Pro-lifers have come to the defence of Jeremy Hunt after he was attacked over his support for reducing the abortion time limit.
The Tory leadership candidate recently restated his support for reducing the time limit for abortions from 24 weeks to 12 weeks.
Asked about his opinion on the issue on Sky, Hunt responded: “These are matters of conscience, yes, my view hasn’t changed on that.
“I respect the fact other people have very different views and that’s why these matters are matters for free votes in the House of Commons.”
Mr Hunt, who is the former health secretary, clarified that although he favoured halving the current limit to 12 weeks, he would not push to change the law if he became Prime Minister.
“What I can guarantee is it will be a matter for the House of Commons, not a matter for government policy,” he said.
“The Prime Minister will have his view just like every other one of the 650 MPs and these will be decided as a matter of conscience.
“But it won’t be government policy to change the law in that respect.”
Despite this clarification, he was strongly criticised for his views. Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine said they represented an attack on women’s rights.
“It is incredibly alarming to see the former health secretary and a candidate in the race to be the next prime minister hold such a view,” she said.
“Rather than attacking the women’s rights we already have in some parts of the UK, the Tories should be fighting for them to be equal in Northern Ireland.
“So far the Tory leadership race has shown how out of touch many of those putting themselves forward are. The Liberal Democrats demand better for the UK and think that women across the UK, especially in Northern Ireland, deserve better.”
Labour MP Jess Phillips said: “Did this one say he was a feminist? It’s hard to keep up with who’s on drugs and who pretends to care about women. Jeremy Hunt, how about we base this stuff on evidence and science and keep what you think is best based on no experience out of this?”
Ann Furedi, head of abortion provider the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said in Spiked that his views were “ignorant and unprincipled”.
Pro-life campaigners have responded positively to Mr Hunt’s comments, though.
Spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Clare McCarthy welcomed them, citing recent polling showing strong support among women for a reduction in the abortion time limit.
The research by ComRes found that seven out of 10 women support lowering the abortion time limit to twenty weeks or below, while only one per cent of the UK public expressed support for legalising abortion up to birth.
“A twelve-week time limit would bring the UK in line with the majority of EU countries that have a time limit for most abortions of 12 weeks or lower,” she said.
“At twelve weeks an unborn child is fully formed, has a heartbeat and all the organs, muscles, limbs and bones are in place.
“The baby’s fingers will soon begin to open and close, her toes will curl, her eye muscles will clench, and her mouth will make sucking movements.”
The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children said Mr Hunt’s views reflected what many members of the public feel about the issue
“Despite the hysteria in the press and from some MPs about Mr Hunt’s comments being extreme and out of touch, his position is more in line with the public than that of BPAS and Jess Phillips,” it said.
It continued: “The SPUC position is that all unborn babies should be protected by law, not just those over an arbitrary time limit, and that the current situation in Parliament makes attempts to achieve change through lowering the time-limit unwise.
“However, the fact that a politician expressing that he would personally like to see such a moderate change to the law is attacked with such vitriol shows how extreme the abortion lobby has become and how little their horrific ideology can be questioned.”
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