Maria Miller’s abortion stance means she’s no friend to women

Zoe Stavri argues that the women's minister's focus on reducing the abortion time limit is either misguided or disingenuous.

Lowering the abortion time limit is a key flashpoint in ongoing attempts to chip away at a woman’s right to choose. Politicians and commentators alike will periodically propose that the abortion time limit- currently at 24 weeks- should be reduced to 12, or 16, or 20 weeks.

Among proponents of this is the recently-appointed women’s minister, Maria Miller, whose voting record shows support for reducing the abortion time limit. She has also clarified her position in an interview, saying if the issue came up she’d vote for a reduction of the time limit again.

Miller’s role in government is supposedly to prioritise women’s issues in government. However, her views on the abortion time limit are anything but pro-women, and should not be prioritised as they are actively harmful.

UK abortion law currently allows women access to abortion at any time up to 24 weeks, though the vast, vast majority of abortions carried out take place 3-9 weeks of gestation, with only 1.4 per cent being carried out at over 20 weeks.

This reflects advances in helping women access abortion quickly and safely. However, on average, there is still an average waiting time of 2-4 weeks between seeing a doctor and getting an abortion on the NHS.

This waiting time can easily make the difference between a legal and an illegal abortion, and would be exacerbated were the time limit to be reduced.

The fact that Maria Miller focuses on reduction of the abortion time limit rather than further improving women’s access to abortion suggests she is either misguided or disingenuous. To support women, you must support the choices they make about their own body, whether it’s something you approve of or not.

The last thing we need is greater restrictions on access to abortion: we need greater freedom and greater support to allow women to make choices concerning their own bodies. This isn’t what Miller stands for. Because of this, she is no friend of women, and unsuitable for her position as women’s minister.

The new Minister for Women and Equalities, Maria Miller. Photograph: Getty Images
Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.