Jacob Rees-Mogg has come under fire for failing to support abortion in cases of rape and incest, and describing it as a “cult of death”. The Tory MP for North East Somerset and former Business Secretary made the controversial comments during a debate on legal rights to access abortion. The debate at Westminster Hall was discussing an e-petition which is calling for abortion to be included in the Bill of Rights.
The e-petition which has gathered over 160,000 signatures is calling on the government to “enshrine abortion rights in the new UK Bill of Rights”, so that rights to abortion are specifically protected within it. The debate was introduced by Labour MP for Gower Tonia Antoniazzi.
The government has introduced a Bill of Rights bill which would repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and reform the law relating to human rights in the UK. It was introduced in June, but has not yet had its second reading in the House of Commons.
In Great Britain abortion is illegal under the offences of the person act, however the Abortion Act 1967 allowed for circumstances under which it could be carried out - making it lawful in Scotland, England and Wales if the criteria is met. This wasn’t extended to Northern Ireland, though changes to abortion law there were brought in in 2019.
The 1967 act gives protection from prosecution under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act. There have been repeated calls to strengthen abortion rights and fully decriminalise it.
What did Jacob Rees-Mogg say during the debate?
During the debate Rees-Mogg said the law is as “solid as it can be” from the point of view point of “those who are in favour of abortion legislation as it is.” He went on to refer to the “tragedy of abortion” said he didn’t think abortion could be put into the Bill of Rights. Rees-Mogg said he thought the petition “misfires” and was wrong constitionally and “much more wrong morally, because it prefers death to life”.
His comments about the “cult of death” came in response to Labour MP Stella Creasy asking him if he would support the right of women to choose to have an abortion were they a victim of rape or incest. Rees-Mogg did not give a yes or no answer to the question.
He said: “I think the destruction of life is wrong. I do not believe that we should say that a new life should be destroyed. I do not believe that that is the right of the state. I do not believe we can put it into a Bill of Rights, even if we were the United States and had a Bill of Rights of the same constitutional standing as theirs.”
He went on to say: “This is about destroying life. This is the cult of death. It is the great tragedy of abortion, and it is considered normal.The extraordinarily high number of babies that are destroyed is something that should sadden us all to the depths of our souls. The idea that we would protect something that is so wrong and ignores that second life, and that we should say that it is an absolute right on par with free elections, seems to me to be an absolute tragedy.”
What has the reaction been?
After the debate Stella Creasy took to Twitter and stated: “If you think we don’t need to codify in law that women have a human right to choose to have an abortion, Jacob rees-mogg just argued against women who are victims of rape or incest having a right to have one. Women deserve equal rights. Whoever is in government.”
Labour MP for Nottingham East, Nadia Whittome said on Twitter: “The MP for the 18th century strikes again. Jacob Rees-Mogg has called abortion a “cult of death” and argued it shouldn’t even be allowed in cases of rape. People with such extreme backwards views on women’s bodily autonomy shouldn’t be anywhere near power.”
Meanwhile, Scottish Greens MSP Gillian Mackay called Rees-Mogg’s comments “extreme, dangerous and disrespectful”. The health spokesperson said: “Abortion rights are human rights, they are healthcare and are legal in the UK. We cannot allow them to be threatened or eroded by reactionary politicians like Mogg. “We have seen how this can happen in the US and it must be resisted and challenged here.”
Will abortion be included in the Bill of Rights?
Earlier this year Justice Secretary Dominic Raab was asked if he would support a cross-party amendment to the Bill of Rights to enshrine the right to abortion within it. At the time he said the legality of abortion in the UK is “settled” and said: “The position, as she knows, is settled in UK law in relation to abortion. It’s decided by honourable members across this House. It’s an issue of conscience. I don’t think there is a strong case for change.”
In September responding to the e-petition the government said: “The government is now looking again at the Bill of Rights to ensure it will deliver the government’s objectives as effectively as possible.”
However, during the debate the Minister of State from the Ministry of Justice, Edward Argar said: “Access to abortion in England and Wales has been settled in law by Parliament, and we do not intend to change that. It takes nothing away from our commitment to ensuring access to safe, regulated abortion to say that the government do not intend to include a right to abortion in the Bill of Rights.”
Agar said that the framework meant “access to an abortion is available to those who need and want it.” He also said pointed to abortion law being devolved in the case of Scotland and Northern Ireland.