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Anti-abortion activist resigns as Equality and Human Rights Commissioner

Lord Shinkwin has resigned as a Commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). Shinkwin had been campaigning to get the Commission to support a bill he is proposing in the House of Lords seeking to ban abortion on the grounds of disability, including fatal foetal abnormality, and had been openly lobbying to see the EHRC support his bill. Humanists UK helped lodge a formal complaint against him over his behaviour, prompting the EHRC to start a formal investigation. Today Humanists UK has welcomed his resignation.

Shinkwin’s Bill

Shinkwin was appointed an EHRC Commissioner back in April, something that immediately triggered concern amongst Humanists UK and other members of the pro-choice alliance Voice for Choice (VfC). Shinkwin’s so-called ‘Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill’, which he has been pushing in the House of Lords, seeks to amend the Abortion Act 1967 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. It also contradicts what the EHRC’s sister organisation, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, is trying to achieve right now in its Supreme Court case on the very same matter. With this Bill, Lord Shinkwin is seeking to undermine the very rights that as a Commissioner he was entrusted to uphold.

Formal complaint

As a result, in July VfC lodged a formal complaint to the Commission about Shinkwin’s behaviour, which Humanists UK secured legal advice for. The complaint also alleged that Shinkwin had broken the EHRC’s codes of conduct in failing to make clear in his parliamentary and media work that his support for his Bill was personal, and not the view of the EHRC. He also failed to abide by purdah rules of political impartiality, by advocating his position in the run-up to the general election.

This complaint triggered a formal investigation into his behaviour by the EHRC. Humanists UK has attended two meetings at the Commission about this. Whether this investigation will now continue remains to be seen.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘We’re very pleased that Lord Shinkwin is no longer to be a Commissioner of the EHRC. His Bill is simply incompatible with the very human rights the EHRC is tasked with championing. We hope that the EHRC will now be able to renew its focus on guaranteeing women’s rights, including for those facing the gravest situations during pregnancy.’

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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