What Do The Conservative Leadership Candidates Think About UK Abortion Law? The Issue Needs Urgent Attention
Now that Theresa May has resigned as Prime Minister, seven male politicians are jostling for the top job. But over the past few days, some rather disturbing comments have been made regarding the issue of abortion. Seeing as abortion is directly tied to women's rights and autonomy, it's a little worrying to think that the next potential Prime Minister may have restrictive views. So what better way to get to know the group than by seeing what every Conservative leadership candidate thinks about UK abortion law?
The current law revolves around the 1967 Abortion Act. This extends to England, Scotland, and Wales and although it didn't actually legalise abortions, it gave a legal defence to those who carried them out. In a nutshell, the law allows an abortion to be performed if two doctors (or one in an emergency) agree there is a need. The legal limit is 24 weeks. As the NHS states, an abortion can be carried out after this period in circumstances including if the mother's life is at risk.
But an 1861 law still applies in Northern Ireland, making abortion a criminal act with a potential life sentence. The only way a person can end a pregnancy is if continuing it will result in a serious health issue. Abortions in cases of rape, incest, or fatal foetal abnormalities are still criminalised. The government does now fund abortions for people travelling from Northern Ireland to England, reports the BBC, but the situation — which involves shelling out for travel costs and leaving friends and family — is far from ideal. The fact that Northern Ireland's Parliament, Stormont, has not been functional for over two years is preventing progress being made.
Some leadership candidates have been vocal about abortion; others less so. But by examining speeches, interviews, and voting records, you can get a pretty good idea of their stance on the matter.
1. Jeremy Hunt
Jeremy Hunt is perhaps the most controversial figure on this matter. As the BBC states, he was heavily criticised after admitting his personal view was that the legal time limit for an abortion should be reduced from 24 weeks to just 12. Aside from the fact that the majority of abortions take place before 12 weeks, the 12-week scan is often the first time a person knows if their baby will survive, reports the Independent. Hunt's personal stance would therefore see a person give birth knowing that the baby could die and take choice away from people who do not know they are pregnant until a later date or people whose circumstances change during their pregnancy.
After a huge amount of backlash, the foreign secretary (and former health secretary) did backtrack, telling the BBC: "No government I lead will ever seek to change the law on abortion." Sky News did, however, ask him if he could guarantee that the 24-week limit would remain. He replied: "It won't be government policy to have a vote. If backbenchers choose to have a vote, then we'd have a free vote and everyone will vote with their conscience."
A spokesperson for Hunt's campaign confirmed to Bustle: "Jeremy will preserve the current rules on abortion if he became Prime Minister."
2. Dominic Raab
Dominic Raab is now infamously known as the man who said he was "probably not" a feminist. However, per HuffPost, the former Brexit secretary said his view was that the current UK abortion law was "broadly right." He continued: "I would want to see the number of unwanted pregnancies come down but I think education, public awareness, and support for young people is the way to do it rather than change the legal limit."
Maria Miller, chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, is backing Raab. Miller's committee's view on Northern Ireland is one that would be greatly welcomed in a Conservative leader. During an appearance on Newsnight, she said: "When it comes to fatal foetal abnormality, even though it is a devolved issue, the UK government should be acting on this in the absence of a devolved assembly." Plus, Raab did say she has been trying to "persuade" him to become a feminist.
I contacted Raab for comment but did not hear back before the time of publication.
3. Matt Hancock
The current health secretary, Matt Hancock (unlike his predecessor, Hunt) has consistently voted in a pro-choice manner. In 2015, he voted against criminalising women for ending a pregnancy on the grounds of foetal sex. Four years prior, he voted against stopping abortion providers from giving pre-abortion counselling. But he has abstained from any votes relating to Northern Ireland's abortion legislation and hasn't exactly been vocal on the matter.
Hancock's biggest show of support, however, is allowing people in England to take the second early abortion pill at home and avoid having a miscarriage on the journey back from the clinic, reports the BBC.
I contacted Hancock for comment but did not hear back before the time of publication.
4. Michael Gove
Not much is known about Michael Gove's abortion stance except for his previous votes. In 2006, he voted to reduce the time limit to 21 weeks. A year later, he supported a vote to make pre-abortion counselling a requirement and to introduce a seven-day waiting period after said counselling. He has abstained on all other abortion votes since.
I contacted Gove for comment but did not hear back before the time of publication.
5. Boris Johnson
Even less is known about Boris Johnson's abortion views. He has never voted on anything abortion-related. But FGM activist Nimco Ali recently penned an article for the Telegraph calling the former foreign secretary a "real feminist." Why? Because he is one of the only people who stood with her in the battle to end FGM across the UK.
I contacted Johnson for comment but did not hear back before the time of publication.
6. Sajid Javid
Home secretary Sajid Javid doesn't have a great abortion record. Vote-wise, he voted in favour of stopping abortion providers from giving counselling and in favour of criminalising women who ended a pregnancy on the basis of foetal sex. He also voted against requiring the secretary of state for Northern Ireland to account for the human rights breaches caused by existing abortion and equal marriage laws in the country, reports iNews.
What's more, Javid also rejected calls to introduce buffer zones at abortion clinics and protect people from being harassed. As RightsInfo states, his reasoning was that such protests are in the minority.
I contacted Javid for comment but did not hear back before the time of publication.
7. Rory Stewart
Rory Stewart has a similarly disappointing voting record — especially when it comes to Northern Ireland's abortion legislation. He voted against the Private Member's Bill to decriminalise the act in Northern Ireland, England, and Wales and against forcing Northern Ireland's secretary of state to account for the aforementioned human rights violations, reports iNews.
In 2015, he did vote against criminalising women who had an abortion on foetal sex grounds. And as iNews reports, in his role as international development secretary, he seems to be supportive of abortion funding globally.
In a recent interview with the BBC, Stewart said: "I am strongly in support of a woman's right to choose. I think it's very important that primarily that decision has to be taken by the woman. But I also think it makes a lot of sense to think about the number of weeks. I think there are deep ethical and moral issues concerned." But he did add that Parliament currently feels it has "the balance about right on the number of weeks."
I contacted Stewart for comment but did not hear back before the time of publication.
Theresa May was reluctant to give people in Northern Ireland the same rights enjoyed by the rest of the UK. Only time will tell if her replacement will be any different.