Labour leadership candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey has reportedly signalled that she supports stricter abortion laws.
Reported exclusively by Labour news and gossip blog Red Roar, in December 2019 RLB answered questions sent to candidates standing in the general election by Catholic priests in Salford.
Long-Bailey allegedly said that she disagreed with current abortion laws that, in very special circumstances, can allow termination of a pregnancy up to a full term if disability is a factor. At the moment, the legal limit for an abortion is 24 weeks, though abortions carried out after 20 weeks account for a tiny percentage (0.1 per cent) of the number of abortions conducted annually.
Asked by priests if she would support the removal of the clause that extends the limit in cases where disability is a factor, Long-Bailey reportedly responded:
It is currently legal to terminate a pregnancy up to full-term on the grounds of disability while the upper limit is 24 weeks if there is no disability.
I personally do not agree with this position and agree with the words of the Disability Rights Commission that ‘the context in which parents choose whether to have a child should be one in which disability and non-disability are valued equally.'
When pressed on if the overall time limit should be reduced, regardless of disability, she apparently said that the Labour party would consult on the issue and stressed that she’d ensure the Church’s views were heard. She said that Labour supports decriminalised abortion, but that they haven't stated that time limits will be reviewed, and "definitely not" that they should be increased.
She also reportedly said:
Anyone who attempts to ‘procure her own miscarriage’ is committing a criminal act and subject to a jail sentence.
Long-Bailey’s reported remarks will no doubt cause unease among many Labour members and MPs, given the party’s track record on extending abortion rights across the UK.
Local MP Barbara Keeley was also asked if she’d support removing the clause and if she disagreed with it, to which she said “no”.
Red Roar also reports that Long-Bailey was absent during several parliamentary votes on abortion. It writes:
“She abstained on votes to liberalise abortion regulations in March 2017 and twice in October 2018, including an amendment tabled by Stella Creasy and Conor McGinn to allow abortions in Northern Ireland, that were supported by the majority of Labour MPs. However, Long-Bailey did vote in favour of a similar amendment the following year.”
indy100 reached out to the Labour Party to see if they had anything to say about this.
They told us to contact Long-Bailey, so that’s just what we did.
We asked her if she’d like to comment further on her reported remarks, if she would seek to change Labour abortion policy under her leadership or if she planned to consult with party members on this issue if elected. She hasn’t responded yet, but we'll update you if she does.
Her spokesperson did, however, tell the Guardian:
Rebecca unequivocally supports a woman’s right to choose and has only ever voted in favour of extending the right to abortion, such as in Northern Ireland.
Rebecca’s response to the Deanery of Salford clarified the existing law and current Labour policy, stating that abortion procedures should be properly regulated, and that women’s reproductive rights and the decriminalisation of abortion should be maintained.
He said that Long-Bailey's response was a reflection of her own "personal" view, rather than policy. But her comments seem to hint at a potential conflict between the two.
Because of the way the Labour Party works, there’s no guarantee that Bailey’s personal view will have any impact on policy.
The party’s policy standpoints are decided by members at conference, and Long-Bailey is in favour of extending democracy within the party.
The shadow business secretary’s campaign appears to be gathering momentum, with a new poll of Labour members putting her ahead of early favourite Keir Starmer.