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Pro-choice coalition challenges EHRC Commissioner over anti-choice bill

Lord Shinkwin. Photo credit: House of Lords.

Voice for Choice, the UK’s national coalition of pro-choice campaigning organisations – of which Humanists UK is a member – has lodged a formal complaint to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) over the conduct of its Commissioner, Lord Shinkwin, who was appointed by the Government Equalities Office earlier this year. The complaint focuses on two areas where Lord Shinkwin’s actions have contravened the EHRC’s codes of conduct and undermined its integrity. In the light of Voice for Choice’s complaint, Humanists UK believes that it is no longer appropriate for Lord Shinkwin to remain in his role as a Commissioner.

The first area of complaint is Lord Shinkwin’s introduction of the Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill in the House of Lords. If this bill becomes law, it would amend the 1967 Abortion Act to prevent women from accessing an abortion after 24 weeks when faced with a serious antenatal diagnosis. This would include cases where the pregnancy would result in a stillbirth or the baby would not survive long after birth. Women faced with this diagnosis would be forced to carry such a pregnancy to full term.

By denying women abortions in the case of fatal foetal abnormality, this bill would violate their human rights. The United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) has already established this precedent in two rulings on the denial of abortion on these grounds in the Republic of Ireland. The UNHRC found in both cases such a prohibition constitutes cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment. With this bill, Lord Shinkwin undermines the very rights that as a Commissioner he is entrusted to uphold.

Voice for Choice’s second ground for complaint is that in campaigning for this bill, Lord Shinkwin has broken a number of the EHRC’s codes of conduct which govern a Commissioner’s behaviour. In recent comments made both in the media and in Parliament, including during the purdah period in the run up to the last general election, Lord Shinkwin spoke out against the EHRC for its position on this issue, and did not make it clear that he not speaking in his capacity as an EHCR Commissioner – both of which he is expected to do.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘Lord Shinkwin’s bill, if passed into law, would lead to some of those who need an abortion the most being unable to access it. It is simply horrific that women would be forced to carry to term foetuses that are not viable, and for this reason we very much expect that the Equality and Human Rights Commission will not support the Bill, but instead put a stop to his behaviour which is utterly inappropriate for a sitting Commissioner.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at richy@humanism.org.uk or on 0781 55 89 636.

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaign work on abortion rights: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/sexual-and-reproductive-rights/

Read more about the Voice for Choice coalition: https://vfc.org.uk/

Voice for Choice is the national coalition of organisations campaigning for a woman’s choice on abortion. Members include organisations and individuals whose everyday work relates to abortion in some way – as service providers, advocates, educators, trainers, academics or counsellors. Its membership includes: Abortion Rights, Alliance for Choice, Antenatal Results and Choices, bpas, Doctors for a Woman’s Choice on Abortion, FPA, Humanists UK, Lawyers for Choice, Marie Stopes UK and the Trades Union Congress.  

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Humanists UK recently changed its name from the British Humanist Association: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/05/22/bha-becomes-humanists-uk/

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