A large group of MPs grilled Diana Johnson MP and Rupa Huq MP on Monday evening, after they attempted to hijack the UK Government’s flagship Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill with two extreme abortion proposals.
Johnson decided not to take her amendment (NC 55), that would have introduced abortion on demand, for any reason, up to birth, to a vote. Similarly, Huq decided not to take her amendment (NC 42), that would have introduced a jail sentence of up to 2 years for offering support to women outside abortion clinics nationwide, to a vote.
If Diana Johnson MP and Rupa Huq MP had pushed their amendments to a vote and lost, this would have been the first time that a pro-abortion amendment or Bill had been defeated in a vote in UK history.
A large number of MPs in the debate spoke out against these attempts to hijack the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill with extreme abortion amendments. This included stirring speeches from Fiona Bruce MP, Sally-Ann Hart MP, Danny Kruger MP, and Bob Blackman MP, along with MPs who do not usually agree with the pro-life position on abortion but were shocked by the proposal to introduce abortion up to birth.
Other than Diana Johnson, there was not one MP who spoke in support of Diana Johnson’s amendment to introduce abortion on demand, for any reason, up to birth.
Ahead of the debate, over 800 medical professionals signed an open letter to Diana Johnson urging her to withdraw her amendment.
Only 1% of women want the current 24-week limit extended- 70% want it lowered
Fiona Bruce, MP for Congleton said: “New clause 55 is truly shocking on many counts. It would legalise abortions in this country right up to the moment of the birth of a child. No reason would need to be given. The current 24-week limit provision would go.
“The new clause would legalise sex-selective abortions: an abortion could be legally performed if someone chose to reject an unborn boy or girl. It would remove the requirement for abortions to be carried out by doctors, and the protection for women that abortions should take place on approved premises. It would remove the conscience clause: healthcare professionals could be required to conduct abortions contrary to their conscience or beliefs, or lose their job. It would sweep away current legal safeguards and protections not only for the unborn child, but many that protect women. The Abortion Act 1967 would, in effect, be void.
“The proposals are shocking: a viable human being could have his or her life ended up to the point of birth, with no one held accountable, and yet a day later similar actions against a child outside the womb would constitute murder. If, as has happened, the abortion procedure goes wrong, what then? Is the child to be left alone, crying and uncomforted, until it breathes its last?”
“Reports indicate that only 1% of women want the current 24-week limit extended, with 70% wanting it lowered.”
She concluded: “New clause 55 has no place in a compassionate, civilised and humane society. If, as I now understand, the proposers tabled it as a probing amendment, then I hope, given the strength of opposition that has gathered in just a few days within and outside this House, they will never contemplate reintroducing it. We are better than this.”
Never once has she denied that her new clause would allow abortion up to birth
Contrary to Diana Johnson’s claims that her amendment would only decriminalise women seeking abortions and would not leave abortion unregulated, Bob Blackman, MP for Harrow East explained, “New clause 55 would sweep away all current legal safeguards and protections, not only for the unborn child, but many that protect women. The 1967 Act would, in effect, be void, leaving England and Wales with one of the most extreme abortion laws in the world.
“Let me briefly remind Members what those safeguards involve. They are not obstructions by opponents of abortion; they are crucial and vital protections against clear and present dangers. The safeguards prevent abortion simply on the basis of sex and because the baby will be born a girl, or indeed a boy. They ensure that the freedom of health professionals to conscientiously object is protected, and they prevent abortion right up until birth, even though many premature babies are born and survive and thrive, every week. The right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) failed to explain how any of those serious threats to our society and culture would remain illegal.”
He went on: “Never once has she denied that her new clause would allow abortion up to birth—something many of my constituents have rallied against in recent days, as is true of constituents across the country. I have received more emails and calls about new clause 55 than I have about any other measure since I was elected to the House 11 years ago. The right hon. Lady may argue that abortion will remain regulated by different medical bodies in the country, but those bodies cannot make legislation.
“They cannot pass laws or send the crucial messages that our current abortion law sends, namely that sex selective abortion is wrong, that conscientious objection is valid, and that abortion without any time limit would be a gross injustice in a humane society. Abortion under the regulation of changeable medical bodies that issue only guidelines and never laws can never be recommended.
‘Pro-choice’ MP Maria Miller said “I do not support new clause 55 by the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) because of the expansiveness in the way it is drawn. I have deep sympathy, however, and support her in her wish to see abortion decriminalised for women in England and Wales, as has been done in Northern Ireland. We in this House have to take the opportunity to have a thoughtful and thorough debate and to have it in the very near future.”
“I wish it were going to a vote, if only so that I could vote against it”
Steve Brine, MP for Winchester said, “I think that new clause 55, in the name of the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), is poorly drafted. I saw a tsunami of contacts this weekend from constituents who are against it. I wish it were going to a vote, if only so that I could vote against it and the House could show its will on the subject.”
“Who gives them a voice?”
Sally-Ann Hart, MP for Hastings and Rye, said: “Women who seek abortions need compassionate advice and support, but probing new clause 55, tabled by the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), is at odds with the recognition that abortion is a difficult and heavy decision that requires support and compassion. Removing safeguards and legal provision around abortion devalues women’s experience of abortion and drives the focus away from quality healthcare.
The amendment’s proposal to decriminalise abortion would, in my view and in the view of numerous constituents in Hastings and Rye who have contacted me on the subject, introduce abortion on demand for any reason up to birth. Abortion would be available on demand for any reason. Evidence shows that after a few weeks, unborn babies are sentient beings in the womb. Who gives them a voice? We should ask ourselves what kind of a society we are that we would condone that.”
“I do not think that new clause 42 strikes the balance”
On new clause 42, Gavin Robinson, MP for Belfast East said, “In principle, I am prepared to support the notion of buffer zones, but not as currently drafted. I know that that is not exactly where all my colleagues are, so I do not wish to abuse my position as spokesman, because my colleagues are not comfortable at all. There should be a discussion. I do not think that new clause 42 strikes the balance. If it was moved, I could not support it this evening.”
Later in the debate he made it clear that he would not support Diana Johnson’s abortion up to birth amendment.
An “unjustifiable restriction on the right to free expression.”
Danny Kruger, MP for Devizes, said “New clause 42, tabled by the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq), proposes the creation of censorship zones around abortion clinics. The intention behind it is to stop the harassment of women seeking abortion.
We already have laws against harassment which can be, and are, applied. We also already have public order laws that allow councils to impose restrictions regarding specific clinics that are experiencing any real public order difficulties, so the activity that the new clause proposes to criminalise is peaceful, passive, non-obstructive activity—less disruptive than the sort of protests that Opposition Members are so busy trying to defend today. I recognise the good faith behind the new clause, but in practice it is an attempt to criminalise the expression of an opinion. I cite the campaigner Peter Tatchell, who said today that it is an ‘unjustifiable restriction on the right to free expression.’”
A spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson said: “This was a major victory for the unborn child and women facing unplanned pregnancies”.
“By repealing the relevant sections of the Offences against the Person Act and the relevant offences under the Infant Life (Preservation) Act, Diana Johnson’s amendment would have immediately removed all current legal safeguards around abortion provided by the Abortion Act, many of which protect women. It would have been legal for an abortion to happen for any reason right through to birth. This would have left England and Wales with one of the most extreme abortion laws in the world”.
“Diana Johnson clearly decided to rebrand the clause as a ‘probing amendment’ at the very last minute, due to the fact that zero of her colleagues were willing to speak in support of it in the House.”
“This amendment would have left the unborn child with considerably worse protections and removed many of the current safeguards that protect women facing unplanned pregnancies”.
“Rupa Huq’s amendment would have punished offers of support to women outside abortion clinics in crisis situations and in need of help, despite the large number of accounts of women receiving such help in a timely and life-changing manner”.
“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 and some MPs said that they received more emails on this issue than on any other issue while in office”.
“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”.