Melanie McDonagh

The problem with Jeremy Hunt’s abortion stance

The problem with Jeremy Hunt's abortion stance
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So it turns out that there may have been a quid pro quo behind Amber Rudd’s backing for Jeremy Hunt, her former political mentor, beyond the usual conversations about Cabinet jobs.

Amber – who is for some reason that escapes me is considered a kingmaker – was interviewed this morning about one possible impediment to a shared world view between the two of them: Jeremy Hunt’s take on abortion, something that Amber says “is very important to me”.

Of Hunt's view, expressed on Sky's Sophy Ridge on Sunday, that the legal limit for abortion should be reduced from 24 weeks to 12, she said it was his "personal, private view". 

"That has always been his view," she said. "I have spoken to Jeremy and there will no change to abortion law if and when he becomes prime minister."

Right, so it’s perfectly fine for him to think off-message thoughts about abortion in the privacy of the home, but not OK for him to initiate any actual legislation or to be hospitable to any change in the law from anyone else?

Amber has his personal assurance that the government will not be interfering with a woman’s right to choose, even though it happens to be about 12 weeks more lax than that of most EU countries and includes the patently discriminatory element that a disabled – loosely interpreted – foetus can be aborted right up to birth, whereas the limit for healthy foetuses is 24 weeks.

Actually what Hunt has said is that he feels this should be a matter for private conscience and a free vote, which is fair enough. But it’s dispiriting that when a candidate for the leadership is offered the chance to make a courageous statement of principle – the kind of thing that’d get him hounded on Twitter and monstered by Jess Philips – he unhesitatingly flunks it and caves in to Amber.

Actually, the person I’d quite like to hear about on the abortion issue is Michael Gove, because he really does have skin in the game. If the present liberal approach to abortion had been current in 1967 when he was born to an ummarried 23-year old cookery demonstrator, would he now be with us? Probably not.

And that would be a pity. Because whatever else you can say about Michael Gove, in successive departments he has done an awful lot to change the life chances of those not born into entitlement.

As a parent I remain grateful to him for raising the bar in educational standards for state schools and examinations when he was education secretary. His stated aspiration, that he wanted to make private education seem like an eccentric choice because state schools would be so good, seems like the best route to social mobility I can think of. None of his successors, including the present incumbent, seem to have anything like that sense of a moral endeavour. As for his commitment, as justice secretary, to prisoner rehabilitation, it wasn’t just sensible, rational and ultimately cost-saving; it was profoundly moral and what we’d want for ourselves.

By comparison with these things, I can’t quite bring myself to hold his admission to cocaine consumption against him. But then I believe that repentant sinners should get a break.

If he were to expand on his wrongdoing, to spell out precisely the harm consumption does to producers, traffickers and dealers (he’ll have seen lots about that in prisons), and how he’d handle the issue in government, it just could turn out to be a redemptive episode.