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Press Release: Speculation of Abortion Vote For DUP Wrong-Headed, Says Right To Life

This morning, reports were widely circulated about the comments by former Minister Owen Paterson MP as to the possibility of a vote on the upper limit for most abortions being put forward by the Government, as part of a deal struck with the Democratic Unionist Party to maintain a Parliamentary majority.

This speculation is just that, however: speculation. It ignores the fact that abortion is a conscience vote issue in British politics, and that change in the law does not come from the Government, but from Private Member’s Bills. There is no basis whatever to think that abortion would form part of any agreement with the DUP, especially given that abortion is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Paterson’s speculation about there being a vote on the abortion limit is therefore completely wrong-headed, and it is possible that is is being used as a red herring and exaggeration by those who already disagree with the idea of the DUP being given a deal by the Government.

Further, behind some of the commentary surrounding the DUP and abortion has been a lazy assumption that the UK is somehow a country that favours the current political settlement concerning abortion, or wants to see it made more permissive. Yet this is also wrong-headed contradicts the established facts about public opinion.

A ComRes poll carried out in the weeks before the Election on public attitudes to abortion, found, amongst other things, that:

  • 70% of women would like the current time limit for abortion to be lowered, with 59% of women wanting the limit lowered to 16 weeks.
  • 91% of women want ax explicit ban on sex-selective abortion.
  • 93% of women want independent abortion counselling introduced.
  • 84% of women want improved pregnancy support for women in unplanned pregnancy.
  • 70% of parents want introduction of parental consent for girls 15 and under to get abortions.
  • 65% of the public oppose UK taxpayer money being spent on abortions overseas.
  • 76% of the public want a procedural requirement that doctors verify that women are not being coerced into abortion.
  • 79% of the public want a five-day consideration period before abortion.

By contrast, the poll found that only 1% of the public (including 1% of women) wanted abortion to be made legal up to birth, the ultimate aim of recent abortion lobby campaigning.

The claim therefore by abortion lobbyists that the UK is a “pro-choice country”, and that there is “a pro-choice majority in this country [who] are deeply concerned about the implications of the Conservative’s deal with the DUP” is flatly wrong. The majority of people in the country want the UK to move in a more pro-life direction, not one that is more permissive.

RTL Executive Officer Peter D. Williams said:

It is understandable that there is concern about the involvement of the DUP in Government, given their past role in sectarianism in Northern Ireland, and their association in the public imagination with a judgemental frame of moral reference. Nonetheless, the speculation surrounding a potential vote on abortion limits completely ignores that the legal extent of abortion is determined by Private Members Bills in the Westminster Parliament, and is now a devolved matter to the Holyrood Parliament and the Stormont Assembly.

In all cases, abortion is a conscience issue in British politics, not a matter of Government policy (which merely regulates what Parliament has freely voted as the legal consensus). The idea that there would be a Government-led vote on abortion limits as part of a DUP deal is completely wrong-headed.

It is also radically mistaken to assume as some commentators have, that a lowering of abortion limits would be something contrary to the public consensus. As recent polling shows, the truth is that we live in a country where most people feel that abortion is too permissive. Clearly, the majority of the British public favour a much lower gestation limit for abortion, and greater safeguards and support for pregnant mothers and their unborn children.

The UK is currently an extreme outlier on abortion, with the majority of European countries having an upper limit of 12 weeks. We in the right-to-life movement welcome a debate on humanising our abortion laws, as we wish to see greater right-to-life protections introduced for unborn children and support for pregnant women.

These aims are not only right and authentically progressive, they are supported by the majority of the British public. The abortion debate should be left to Private Members legislation however, and not imposed by Government.