked up over 210,000 abortions in 2004, or if you prefer to go by percentage of pregnancies aborted then its the ‘gas-hoarding-ex-commies’ of Russia where in 2005, 52.5% of pregnancies ended with a flush rather than a flourish.

* You’ll have to excuse me, but I am translating here into ‘Bigot’, the universal language of many of Dorries’ supporters.

In the full European League, we’re the Blackburn Rovers of abortion – solidly mid-table but never quite able to push hard enough to make up in the Champions League places. EU-wise you can take your pick from Chelsea or the Gooners (Arsenal), good for second place but no match for the Manchester United of abortion, the Ikea crew from Sweeeeeeden.

(Stats courtesy of the excellent Johnston Archive. Watch and learn, Nadine, that’s a thing called a “hyperlink” leading to something called “evidence” – to get the full effect of that sentence, please visualise Dr Evil when you get to the quotation marks.)

That’s Europe settled, but how do we do when it comes to the World Cup?

Well, all things considered, our performance makes Steve McLaren look like Brian Clough.

Data this time comes from the Guttmacher Institute and an ‘oldie but goldie’,  a report entitled ‘The Incidence of Abortion Worldwide‘ by Stanley K. Henshaw, Susheela Singh and Taylor Haas; Family Planning Perspectives, Jan 1999 – oh, aren’t we getting a bit flash, that’s not just a hyperlink, its a proper reference, Nadine.

Now we’re digressing a little here to take in a related question – does placing legal restrictions on the availability of abortion lead to fewer abortions? That’s seems to  what Nadine is suggesting when she claims that cutting the Uk’s upper limit to 20 weeks will ‘save’ more than 2,000 lives a year.

So, lets look at what the state of play is – well, was, because the data’s a bit old but still useful for illustrative purposes – is a few countries that have stringent restrictions on access to abortion.

Let’s try Brazil, shall we – its a Catholic as it comes and its abortion laws are about as restrictive as it gets, i.e. illegal unless the life of the mother is at serious risk or conception is as a result of rape. Brazil is Ratzi Country and gets the full Papal Bull of approval for its laws, so while there’s an awful lot of coffee in Brazil there’s little or no incidence of abortion. Right?


Using WHO estimates for number of unsafe abortions of the backstreet variety, our intrepid researchers arrived at a best estimate of 1.44 million abortion per year, with a possible range running anywhere from just over a million to just over 2 million with an estimated abortion rate of 40.8 per 1000 women aged between 15 and 44, giving an estimated 29.8% of pregnancies ending in a termination.

Illegal they may be, but there’s clearly an awful lot of abortions in Brazil – no wonder they drink so much coffee…

To put that in perspective, Britain’s standardised abortion is rate is around 18 per 1000 women between 15 and 44 and around 20-21 of pregnancies ending in abortion – ain’t statistics just a blast!

It’s the same story in other South American countries once you get past the idea that illegal doesn’t mean no abortions, it just means a very healthy local market for coat-hangers, knitting needles and, sadly, coffins.

Take Peru, home of the Incas and Paddington Bear – an estimated 271,000 abortion, a rate of 56.1 per 100 women aged… (you know the drill by now) and 30% of pregnancies ending by way of a coat-hanger.

How about Chile? Estimated 160,000 abortions, a rate of 50 per 1000 and 35.3% of pregnancies going the way of the knitting needle. Damn, even Pinochet would have to have been impressed by those numbers.

And Columbia, home of the Grand of Duke of Marching Powder… 288,000 abortions, 36.3 per 1000 rate and 26% of pregnancies ending in termination. But what the hell, at least you get wasted afterwards.

This is the back end of the 1990’s we’re talking here and there’s an estimated 46 million abortions worldwide of which 20 million were carried out illegally in countries where there is either a total or near total ban on abortion or where access is heavily restricted…

Yep, prohibition works every fucking time, just as long as you don’t ask too many questions about the mortality rate in women aged… look, you know the drill.

Taken globally, dear old liberal Western Europe has, based on WHO estimates, the LOWEST abortion rate of ANY REGION in the world and the LOWEST ratio of abortion to pregnancies of ANY REGION in the world, and you can damn well bet your ass, or better still the one your neighbour has that you really shouldn’t coveting, that Western Europe also has THE LOWEST rate of female mortality of ANY REGION in the world.

Abortion laws DO save lives, the lives of women who get to have an abortion performed by qualified and competent physicians in a nice clean clinic rather than Cluedo-style…

I suspect Mrs Witchdoctor, in the Shanty Town, with the knitting needle.

What about us Brits having the most ‘liberal’ abortion laws in Europe… bollocks.

Let’s get the big whopper out the way first – and we’re not talking Burger King here. The figure you’ll see bandied around is that many European countries have an abortion ‘limit’ of 12-13 weeks, while ours is current 24 weeks, which is true… from a certain perspective.

You see there’s a catch, because many European countries a system of abortion on request. You need an abortion, you pop along to the clinic, sign the forms and… it all goes through without any of the fucking around with two doctors signing your paperwork and any of the pretending to be at risk of going doolally tap if they don’t shift the parasite by Wednesday.

In many European countries, women have an honest-to-goodness RIGHT to have an abortion provided they exercise that right within the first 12 weeks after conception, and the 12-13 week limit that you keep hearing about is the upper limit at which that legal right is in effect.

Now that’s actually a MORE LIBERAL system than the one we have in the UK in law, even if, in practice, our own system operates in much the same way only no one will actually admit it for fear of bringing the resident god botherers out in self-righteous hives.

After 12 weeks, well then things get a bit more varied…

Let’s look at Sweeeeden, when the law provides for the following grounds and limits:


Up to 18 weeks – On request

Up to 22 weeks (foetal viability – Swedish style) – ‘Strong reasons’

No limit • If it is presumable that, owing to illness or bodily defect on the part of the woman, the pregnancy entails a serous danger to her life or health (with permission of the National Board of Health and Welfare)

So, a touch lower on the viability front at 22 weeks but much more liberal in terms of on request and quite what ‘strong reasons’ might is anyone’s guess, plus an up to birth provision if the women’s life is at risk.

That’s pretty liberal, especially the on request provisions.

Let’s try another which get’s routinely quoted, the Netherlands…


Up to thirteen weeks – On request

Up to fetal viability (24 weeks in practice 22 to allow for safe margin of error) – If the pregnant woman attests to a state of distress, to be jointly defined by the woman and the doctor.

So, before 13 weeks its an on demand service and after that you simply have to pop along to your doctor and give it the full Penelope Pitstop – ‘Hey-lp, hey-lp, I’m in distress…’ – and as long as your Doctor ain’t secretly the Hooded Claw then everything should be hunky dory.

Still looks pretty fucking liberal to me – again the time limits a down a touch on the UK but we have another on demand service, with no monkeying around with the medics.

How about another Catholic country – say Spain?


Up to 12 weeks – Rape

Up to 22 weeks – If the fetus, if carried to term, will suffer from severe physical or mental defects

No limit – If the abortion is necessary to avert a serious risk to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman

Okay, so the 12 week rape thing looks a bit shitty on paper… until you realise that carrying a foetus conceived by way of rape is s also likely to create a serious risk to the mental health of the pregnant woman and Bob’s your Inquisitor, there’s no limit.

All of which explains why Spain is a favoured destination amongst the very few British women who really do need a late one and miss out on our own 24 week limit.

This 12 weeks in Europe thing is much more complicated than it looks.

The Czech Republic allows abortions up to 24 weeks if there are genetic grounds – I’d get the fuck out quick if were you, PragueTory.

Cyprus has no gestational limit only a range of set grounds, although in practice few if any abortions take place after 28 weeks.

Denmark has up to 12 weeks on request and allows second trimester abortions (up to 24 weeks) on a range a different ground including:

Risk of ‘severe deterioration of woman’s physical or mental health’, and

If it can be assumed that pregnancy, childbirth or care of a child constitutes a serious burden to the woman which cannot otherwise be averted

So not only do women have the Penny Pitstop route, but this ‘serious burden’ clause which looks about as open ended as its possible to get.

Germany looks pretty strict – the ‘state of distress’ card has to be played up 12 weeks after which women can go to 22 weeks…

To avert danger to life of woman

To avert the danger of a grave impairment of the physical or emotional state of health of the pregnant woman (and the danger cannot be averted in another way which is reasonable for her)

Until you get to the small print

Note: the mental health risks for the woman include the ones caused by fetal malformation, and general health risks caused by adverse socio-economic conditions

So poverty is effectively grounds for an abortion in Germany, which strikes me as a very honest position to task.

Across much of Eastern Europe the laws tend to be pretty liberal – most were written back in the days when the ‘damn-commie-bastards’ were still in charge and many newly independent states have had better things to do than fuck around with abortion laws that weren’t causing them any problems.

There are exceptions – Poland has just about the tightest laws anywhere in Europe, with the exception of Malta, which has a total ban, but what do you expect from a country that had one of its own headlining the Vatican’s ‘kissing the tarmac’ tours for a good few years.

And while we’re on the subject, the Vatican has no abortion laws at all, because there’s obviously no shagging allowed… and Altar boys rarely, if ever, get pregnant anyway.

Here’s another interesting question – how do we actually define Europe?

Do we go with just geography or do we think a little more politically or socially, and if we do, whose rules do we play by? The EU’s perhaps? Or maybe we go with UEFA and the Eurovision Song contest, which allows to consider what Israel has to say on abortion…


No gestational limit is set

• The woman is under marriage age (17) or over 40
• Rape or other sexual crime
Pregnancy result of a relationship outside marriage (any unmarried woman, single, divorced or widow, is legally entitled to an abortion)
• The child is likely to have a physical or mental defect
• Risk to life of woman
• Continuing pregnancy is likely to cause the woman physical or mental harm

Fuck me, I think of a few council estates where you could abort the entire population if you brought in the one about all unmarried women being legally entitle to an abortion.

That’s a doozy – it’s either incredibly liberal or incredibly sexist and I’m buggered if I can decide which.

Of course the reason why there are no gestational limits in Israel is because Talmudic law holds that life begins with the first breath, as per the story of creation of Adam in Genesis, and the first breath take place only after a neonate is born and given the ritual slap on the arse to get the show on the road, all of which seems rather to fuck with this business of life beginning with conception that our native god botherers go in for – it’s what, 70%, maybe even 80%, the same fucking book and yet we get two entirely different answers.

If you want to know exactly what the legal position is in various countries across Europe and how much the regulations vary from country to country then – yes its evidence time again – the International Planned Parenthood Federation (European Network) provides an imaginatively titled guide, Abortion Legislation in Europe (pdf), which can be yours for only the price of a download from the Family Planning Association and a bit of curiosity.

No repeat after me…

Britain is at risk of becoming the abortion capital of Europe and has the most liberal abortion laws in Europe…

Britain is at risk of becoming the abortion capital of Europe and has the most liberal abortion laws in Europe…

Britain is at risk of becoming the abortion capital of Europe and has the most liberal abortion laws in Europe…

…and please leave your brain, your integrity and any and all sense of reason at the door before leaving.

Mind the doors…

8 thoughts on “Debunking Dorries

  1. The funny thing is: Nads would never come here and debate with you. Not only would she not have a fucking leg to stand on, but her Christian overlords probably wouldn’t let her loose anyway.

  2. Interesting post, and one which caused me some mirth. At the risk of spoiling the party however, I must confess to some confusion as to why this critic begins by basing their arguments on statistics gathered by someone who merely describes themselves as “a Star Trek fan” and as a student of space physics (“the excellent Johnston Archive”), rather than either national statistics archives or the medical research literature:

    The second reference cited, which is seemingly from an academic source albeit arguably a biased one, relates to data that is from 1995 – hardly up to date!

    When it comes to the “estimates” of abortion in other countries, one needs to ask how exactly the estimate has been estimated, using what actual real data. Otherwise, one person’s guess is no better than another person’s unsubstantiated opinion.

  3. Simple answer here – it’s because the owner of the site does a pretty good job of aggregating statistics from a range of credible sources and is entirely open about both their scope and limitations.

    I did, on first coming across the site, do a bit of cross-checking against national archives and UN/WHO datasets everything checks out give or take the odd statistical variation – Johnston’s data tends to be raw rather an age-adjusted so there may be some variations between his quoted abortion rates for countries and the normalised figures provided by government agencies, which might present problems were I trying to correlate abortion data with other social indicators but for the illustrative purposes for which they’re used here then they’re more than adequate.

    And if the guy also like Star Trek, so what – he’s a space physicist and they’re all Trekkies, so what does that prove.

    And if the Guttmacher paper is one th old side… let’s face it, I called it an ‘oldie but goldie’ and gave the publication date, so I’m hardly hiding trying to conceal its age, and again, so what!

    If you’ve got a specific critique of its methodology or evidence to show that the report is in error or that a significant change in circumstances has taken place that invalidates some of the data, then feel free to elucidate further.

    If not then I’ll take it that you’re nitpicking because you lack any substantive counterarguments and we’ll leave it that.

  4. Interesting you mention UN/WHO statistics – I took a look at some of the same stats compiled on maternal mortality rates (supported by the IPPF) and contrary to your suggestion that “Abortion saves lives”, the safest country in the world is Ireland with a maternal mortality rate of 1 in 100,000 in comparison with the UK

  5. And does the UN/WHO provide any data on abortion tourism?

    Ireland may prohibit abortion, but that doesn’t prevent just over 5,000 women a year coming to the UK to access abortion services, plus another 1700 or so from Ulster where abortion remains illegal…

    …and while I haven’t scouting around for data (yet) I’m willing to bet that the main effect of Poland’s adoption of prohibition has been a rise in Polish women accessing abortion services in neighbouring countries.

    However the main problem with your point is that it relies on an easily disproved correlation implies causation fallacy, just watch…

    Sweden has a higher abortion rate than the UK on the back of a lower upper limit and has a lower maternal mortality rate than either the UK or Poland, while Portugal has the second lowest abortion rate in Europe and an MMR a third higher that of the UK/Poland, three times that of Sweden and 11 times higher than Ireland.

    So what conclusions do you suggest we draw from that?

  6. Very interesting post, Unity. I wonder how your Dorrie would incorporate Canada into her hypothesis that stricter laws create fewer abortions. Here we have no national laws on abortion, yet the statistics are much the same as Western Europe’s:

    2004, 14.5 abortions per 1000 women (all age groups trending down from previous years, except women over 40, which stayed level) — see this chart from Statistics Canada:

    2004, rate of abortions was 29.7 per 100 live births, which seems high but Statistics Canada notes that since no nation of origin is recorded, there is no way to determine how many are abortion tourists from the USA. Chart is here:

    Why do we have no national laws on abortion? Well, when our Supreme Court struck down the last one (decades ago), Parliament could never get up the nerve to try it on again, it being clearly impossible to accommodate both the fetus-fetishists and the sensible people, and just let it languish.

    We still have our Dorries (try, and worse (, but so far all our Republican-lite Conservative minority government has done is promise to “revisit” the question. What they’ll do if they ever get a majority is another issue, but it seems unlikely Canadians collectively are quite stupid enough to give them the keys. Election coming soon (probably), so we’ll see.

    I found your place by following link trails beginning, I believe, at The Yorkshire Ranter’s digs. Found quite a few worth revisiting, yours and Bloggerhead’s among them. Fascinating how the left v. right dust-ups are the same here as at home. We even have Guido Fawkes types running around loose.

    One thing: no Preview? Jeez, I feel like I’m writing naked.

    Be seeing you.

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