04.09.12, Joanna Tacon
Prime Minister David Cameron has reshuffled his cabinet ministers as the Coalition government’s term reaches its mid-point.
The news that Jeremy Hunt is to be the new Health Secretary has caused dismay among pro-choice advocates. In 2008, Hunt voted to reduce the abortion limit to just twelve weeks – against medical opinion.
With Hunt in charge of the NHS, the pro-choice movement will face an uphill struggle to protect and defend the right to a safe, legal abortion, at a time when health budgets are shrinking and public sector cuts are causing turmoil.
In response to Hunt’s promotion, Labour MP Diane Abbott tweeted: “I urge Hunt to drop the government’s anti-choice abortion counselling plans, whilst there’s still time. He must listen to the public.”
Elsewhere in the reshuffle news, and less high-profile than the Hunt appointment, two other newly-moved ministers in key roles have – at best – demonstrated only weak support for the pro-choice position.
Formerly Transport Secretary, Justine Greening has now taken on the mantle of International Development Secretary. The Department for International Development is responsible for funding family planning projects in many developing countries. Abortion Rights hopes that Greening – who has voted “moderately” against abortion and related issues – will continue to fund family planning clinics overseas, including centres which provide abortions for those who require one.
Maria Miller, meanwhile, is the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and also Women and Equalities Minister. Her new role combines posts which previously were held by two ministers. Miller has voted “ambiguously” on abortion issues in the past; hardly a reassuring record for an “equalities” minister. It is particularly worrying that she voted in favour of proposals by Nadine Dorries MP last year which could have seen abortion providers stripped of their role in counselling women on their pregnancy options.
Abortion Rights hopes that Hunt’s views on the time limit for terminations have softened since 2008, and will seek assurances from the Department of Health as to his current stance on abortion.
Responding to the reshuffle Abortion Rights commented:
“Appointing a Health Secretary who is actively opposed to abortion rights will do nothing to improve David Cameron’s ‘women problem’.
Having voted to reduce the abortion time limit to 12 weeks in 2008, against prevailing medical and scientific advice, Jeremy Hunt is clearly willing to place his own ideological beliefs before a commitment to women’s health and well-being.
The fact that Maria Miller, the new Women and Equalities Minister, voted for proposals which could have seen abortion providers stripped of their role in counselling patients on their pregnancy options is also cause for concern.
On top of that we have a new International Development Secretary Justine Greening who has a distinctly patchy record of support for abortion and contraception services.
The government will have to work much harder if it wants to reassure women that reproductive health services are safe in their hands, because this reshuffle does not inspire confidence in that commitment.”
The reshuffle is evidence that Abortion Rights’ campaigning will be more vital than ever in coming months and years. Join us today, to add your voice to the pro-choice majority.