Stop joking about Jacob Rees-Mogg – his views on abortion and rape are hurtful and harmful

Rees-Mogg claimed that women who terminate a pregnancy after rape were committing a “second wrong”.

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

On Wednesday, in an interview with Emma Barnett on Radio 5 Live, Conservative MP and mooted future Prime Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg defended his belief that abortion is unacceptable even in cases of rape. When questioned on his stance, he claimed that women who terminate a pregnancy after rape were committing a "second wrong".

His comments are both enraging and upsetting. By labelling an abortion following rape as a "second wrong", Rees-Mogg blames and shames rape victims – as well as any woman who chooses to end an unwanted pregnancy in whatever circumstances.

Rees-Mogg’s choice of the word "wrong" is telling. It’s a word designed to make women feel ashamed. Not only does it hold connotations of shame and guilt, but it seems to equate the legal choice of ending an unwanted pregnancy with an act of criminal violence committed by men against women. The "wrong" of a man committing a gross act of sexual violence is never equivalent to a woman accessing a safe and legal termination.

The lack of empathy demonstrated by Rees-Mogg, and his refusal to consider or understand the lived experience of rape survivors, is staggering.

In discussing abortion following rape, Rees-Mogg asks if this "second wrong" makes the first wrong (i.e. the rape) "better". This dramatically misses the point. Terminating a pregnancy is not a way women choose to deal with or end the trauma of rape. Women don’t make this decision because they believe an abortion will make the rape "better". Woman end a pregnancy for all sorts of reasons – including that they did not choose to be pregnant, they did not want to be pregnant, and that no one should be forced to continue a pregnancy against her will.

Rape survivors (and women everywhere) don’t owe it to anyone to continue with an unwanted pregnancy – least of all Rees-Mogg. While some women do choose to continue with a pregnancy after rape, that should be their choice and their choice alone. To demand otherwise is to undermine a woman’s rights, at a time when her human right to bodily autonomy has already been brutally violated.

This is not the first time Rees-Mogg has expressed worrying views on abortion and women’s rights to our bodily autonomy. He has stated that he is opposed to abortion in all cases, and would vote to reduce the upper-time limit of when a woman can access a termination. Currently women in England, Scotland and Wales can access an abortion up to 24 weeks.

Despite widespread support for legalised abortion in the UK, anti-choice views are concerningly mainstream in the Conservative party. The Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said he would like to see the time limit reduced to 12 weeks. Meanwhile, Justice Secretary David Lidington also has an anti-choice voting record. After the Conservative party sought a supply and confidence deal with the anti-abortion Democratic Unionist Party, Owen Paterson suggested on Radio 4 that while equal marriage would be protected, a vote to reduce abortion access might be possible. Back in 2008, the majority of Tory MPs were in favour of reducing the upper time limit from 24 to 20 weeks – a bill that was defeated.

In recent months, Jacob Rees-Mogg’s popularity has seen a meteoric rise. He topped a poll to be the next Conservative party leader, and his events were among the most popular at the depressed and depressing party conference. His posh accent, finely tailored-suits and nanny anecdotes have been indulged by everyone from Have I Got News For You viewers to Instagram followers. Rather than taking his views seriously, he’s been categorised as a harmless eccentric politician whose old-fashioned manners are redolent of another era.

This indulgence has to stop. Rees-Mogg’s anti-progressive beliefs are harmful and dangerous. His anti-choice stance threaten women’s health and freedom – particularly in a party whose members have repeatedly sought to restrict women’s access to abortion.

There is a temptation to assume that a mainstream party MP must have mainstream views. This is simply not the case with Rees-Mogg. His beliefs, and those shared by fellow anti-choicers Hunt and Lidington, do not reflect those of the wider public. That’s why it is even more important that men with extreme and unrepresentative views which seek to harm women’s access to equality do not get close to Tory – and therefore country – leadership.

Over the past week, Tory MPs have raised their voices against sexist comments made by members of the opposition. Now is their chance to show they take sexism and women’s rights seriously. It’s time for MPs across the political spectrum to show solidarity with victims of male sexual violence, and condemn Rees-Mogg’s remarks.

Sian Norris is a writer and journalist. She is the Founder and Director of the Bristol Women's Literature Festival. She is currently the Ben Pimlott writer-in-residence at Birkbeck University's politics department.