Soapbox: Nadine’s Big Strop

Last week, an attempt by Nadine Dorries MP to remove counselling services from abortion providers and giving it to what were referred to as ‘independent’ providers was stopped by a vote of 368 to 118 in Westminster.

Of the Northern Irish MPs in attendance at the vote, every single one voted in favour of Dorries’ amendment. This includes SDLP MPs and Alliance’s sole MP, Naomi Long.

The argument was that it is wrong to give bodies that receive public money for carrying out abortions the task of also providing counselling on the subject, as they would have a “vested interest” in making sure abortion levels stayed the same or grew. That is to say, that current providers Marie Stopes and bpas would seek to profit out of providing abortion services.

One of the major groups that would become responsible for providing this counselling however, CareConfidential, was found by a Newsnight investigation to hold hardline Christian views.

The group, which has over 130 affiliated centres across the UK, making it the largest independent crisis pregnancy body in the UK, was found to issue the following religious statements within its training manual:

  • “Abortion is undoubtedly a wickedness that grieves God’s heart. As we study the Bible we see that life begins within the womb when the human egg is fertilised and then implanted.”
  • “The deliberate destruction of the developing child at any stage from this point is to deny the life of the human being – a most grievous sin in the eyes of God…”
  • “Because abortion involves the taking of a human life, a life that God created, it is very much a spiritual issue. It is important therefore that this work of post-abortion counselling is ‘church-based’”.

Speaking to Newsnight, former Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris said;

“There already is an existing, unbiased, professional service which is regulated and inspected by the department of health itself, which on its website warns against going to the so-called independent abortion providers who have been shown time and again through mystery shopping exercises to give distorted advice, incorrect advice and try and shame women into not seeking abortion when that’s in their interests and what they want”.

The argument for the change was that it would increase choice for women, but what has subsequently emerged is that this was merely a smokescreen for radical changes from a group of people which, seemingly, take issue with abortion.

Campaigners, for example, claimed that the scheme would reduce the number of abortions each year by 60,000 – a striking talking point rooted in the notion that people having abortions is a problem.

Further, in the House of Commons, Nadine Dorries claimed that during her meetings with David Cameron, the Prime Minister was enthusiastic of the plan and instructed Dorries to use the word ‘independent’ in describing the replacement bodies.

Given the highly religious findings from the Newsnight investigation, the group is certainly not independent, leaving Cameron’s advice as smart misdirection inferring fault with the current system and, subsequently, the need for reform.

Finally, during the debate, Dorries stood in Parliament and stated, “Like 73 per cent of the country I am Church of England, I do have Christian beliefs, but I am not sure when that became a crime”.

If we are being kind, we would say that Dorries felt persecuted for her Christianity when trying to implement a change she believed in, detached from her religion. This is a woman, after all, who has declared, “I am pro-choice. Abortion is here to stay.”

In light, however, of the replacement provider, the talking point about reducing the number of abortions, the fact that the plans would lengthen the abortion process closer toward the limit and the clear spin top Tory brass placed on the amendment, it does put her Christianity in new light, casting doubt on her true intentions and posing the question of whether her idea was founded in fact or religion.

There is growing concern amongst some Christians that they are in some way being outlawed. In reality, the issue is that these same Christians are seeking to impose their beliefs on an entire society. In doing so, they circumvent logic, morality and decency.

Regardless of what the Bible says, it would be abhorrent to give Government money to an abortion counselling service which referred to one woman’s 6 week pregnancy as a ‘baby’ and described her situation as ‘God giving her another chance’.

Further, it is outrageous that some churches deny same-sex ceremonies on the grounds that they would seek to ‘rewrite nature’ when, in reality, it is their unverified, ungrounded beliefs which discriminate against groups due to innate aspects as irrelevant and incidental as race or eye colour. Coincidentally, these aspects are not beliefs but scientific fact.

These people are ignoring fact. Let us be clear; what these people are doing is akin to denying the sky is blue, the grass green or the existence of gravity.

The argument of ‘independence’ suggests that a compromise between fact and fiction is beneficial. The UK Prime Minister was in favour of this amendment and, indeed, suggested the ‘independence’ line. If this government is going to be so adverse to fact, why don’t they just make everyone rub cats on their foreheads to reduce the deficit and have done with it? For our MPs to vote in favour of this shambles is embarrassing, shameful and depressingly predictable.

Finally, in the words of Dorries herself in an article she wrote for the Mail, “I would like to say that we have reason on our side but then, in politics, when the issue of abortion is raised, all reason seems to fly out of the whips’ office window”. Oh irony of ironies.

Belfast Skeptics in the Pub – The AV Showdown

For our 6th event, we have something particularly special lined up. In the spirit of the referendum season, we’re delighted to announce that we will be hosting a debate an the Alternative Voting system. Speaker in favour of the referendum on AV, we’ll have Stephen Glenn, the Yes to Fairer Votes Campaign Manager. Speaking against the referendum will be Green Party MLA Brian Wilson. The host for this event is to be confirmed. Each speaker will first have a short time to speak on the topic of the vote, then questions will be posed from the audience to get a discussion going. The aim by the end of the debate is that people will have a clear idea of what AV is and is not and whether they think they should vote for it or not.

Facebook page is here and Eventbrite page is here.

As always, if this is your first event, read our helpful ‘Being nice to newbies’ policy on our website – but don’t worry, you can just turn up and we won’t bite. If you’ve been to events before, we’d really appreciate some feedback in the comments below.

The event is taking place upstairs in the Club Room in the Parlour bar, out in the University Area of Belfast (map). It’ll take place on Thursday the 21st April from 19:30 sharp. The air conditioning will be all fixed, good news! Do arrive early (7pm onwards) to make sure you get a seat!

Follow-Up to Rebecca O’Neill’s talk

Sorry this blog post took so long coming and that the next event hasn’t been announced yet. This are pretty busy at the moment, although that’s no excuse. A huge to thanks to everyone who came along to our last talk – Rebecca O’Neill from the Dublin Skeptics in the Pub spoke about the time she has spent working in a health food shop in Dublin. While the room was very cold (we’ll have that sorted for next time) there were plenty of seats for all the people who turned up – almost 40 people and our biggest audience so far! Rebecca and I mentioned a number of resources that might be of interest:

  • The Nightingale Collaboration – An initiative to share knowledge and experience in challenging misleading claims in healthcare advertising.
  • The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) – The UK’s independent advertising regulator. If you see a claim that you don’t think can be supported, it’s a quick and easy process to report it to the ASA. Here’s a guide from the Nightingale Collaboration on reporting misleading claims in homeopathy.
  • Dublin Skeptics in the Pub – The monthly meetings for drinking sceptics in Dublin, from whence we found Rebecca.
  • Information is Beautiful – Snake Oil? – A graphic that Rebecca mentioned, which pitches the scientific evidence for dietary supplements against the popularity according to searches on Google and a ‘worth it’ line. A great graphic. Check the bottom of the page for disclaimers, more information and the source data – all really interesting and a very open way of working.

That’s all for now, keep an eye out for our next event. If you were at Rebecca’s talk, we’d love to get some feedback from you. Plus, sign up to our newsletter, just on the right of this page.

A Letter to QED

This letter was originally featured on ‘Just Skeptics‘, the podcast by the Greater Manchester Skeptics. Conor was a guest on episode 17, which you can find here. I’d recommend listening to it on the podcast as opposed to reading the letter, as then you get the dulcet tones of my voice.

Dear QED,

It’s hard to believe it’s over. It seems just yesterday that I was giddily dreaming of this romantic weekend away in Manchester. Just you, me and a few hundred sceptics. I’d heard about you first on a podcast, then other people chimed in with how great you were going to be. I booked my tickets early and got the hotel and flights sorted – the thrill of the chase sped my credit card transactions. I only told my parents about you a few weeks ago; I admit I was a little nervous about how they would react. They know all about my “activities” in Belfast, but this, this would be different. This was a weekend away, just for you QED. They reacted well, as they always do; “We only want the best for you, Conor”, “As long as you’re happy, we’ll love you no matter what”.

In the build-up to the fated weekend, my excitement grew. There were going to be so many good times! Such ideas that I couldn’t imagine, such fun! I arose early on the Friday, expectation over-whelming my tiredness. We took a taxi to the bus, a bus to the plane and a train to the hotel. The Ramada hotel; the red letters beckoned to us as we turned the corner onto Portland St. Eventually I plucked up the courage and sought out the crowd, diving into the bosom of QED – the bar. It was thrilling, refreshing and welcoming. So many critical thinkers in one room, surely this was just a dream, surely I would soon wake up! I admit, I didn’t behave like a perfect gentleman. I drank, swore and misused the hash-tag on Twitter, all of which I paid for on the Saturday morning with a guilty conscience. QED, you could easily have rejected me, ignored me or politely blocked me from the free wifi. But no, you were kind and gentle. You gave me the time to recover, then embraced me into the queezy warmth of the main hall for Bruce Hood. I’ll admit it wasn’t easy hearing about blowing up teddy bears – but sacrifices must be made. I struggled on. Saturday continued in a blur of the Reaching Out Reasonably panel, the paranormal panel, the Inkredulous podcast recording, Chris Atkins and Chris French. Scarily enough, I’m pretty sure Chris French was trying to brainwash us; he played ‘Stairway to Heaven’ backwards during his talk. He later spoke to me about false memories… or maybe he didn’t. Anyway, QED, you gave us breaks and time for mingling. I appreciated that. Then, it was the chance to hear from the king of skeptics, the big kahuna, the brain behind the person behind the voice: Steve Novella. Ah, what a guy. Don’t worry though, my dear QED, I wouldn’t stray from you. Having said that, you didn’t make it easy, you certainly gave me some tough choices. Time travel or podcasts? Skeptics in the pub workshop or juggling? The choices are in the past and I know I can’t change them, mostly because I didn’t go to the time travel talk. Saturday finished with the comedy loveliness of Helen Keane and Matt Parker, as well as the one and only George Hrab, who was once disqualified from an egg-and-spoon race for bending the spoon.

Sunday kicked-off with a delicious sugar and homeopathy overdose, with Wendy Grossman benefiting from the sugar-high and placebo effect. Therein followed the choice between Simon Singh and Chris Atkins. You wicked, wicked demon QED. I shall forgive you though, for then you provided us with Jon Ronson. After his talk, I’m pretty worried about being a psychopath. Or living with a psychopath. Or upsetting a psychopath. Nearing the end of the weekend, I went to the skeptics in the pub workshop, apparently missing the fantastic Colin Wright juggling and doing maths. Never mind. The ceremony closed with Eugenie Scott, whose words of summation of evolution brought a tear to quite a few eyes.

I know that, for me, you were just a holiday romance. For others, you were a labour of love, months of dedication. Not having you in my life will be a brief sense of mourning, but it will pass. For others, the end of this relationship may take a greater toll.

You’ve changed my outlook on life. I’ve learned so many lessons from you: Don’t pretend to be crazy to avoid a prison sentence; don’t believe anything your brain tells you and if you run really, really fast you’ll go forward in time.

So here’s to you QED. So long and thanks for all the belladonna.