On Sunday during an interview with Sky, Conservative MP and Tory leadership contender Jeremy Hunt shared his “personal views” on the abortion time limit; halve it from the current 24 weeks down to 12 weeks. With the latest odds suggesting Hunt is in with a shot of becoming PM, Bethan Phillips, a consultant at Atlas, explains why she thinks his comments shouldn’t be brushed aside.
Both Hunt and key supporter Amber Rudd MP have assured us he would not be challenging the abortion time limit, should he become PM. But can we believe this reassurance, lest we forget Hunt used his vote to challenge a woman’s right to an abortion in 2008, attempting to halve the time limit then. Even if he vows not to seek to reduce women’s reproductive rights, should he become PM, chances are he wouldn’t be at the forefront of liberating them either.
Despite being the Secretary of State for Health for six years, Hunt appears to have learnt very little about why women have abortions, if he thinks halving the time limit will stop women needing them after 12 weeks. 90% of abortions in the UK take place before 13 weeks, so you might ask why is the 10% so worth defending? Quite aside from the belief that it is a woman, with the advice (if required) of her doctor, who is best placed to make these decisions, not a politician. There are many varied, and often sad, reasons why women choose to terminate their pregnancies after 12 weeks including:
They didn’t know they were pregnant until after 12 weeks because of the contraception they were using
Problems with their pregnancy were not spotted until further into their second trimester and deciding to terminate their wanted pregnancy can take time
They are young and have hidden their pregnancy from family and friends
They are a victim of domestic abuse and were only able to safely escape the relationship when the pregnancy was past 12 weeks
Their lives may have changed in a very short space of time with a job loss, eviction or death of a partner, meaning they have to terminate a much-wanted pregnancy
For campaigners on this issue, it’s disappointing the Minister for Women and Equalities Penny Mordaunt and former Home Secretary Amber Rudd MP have continued to back Hunt, despite his extreme views on abortion. Thankfully his views are not shared by all his parliamentary colleagues or rival leadership contenders. The current Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock introduced a new government plan that allows women in England to take an early abortion pill at home-a plan Hunt refused to approve whilst Secretary of State for Health. There is also currently cross-party support to decriminalise abortion in the UK and for legal abortion to be provided in Northern Ireland.
So far, the leadership contenders have all remained silent on this and you may well be thinking ‘calm down dear’ is Tory party policy for this and most issues pertinent to women. But it matters that we protect hard fought rights from erosion. Just look at the restrictions to women’s reproductive rights that are happening across the pond in the USA, most recently when 22 male Senators in Alabama passed a bill banning women from obtaining an abortion, including in cases of rape or incest.
If, like me, you believe in a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body, you can support NowforNI, the campaign to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland and across the UK. If you are a member of the Conservative party, you can ask this question of your leadership contenders. Because whilst we look on in shared horror at what is happening in the States and feel frustrated by Hunt’s comments, on average 28 women a week are travelling from Northern Ireland to England for abortion care they are denied at home. Wouldn’t it be inspiring if one of the Conservative leader contenders promised free, safe and legal abortion care for the Women in Northern Ireland- where’s Justin Trudeau when you need him?!