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.”

Nationwide undercover investigation reveals ‘DIY’ abortion service putting lives at risk

A nationwide undercover investigation has found further evidence of abortion providers putting women at significant risk by not carrying out basic checks before sending them ‘DIY’ home abortion pills.

Shortly after lockdown began, the UK Government controversially brought in a policy allowing ‘DIY’ home abortions without public consultation or parliamentary scrutiny.

Prior to the change, women seeking a termination would have to visit a clinic for an assessment from a healthcare professional – something the Government had said was an “essential safeguard” before their incredible U-turn on the issue.

Now, an investigation, commissioned by the Christian Legal Centre, has uncovered that ‘DIY’ home abortion schemes are wide open to abuse and could lead to dangerous and illegal late-term abortions.

As part of the undercover investigation, eight volunteers went through the process of acquiring mifepristone and misoprostol – the pills needed to perform a ‘DIY’ home abortion.

However, in every case, pills were sent to the volunteers, despite using false names, dates of birth and gestational dates.

In one case, ‘DIY’ home abortion pills were provided to a volunteer who gave a date that could only have led to a termination beyond the legal 10-week limit stated in the regulations.

Research participant Anna gave a gestation date on the cusp of the 9 weeks and 6 days, which would have put her over the limit at the start of the process. During a second call she changed the date of her last menstrual period to remain within the 9 weeks and 6 days limit and this was accepted without any questions being asked.

According to the Christian Legal Centre, all eight volunteers were rushed through the process. The legal advocacy group revealed that: “On one call, staff can be heard talking over the woman to quickly conclude the conversation by sending out the abortion pills.”

Parliamentary pressure for ‘DIY’ home abortions

The shocking results of the undercover investigations come ahead of a potential parliamentary vote today seeking to make ‘DIY’ home abortions available on a permanent basis, for women who are in an abusive relationship.

The radical amendment is being tabled by Labour MP Diana Johnson, along with a further amendment that could leave England and Wales with the most extreme abortion law in Europe.

Contrary to BPAS’ claims, and the aims of the Domestic Abuse Bill, allowing ‘DIY’ home abortions on a permanent basis would likely result in a far greater number of women being coerced or forced into an unwanted termination.

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 will be difficult for physicians and providers to ascertain if abuse or coercion is involved.

The extreme change could compromise the privacy of the patient and, in theory, could allow an abuser to hide in the background of an ‘electronic’ consultation.

According to an investigation conducted by the Independent last year, already “one in seven women in the UK have been bullied into either getting pregnant or having an abortion.” The amendment being tabled by Diana Johnson does nothing to address this coercion and will likely make the situation much worse.

Earlier this year, a pharmacist and self-styled pastor, who sexually abused children, covered up his crimes on some of his vulnerable victims by obtaining medical abortion pills through his role as a pharmacist.

Additionally, Dr Gregory Gardner, a longstanding GP and honorary clinical lecturer at the University of Birmingham, has revealed how the radical proposed changes in law could open more children and women up to abuse and coerced abortion.

In an expert witness statement for a UK Court of Appeal legal challenge against ‘DIY’ home abortions, the leading doctor said: “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.”

Furthermore, by removing the 10-week limit, late-term abortions, similar to the one that caused the death of an unborn baby at 28 weeks in May, will likely become more commonplace.

In addition, it was revealed a further eight cases were being investigated of women taking ‘DIY’ home abortion pills beyond the current 10-week limit.

A number of women have also come forward to share the serious problems they’ve experienced after taking ‘DIY’ home abortion pills.

One woman said she went through “hell” and thought she was going to die after taking the dangerous pills.

Another woman said the pain and physical process was “horrible” and “a lot worse than expected”.

Pressure in Parliament for permanent home abortions

Last week, the UK Court of Appeal announced it would hear the Christian Legal Centre’s challenge against the UK Government’s decision to introduce ‘DIY’ home abortions.

Lord Justice Lewison ruled it is “arguable” that the Health Secretary Matt Hancock exceeded his powers under the 1967 Abortion Act when he designated “a pregnant woman’s home” as a permissible place for abortion. 

In granting permission for the judicial review, Lord Justice Lewison said that Christian Concern’s argument “has a real prospect of success”, and the Court of Appeal will now hold a public hearing imminently to decide whether Mr Hancock’s decision should be invalidated.

Catastrophic consequences for vulnerable pregnant women

Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, said: “This undercover operation has exposed the dangers to vulnerable women as a result of the change in the law. This unsafe, and frequently illegal service, is provided by an abortion industry which wields huge influence at the heart of UK government.

“Pre-action disclosure in our court case reveals the hot line abortion executives have to senior civil servants at the heart of the health and social care department. This has to be investigated and overhauled.

“If Diana Johnson’s amendments go forward on Monday there will be a parliamentary debate on whether to introduce to the UK some of the most extreme abortion laws in the world . 

“It would be an abuse of the Domestic Abuse Bill to hijack it in order to decriminalise abortion at any time for any reason up to 28 weeks.

“How can a civilised parliament even contemplate such a move when we know that babies born at less than 28 weeks have a strong chance of survival.

“The revelations of how these DIY abortion services are run and the lack of due process should cause MPs to think again and to reject these dangerous amendments.

“If the amendments go through they will have catastrophic consequences for vulnerable pregnant women and for our unborn children. Abortion figures are already at record levels and we should be working toward public policies which bring down abortion numbers not increase them.

“The abortion providers are shamelessly pushing these amendments in Parliament while ignoring the safety of women who ask for their services.

“The issue of abortion is coming to a head. This public health, mystery client exercise, conducted and regulated to the highest professional standards, has exposed the chilling disregard for proper process at the heart of the abortion industry.”

‘DIY’ home abortions must be ‘urgently withdrawn’

Kevin Duffy, a former Global Director of Clinics Development at Marie Stopes International, who led the undercover investigation, said: “The investigation clearly demonstrates that abortion at home by pills-by-post, is not safe, and on many occasions it oversteps legal boundaries without any proper scrutiny.

“Each of the scenarios revealed by this investigation would not have happened under the pre-lockdown process. Previously as part of the routine care, the woman would first be examined and assessed in a clinic by a professional service provider before being consented for an abortion, which could have resulted in her being able to safely self-administer both tablets at home.

“Women can self-refer for abortion services and do not need to be referred by their GP. Telemedicine means it is much harder to correctly identify the woman and what her gestational stage is. Service providers using the telemedicine process are solely reliant upon the accurate and honest self-assessment by the woman of the gestational age of her pregnancy, her self-reporting of the first day of her last period has replaced the routine examination by a service provider in a clinic.

“It is deeply concerning that the abortion industry has been allowed to take this service this far during an already highly vulnerable time for pregnant women. The process of wholly relying on telemedicine must be withdrawn urgently.”