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“The Tories are bartering with women’s bodies and it’s not OK”

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Ask a Feminist is our regular column tackling issues on sexism and womanhood in a real-life, 21st century context. Following a tumultuous few days in Westminster, Ask a Feminist contributor Anna Brech asks whether our wombs are being baited in a frantic power tussle 

First, they came for the elderly, and they ballsed that up.

Then they came for the Human Rights Act. It whiffed of desperation.

Now the Tories have women’s reproductive rights firmly in their crosshairs, and it seems no-one within the party cares all that much.

Appearing on the Today programme this weekend, Conservative MP Owen Paterson - the former Northern Ireland secretary - loaded up his gun chamber on the juicy mantle of women’s reproductive rights.

“I don’t see many major social issues coming up,” Owen airily declared. “You might get a debate [in parliament] I suppose on further reduction of abortion times as medical science advances.”

See the casual way he tosses that in there, like it’s not the hand grenade that men entirely unaffected by the issue have attempted to bandy around for decades?

Owen Paterson

Former Tory minister Owen Paterson says the UK abortion limit may be up for debate

He’s all but shrugging his shoulders – “hey, it’s not my fault, guys” – as he hands our uteruses on a plate to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the last of the non-progressives who will gleefully pounce on anything that takes women back to the 1950s.

Paterson did concede that the DUP’s opposition to gay marriage would not be humoured by the Tories (with gritted teeth no doubt, for a man who has voted against it in the past).

Just as hero of the hour, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has apparently received reassurances from the Prime Minister that there will be ‘absolutely no rescission of LGBTI rights’ as part of a DUP alliance.


Read more: Surprise! Your tampon tax money is going to an anti-abortion charity


But when it comes to women’s reproductive rights, enshrined in law since 1967, there are no such guarantees.

Why? Everyone knows that Northern Ireland’s stance on abortion - requiring thousands of pregnant women to travel to England if they can or resort to degrading and dangerous solutions if not - is the effect of political cowardice.

Pro-choice campaigners in London this weekend

Pro-choice campaigners in London this weekend

It’s a rare politician who would put their neck on the line in Northern Ireland for such a contentious issue and it seems the Tories feel the same way. In fact, they’re willing to take it one step further by baiting the 24 weeks abortion limit.

History has shown us that they’re willing to sacrifice almost anything on the altar of power.

Women’s bodies are small-fry in these heady days of uncertainty where Theresa May’s are fingertips white from the effort of clinging on.

Who knows what the Tories will promise the DUP behind closed doors; a debate on abortion in parliament is an easy price to pay, especially as May herself believes the time limit on abortion should be reduced.


Read more: The stigma of having an abortion later in life


But what IS extraordinary about this move is that it’s yet another own goal for the Tories.

They’ve just suffered catastrophic losses in an election because they lacked clarity and failed to galvanise the youth vote.

Rolling out one of the party’s most hard-line MPs, who hints at castrating fundamental women’s rights to lure a hideously outdated ally, is hardly the kind of modern look the party needs if it’s to pick itself up and limp forward.

Will an agreement between the DUP's Arlene Foster and Theresa May see women's reproductive rights curtailed?

Will an agreement between the DUP's Arlene Foster and Theresa May see women's reproductive rights curtailed?

The lack of commitment also smacks of capriciousness. Paterson isn’t saying the Tories will try to reduce the abortion limit, he’s just toying with the idea. He’s spearing up worms to draw in the mackerel. 

This will-they-won’t-they tactic makes the “strong and stable” fable even more laughable.

But really, there’s nothing funny about this situation.

Every woman who has sex may at some point in their lives face an unwanted pregnancy. Curtailing our right to choose an abortion is to stultify our autonomy, our very being.

The regressive DUP want to dial back years of progress and put us firmly in a box. We can’t allow the Tories to do the same.

Images: Rex Features

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