The Tory leadership candidate affirms his position on halving the UK limit to 12 weeks, a move that would hurt the most vulnerable
Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary and a running candidate for the Conservative party’s leadership, resurrected some opinions on abortion in a recent interview. Speaking on Sunday’s Sky News programme, Hunt said he stands by a previous statement he made calling for the legal time limit for terminations in the UK to be halved from 24 weeks to just 12 weeks.
“These are matters of conscience, yes, my view hasn’t changed on that,” he said. “I respect the fact other people have very different views and that’s why these matters are matters for free votes in the House of Commons.”
Asked whether, as prime minister, he would imbue the change, he said “it won’t be government policy to change the law” or to have a vote on it.
The language of “conscience” has long been co-opted by the anti-abortion side, but what my conscience tells me – and that of anyone who believes in body autonomy and free choice – is that restricting abortion in any way only hurts those who are society’s most vulnerable, and we should do everything to stop the curtailing of reproductive rights in the UK and elsewhere.
For Hunt to extol the virtues of his conscience when his political choices have made people – especially women and poor people – worse off in an era of Tory-enabled austerity is pretty rich. His track record is totally abhorrent, from voting against a childcare element on Universal Credit, to voting against a government assessment on the impact of government policies on women, and during his tenure as health secretary, seeing 450,000 women not invited to attend their final breast cancer screening, which killed or impeded the lives of up to 270 women. How can someone with such a callous political career – as a health secretary – assert any form of conscience or moral compass that affects people’s health and bodily rights?
Despite Hunt’s statement today, detailing that his government would not table a vote on abortion, we have to hold him to account for his abhorrent, dangerous, misinformed views.
As health secretary, he refused to introduce policy to allow home use of misoprostol (the abortion pill), which Matt Hancock did fairly quickly when he took over. Then, in 2015, he voted in favour of criminalising women for ending a pregnancy on grounds of foetal sex. In his position, he showed no urgency in making earlier abortion easier or in any way more accessible, which would dramatically reduce the rate of later term terminations.
The vast majority of abortions take place early on – around 79 per cent took place before 10 weeks gestation last year, with only around 10 per cent taking place in the second trimester. We know that from a 2017 report, around half of women who have had abortions in the UK fell pregnant despite making use of contraception – over 14,000 women. A quarter were using some of the most “safe” methods, like oral pills, or options like the coil or hormonal devices that mask bleeding. The failure rates of contraception can be small, but stats like this show the realities for how essential full, accessible abortion services are, no matter where you are in a pregnancy and what your choice is.
“Restricting abortion care is racist, classist, ableist, and every other repugnant way of discriminating against someone in a time of need is”
Abortions in the second trimester are a vital, necessary part of reproductive care. In the majority of cases – not that it is truly anyone’s business – they’re wanted pregnancies, decisions made by aggrieved people to terminate what may be a non-viable pregnancy. Many of these decisions are made due to fatal foetal abnormalities like anencephaly, where a foetus wouldn’t live long past childbirth. If Hunt heard just some of the experiences of those who have gone through late-term abortions, maybe he would show a modicum of empathy, and not think it just to take away what can be a sensitive, humane, emotional option.
Limiting the timeline for abortion access would only affect the most vulnerable and marginalised; domestic violence survivors escaping an abusive partner, young women and girls hiding their pregnancy or who don’t confide in someone who can help them until later, migrant and refugee women with limited access to healthcare services, or people with swiftly changing circumstances from job stability to chronic illness, and dependants and childen in their care. Food bank usage, child poverty and unstable employment rates are some of their highest and concerning ever, which will always affect people’s reproductive and health decisions. Abortion will always be an intersectional issue – restricting abortion care is racist, classist, ableist, and every other repugnant way of discriminating against someone in a time of need is.
Other Tory leadership candidates show equally horrendous values on reproductive rights – Sajid Javid voted to stop abortion providers from providing counseling, and in favour of criminalising women for ending pregnancy on grounds of sex. He also voted against requiring Northern Ireland’s secretary of state to take into account “human rights obligations” caused by the country’s abortion ban. As home secretary, he said a ban on anti-abortion protests outside clinics would not be a “proportionate response” – at a time when women were being harassed, assaulted, tricked into going to anti-choice faux clinics, and gallingly handed children’s teddies. Ester McVey, Andrea Leadsom, Dominic Raab, Rory Stewart and all the other ghouls have similar track records. On the whole, parliament has passed some more progressive laws and policy relating to women in recent months – the upskirting ban, giving Northern Irish people access to NHS abortion care in the rest of the UK, sanitary products availability, which seems to reflect a drastic abortion time limit would be unlikely. Nevertheless, the Tory government has shown itself to be equally callous towards women – those in detention centres like Yarl’s Wood, the plight of Northern Ireland, Universal Credit are just some galling examples – and the recent rollbacks on reproductive rights in the US show we should always be vigilant.
As always, we should be thankful for the advocacy and active work that the British Pregnancy Advisory Service and grassroots groups like Abortion Support Network do to better and sustain free, safe, legal, local abortion care for all. Right now, the only reason for abortion to be an immediate priority for the House of Commons is to decriminalise it in Northern Ireland, and address the growing impact that Brexit is having on people trying to access abortion from elsewhere.