The Northants MPs who believe they should have a say over women’s bodies
Some women’s groups fear the situation in America could embolden anti-abortion MPs to push harder on the issue
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By Natalie Bloomer
News that hard-won abortion rights are being overturned in America has shocked many. Almost 50 years since the landmark Roe v Wade ruling made abortion legal across the US it is feared that around half of all states will now ban the procedure.
Although there is no suggestion that abortion laws are currently up for debate in the UK, there are a number of MPs, including some from Northamptonshire, who have repeatedly voted against abortion rights.
Now, some women’s groups fear the situation in America could embolden these MPs to push harder on the issue.
This week Labour put forward an urgent question in parliament asking the government if it will make representations to the US about a woman’s right to reproductive healthcare. During the debate most members (on both sides) spoke of their disappointment over the developments, however Tory MP Danny Kruger said he did not believe women have complete rights over their own body.
“The fact is I probably disagree with most members who have spoken so far about this question. They think that women have an absolute right of bodily autonomy in this matter whereas I think in the case of abortion that right is qualified by the fact that another body is involved.”
His comments have provoked anger and have been widely criticised but he is not the only member of parliament to appear sympathetic to the US position.
In an interview with LBC this week Wellingborough MP Peter Bone slammed the BBC for replacing the term ‘pro-life’ with ‘anti-abortion’ in their coverage of the American Supreme Court decision, saying:
“Pro-life - people who support that…I tend to be in that category - think that a baby at conception is a human being and has a right to life and therefore I’m very surprised that the BBC is changing that.”
Asked whether he accepted that the ban in the US could lead to unsafe abortions taking place he said:
“...I go back to the logic which is presumably if you’re in Texas, whatever decision Texas makes will be what the people in Texas want.
“I think it was Lord Steele who [introduced the Abortion Act] and has regretted what has happened over the years and the number of abortions. I do say there is a point where there is a baby and there is an argument that the baby has a right to life - you may say it’s Christian but as a Christian I think that’s a perfectly fair thing.”
In fact Lord Steele, although admitting to concerns over the number of abortions, has said he has ‘no regrets’ over the legislation and previously argued that abortion rights should to be extended to Northern Ireland - something the majority of MPs in Northamptonshire were against.
Bone, Corby’s Tom Pursglove, MP for Kettering Philip Hollobone and Northampton South MP Andrew Lewer were some of 99 MPs (79 men, 20 women) who voted against extending abortion rights in Northern Ireland. Northampton North MP Michael Ellis abstained. Daventry’s Chris Heaton-Harris and the only woman representing Northamptonshire in parliament Andrea Leadsom voted in favour.
Several of those 99 are now in senior positions in the government including the deputy prime minister Dominc Raab, DWP secretary Therese Coffey, Brexit minister Jacob Rees Mogg, minister for universities Michelle Donelan and Corby’s Pursglove who is now a home office minister.
Last week there was a vote in parliament on whether the government should commission abortion services in Northern Ireland - a move which will improve access to abortions in the country. 70 MPs voted against this, including Bone, Hollobone and Lewer.
In 2008 Bone and Hollobone voted to cut the time limit an abortion can take place from 24 weeks to just 12. Pursglove, Lewer and Ellis were not MPs at the time.
On Tuesday Labour’s Stella Creasy said she would be tabling an amendment to the British Bill of Rights - which was introduced to parliament by Dominic Raab this month - to ensure a woman’s right to abortion. Speaking during the debate in parliament she said:
“Roe v. Wade gave American women a constitutional right to have an abortion. Currently, here in the UK, only women in Northern Ireland have their constitutional right to an abortion protected as a human right. But we can change that, and that is what this place and this urgent question can do today.
“I ask the minister a direct and simple question. If an amendment is tabled to the forthcoming Bill of Rights to protect a woman’s right to choose for every single woman in the United Kingdom—by those of us who recognise that it will be a conscience issue, and therefore a free vote—will she join me in voting for it?”
She later told the Guardian:
“Most women in the UK do not realise abortion is not a right but there is only a law giving exemption from prosecution in certain circumstances. What the US teaches us is that we cannot be complacent about entrenching those rights in law.”
Speaking about the news from America, chair of the Abortion Rights campaign in Britain, Kerry Abel, said:
“This is a hugely significant set back for abortion rights. Not just in the US but it will embolden anti-abortion activists here and in Poland, Malta and other places where the struggle for access is already desperate.
“…This is a dark moment for the struggle for women’s liberation and the fight to control our own bodies. We will commit to solidarity work and say squarely that we don’t want any rollbacks to our rights here either. Bans off our bodies!”