Monday, 5 September 2011

Abortions, money and missions

Tomorrow the Health and Social Care Bill comes to Parliament, and an amendment to the Bill proposed by Nadine Dorries and supported by Frank Field has brought the issue of abortion rights to the top of the news.

Simon Blake, Chief Executive of Brook has written a great blog outlining some of the key issues.

There is, however, an important element to this debate that affects the broader third sector. The more one looks at these arguments, it becomes clear that Dorries, Field, and their supporters, assume the premise that not for profit providers of counseling and abortions are driven by money rather than their missions.

Take Marie Stopes. It’s a charity (number 265543). It’s vision is "A world in which every birth is wanted". Their website outlines the range of activities which they undertake around the world.

Dorries et al argue that because Marie Stopes receives money from the NHS to provide abortions, it is not fit to deliver impartial counselling as its business model relies on that income. (The same logic is applied to other providers.) The argument goes that other organisations must therefore provide that counselling.

There are many reasons why this argument should be resisted, including the fact, as Simon Blake points out, that both the counselling and the provision of abortions is heavily regulated. There is also the fact that Marie Stopes is also reimbursed for delivering counselling regardless of whether or not the client goes on to have an abortion or not.

However, a key reason to resist this argument is that charities are driven by their missions not by their income streams. To allow this amendment to pass would set a very dangerous precedent that the government believes the opposite. Charities work to build a business model which allow them to deliver their mission, not the other way around. That is the duty of charity trustees and a principle on which the whole third sector is based.

If Marie Stopes were a for-profit organisation then this argument might hold water (although personally I probably wouldn’t buy it as there would still be many imperatives including reputation management that would complicate the picture). But it’s not. It’s a charity and charities put mission before money.

Regardless of one’s views on the rights and wrongs of abortions, the sector must not let the argument that charities are driven solely by financial imperatives stick. The implications would be very serious indeed.

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