Former Government Minister proposes legislation protecting pregnant women and new mothers from redundancy

Women could be protected from redundancy during pregnancy and in the months following a birth, miscarriage or stillbirth under new legislation proposed by the former chair of the House of Commons Women and Equalities committee.

Yesterday, on Wednesday 8 July, Maria Miller MP presented the Pregnancy and Maternity (Redundancy Protection) Bill in the House of Commons.

Introducing the Ten Minute Rule Bill, the former Conservative Government Minister said: “The Government should be applauded for creating an environment where we have record numbers of women in work, but we need to update our laws to reflect that change, to address the challenges that women routinely face and to ensure that we level up the workplace for all women.”

Maria Miller’s proposed legislation, which has cross-party support, seeks to prohibit redundancy during pregnancy and maternity leave and for six months after the end of the pregnancy or leave apart from in specified circumstances.

The former Culture Secretary attempted to introduce legislation protecting pregnant women and new mothers last year, but it didn’t progress past the First Reading.

In a comment piece for the Telegraph, outlining why she was reintroducing the Bill, Maria Miller said: “The pandemic has shown too many employers fail to provide the basic protection pregnant women and new mums are entitled to by law. Now more than ever we need protections for pregnant women and new mums with real teeth that will also change employers’ ingrained attitudes.”

“We should hang our heads in shame at the way pregnant women and new mums are treated at work,” she added.

Sacked and silenced

A study, conducted by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in 2019, found that one in nine women have been fired or made redundant, or were treated so badly they felt forced out of their job, after going back to work from maternity leave.

The report estimated over 50,000 women each year may lose their role at work because of pregnancy or maternity.

It also found that over 75% of pregnant women and new mothers in the workforce experience some form of discrimination or negative treatment during pregnancy, maternity leave and return to work from leave. This is up from 45% of women in 2005.

Additionally, only around a quarter (28%) of those women raised the issue with their employer, only 3% went through their employer’s internal grievance procedure, and less than 1% pursued a claim to the employment tribunal.

The less than 1% of women who do go ahead to an employment tribunal are often ‘sacked and silenced’.

Pregnant women singled out for redundancy and furlough

Since the COVID-19 crisis began, a quarter of pregnant women or new mothers have experienced unfair treatment at work, including being singled out for redundancy or furlough, according to a study of 3,400 women by the TUC.

Additionally, according to PWC research published in May, 78% of those who have already lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic are women.

Collateral damage

Rosalind Bragg, director of Maternity Action, a national pregnancy charity, told The Independent their helplines had been inundated with calls from despairing pregnant women.

She said: “During the lockdown, we had a lot of calls of women concerned about unsafe working conditions. But now on our advice lines, we have any number of women who are fearful of being laid off or who have been laid off. Many businesses are contracting and historically pregnant women have been among the first to be laid off. This is unlawful. But unfortunately, it is all too common.”

Joeli Brearley, founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, added that pregnant women and new mothers are “the first to be pushed out of their job” when a business is making cuts.

She said: “Pregnant women are viewed as distracted and that they can’t be committed to their job if they are about to take some time out of their career to care for a new baby.”

“When women return from maternity leave, they are also extremely vulnerable as the business has been operating without them for the last nine months so they’re not at the forefront of an employer’s mind. Without enhanced protection these vulnerable women will be collateral damage as our economy contracts and the country descends into recession. This will increase child poverty and set maternal employment rates back decades. Protecting their employment is good for the economy and it is good for families.’’

A spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson said:

“Negative workplace attitudes towards pregnancy and motherhood could cause women to feel pressure to have an abortion. No woman should have to face such pressure.

“Cases like these are, sadly, becoming commonplace and offer further proof that the culture needs to change to support expectant and new mothers in the workplace and beyond.

“Maria Miller’s Ten Minute Rule Motion presented this week demonstrates willingness and concern in Westminster to change the negative bias towards pregnant women in the labour market. 

“Whilst backbench bills of this kind are unlikely to be made law directly, this sends an important signal to the Government that the UK does not currently offer adequate legal protection for pregnant women in the workplace. It is therefore greatly encouraging that these steps are being taken to provide greater economic security for pregnant women, particularly at this critical time where many mothers are facing redundancy.”

Pro-life SDLP councillor resigns over abortion stance of party

A councillor for the Social Democrat and Labour Party (SDLP) has resigned from the party over its stance on abortion.

Stephanie Quigley announced on Monday evening that she was quitting the party but would remain a councillor for Causeway Coast and Glens.

Ms Quigley, who was preceded by her father Gerry McLaughlin as the SDLP councillor for Coleraine, told Irish News last night that the right to life was at the core of her politics.

“My natural home was in the SDLP,” she said.

“It was where my father honed his political voice.

“The philosophy which my father espoused was based on non-violence and the right to life.

“I followed in his footsteps and held the right to life and the life of the unborn child as the cornerstone of my political philosophy.”

However, according to Irish News, Ms Quigley said she could no longer remain a member of the SDLP given its position on the matter.

Ms Quigley, who will continue to serve as an independent councillor, added: “I have made friends for life within the party and wish them all the best for the future. I must however place the rights of those without a voice ahead of populism.”

SDLP MPs become first NI MPs to vote to impose extreme abortion regime on NI

Just last month, the SDLPs two sole MPs, joined Alliance Party MP Stephen Farry, voting in favour of a motion approving the Government’s decision to impose an extreme abortion regime on Northern Ireland.

On Wednesday 17 June, Colum Eastwood and Claire Hanna joined in with MPs from Great Britain in approving the motion by 253 votes in favour and 136 against.

Prior to the 2019 election, all Northern Ireland constituent MPs had voted against introducing the extreme abortion regime.

SDLP prevent progress of Bill preventing extreme NI abortion law

Last year, the SDLP, a self-proclaimed pro-life party, sabotaged a Bill that would have prevented an extreme abortion regime from being imposed on Northern Ireland.

A last ditch attempt to form a Northern Ireland Executive on 21 October, which would have prevented Westminster MPs from being able to force abortion on the province, failed after SDLP leader Colum Eastwood dismissed the move as a political stunt – yet staged a walkout with his party.

By walking out, the SDLP made the decision not to support the efforts to stop Northern Ireland from having one of Europe’s most extreme abortion laws imposed on them by Westminster.

This unilateral decision was made by the party despite a significant majority of its supporters outlining their opposition to the abortion regulations.

A poll, weighted to reflect Northern Irish society, revealed 66% of SDLP voters were against the regulations.

Opposition to the extreme abortion regime formed a majority among every age category of both men and women.

‘No way I will be ever voting SDLP again’

Following the SDLP’s walk-out, DUP leader Arlene Foster noted that Northern Ireland would now have one of the most liberal abortion regimes in Europe. She said it was a “very sad” and “shameful day”.

TUV leader Jim Allister told the media: “There was a definite pathway here but it was blockaded both by Sinn Féin and the SDLP, and particular shame on the SDLP who parade, on occasions their pro-life credentials.”

Nationalist voter Mary Lewis expressed shock that the SDLP, a Nationalist party who claim they are pro-life, would “willingly allow the UK Parliament to legislate for the people of Northern Ireland and impose the most extreme abortion law in Europe on our small province, without consideration of the devolution settlement.”

She added: “As an SDLP voter, I am appalled that the SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood, has dismissed an attempt to save lives of unborn children as a political stunt. I am further shocked that his party chose to walk out of the chamber which meant that the attempt to introduce a bill to stop Westminster imposing abortion on Northern Ireland would have blocked.

“There is no way that anyone from the SDLP can now call themselves pro-life. There is also no way that they can call themselves Nationalist when they actively blocked an attempt to stop Westminster imposing legislation on Northern Ireland. There is no way I will be ever voting for the SDLP again.”

Canadian healthcare professionals offer unborn babies hope through coronavirus crisis

A team of healthcare professionals in Canada have provided continuous support and reassurance to parents of unborn babies with spina bifida during the coronavirus pandemic.

Expecting parents, like Amanda and Devon Allenby, were concerned their unborn babies wouldn’t receive corrective treatment for the condition when the outbreak of COVID-19 placed elective surgeries on hold.

Speaking to CTV News, Amanda said: “We were told because of COVID, we were not going to be able to have fetal surgery.”

However, the Ontario Fetal Centre medical team at Mount Sinai Hospital – the only place in Canada that performs corrective treatment for the condition – had a plan.

To overcome the challenge, the medical team started virtual appointments to help prepare expectant mothers for the in-womb surgery. It meant mothers could be fully informed on the procedure and meet the healthcare professionals who would be involved before arriving at the hospital.

With the help of these virtual appointments, Amanda became the first patient to have the in-womb surgery on her baby after the COVID-19 pause.

Amanda and Devon said although their son isn’t out of the woods yet, he is doing well and will be born at the end of July.

Father Devon added: “It’s one less procedure he’s going to have to go through and I’m super thankful to the doctors and physicians who were able to accept Amanda and get it done for her. A huge weight was lifted off our shoulders.”

Dr Greg Ryan, head of the fetal medicine program at Mount Sinai Hospital, told CTV news the in-womb surgery for spina bifida involves opening the mother’s stomach and taking the baby out of the womb.

A pioneering new surgery

Three years ago, two-year-old Eiko was the first baby to undergo the pioneering surgery in Canada.

Eiko’s mother, Romeila Son, was told her daughter faced paralysis, living in a wheelchair and brain damage without the surgery.

“Now she’s doing great. She’s walking around, chasing her brothers around the house, talking, knows her abcs, her shapes,” Son said.

Babies diagnosed with spina bifida in Canada and the UK can be aborted right up to the point of birth.

In the UK, it is estimated 80 percent of unborn babies diagnosed with spina bifida each year are aborted. In Canada the termination rate is over 65%.

However, pro-life campaigners are hopeful that the relatively new option of in-womb surgery, which has been made routinely available on the NHS, will decrease the number of unborn babies being terminated each year.

Mothers misinformed

Earlier this year, a baby girl, who had the surgery whilst still being in her mother’s womb, celebrated her first birthday at home.

After diagnosing Elouise with the condition last year, doctors offered her parents a termination saying the outcome was “bleak”.

However, Kieron and Bethan Simpson refused to have an abortion, and now Elouise, who is described as “happy and smiley” by her mother, is thriving.

Bethan also raised concerns that pregnant women are being misinformed on spina bifida.

“Since becoming a mum I’ve had the chance to reflect on that traumatic time. My only option was to fight. But most importantly, it was about being informed.

“There is a lot of negative information around spina bifida.

“Without being fully informed as parents, Elouise would not be where she is now.”

Her concerns were shared by a mother who described the relentless pressure she faced to have an abortion after doctors diagnosed her baby with spina bifida last year.

Natalie Halson, who refused an abortion ten times, said doctors “made out like an abortion was my only option and explained that if I went ahead with the pregnancy my baby would be wheelchair bound and have no quality of life.”

“When I got off the phone I went and did tonnes of research and found out that there were options for my little girl – I felt suddenly really angry that they had made out I had none.”

Speaking about her daughter, Mirabelle, who has since had corrective surgery on her spine, Natalie said: “I look at Mirabelle now and think ‘I wouldn’t even have known you.’ It doesn’t bear thinking about.”

Pro-life victory as major attempt to introduce Europe’s most extreme abortion law fails

An attempt to hijack the UK Government’s flagship Domestic Abuse Bill with two extreme abortion proposals has failed. 

The Speaker of the House, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, announced yesterday afternoon that amendment New Clause 29, which would have introduced abortion for any reason up to 28 weeks, would not be selected for debate.

Diana Johnson MP later withdrew amendment New Clause 28, which would have allowed both medical and surgical abortions to take place in any location if a woman is in an abusive relationship, following a good number of strong speeches against it.

Stirring speeches from Fiona Bruce MP and Carla Lockhart MP, along with a number of other MPs who don’t share their pro-life position on abortion, made it clear that this amendment would have had serious negative consequences for victims of domestic abuse.

As a result, it appears that the abortion lobby realised the extreme likelihood of their radical amendment being defeated and encouraged Diana Johnson to withdraw it.

If the Labour MP had pushed the amendment to a vote and lost, this would have been the first time a pro-abortion amendment or Bill had been defeated in a vote in UK history.

Pro-life MP Fiona Bruce MP put forward an amendment calling for a review of the current temporary measures allowing ‘DIY’ abortions. The amendment called for the Government to conduct an “an inquiry into the safety, number, and impact of abortions carried out under the temporary coronavirus crisis provisions where the place of abortion was the woman’s home”.

The Government subsequently agreed to a full inquiry into the temporary ‘DIY’ abortion measures.

Stirring speeches against extreme abortion amendment

Contrary to the abortion lobby’s claims and the aims of the Domestic Abuse Bill, New Clause 28 would have likely resulted in a far greater number of women being coerced or forced into an unwanted abortion. 

By making both medical and surgical abortions legal outside of a hospital setting or place approved by the Secretary of State and removing the requirement for an in-person consultation, it would be difficult for physicians and providers to ascertain if abuse or coercion is involved.

The extreme change could have compromised the privacy of the patient and, in theory, would have allowed an abuser to hide in the background of an ‘electronic’ consultation.

Additionally, New Clause 28 would have removed the current 9 weeks and 6 days’ gestation time limit on ‘DIY’ home abortions which is present under the current temporary regulations.

This concern was raised in the House of Commons last night by Conservative MP Fiona.

Speaking against the amendment, the pro-life MP said she could not put forward key objections any better than a response from a female GP who she quotes as saying:

“I am very concerned about the proposed changes to new clause 28. 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.”

Speaking from a personal capacity, Fiona Bruce then went on to say: “This is a domestic abuse Bill; it should not be hijacked by those continuously campaigning on another issue and constantly looking for opportunities in this place to add badly worded amendments to Bills with unforeseen implications and complications.” 

Alex Stafford MP echoed Fiona Bruce’s concerns and said such a “seismic change” in the UK’s abortion law shouldn’t be “tacked on” to the Domestic Abuse Bill. 

Outlining his concerns with the amendment the MP for Rother Valley said: “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.”

Carla Lockhart MP shared the concerns of a person who works with women experiencing domestic abuse in England who said: “We work every day with women who experience domestic abuse. We see the way they are controlled and manipulated. To me, this suggests the legislation will only be making that worse. It will give abusers more power and more reason to keep the woman being abused at home, away from people who can really help them.” 

The pro-life MP said MPs “should not hinder” professionals like these in their work and that “laws should be designed to help vulnerable women escape domestic abuse situations, not enable them to remain in those horrific situations”.

She added: “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. Surely we should be addressing how women find themselves in such difficult situations, and take measures to prevent that?”

Barrister and Chair of the Justice Select Committee Sir Robert Neill raised concerns from his experience as a criminal practitioner saying: “on more than one occasion, I found instances where part of the abuse had been to force the victim to have an abortion.” 

Highlighting that the new amendment would further compound this problem, he added: “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. I have certainly seen instances of that in practice, as other criminal practitioners will have done. Although the intentions are good and well meant, I have a concern about moving down the route set out in new clause 28.”

Abortion up to 28 weeks avoided

Amendment New Clause 29, which was not selected for debate and will, therefore, not be included in Domestic Abuse Bill legislation, would have made extreme changes to abortion legislation by repealing sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act. This would have left England and Wales with no abortion law through to 28 weeks.

Almost all current legal safeguards on abortion would have been removed, up until when a child is capable of being born alive, with a ceiling of 28 weeks.

This would have introduced abortion on demand, for any reason – including sex-selective abortion – up to 28 weeks. The change would have been the most extreme change to abortion legislation since 1967 and would have left England and Wales with one of the most extreme abortion laws in the world. 

Women against extreme abortion proposals

The failed proposals were radically out of step with the opinions of women on abortion. 

Polling from Savanta ComRes on whether time limits for abortion should be increased shows that only 1% of women want the time limit to be extended; in contrast, 70% of women are  in favour of a reduction in time limits.

The polling also showed that 77% of women agree that doctors should be required to verify in person that a patient seeking an abortion is not under pressure from a third party to undergo the abortion, and 91% of women agree that gender-selective abortion should be explicitly banned by the law.

Major victory

A spokesperson for Right to Life UK, Catherine Robinson said:

“This is a major victory for the unborn child and women facing unplanned pregnancies. These amendments would have left the unborn child with considerably worse protections and removed many of the current safeguards which protect women facing unplanned pregnancies.

“Thank you to the thousands of people that rallied over the last week to get friends and family to email their MPs. MPs received more emails ahead of this vote than they have ever received ahead of an abortion vote.

“Thank you to the amazing group of pro-life MPs in Parliament who have worked so hard to ensure that these extreme amendments were defeated.

“Thank you to the large number of organisations that have all come together to encourage their supporters to contact MPs and ensure this major attempt to introduce extreme abortion changes was defeated.”