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The Tories' Potential New Leader Opposes Abortion Even in Cases of Rape

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg is the frontrunner to replace Theresa May as leader of the governing UK party—and he just described abortion as "morally indefensible."

Sirin Kale

Sirin Kale

Jacob Rees-Mogg, photo courtesy of UK parliament licensed under CC BY 3.0 and altered

In the UK, the frontrunner for the leadership of the governing Conservative party has stated that he opposed abortion in every circumstance—even cases involving incest or sexual assault.

Jacob Rees-Mogg is the Tory MP that many believe will topple Theresa May, the current leader of the Conservative party, when she stands down. Her resignation seems almost certain following her disastrous performance in the recent general election, which forced her to cut an unofficial deal with the anti-abortion Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland to cling onto power.

Under the British parliamentary system, the prime minister is the leader of the largest party in the House of Commons. If Rees-Mogg wins the Tory leadership race before the next election, he would automatically become the leader of the country. But his comments on abortion and gay marriage—expressed in a televised interview on British broadcaster ITV—have caused deep alarm.

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"[I am] completely opposed to abortion," he told interviewers on the Piers Morgan-hosted Good Morning Britain. "Life is sacrosanct. It begins at the point of conception, and I think it is wrong." He went on to rule out exceptions in the case of incest or rape, describing abortion in all circumstances as "morally indefensible." He also confirmed that he opposed same-sex marriage, having previously voted to block marriage equality in the past.

Rees-Mogg is a practicing Catholic, and his views on abortion and gay marriage have been suspected for some time. It's also worth emphasizing that Rees-Mogg stated in his televised interview that there was "no question of any of these laws being changed," indicating that he would not attempt to revoke abortion access if he were Prime Minister, or repeal marriage equality legislation. And he's received support from unexpected quarters.

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"Before we all shout at Jacob Rees Mogg for his ultra conservative views on marriage equality and abortion," abortion rights campaigner Mara Clarke tweeted, "his actual comments were that he is personally opposed to abortion or marriage equality but that these matters are for law and not faith and that the laws will not change. I won't be voting for this man or his party, but he has a right to be personally against things."

Nonetheless, the spectre of a potential future British leader arguing passionately on live TV that women shouldn't have bodily autonomy, and gay people shouldn't be able to marry, is jarring.

"Jacob Rees-Mogg's views are wildly at odds with public opinion," says Katherine O'Brien of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service. She explains that 70 percent of the population, and 61 percent of Roman Catholics, now support abortion on request, and that there is broad cross-party support for decriminalizing abortion up to 24 weeks from MPs of all political parties.

"We are a pro-choice country, we have a pro-choice parliament. Rees-Mogg's stance on abortion is quite simply extreme, and extremely out-of-touch."