MPs defend unborn life in abortion debate

7 July 2020

Last night, an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill was withdrawn that would have permanently allowed DIY home abortions in cases of suspected domestic abuse. The amendment was withdrawn due to a lack of support, receiving significant criticism from various MPs.

Below are some extracts of key pro-life speeches given in the House of Commons. You can watch the full debate on Parliament TV or read it in full on Hansard.

Enabling abusers

Sir Robert Neill MP opened the debate to the idea that the new clause would likely enable abusers rather than help women being abused:

“From my experience as a criminal practitioner, … on more than one occasion, I found instances where part of the abuse had been to force the victim to have an abortion. The irony is that reliance on a telephone call to procure the means of doing that does not give the safeguard of knowing who is standing next to the victim when she makes the telephone call.”

DUP MP Jim Shannon called the amendment “opportunistic and simply wrong” as it did the opposite of protecting women from harm.

Gavin Robinson MP also pointed to how the clause failed to address the women who are forced into having abortions by abusive partners:

No reference is made to the 7% of women within our country who procure abortions not because they want them, but as a result of coercive control; there is no reference to the 7% of women who are forced to proceed and procure an abortion because of domestic abuse.”

Fiona Bruce MP also commented on the issue, citing a female GP who said:

“‘It is extraordinary that it should be argued that a woman suffering or at risk of domestic abuse, seeking abortion ​should somehow be considered to be at less risk if she consults a doctor remotely by telemedicine and given abortifacients to take at home. Where is the opportunity to check with her, privately, that she is not being coerced or that she may be in danger, to examine her to determine her stage of pregnancy, to offer support and clear advice in a place of safety? As a medical practitioner working remotely, how can I reliably ensure she is at the stage of pregnancy she says she is, as the use of abortifacients used later than the 9 weeks 6 days limit carries greater risk of complications which I would be responsible for providing care for? And how can I provide assurance that this woman is suffering from domestic abuse unless it has been previously disclosed to me… These factors are virtually impossible to verify without a face to face consultation’.”

Advancing the abortion agenda

Christian Concern’s case into the government decision to introduce DIY abortion has exposed the grip of the abortion lobby on government to advance its own agenda. Northern Irish MP Carla Lockhart alluded to this in her speech:

“The new clause seems to be a clear attempt to use the Domestic Abuse Bill as a vehicle to advance an agenda that is emphatic on expanding access to abortion, seemingly failing to acknowledge that allowing women to have an abortion at locations other than hospitals or places approved by the Secretary of State has already led to serious complications. We all know that abortion is not the answer to domestic abuse.”

Sir Edward Leigh MP also cited evidence in our case, referencing Dr Gregory Gardner’s witness statement, which showed that DIY abortions put women’s physical and mental health at risk:

As Dr Gregory Gardner, a GP and honorary clinical lecturer at the University of Birmingham, highlighted in his witness statement:
“‘It will be difficult if not impossible to verify by phone or video whether a woman is undergoing any kind of duress to have an abortion. There does not seem to have been any consideration given to this in the proposed change in policy. There will be women who need delicate counselling to discover coercion or other forms of abuse.’
“His testimony highlights the fact that, if we pass this new clause, it will go against the very aims of this Bill, as a phone call often fails to illustrate whether a woman is in a domestic abuse situation.”

No clarity over type of abortion

Both pro-life and pro-abortion MPs argued that the clause left the law open to interpretation and therefore did not protect victims of domestic abuse.

DUP MP Gavin Robinson highlighted Fiona Bruce MP’s amendments to new clause 28, arguing that the clause did not make clear the restrictions on abortion:

In amendments (a), (b) and (c), she highlights that it makes no reference to the nine-week, six-day time limit associated with the coronavirus provision of telemedicine abortion and no reference to whether new clause 28 applies to medical terminations or surgical terminations.”

Conservative MP Alexander Stafford, who has previously voted against introducing ‘buffer zones’ around abortion clinics and introducing extreme abortion in Northern Ireland, also stated:

“Disturbingly, the new clause does not have a gestation period limit and is not limited to medical abortion. In terms of addressing domestic abuse, as we have heard, the new clause could in fact worsen the very problem that it tries to address. By removing confidential face-to-face meetings between women and a medical professional, it becomes impossible for clinicians to establish whether the woman was coerced into requesting the home pill or even whether it was in fact her on the telephone. This is a serious point. We should not do anything that could make domestic abuse any worse.”

Maria Miller MP, who has largely voted in favour of abortion in the past, argued the amendment was ‘rushed’ and left the law wide open to interpretation:

“The rushed nature of its drafting leaves us with a clause that is open to great misinterpretation and does not do justice to the hon. Lady’s entirely honourable intentions in raising the issue. I could not support the new clause if she pressed it to a vote, because without the amendments proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), there would be a serious risk of exposing some of the most vulnerable members of our society—victims of domestic abuse—to what would be, to all intents and purposes, an unregulated abortion service.”

A temporary measure becoming permanent

MPs also criticised the amendment for making what were supposed to be ‘temporary measures’ brought in during an emergency into permanent measures.

Conservative MP Tim Loughton, who supported the government’s decision to introduce DIY abortion stated:

“I have been supportive of the temporary measures and of the measures to include women from Northern Ireland in the ability to access these services, but I believe that this is a step too far. This is the wrong place for such a measure. It would make a temporary emergency provision long term and permanent. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), the Chair of the Justice Committee, has said, this could have a detrimental impact, with abusers forcing an abortion on their partner without the scrutiny of clinicians. ​On that basis, if the hon. Lady does force her new clause to a vote, which I hope she does not, I will be voting against it.”

Similarly, pro-life MP Sir Edward Leigh stated:

I think it [DIY abortion] was designed by the Government as a very temporary measure. I do not think for a moment that it was designed as a permanent measure; it was designed simply in the context of covid-19. Body language and visual signs cannot be observed over the telephone. It is not a perfect way of consulting.”

Alexander Stafford MP also stated:

“New clause 28 extends a temporary provision for abortion pills to be posted and taken at home, threatening to hijack the Bill and draw our focus away from the very serious subject matter at hand. Abortion is an incredibly sensitive matter that deserves close consideration. Such a seismic change to the law should not be tacked on to a domestic abuse Bill as an amendment, as it lessens some of its impact.”

Temporary measure extended until government consultation completed

Diana Johnson MP, who wrote the new clause, later withdrew it, meaning it was not included in the Domestic Abuse Bill and therefore not voted on.

However, speaking on behalf of the government, Womens Secretary Victoria Atkins stated:

“The Government consider that the right way forward is to undertake a public consultation on whether to make permanent the current covid-19 measure allowing for home use of early medical abortion pills up to 10 weeks’ gestation for all eligible women. … I can confirm that we will keep the current covid-19 measures in place until the public consultation concludes and a decision has been made.”

Christian Concern will continue to challenge this policy at the Court of Appeal. We will bring you further updates as they happen.

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