Yesterday the Domestic Abuse Bill had its Second Reading in the House of Commons.
CARE strongly supports the purpose of this Bill which offers much needed improvements in protection and support for victims of domestic abuse, which is a horrific crime ruining thousands of lives and disproportionately affecting women.
Scale of domestic abuse
The scale of domestic abuse in this country is widespread. There were 400 domestic homicides between 2014-2017, and on average two women are killed each week by a former or current partner in England and Wales. There were also an estimated 2 million adults aged 16-59 years who experienced domestic abuse in the last year, and one woman in four experiences domestic abuse in her lifetime.
This is an issue that needs immediate attention. The Domestic Abuse Bill is a landmark Bill that addresses issues that have never been addressed before, such as controlling or coercive behaviour of intimate partners and economic abuse, and it establishes a Domestic Abuse Commissioner which aims to strengthen the response of police, local authorities and other bodies.
Sadly, some MPs have made it clear they will seek to hijack the Bill in order to radically overhaul the law on abortion in England and Wales – removing remaining legal protections for preborn babies and making abortion available for any reason, on request, up to viability.
Abortion highlighted during debate
During the debate yesterday, Diana Johnson, who brought a Ten-Minute Rule Bill amending the law on abortion last October, raised this issue. She argued that the Abortion Act 1967 allows abortion only ‘in certain limited circumstances’ and that ‘the current law is not working for women, particularly women who are suffering domestic abuse’.
Her intention to hijack the Bill was clear: “I am sure that the Minister will expect that, at some point during the passage of this Bill through the House of Commons, this issue will be raised, and the House will be asked to a vote on it to put women in Wales and England in the same position as, hopefully, women in Northern Ireland.”
It is expected that the issue will be significant during the Committee and Report stage of the Bill, when a cross-party amendment will be tabled, which will likely seek to amend the Bill to repeal sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. This will remove all remaining legal protections for preborn babies up to 24 weeks, as well as offences for attacking or poisoning a pregnant woman who then miscarries.
MPs oppose inappropriate use of the Bill
Several MPs, some of whom are pro-abortion, made it clear they do not support using the Bill for this purpose.
Maria Miller MP urged others not to use the Bill in this way:
“I make a plea not to Ministers but to colleagues. Members need to resist the temptation to use the Bill to remedy all the issues, concerns, and campaigns in recent years to do with domestic abuse. Some of them have been quite open about their wish to include abortion reform in the Bill, and while there is clearly a strong case for reform, with which I would agree, this is not the place to do it. I do not believe that we have the time in this Parliament to give that issue the attention that it demands. My plea is for a separate Bill, sponsored by a Back-Bench MP in the usual way, to deal with that, and to deal with it swiftly.”
Fiona Bruce MP, commented that this kind of inappropriate use of legislation results in poor law making, like the upcoming ‘limbo’ period in Northern Ireland:
“I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) for her work on the Bill, and also for today stating that this is not a Bill to have tagged on to it the issue of abortion. That is right because, leaving aside the question of under what circumstances abortion should be available, reform of the technical aspects of the law underpinning abortion is extremely complex and should not be undertaken by using Back-Bench amendments to an unrelated Bill. To learn our lesson on this, we need only look to the unforeseen circumstances now about to play out, sadly, in Northern Ireland later this month, with a five-month lacuna in the law on abortion there about to start because this place rushed through, with completely inadequate scrutiny, amendments to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Bill.
Huw Merriman MP, highlighted that if the Bill is hijacked, it will potentially ‘not deliver’ as intended and he argued it was not the right vehicle to do so: “I do not believe this is the right Bill to deliver that reform. I will vote for that reform when it comes, but I worry that there would be an impact on this Bill if it were used in that manner.”
Naomi Marsden, CARE’s Communications Officer, comments:
“As expected, Diana Johnson has made it clear that the abortion lobby intend to use this Bill to introduce a radical abortion regime into England and Wales, claiming that women are ‘suffering’ under the current law.
"Two important points need to be noted here. Firstly, the law on abortion is liberally applied in practice, demonstrated by the fact that there are over 200,000 abortions every year and 98% of these occur for social reasons. There is also evidence that abortions occur for sex-selective reasons, and for minor disabilities such as cleft palate or hare lip. In no sense is the current law ‘limited’ and it is misleading to say so. Furthermore, the majority of the public, particularly women, support greater limitations on our current law, and certainly don’t support the reality of what decriminalisation will mean – abortion for any reason up to 24 weeks.
"Secondly, one of the chief causes of abortion is itself domestic abuse: around 1 in 7 women are coerced into having an abortion in England and Wales. Thus the permissive abortion regime we currently have actually works against victims of domestic abuse. Decriminalisation will only make this worse.
"The fact that MPs are seeking to hijack this Bill to amend the law on abortion is deeply troubling, as demonstrated by the fact that even MPs who are pro-abortion recognise that this Bill is simply not the appropriate vehicle to change the law. Abortion is a hugely controversial issue that must be debated properly, and not tagged on to a Bill. The victims of domestic abuse should be the focus here."
Find out more
Read more about some of the myths perpetuated by the abortion lobby, and what decriminalisation will mean here.