Why new Health Secretary’s votes on abortion and gay rights have raised concerns

Liz Truss rewarded her close ally Thérèse Coffey with the key role of Health Secretary – one of the Great Offices of State – as she entered No 10 on Tuesday.

The former secretary of state for work and pensions, Ms Coffey, 50, has already come under scrutiny for her voting record, particularly on issues relating to her faith.

Ms Coffey, a practising Roman Catholic, has previously voted against same-sex marriage and extending abortion rights.

Here’s what you need to know.

What is her voting record?

As a backbencher in 2010, Ms Coffey introduced a motion in Parliament calling for “mental health assessments” for women seeking an abortion.

Ms Coffey also recently voted with 174 other Tory MPs to oppose extending the right to access abortion pills at home.

Speaking in June following the repeal of Roe vs Wade, a legal precedent which protected women’s right to abortion in the US, Ms Coffey said: “I would prefer that people didn’t have abortions but I am not going to condemn people that do”.

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The Health Secretary has also voted against same-sex marriage in 2013 and was one of just 72 MPs opposed to extending the right to Northern Ireland three years ago.

Justifying her position in 2020, she told Kay Burley: “I took the view at the time, and I still hold to that, I have a strong faith background about what is a legal partnership and what is marriage, but that is not a question for today.”

What concerns have been raised?

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) has described the new Health Secretary’s record on abortion rights as “deeply concerning”, suggesting Ms Coffey has put her personal beliefs “above expert clinical guidance”.

Clare Murphy, chief executive BPAS, told the BBC that, while politicians are entitled to their own views, what mattered was whether their “personal convictions stand in the way of women’s ability to act on their own”.

By voting to revoke access to at-home abortion care, Ms Coffey was acting “against the advice of leading medical bodies including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Midwives and the BMA”, Ms Murphy added.

“To have a health secretary who would place their personal beliefs above expert clinical guidance is deeply concerning.”

After the repeal of Roe vs Wade, the UK should be a “a beacon for women’s reproductive choice”, Ms Murphy said.

“Anti-abortion protest activity is escalating, with women and clinic staff facing intimidation while seeking to access and provide an NHS-funded service.

“Every week, women with complex medical conditions are forced to continue pregnancies against their will because of a lack of appointments within NHS hospital settings.

“We need a health secretary who wants to improve access to a medical procedure that one in three women will need in their lifetime, not impose further restrictions.”

How has Ms Coffey responded?

When challenged on the issue this morning, Ms Coffey said she is not seeking to undo any aspects of abortion laws.

“I’m conscious I have voted against abortion laws,” she told Sky News.

“What I will say is I’m the complete democrat and that is done, so it’s not that I’m seeking to undo any aspects of abortion laws.”

Insisting her focus is on ensuring the NHS fulfils its essential functions, she said: “We’ve got priorities A, B, C, D – ambulances, backlogs, care, D – doctors and dentists. And we’re going to work through that and we’ll make sure that we’re delivering for the patients.”

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