Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey has said she would “prefer that people didn’t have abortions” – but added that the law in the UK was not going to change.
Ms Coffey spoke to Sky News’ Beth Rigby Interviews about her opinion on the issue after the US Supreme Court overturned the long-held Roe v Wade legal precedent that has for decades safeguarded access to terminations in America.
Her remarks come as some MPs fear that campaigners who want to roll back abortion rights in the UK will be given renewed impetus by the US move.
In Britain, an amendment by Labour’s Stella Creasy to the government’s Bill of Rights will seek to establish women’s access to abortion as a human right – but that has been rejected by Justice Secretary Dominic Raab.
Ms Coffey backed that position, telling Sky News: “We don’t need it because we already have legislation that provides access to abortion.”
She added: “Abortion law isn’t going to change in this country.”
Her Conservative colleague Jacob Rees-Mogg – who like her is a Catholic – recently told Sky News that the number of abortions in the UK is one of the saddest aspects of British life.
Asked on her own view, Ms Coffey said: “I think there are a number of things where people either give up hope or don’t think they can cope with certain things.
“Of course, I would prefer that people didn’t have abortions but I am not going to condemn people that do.”
On her own religious beliefs, Ms Coffey said: “I don’t know that I wear my religion on my sleeve but it is undoubtedly part of who I am.
“There are issues that get decided in parliament – great ethical issues of the day – and so of course I’ll participate in that.”
Her remarks come after Danny Kruger, another Tory MP, said in the wake of the Roe v Wade ruling that while others “think that women have an absolute right to bodily autonomy in this matter”, he believed that “in the case of abortion that right is qualified by the fact that another body is involved”.
Ms Coffey spoke to Sky News political editor Rigby in a wide-ranging interview in which she also discussed how her background growing up in Liverpool in the 1980s – at a time when she said it was being “ruined” by a militant Labour council – drove her to become a Conservative.
She also told how, as a fan of Liverpool FC, she had been caught up in the chaos of this year’s Champions League final in Paris – when some fans were pepper-sprayed and tear-gassed as they tried to enter the stadium.
Ms Coffey said: “I don’t think it was very well handled. I wasn’t pepper sprayed. I was part of the squash. It was like being in a mosh pit where you didn’t want to be. It wasn’t great. I wasn’t frightened but it was uncomfortable.”
The work and pensions secretary also spoke about some of the challenges in her own job dealing with a labour market where vacancies stand at a record 1.3 million yet there are more than five million people classed as economically inactive – that is, not seeking work, sometimes for medical reasons.
Ms Coffey acknowledged that the situation had been transformed by the pandemic.
She said: “There’s a number of people who went on furlough and seem to have saved a lot of money – haven’t necessarily wanted to go back to the jobs they were doing before.
“It may be that they found a job during furlough – another job which was more to their suiting.
“But I think we have seen a greater thing of people wanting a different life-work balance.”
Meanwhile, with the government facing battles with public sector unions over pay, at a time when inflation is running at a four-decade high of more than 9% and set to head into double figures, Ms Coffey confirmed that within her own department pay settlements would be in the 2-3% range.