Pro-life campaigners are celebrating after one abortion amendment was not selected for debate and another was later dropped.
The selected amendment, which was proposed as an addition to the Domestic Abuse Bill, was later withdrawn by Diana Johnson MP.
Another abortion amendment (New Clause 29) which would have decriminalised it was not picked for a vote as it was deemed not in the scope of the Bill.
The selected amendment, New Clause 28, would have made it legal for medical and surgical abortions to take place in any location if a woman is in an abusive relationship. Many of the MPs lobbying for the amendment to be scrapped argued that it would result in more women being coerced or forced into an unwanted abortion, particularly given the government's decision to allow abortions at home in light of Covid-19 hospital restrictions.
Speaking against the amendment ahead of the decision being, pro-life MP Fiona Bruce said:
“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.”
She added: “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 added:
“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, a campaigner against abortion, added: “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.”
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?”
In comments made based on his experience as a criminal practitioner, barrister and Chair of the Justice Select Committee Sir Robert Neill said that "on more than one occasion, I found instances where part of the abuse had been to force the victim to have an abortion.”
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.”
Right to Life UK spokesperson Catherine Robinson called the decision a "major victory for the unborn child and women facing unplanned pregnancies".
She added: "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."
Another abortion amendment which would have legalised abortion for any reason up to 28 weeks was not picked for a vote as it was deemed not in the scope of the Bill.