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Nadine Dorries appears to be in the thick of it. Insults scrawled on the fabric of her house, dismembered dolls through the letterbox and heaven knows what else. No wonder she is a little overwrought.

These, needless to say, are a ghastly and unnecessary set of campaign tactics that can only be the product of sick minds, and I wouldn’t wish them on anybody. The dismembered dolls in particular are a nasty underhand attempt to provoke an emotional response on an issue in which all our rational faculties need to be engaged. I mean, who would deliberately and flagrantly bring such a graphic and horrid image to bear on a health question of national importance? What kind of nasty individual would do that, when the lives and futures of millions of women hang in the balance?

I guess I knew when watching an aborted baby lying in a bedpan struggling to breathe, that my inability to help and my complicity as a young nurse assisting in this process, would one day force me to try to alter the barbaric practice our society has become so immune to: late abortion.

writes Nadine in the saturday Torygraph. One of the commenters is fully convinced:

Your mental imagery of the child in the bedpan, will stay with me for some time. NOTHING can justify that horror.

Evidently the shock tactic, whether it’s Nadine’s blood-and-mucus preaching or a mutilated doll in the post, works. In fact, martyrdom becomes Nadine, the readers seem to think.

Ms Dorries, I greatly admire your courage and determination. I have written to my MP urging him to vote for the reduction in time limit and he has replied assuring me that he fully intends to. I am praying about this and encouraging all my friends to do the same. May God bless your efforts.

And:

Better to be persecuted for doing right, Nadine, than for doing wrong, as the beleaguered Prime Minister of these islands constantly, and justifiably, is. May the God of life help you in your campaign.

And lest you go away thinking that Nadine’s support comes entirely from Christian fundamentalists (perish the thought), there’s this one:

It is all big business for the private clinics …front page Daily Telegraph.

Kill 200,000 babies but not convicted murderers.

Shoot mentally disturned barristers and electricians on the Underground , but not child-abducting peadophiles.

What moral system is this ?

Bring on sharia.

As soon as I had stopped gibbering with terror at the idea that this last person is presumably allowed to roam freely in society, I started to wonder about this big business angle these people keep going on about. “Big business” was elevated to the status of a quite genuine threat to society by eighteen years of protectionist Conservative government, and is now a catch-all bogeyman responsible for Things Beyond Our Control We Don’t Like. Even Tories like Nadine now use it, so irresistable is the Daily Mail nation’s tide of opinion. It’s a shame because the more people wave pitchforks at it and shout “Burn! Burn!”, the less real scrutiny there is on those occasions when “big business” really is shafting society.

So how well does “big business” do out of late abortion? I am in the happy position of possessing both an internet connection and a brand new free OpenOffice Cal spreadsheet (looks like Excel, works like Excel, is free and legal, hoorah! I like this brave new world) so it was the work of, oh, twenty minutes to find out, because the Torygraph has thoughtfully published all the necessary stats on their Sunday leader article.

In 2006, there were 193,700 abortions in the UK. Of these, 3,000 were carried out after the 20 week marker. As Sunny Hundal has pointed out, Nadine’s official position is support for a reduction to 20 weeks, but she has contradicted that several times herself, and admits support for a potential reduction to 9 weeks, which is what she wrote on Unity’s blog. So she was presumably misquoted in today’s Telegraph (linked to above for the stats) when she said that she fully supported abortion in the first trimester (up to 14 weeks).

Anyhoo, the official position is what I’m going to tackle in the absence of any clearer direction from Nadine. First we need to deduct the small proportion of the 3,000 which were carried out on “ground E” (that there was a risk that the child would be born disabled). Apparently, there were 2,000 of these out of the original figure of 193,700, giving a fraction of 0.01. A whole 1% therefore comes off the 3,000 post 20 week abortions to bring the figure down to 2,970.

Now we need to split that figure proportionately into NHS abortions, independent sector abortions and NHS-funded abortions carried out in the independent sector under contract. The latter two segments constitute our “big business” bogeyman. 24% of all abortions were carried out by the NHS itself, so that comes off 2,970 to give 2,257 private abortions.

A bit more clicking around produces this independent sector price list from BPAS, one of the two biggest providers of private abortions along with Marie Stopes. The prices divide into medical and surgical procedures, and within those procedures there are two different prices for gestation periods of up to 20 weeks and from 20-24 weeks. We’re looking obviously at the later, higher prices, rather more than the only data the Telegraph gives of £500 for a first trimester abortion. Let’s also stick to the (higher) surgical prices because that appears to be Nadine’s main concern, judging by her imagery. So a surgical abortion between 20 and 24 weeks costs £1,690.

That gives us a total market value for late abortions in the independent sector of £3.8m in 2006.

In the same year, the UK cosmetic surgery market had an estimated worth of £528.9m.

The idea that private clinics are desperate to stop the law change to 20 weeks because they enormous fear revenue loss is patently absurd. Consider the contrastingly vast sums they earn from first-trimester abortions. Even with the cost down to around £600, and using the same figures as above, the private market for abortions before 13 weeks (constituting 89% of all abortions) is worth £77.8m. That’s more like it, I’d think, were I a cartoonishly money-grubbing private abortion clinic of the type invoked by Nadine and her followers.

There are two explanations.

(A) the whole thing is a religiously motivated witch hunt whose ringleaders are throwing any and every emotive smear they can at abortion clinics – big business kills babies for profit etc etc.

(B) this reduction to 20 weeks is merely the first offensive. The preoccupation with the “huge profits” generated by abortion looks daft alongside the late abortion market value, but makes a lot more sense in the context of the private abortion market as a whole. So the big business argument is being oiled up for full deployment in stage 2 of Nadine Dorries’ anti-choice campaign, which will be…what? 17 weeks? 13 weeks? 9 weeks? Less?

I can’t decide which is worse. Or even whether they’re mutually exclusive.