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Senior Conservative MP weighs in against UK Government abortion rollback

Conservative MP Caroline Nokes

Pressure on the UK Government mounted further today to explain its decision to arbitrarily rewrite a multi-government commitment on women’s rights, with the House of Commons’ Equalities Committee Chair, Conservative MP Caroline Nokes, writing to the Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to seek an explanation. Humanists UK has welcomed her call.

In her letter, Ms Nokes, asks Ms Truss why a statement, resulting from July’s UK-hosted Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion and Belief – and signed by more than 20 countries – was belatedly altered to remove references to women and girls’’ sexual and reproductive health and rights’ and ‘bodily autonomy’.

The original statement gave a commitment to abolishing discriminatory laws that ‘restrict women’s and girls’ full and equal enjoyment of all human rights, including sexual and reproductive health and rights, bodily autonomy’.

The changes were first exposed by Humanists UK, which subsequently organised a letter from more than 20 high-profile UK NGOs to challenge the changes. Signatories included Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, ActionAid, BPAS, MSI Reproductive Choices, Liberty, Fawcett, Brook, the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Article 19, and Maternity Action.

In a statement given to The Guardian, Ms Nokes said:

‘One of the most important freedoms a woman can have is the right to control her own reproductive health. It is very unclear as to why the sections on sexual and reproductive health were withdrawn at such a late stage and apparently with no consultation or discussion.’

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

‘We welcome Caroline’s call for the UK Government to provide a full and frank explanation of why these changes were made – and for the original text to be reinstated.

‘The Government has said these amendments were to resolve a “perceived ambiguity” but support for the human right of women to freedom of belief and bodily autonomy is in no way ambiguous. On the contrary, they are values that should be unambiguously supported, as they were in the original inter-government agreement.’

Since the agreed statement, published on the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office website, was amended, the Norwegian and Danish Governments have called on the UK Government to reverse the inexplicable move.

Originally agreed and signed by 22 countries, the revised document now currently boasts only eight signatories. The only new country to sign since the revision is Malta – a country that does not allow abortion in any circumstances.


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read Humanists UK’s previous statements, first on the initial news of the deletion, and subsequently on Norway, Denmark, and human rights groups challenging the decision.

Read the original and revised statements, and view the differences between the two as tracked changes.

Read more about the Ministerial.

Read more about our work on international campaigns.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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