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Labour leadership hopeful Rebecca Long-Bailey dragged into row over abortion law

3 min read

Rebecca Long-Bailey's bid to become the next Labour leader has been hit by controversy over comments she made before the election about late-term abortions.

The Shadow Business Secretary, who is a Roman Catholic, said she "personally" disagreed with the law allowing women to have terminations at full-term when there is a risk the child will be born with serious physical or mental disabilities.

Under the current rules, an abortion beyond the legal limit of 24 weeks can be in granted by doctors in Scotland, England and Wales if they deem the risk of serious disability to be high.

But in a letter to priests from Salford's Catholic Cathedral, written before the general election, the Salford and Eccles MP said she believed disability should not be considered in the "context" of whether parents choose to have an abortion.

In her response, uncovered by the Red Roar website, she wrote: "It is currently legal to terminate a pregnancy up to full-term on the grounds of disability while the upper limit is 24 weeks if there is no disability.

"I personally do not agree with this position and agree with the words of the Disability Rights Commission that 'the context in which parents choose whether to have a child should be one in which disability and non-disability are valued equally."

Ms Long-Bailey also promised to "play her part" in ensuring the church's "view are heard" during any future consulation on changes to abortion laws.

But the comments have sparked a backlash from some Labour figures, with fellow leadership contender Jess Phillips tweeting: "I always have and always will trust women to make the decisions about their bodies.

"For me that isn't just a passive view, it has taken struggle and effort for that right to choose to exist. I will continue to be active in that struggle."

Meanwhile, Labour MEP Julie Ward told party members they should vote against Ms Long-Bailey because of her views.

"I cannot possibly vote for a person - a woman no less - who does not share my views," she said.

"I urge all those eligible to vote in the Labour leadership election not to vote for RLB."

But a spokesperson for Ms Long-Bailey insisted the comments had been "selectively quoted" by "fake news peddlers" attempting to derail her campaign.

"Rebecca unequivocally supports a woman's right to choose and has only ever voted in favour of extending the right to abortion, such as in Northern Ireland," they said.

"Rebecca's response to the Deanery of Salford clarified the existing law and current Labour policy, stating that abortion procedures should be properly regulated, and that women's reproductive rights and the decriminalistion of aboriton should be maintained."

They added: "Rebecca's response was also a reflection of her own personal agreement with the Disability Rights Commission...rather that her view on policy.

"During any proposed public consultation a wide range of views would of course be heard, and it is Rebecca's duty as an MP to ensure her constituents are able to respond."

The row comes after left-wing campaign group Momentum voted to back Ms Long-Bailey's campaign for leader, despite being accused of a "stitch-up" because her name was the only one put on the ballot.

Ms Long-Bailey had been put forward to members for approval in the online ballot alongside deputy leadership candidate Angela Rayner after being selected by Momentum's steering group last week.

Following the vote, the group said they would be "mobilising thousands" to build support for the pair.

The group added: "Our membership has spoken and overwhelmingly backed Rebecca Long-Bailey to be the next leader of the Labour party and the next prime minister of the UK. We will not be mobilising thousands to persuade Labour members in the coming months."

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