Abortion rights campaigners have condemned Theresa May’s decision to appoint a pro-life MP as the Conservative Party’s vice chair for women in the new year’s reshuffle.
Tory MP Maria Caulfield led efforts against changing “Victorian” abortion laws, which currently carry weighty criminal sanctions for women and doctors if they do not meet strict requirements.
Shadow women and equalities minister Dawn Butler said her appointment was “appalling”, while pro-choice campaigners said it was “profoundly disappointing” that the Prime Minister would elect someone with such strong views against abortion.
Ms Caulfield tweeted that she was “delighted” to take up the post.
It is currently illegal for a woman to have an abortion after 24 weeks for non-medical reasons, and each procedure must be signed off by two doctors before it can go ahead.
Labour MP Diana Johnson introduced a bill in the House of Commons last year to remove criminal sanctions in England and Wales and place regulation with professional bodies, as with other medical procedures.
But Ms Caulfield, a former nurse, who is a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Pro Life Group, said the move was an “unjust and regressive change”, which would put women and babies at risk.
Reacting to the appointment, Ms Johnson said: “I am very disappointed that the Prime Minister has appointed Maria Caulfield to the role of Vice Chair of the Conservative Party with responsibility for women.
“This appointment is a huge step backwards because this role should be held by someone with a record of promoting the equality of women and ensuring that the laws Parliament enacts do not discriminate against women.”
Labour frontbencher Ms Butler tweeted: “Appalling decision by Theresa May to promote Maria Caulfield to Vice Chair for Women given her stance on abortion.
“Women deserve to have the strongest advocates at the top of politics, not people who seek to restrict their rights and freedoms.”
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), which provides terminations, said the bill had sought to protect women in the ”most desperate circumstances”, such as rape survivors or domestic abuse victims who could be handed lengthy prison sentences for buying illegal abortion pills online because they were too afraid to seek help from a clinic.
A spokesperson for BPAS said: “That the new Conservative Vice-Chair for Women believes that these women should face up to life imprisonment is appalling.
“Maria Caulfield has stated that she wants to be a ‘voice for the unborn child’. It is profoundly disappointing that the Conservative Party did not think that a better choice for vice chair for women would be someone willing and able to speak up for the one in three women who will have an abortion in their lifetime.”
Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality Party, said she was “staggered” by the appointment.
“Women’s equality goes hand in hand with reproductive rights,” she said.
“Someone who believes those rights should be restricted can never advocate effectively for us.”
Ms Caulfield’s appointment came as part of a major shake-up at at Conservative headquarters (CCHQ), where the Prime Minister sought to promote ethnic minority and younger MPs to modernise the party.
Immigration minister Brandon Lewis took over as party chairman after farcical scenes when the official Tory Twitter account accidentally named Transport Secretary Chris Grayling for the role.
Prominent backbencher James Cleverly became deputy chairman, while Pakistan-born Rehman Chishti and mixed-race former sport minister Helen Grant were given roles.
Rising stars from the 2017 intake, Kemi Badenoch and Ben Bradley, also made the cut, appointed as vice chair for candidates and youth respectively.
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