The government has announced that there will be no plans to make it easier for anti-abortion pregnancy centres to be deregistered, after the social services minister Jane Ellison said she had been told the proposals did not go far enough.
Ellison says she will have to “get back to [the] principle of localism and recognise that local people’s views and concerns should be listened to” when the DWP and social services become responsible for auditing the charity status of all charities. This responsibility was previously held by the Charity Commission.
Philip Hammond, the chancellor, announced in March that the commission would be abolished in six months’ time.
Despite the decision, the government remains committed to ending anonymity, and tougher enforcement and sanctions, in cases where women are advised by pro-life groups to terminate a pregnancy. The government has also set a target of introducing a ban on names or addresses of such organisations.
Pregnant Women Against Termination of Pregnancy (PWAP) says four clinics in Manchester, Birmingham and London have closed because of the closures of the charities through the closure of Charity Commission support.
On Wednesday, Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, wrote to the home secretary, Sajid Javid, to protest against the abandonment of anti-abortion charity registration. She said that if the measure meant abortion was recorded in the volume of counselling people had access to, this was “wholly unacceptable”. She also said that companies “condoning violence and hate-speech against women and girls should not be able to establish charities”.
She added: “We have seen that these organisations do target vulnerable young women who are seeking the lowest possible-pricing abortion procedures and clinics. For the pro-life movement, this is also the one thing that they do that they care about.”
Susanna Beccaloni, policy director at PWAP, said: “We welcome the announcement that there will be no changes to the status of charities registering to promote anti-abortion counselling. This is a good step forward, but we hope that later in the year the government will support vulnerable women who are in need of abortion-related counselling in facing dangerous threats to their health, well-being and social protection. We need to see the government actually helping women facing closure and abuse from anti-abortion clinic practices.”
In a written ministerial statement, which was shared with donors of PWAP, the social services minister, Jane Ellison, said: “I have not yet been able to fully get to grips with the practical details.
“While these things could be changed, my understanding is that the measures would simply allow civil servants to retain the powers of the charity commission to regulate charities, which will still be done by local government.”
Oliver Higgins, the Director of Law and Public Policy at Humanists UK, said the impact of the Charity Commission closure was being felt not just by the 17,500 charities the commission advised, but also by thousands of people who work for the commission.
He said: “It will be a relief that the chancellor has now recognised this would be a terrible mistake, that it would put at risk local government’s ability to be responsive to local needs, and would weaken the voice of citizens in promoting reproductive and sexual health services. It is pleasing that Ms Ellison too now accepts that it would be a regrettable loss of transparency, but the biggest victory is that local government officials’ ability to work with charities will now be stronger.”