MP Caroline Nokes launches stinging attack on men ‘pontificating’ over abortion rights

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Caroline Nokes (PA Media)
Caroline Nokes (PA Media)

Senior MP Caroline Nokes unleashed on Thursday a stinging attack on men “trying to tell me they know better than I do about my rights” in the row over abortion.

She also warned against “pontificating in a chamber that is still less than a third female” after fellow Conservative MP Danny Kruger argued in Parliament that women should have “qualified” right to bodily autonomy in relation to abortions.

Writing in The Standard, Ms Nokes, who chairs the Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee, said: “As arguments rage online as to what does and does not constitute bodily autonomy, I know one thing for sure. My body is not a political football, it is not up for debate by men trying to tell me they know better than I do about my rights.”

The Romsey and Southampton North MP stressed that the Supreme Court decision in the US on Roe v Wade had “sent shivers down the collective spine of those of us who believe in a woman’s right to determine her own reproductive health”.

She did not name Mr Kruger, who has strong religious beliefs, but challenged the position he had advocated in the Commons.

“I respect the right of others to hold profound religious beliefs. I respect the right to regard a fertilised egg as human life, but I don’t hold that view, so please do not impose it upon me, or on any woman,” she said.

“Let us make difficult decisions without political interference and pontificating in a chamber that is still less than a third female.”

She also warned of the risk of “complacency” in Britain over abortion rights after the decision in the US to overturn the landmark Roe v Wade ruling which is expected to lead to abortion bans in roughly half of US states.

Mr Kruger, MP for Devizes, told a Commons debate that he would “probably disagree” with other MPs about the US Supreme Court decision.

He said: “They think that women have an absolute right to bodily autonomy in this matter, whereas I think in the case of abortion that right is qualified by the fact that another body is involved.”

As MPs tried to speak over him, Mr Kruger added: “I would offer to members who are trying to talk me down that this is a proper topic for political debate and my point to the frontbench is I don’t understand why we are lecturing the United States on a judgment to return the power of decision over this political question to the states, to democratic decision-makers, rather than leaving it in the hands of the courts.”

Dominic Raab ruled out on Wednesday backing an amendment to his proposed British Bill of Rights to establish women’s access to abortion as a human right.

The Deputy Prime Minister argued the legality of abortion in the UK is “settled” when asked about the issue during Prime Minister’s Questions, and that the amendment could lead to abortion being litigated in the courts.

It comes after Labour MP Stella Creasy announced she would table the amendment after the US Supreme Court last week ended constitutional protections for abortion that have been in place for nearly 50 years by overturning the landmark Roe v Wade ruling.

Meanwhile, a cross-party review has recommended that MPs should not be allowed to bring babies into the House of Commons Chamber during debates.

The Procedure Committee report was ordered amid an outcry over Walthamstow MP Creasy being told she can no longer have her baby son with her.

The group ruled that MPs should not bring babies into the chamber or nearby Westminster Hall if they want to “observe, initiate, speak or intervene in proceedings”.

But they said there should be a “degree of de-facto discretion” that “should be exercised sparingly”.

The committee did, however, back on the “overwhelming balance of evidence” the extension of proxy voting for “serious long-term illness”.

Karen Bradley, the Conservative MP who chairs the committee, said a debate should be scheduled in the coming weeks to discuss the extension of proxy voting.

“On the balance of evidence received, the committee also recommends that current rules remain and members should not bring babies into the House of Commons chamber or Westminster Hall proceedings,” she added.

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle ordered the review in November after Ms Creasy was told she could no longer bring her son Pip, then three months old, with her to debates.

The mother-of-two hoped the review would allow “ parenting and politics possible to mix”.

Ms Creasy was shocked when Commons authorities emailed her rules prohibiting bringing children to debates after she took Pip into Westminster Hall.

MPs described the boy as “as good as gold” during the debate.

But the committee’s report said it was a “long-standing practice” underpinned by previous rulings that “babies should not be present”.

They noted there had been “several occasions” when MPs had brought babies into debates “without disruption”, but this had “contributed to some confusion and a gap” between the practice and the rules.

Many MPs were supportive of Ms Creasy, with Mr Raab saying he had “a lot of sympathy” for her and that he would not be distracted by a baby.

But Tory MP Alicia Kearns argued the chamber is “no place” for a baby.

“I’ve asked to leave debates to feed my child a few times - I have never been turned down,” she said.

In September last year, Ms Creasy’s then-newborn was strapped to her as she rose in the Chamber to ask Jacob Rees-Mogg to ensure new mothers were supported rather than “rebuked” when returning to Parliament.

The Commons Leader responded that the rules were “perfectly reasonable and entirely in line with the law”.

Ms Creasy said that she was “not surprised” by the recommendation.

She said: “This committee didn’t speak to a single person outside Parliament despite many of us encouraging them to do so, so I’m not surprised they don’t recognise who is put off Parliament by its antiquated rules and approach to women who have children and the need to modernise.”

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