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Abortion politics
  Parliamentary update
By Amanada Callaghan,
Public Affairs Manager, BPAS

The Ministry of Health has undergone a transformation during October. After Frank Dobson's declaration that he would fight for the Labour nomination for London mayor, the Prime Minister decided that a complete reshuffle was in order. Mr Dobson has been replaced by Alan Milburn, the Member for Darlington. The new Secretary of State was asked when first elected in 1992 about his views on abortion and indicated then that he would like to see a liberalisation of the law and an improvement of services. Tessa Jowell, the Minister for Public Health specifically responsible for abortion has been replaced by Yvette Cooper MP. The new Minister, who represents Pontefract and Castleford, has been a member of the back bench All-Party Pro-Choice Group, which seeks to raise the issue of abortion in Parliament. As a Minister she will have to officially leave the Group. A new Ministry of Health Parliamentary Private Secretary (the first rung up the ladder for a back bencher) is Gisela Stuart, member for Birmingham Edgbaston) who is a declared pro-choice supporter.

There is little pro-choice support in the Conservative Shadow Cabinet. Dr Liam Fox MP, the Shadow Health Minister is outspoken in his opposition to abortion and before assuming this position regularly teamed up with Ann Widdecombe to evangelise in the Commons. Caroline Spelman MP is less moderately vocal but equally opposed. Lord McColl of Dulwich, a leading gynaecologist is content to support early abortion but is allegedly unhappy about those taking place at later gestations.

Dr Evan Harris MP has been appointed spokesperson for women in the Liberal Democrats, the first time a man has ever been appointed to the job. He is generally in favour of access to abortion but would like it to remain within the remit of doctors. Charles Kennedy MP, the new Liberal Democrat leader, has said in response to surveys in the past that he thinks the law on abortion should be more restrictive.

In Northern Ireland, the Alliance for Choice group is preparing to challenge the omission of legal abortion from the 1967 Abortion Act in the European Court. The new Secretary of State, Peter Mandelson, has historically resisted all the attempts of the pro-choice movement to ascertain his views on the subject.
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