New UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced the final few appointments to his cabinet on Friday, controversially making Maria Caulfield the new Minister for Women.
The alarming appointment has prompted backlash by women's rights groups and women's health charities, with Caulfield holding concerning views on abortion and reproductive rights in general.
Caulfield, 49, voted against the legalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland, backed cutting the abortion time limit in the UK and opposed the recent vote on buffer zones around abortion clinics. She also used to be a member of the parliamentary "pro-life" group.
To reiterate, she is now the Minister for Women - responsible for policy regarding gender equality and the advancement of women.
"I am allowed on these life matters to have a personal view, without being criticised or told I can't do my job," says Minister for Women Maria Caulfield, after she voted against abortion buffer zones#PoliticsLive https://t.co/TTK9fCa6cC pic.twitter.com/sVx99Y2p6ROctober 31, 2022
Caulfield's appointment has been widely criticised, with women's rights activists warning of the potential consequences, and urging members of the public not to be complacent.
"We are horrified that a clear opponent of abortion rights has been appointed minister for women," stated Harriet Wistrich, the director of the Centre for Women's Justice, via BBC.
“The vast majority of women want the right to choose. 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.”
Among those to voice their outrage were politicians, especially following Caulfield's recent interview defending her opposition to the buffer zone vote, which makes it illegal to harass women outside abortion clinics.
"The definition of harassment is open to interpretation," Caulfield told BBC's Politics Live when questioned about her stance. "There's a possibility of someone going up to a woman who may be upset or distressed, offering them some comfort, that could then be accused of harassment and and face six-months in jail."
Taking to Twitter, Labour MP Diane Abbott responded: "Sunak’s new Minister for Women Maria Caulfield wants to limit a woman’s right to an abortion and now claims protesters harassing women outside abortion clinics are trying to 'comfort' them. Ridiculous appointment".
Sunak’s new minister for women Maria Caulfield wants to limit a woman’s right to an abortion and now claims protesters harassing women outside abortion clinics are trying to “comfort” them. Ridiculous appointment. pic.twitter.com/XkHyUO9dOnOctober 31, 2022
This news comes as reproductive rights are increasingly under threat worldwide, following the overturning of Roe v Wade by the US Supreme Court.
“The 1967 Abortion Act, and our ability to end a pregnancy, lie in the hands of politicians, and over the past 10 years we have seen a number of parliamentary bids to restrict abortion safely and legally,” explained Katherine O’Brien, associate director at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service. “These groups have strong links with their US counterparts, and we would be concerned that they will escalate activity [now that] Roe v Wade is overturned."
“At any given time, parliament could attempt to restrict women’s access,” another spokesperson for BPAS added, via the Independent. “Over recent years, a number of anti-choice MPs have sought to do just that, and we must be constantly vigilant.”
"You think what you see in America couldn't happen here?", tweeted Stella Creasy, MP for Walthamstow, following the overturning of Roe v Wade. "Then you don't understand who is organising in UK politics. No one thought American Supreme Court would ever overturn a right previously granted either... These attacks on women's rights won't stop. Be prepared."
A photo posted by on
So, what can we do on an individual level?
“The most important thing people in the UK can do to support abortion rights is to be loudly, unashamedly pro-choice,” Abortion Support Network founder Mara Clarke told the Independent.
“The anti-abortion population is less than 10 per cent of the UK’s population. We are the pro-choice majority, and we should speak often about not only abortion but about all reproductive health issues.”
We will continue to update this story.
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Jenny Proudfoot is an award-winning journalist, specialising in lifestyle, culture, entertainment, international development and politics. She has worked at Marie Claire UK for seven years, rising from intern to Features Editor and is now the most published Marie Claire writer of all time. She was made a 30 under 30 award-winner last year and named a rising star in journalism by the Professional Publishers Association.
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