Comment & Reviews
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has been replaced by Alan Milburn, the Member for Darlington.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specifically responsible for abortion has been replaced by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.