Tory MP blames women not using contraception for need for abortion

Nick Fletcher MP speaks during the Northern Research Group conference at Doncaster Racecourse. Picture date: Friday June 9, 2023.
Conservative MP Nick Fletcher MP speaks during a conference at Doncaster last week. Credit: PA

A Tory MP has blamed women not using contraception for demand for abortion.

Nick Fletcher's comments in the House of Commons on Thursday morning sparked swift criticism.

MPs were debating the issue following a high profile sentencing of a woman who terminated her pregnancy illegally during the first Covid lockdown.

The 44-year-old mother-of-three was given a 28-month extended sentence after she admitted illegally procuring her own abortion when she was between 32 and 34 weeks pregnant.

Abortions are generally only legal before 24 weeks and are carried out in clinics after ten weeks of pregnancy.

MPs were responding to an urgent question from Dame Diana Johnson, Labour chairwoman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, on the issue, when Mr Fletcher shared his views on the issue.

The Conservative MP for the Don Valley, said: “It appears to me every time anyone comes to this place (the Commons) or speaks openly about the rights of the unborn baby they do tend to get shouted down and jeered at.”

He added: “I… think that we should do all we can to stop and to help people have as few unwanted pregnancies as possible, because I’m sure no woman goes to an abortion clinic and has an abortion and does not hate that experience.

“I’m sure it’s something that no women ever, ever wants to do.

"So can we just think of those unborn babies, and can we just think of the women… having these abortions that really, maybe, if (they had) used contraception or had looked at things in a different way, these babies wouldn’t have happened.”

Labour MP Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) Credit: PA

Labour MP for Walthamstow, Stella Creasy, responded to his comments on Twitter: "In a ‘shocking’ development, a Tory MP just blamed women for not using contraception for why abortion is needed….

"It's [the] same people who have been opposing sex education in schools - clearly because they didn’t attend so don’t know two people involved, thus proving value of it..."

During the morning's debate, a Tory former minister said there should be a return to the system of in-person appointments, so women can receive “safe, legal abortions” if they wish.

Sir Edward Leigh told the Commons: “When we were debating whether it was possible to receive an abortion pill through the post, we warned at the time there might be a tragic case like this, and now some people in the abortion industry are using this very tragic case to argue there should be some sort of legal right for abortion up to birth.

“Given that many babies are surviving at 24 weeks, this is an obscene and cruel proposal.

"Surely, the solution, given it is difficult to determine gestation without in-person appointment, is to return to the system of in-person appointments, so women can receive safe, legal abortions if they wish?”

Ms Creasy told MPs: “The 67 prosecutions in the last 10 years under this legislation, and the conviction that we have seen in England and Wales, shows that it is not a theoretical issue to consider whether women in England and Wales have a legal right to an abortion.

“They don’t. They have a situation where they are exempted from prosecution.”

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After the urgent question on abortion legislation, justice minister Edward Argar told MPs the longstanding position was that the House can seek to make changes if it wishes, rather than the government.

Abortion is conventionally treated as a conscience issue by UK lawmakers, meaning MPs can participate in a 'free vote' rather than along party lines.

The case has sparked fresh debate about whether abortion law in the UK needs reviewing, with critics pointing to the Victorian era legislation underpinning the case.However others have countered that the woman in the case should be held accountable for terminating her pregnancy close to its full term.

MPs from across the political spectrum, led by Tory MP Caroline Nokes, have pushed for abortion law reform in the wake of the case.

Earlier this week, Rishi Sunak said he has no plans to alter abortion laws despite the calls for reform.

During Thursday's debate, Labour’s Dame Diana Johnson said the government and Parliament “must look at this outdated legislation and make it fit for the 21st century”.

“This case was desperately sad and thankfully rare and it has been debated widely in the media and throws up important questions that merit an open debate in a health democracy.

“Crucially through it throws a spotlight on our antiquated abortion laws and Government and Parliament must look at this outdated legislation and make it fit for the 21st century.”

Labour MP for Warrington North, Charlotte Nichols, said the Commons needs to have a “modern discussion” on the issue.

She added: “I would ask (the minister) if he would ask his colleagues on his side of the House to ensure that, when we have those discussions, they are done in a way where male colleagues aren’t speculating about what might be in a woman’s mind when she goes to seek treatment of this kind.”

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