Where Do The Conservative Leadership Candidates Stand On Abortion?

From their voting records to their comments in public, this is what we know. 

Conservative candidates on abortion

by Samuel Fishwick |

What will the new Conservative Prime Minister want for Britain? With the cast of hopefuls now down to five — Rishi Sunak, Penny Mordaunt, Liz Truss, Tom Tugendhat and Kemi Badenoch — we have heard them set out their pitches on issues from immigration to the cost of living.

But in a post Roe v. Wade world, abortion rights are not simply among the biggest issues of the day — they may one day be on the ballot sheet here. Where do the candidates stand? Tory culture secretary Nadine Dorries recently restated her case to reduce the UK’s abortion limit by a month, while Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg on record as saying he is ‘completely opposed’ to abortion, including instances in which the woman is pregnant as a result of rape or incest (both threw their weight behind Liz Truss outside No 10 this week, calling the former Remainer a ‘bigger Brexiteer’ than either of themselves). From their voting records to their comments in public, this is what we know.

Penny Mordaunt on abortion

Odds: 8/10

The most outspoken advocate of women’s reproductive rights among the potential leaders, women and equalities minister and former naval reservist Penny Mordaunt – who became an MP, for Portsmouth North, in 2010 and was made the first female defence secretary by Theresa May – threw her weight behind decriminalising abortion in Northern in 2019. She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think paucity of care that women have endured in Northern Ireland is the most appalling thing and it must change.’ What’s more, she voted yes on the historic proposal from Labour MP Stella Creasy to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland which won by 332 votes to 99. She also voted to decriminalise abortion in England and Wales, and voted yes on the 2022 bill to introduce ‘pills by post’ during the pandemic, which allowed women to be sent the two pills abortion pills required to terminate a pregancy at home rather than, as before, visiting an abortion clinic (in February, the government announced that ‘pills by post’ would be scrapped in September).

Rishi Sunak on abortion

Odds: 3/1

Rishi, of course, was Boris Johnson’s right hand man before he helped bring him down, and part of a government that made abortion legal in Northern Ireland. The former PM himself said that the repeal of Roe v. Wade described the decision to overturn Roe Vs Wade as a ‘big step backwards’, and said he ‘believed in a woman’s right to choose and I stick to that view’. But his chancellor’s own record is patchy. Rishi, the MP for Richmond in North Yorkshire, has chosen to abstain from all major votes on abortion rights since he became an MP, including ‘pills by post’. He didn’t actually vote on the Northern Ireland abortion bill, either. And he, like many of his colleagues, sat out a failed 2018 bill to introduce so-called ‘buffer zones’ barring anti-abortion demonstrations outside clinics across the UK in October 2018.

Liz Truss on abortion

Odds: 23/10

Another former women and equalities minister, Liz Truss does have a big ‘yes’ to her credit after voting to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland. She sat out votes on telemedicine and buffer zones. She also abstained from an Abortion Bill introduced in 2017 to decriminalise abortion in England and Wales. That was designed to fix the terms of 1967 Abortion Act that make unregulated abortion a criminal act — but thanks to Theresa May’s snap election, the bill fell and no further action was taken (Penny Mordaunt voted for the bill, although Rishi Sunak abstained).  The Byline Times notes that while serving as international trade secretary and women and equalities minister, Liz addressed the Heritage Foundation in 2019, an influential free market think tank that has lobbied for the roll-back of abortion rights. The British Pregnancy and Advisory Service also says that, as foreign secretary, Liz ignored their demands to publicly denounce the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe V Wade.

Tom Tugendhat on abortion

Odds: 100/1

Tom, a Catholic former soldier, voted in favour of decriminalising abortion in Northern Ireland but has chosen to abstain from votes on telemedicine, decriminalisation in England and Wales and buffer zones. He took a fairly tough line on Northern Ireland’s socially conservative DUP, whose 10 MPs propped up Theresa May’s Westminster premiership following her underwhelming election victory in 2017 — and who believed in limiting access to abortion. There was a real fear that this would be indulged by a weakened PM desperate for support on Brexit bills. ‘I joined a party that introduced equal marriage, backs civil rights and defends freedom of faith,’ said Tom. ‘Those principles won’t be compromised.’

Kemi Badenoch on abortion

Odds: 25/1

Seemingly keen to import America’s culture wars to Britain by abolishing gender neutral toilets and railing against attacks on free speech, former minister for equalities Kemi has said nothing on record about the overturning of Roe v. Wade. However, she voted agains ‘pills by post’, and abstained from votes on buffer zones, abortion in Northern Ireland and the decriminalisation of abortion in England and Wales. Having spent the past two-and-a-half years as an equalities minister, Kemi announced her run by taking aim at a Blairite ‘cultural establishment’ and identity politics.

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