Senior Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg launched an astonishing attack on abortion rights in the UK, calling the legal procedure morally wrong and a “cult of death”.
The ex-cabinet minister said it was “wrong” for the state to allow abortion, and refused to agree that the right to termination of pregnancy should be protected even in cases of rape or incest.
MPs and campaigners reacted with horror to his remarks – calling them “dangerous” and “grotesque”.
Speaking in a Westminster Hall debate about a petition for abortion to be included in the government’s planned Bill of Rights, Mr Rees-Mogg said the number of abortions was a “modern tragedy”.
Asked by Labour’s Stella Creasy if he supported the right of women to choose to an abortion if they were a victim of rape or incest, the Tory MP 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,” said the former business secretary.
Mr Rees-Mogg added: “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.”
Ms Creasy later said his views showed why abortion rights had to be better protected in UK law. “Women deserve equal rights. Whoever is in government,” the senior backbencher tweeted.
“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,” the MP added.
Green MSP Gillian Mackay said Mr Rees-Mogg’s remarks were “grotesque” and “dangerous”, adding: “Abortion rights are human rights. We cannot allow them to be threatened or eroded by reactionary politicians like Mogg.”
Mr Rees-Mogg previously admitted that his own investment firm profited from pills used in abortions. It emerged in 2017 that Somerset Capital Management had made a £5m investment in an Indonesian company called Kalbe Farma.
Kalbe Farma produced pills used to treat stomach ulcers, but they were reportedly also used by some in Indonesia to trigger abortions, when news of Somerset’s investment emerged in 2017.
The Tory MP told the Sunday Mirror at the time that he accepted that he did profit from Somerset Capital Management’s investment in the Indonesian company “in a very roundabout way” through dividend payments.
Mr Rees-Mogg, a practising Catholic, previously attacked “religious bigotry” over his own hardline stance on abortion – telling the BBC in 2018 that “it would be a wonderful thing if society came to a different view on abortion.”
But the Tory MP agreed that the right to an abortion across Great Britain, stemming from the Abortion Act 1967, was “not going to change”.
The petition debated by MPs urged the government to outline and protect abortion rights in the proposed Bill of Rights. Campaigners fear erosion in support for services following the landmark US Supreme Court decision earlier this year that overturned Roe v Wade rights in the US.
Justice minister Edward Argar said the government believed abortion policy should be “settled by [devolved] legislatures” based on existing laws.
However, the UK government last month announced plans to directly commission abortion services in Northern Ireland in a move celebrated by campaigners and pregnancy termination providers.
Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris committed to ensuring services are available in the wake of political gridlock at Stormont.
Abortion was banned in almost all circumstances – even rape and incest – with women seeking terminations facing life imprisonment, until the procedure was legalised in Northern Ireland in 2019.
Ex-health secretary Therese Coffey insisted in September that the government would “not seek to undo” any abortion laws, amid concern from campaigners about her own “deeply concerning” voting record on the issue.
The practising Catholic voted to revoke the rights to at-home abortion care, as well as voting against an extension of abortion rights to women in Northern Ireland.
Ms Coffey had previously said that she would “prefer that people didn’t have abortions, but I am not going to condemn people that do”.