New minister for women Maria Caufield sparks anger with ‘deeply troubling’ anti-abortion record

Tory MP Maria Caulfield

Tory MP Maria Caulfield’s appointment as the new minister for women has caused controversy, as an MP who’s previously voted in favour of cutting the 24-week abortion time limit and opposed buffer zones outside clinics. 

Caulfield’s voting history has provoked backlash from charities and women’s rights groups.

The director of the Centre for Women’s Justice, Harriet Wistrich, has said the group are “horrified” that a “clear opponent of abortion rights” has been appointed in such a vital role.

“The vast majority of women want the right to choose,” Wistrich told The Guardian. 

“Her appointment signals a potential restriction on women’s reproductive rights, which in turn is an attack on women’s autonomy and freedom.

“We hope Maria Caulfield will keep her personal opinions on the issue of abortion to herself.”

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service – a charity that advocates for access to abortion – said it was “profoundly disappointed” in the prime minister for not choosing an MP in the minister for women role that would be willing “to speak up for the one in three women who will have an abortion”. 

A spokesperson for the charity told The Guardian: “Caulfield’s views are out of step with members of the public and her own parliamentary party.

“Recent amendments to establish buffer zones around clinics and secure at-home early abortion care have passed despite the opposition of MPs including Maria Caulfield.”

Labour's shadow secretary of state for women and equalities Anneliese Dodds

Labour’s shadow secretary of state for women and equalities Anneliese Dodds. (Getty/ Leon Neal)

The shadow secretary for women and equalities, Anneliese Dodds, described Rishi Sunak’s decision to appoint a minister for women who supports limiting women’s rights to abortion as “deeply troubling”.

“The government must be clear that a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion is not under threat,” she added. 

A spokesperson for the government’s equality hub said: “The minister for women has a strong track record of delivering for women in her previous ministerial roles.

“We will continue to pursue a compassionate approach to equality, ensuring that everyone is able to live their lives free from discrimination.”

Caulfield was an officer of pro-life group

Caulfield called for a debate on reducing the 24-week time limit in which women can receive legal abortions in 2018, when she described the 1967 Abortion Act as “one of the most liberal abortion laws in the world”.

She urged her colleagues in the House of Commons to be “wary of greater liberalisation of the law” surrounding abortions and claimed approval from two doctors should be acquired before terminating a pregnancy of protected vulnerable women.

Adding to her tainted history, the MP for Lewes was previously an officer of the all-party parliamentary “pro-life” group and in 2019, voted against legalising abortion in Northern Ireland.

Earlier this month, plans to enforce buffer zones around abortion clinics in England and Wales were backed by MPs by 297 votes to 110 – despite Caulfield voting against motion.

The bill still needs to undergo scrutiny in the house of lords, but would ban harassment such as displaying graphic signs and intimidating or harassing women who attend an abortion clinic.

Rishi Sunak’s cabinet reshuffle began with Suella Braverman being appointed as home secretary just days after she was effectively sacked, while some other members of his new cabinet have also come under scrutiny.