Home England government Senior Tory urges Liz Truss to explain removal of abortion rights from declaration | Global development

Senior Tory urges Liz Truss to explain removal of abortion rights from declaration | Global development


A senior Tory MP has asked Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to explain why the UK government appeared to be performing a ‘sudden backlash on women’s rights’ after abortion pledges and sexual health rights were removed from an official multinational statement on gender equality. .

Caroline Nokes, who chairs the Women and Equalities Select Committee, wrote to Truss, who is also Minister for Women and Equalities and a Tory leadership candidate, asking why key phrases relating to reproductive rights were removed.

More than 20 countries had signed on to the original declaration resulting from a UK-hosted conference on freedom of religion and belief earlier this month. This version included a commitment to repeal laws that “permit harmful practices or restrict the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls, as well as bodily autonomy.”

But those sentences were removed from a later version of the international pact, which is now online and has been signed by eight countries, including the UK and Malta, where abortion is illegal. Malta was not one of the first signatories.

“One of the most important freedoms a woman can have is the right to control her own reproductive health. It is unclear why the sections on sexual and reproductive health were removed at such a late stage and apparently without consultation or discussion,” Nokes, MP for Romsey and Southampton North, said in a statement to the Guardian.

“All over the world, the repercussions of Roe v Wade have women and girls worried, and I would have thought the UK would like to be at the forefront of defending their rights.

“I have written to Liz Truss as Foreign Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities asking her to explain this sudden backlash on women’s rights. Surely the religious freedoms espoused must also include the freedom to have the right to an abortion? »

Fiona Bruce, the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief at the international ministerial conference earlier this month. Photograph: Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

Truss, who is embroiled in an acrimonious battle with former Chancellor Rishi Sunak to succeed Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, delivered the keynote speech at the International Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) held in London in early July. The Prime Minister’s special envoy on FoRB, Tory MP Fiona Bruce, was heavily involved in the rally. Bruce is Co-Chair of the All-Party “Pro-Life” Parliamentary Caucus.

Changes to the gender equality declaration have caused friction with a number of other countries. Denmark and Norway protested “the substantive changes made to the statement and the manner in which the changes were made”, and Canada “requests clarification” on what happened.

Human rights and pro-choice groups expressed outrage, with more than 20 organizations writing to Truss demanding the government immediately reverse the redactions and explain why they were made.

On Wednesday, Andrew Copson, chief executive of Humanists UK, said: ‘We welcome Caroline’s call on the UK government to provide a full and candid explanation of why these changes have been made – and for the original text be restored. The government said the amendments seek to resolve a “perceived ambiguity”, but support for women’s human right to freedom of belief and bodily autonomy is in no way ambiguous. On the contrary, they are values ​​that should be unambiguously upheld, as they were in the original intergovernmental agreement.

The FCDO previously said it had edited the statement “to address a perceived ambiguity in the wording,” without giving further details.

On Wednesday, a spokesman said the amendments were made “to focus on core issues and ensure consensus among signatories”.

“The UK is committed to championing universal access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health rights and will continue to work with other countries to protect gender equality in international agreements,” said the spokesperson.

“As chair of the event, we have modified our statement to the FORB conference to focus on the core issues and ensure consensus among signatories.”