Visualising Dorries and the Anti-abortion Lobby

Like most veteran campaigners, experience tells you when you’ve successfully pushed your opponents’ buttons. That’s certainly what happened on Friday when Nadine Dorries and Dr Peter Saunders got wind of my exposé of Saunders’ 2007 presentation on the full aims and objectives of the mothballed ‘Alive and Kicking Campaign’.

To call their response predictable would be to credit the pair of them with altogether too much intelligence and political nous. Saunders immediately shot off in flak-catching mode, running rapidly through the ‘it was all in the public domain, anyway’, ‘look at all the typos’* and ‘You can’t trust pseudonymous authors‘ gambits, while denying that Dorries is nothing more than the anti-abortion lobby’s parliamentary sockpuppet. Dorries, on the other hand, has gone for the ‘It’s all a conspiracy theory gambit’ with a heft dose of ‘Peter Saunders is very nice man, a very, very nice man’ and absolutely no mention of her working relationship with Andrea Minichiello Williams, despite this having been caught on camera by Channel 4.

*Sunny wrote up the Lib Con post from my much longer original post, so the typos aren’t necessarily down to me.

There are one or two points to tackle before getting to today’s main business.

First, there’s the question of what information was, and was not, in the public domain in relation to the Alive and Kicking campaign, which would have been rather easier to ascertain had they not shoved their website down the internet’s memory hole early in 2009.

Nevermind, that’s what the Wayback Machine is for, and using its archives it transpires that:

– The full list of the AAK’s aims and objectives [from slides 53 and 54 of Saunders’ presentation] were published on AAK’s homepage from the campaign’s beginnings in 2005, until it altered its homepage in April 2008 to focus on supporting only those anti-abortion amendments that had been put forward for inclusion in the Human Fertilation and Embryology Bill.

– On altering its homepage, the list of objectives were relegated to the campaign’s ‘About Us’ page.

– However, in issuing press releases relating to it campaign activities between April 2008 and October 2008, the committee and third reading stages of the HF&E Bill, AAK used some of the wording of its objectives in the presentation/about us section of its website but mentioned only those objectives that specifically related to amendments to the bill.

So, what was left out of AAK’s press releases during this critical period of the HF&E Bill was the specifice reference to ‘halving’ the annual number of abortions (dropped in favour seeking ‘a substantial reduction’) and the references to enforcing abortion law as ‘originally intended’, banning abortion for ‘social convenience’, the ‘cooling-off’ period and the regular review of abortion law.

So, Alive and Kicking self-consciously toned down its act during the Bill’s passage through the House of Commons in an effort to convey more of a ‘moderate’ image of their campaign to the general public, and they did this largely by limiting the information they included in press releases and relying on the press not to bother doing a full background check.

So, some of the information in the Saunders’ presentation was in the public domain at the time, but this did not include the information contained on the slides relating to abortion and rape, foetal abnormality or where a woman’s life is at risk – this information would have proved particularly toxic has it been made public at the time – nor did it include the information on other slides which outlined AAK’s acceptance and adoption of a gradualist approach to securing the total prohibition of abortion and set out its intentions to target both the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Psychiatrists in an effort to push their agenda.

Remember that what we’re dealing with here is the contents of Saunders’ presentation for the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship on the Alive and Kicking Campaign and how it relates to the activities of Nadine Dorries and Andrea Minichiello Williams, not the entire contents of the Christian Medical Fellowships’ website – i.e. a straightforward attempt at misdirection.

Moving on to Dorries, she cried foul and claims its all a conspiracy theory, but pointedly make no reference whatsover to either Andrea Minichiello Williams or the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship – Minichiello Willams was the LCF’s public policy officer at the time the presentation was produced and running Christian Concern (For Our Nation) as a side project of the LCF.

Dorries also noticably tries to defend Saunders by deploying the ‘just because he’s a Christian defence’:

Because he is a Christian, that doesn’t make his views on abortion irrelevant

This is, of course, perfectly true – Saunders’ views on abortion aren’t irrelevant simply because he’s a Christian; his views are actually irrelevant to the ongoing debate, which has focussed primarily on the scientific evidence relating to abortion, because he routinely peddles ideologically-driven junk science which false claims that abortion is causally linked as a significant risk factor for both breast cancer and for a range of mental health issue rangiing from anxiety and depression right the way through to suicide. Okay, so he does this because he is Christian, or rather because he’s a particular kind of Christian; the kind that sees nothing wrong in spreading false and misleading information in order to achieve what he believes to be the goals of his invisible friend.

There is one final claim that I specifically wish to address here – in fact, its the primary purpose of this post – and that’s Saunders’ claim (in comments at Lib Con) that:

Nadine Dorries operates to her own script and is neither pro-choice nor pro-life. Why do you think she is being ostracised by both movements?

Dorries, naturally enough, has also been playing the same game by pretending to be the outsider in the middle ground and citing critical articles by Anthony Ozimic (communications director for Society for Protection of the Unborn Child) and Laurie Penny; in other words, playing out a classic wedge strategy gambit:

Following the tabling of our amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill, Frank Field and I have been under predictable attack via the notoriously inaccurate medium of the internet, by both the pro-life and pro-choice lobbies.

http://tinyurl.com/5vak85j

http://tinyurl.com/3s6dheh

Although the term ‘wedge strategy’ is credited to Phillip E Johnson and came to prominence through a leaked strategy document relating to so-called ‘Intelligent Design’, which fell off the back of the Discovery Institute in 1998, the tactics on display here have their roots in the disinformation campaigns mounted by the tobacco industry in the wake of the publication of ‘Cancer by the Carton‘ and the findings of Sir Richard Doll’s British Doctors’ Survey, which firmly established the causal link between smoking and lung cancer.

The standard method of countering such tactics is also a product of the ‘tobacco wars’ – the use of social network mapping to visualise the connections that exist between individuals, organisations and (today) websites and publications who express commin views on a particular issue.

What was good enough for anti-tobbaco lobby campaigners is certainly good enough for me, so lets take a look at just exactly how connected (or disconnected) Nadine Dorries is from the UK’s anti-abortion lobby:

That image should give you a flavour of what’s in the full-sized network map, which you can download here as a PDF document.

Doesn’t really look as if Dorries is quite the outsider that she’s trying to make out she is, does it? And this is despite the fact that I’ve had to leave a few links and connections to fit everything onto an A3-sized document, including the full list of MPs who’ve sponsored or seconded anti-abortion amendments in the last 5-6 years and Dorries’s new running buddies, Forsaken, which has an anti-abortion ‘crisis pregnancy centre’ all of its own.

Of particular note, in the network map, is the evidence of Alive and Kicking’s attempt to dogpile on the Science and Technology Committee’s 2007 Abortion review, for which Dorries got herself appointed to the Sci-Tech committee, attended just two meetings and ‘produced’ a ‘minority report’ which attempted to smear Ben Goldacre over his public take down of evidence submitted to the committee by Prof. John Wyatt (UCLH and Christian Medical Fellowship), after which she failed to attend any further meetings despite being (on paper) a member of the committee for well over 18 months.

I’d also suggest that you pay careful attention to the number of links from Dorries’ parliamentary activities to AAK’s list of aims and objectives and the links from both Dorries’ campaign websites back to Andrea Minichiello Williams and Christian Concern (CCFON), the most recent of which was publicly uncovered only today by Tim Ireland.

With that, I’ll let you digest the network map at your leisure but for this one final visualisation which, I think, more than adequately sums up the nature of Dorries’ relationship with the UK’s organised anti-abortion lobby: