Long-Bailey: undermining women’s right to choose

The Labour leadership candidate's comments on abortion show how little she thinks of women's freedom.

Ella Whelan

Ella Whelan


Party leadership elections can be exciting events. But not Labour’s, which has been pretty dull so far. That was until quotes emerged from the Corbyn Continuity Candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey concerning abortion rights.

In a series of questions put to politicians in Salford during the 2019 General Election, Long-Bailey was asked by Catholic priests whether or not she would lower the gestational limit for abortion. She said that she ‘would never contemplate abortion’, but she has ‘tried to understand the agonising decisions many feel forced to make’. She said she was worried women were using the internet to procure ‘dangerous and unregulated products, without the advice and support they may desperately need’, and were ‘putting themselves in danger and making a life-altering decision without counselling or knowledge of the real emotional implications it will have’. When asked whether she thought women should be allowed to have abortions on the grounds of disability (an allusion, presumably, to improved tests available for Down’s syndrome during pregnancy), Long-Bailey said they should not. She cited the words of the Disability Rights Commission to support her position: ‘The context in which parents choose whether to have a child should be one in which disability and non-disability are valued equally.’

Long-Bailey is a Catholic. That much is clear. And while she should be free to hold her own personal position on something like abortion, the fact she said what she said in the context of Labour’s 2019 election manifesto is worrying. For that manifesto promised to ‘uphold women’s reproductive rights and decriminalise abortions’. The reason I, like millions of other women, welcomed this promise is that it would take abortion out of the purview of criminal law, and allow it to be regulated like any other healthcare service. It would mean, finally, granting women freedom over their own bodies and life choices. And it would be a genuine statement of trust and faith in women’s ability to make the ‘life-altering’ choices Long-Bailey talked about.

It is is this promise that was undermined by Long-Bailey, when she said Labour needed ‘to have a discussion about what a comprehensive, safe, properly regulated approach would be’, and that ‘we have not stated that time limits will be reviewed, and definitely not that they should be increased’.

Politicians lie all the time. But Long-Bailey’s admission that Labour’s promise to decriminalise abortion had nothing to do with actually changing women’s access to abortion is shocking. Long-Bailey made mention of the 1861 Offences Against The Persons Act, which criminalises abortion, and the 1967 Abortion Act, which allows abortion in certain circumstances, under certain restraints. But she doesn’t seem to understand what role these laws play. Decriminalising abortion would mean repealing the 1861 act, rendering the 1967 act defunct.

The much-lauded 1967 act was only ever a compromise. It was designed to protect doctors from prosecution. But it also took the decision to have an abortion away from women, and placed it in the hands of two doctors, before whom women must prove that their abortion is necessary to protect their ‘physical or mental health’. Decriminalising abortion, as Labour promised, would mean there was no need for the 1967 act, and no need for time limits which were a fictional necessity created as part of that act. After all, there is no medical, logical or moral reason why a woman at 23 weeks and six days should be allowed to have an abortion, and a woman at 24 weeks and one day should not.

The response to Long-Bailey’s comments from some Labour supporters has been disappointing. Journalist Paul Mason displayed his well-known illiberal tendencies by going after Long-Bailey for being a Catholic. Others apologised on her behalf, and drew attention to the fact that Long-Bailey’s quotes were published on the anti-Corbyn website The Red Roar. Some are even claiming the attempt to shaft Long-Bailey by outing her abortion views is a ruse by fans of leadership rival Jess Phillips.

For her part, Long-Bailey has angrily stated that she supports a woman’s right to choose. But she continues to add the caveat that the disabled community are worried that abortion rights might lead to discrimination. This is a low blow from Long-Bailey. Suggesting that women who make the difficult decision to terminate their pregnancy in cases of disability are discriminatory and immoral has long been a ploy of anti-abortion campaigners.

The reason all this matters is that a politician’s stance on abortion rights tells you a lot about the rest of their political views. Supporting a woman’s right to choose isn’t just about access to abortion services. It is also about how much we trust women to make choices for themselves. It is about whether one believes women should be free to exercise their moral autonomy. Clearly Long-Bailey does not think women should. Given she is one of the favourites to be the next Labour leader, this raises profound questions about just how serious the Labour Party is about supporting a woman’s right to choose.

Ella Whelan is a spiked columnist and the author of What Women Want: Fun, Freedom and an End to Feminism.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


nick hunt

26th January 2020 at 12:31 pm

Thanks to this article, I can now respect and value RLB much more than previously. Her humane, Catholic beliefs impress so much more than anything ‘woke’. For such heresy, leftists will sneer and condemn her

Hugh Oxford

25th January 2020 at 1:47 pm

For a political party so vocally concerned with fighting discrimination and violence, the Labour party are VERY enthusiastic about abortion.

I’ve been part of the pro-life movement for all my adult life. I would say that the vast majority of pro-life life activists are women from working class backgrounds.

I’ve always wondered why this was. I guess it’s because working class women tend to see at first hand the appalling consequences of the sexual revolution, the abandonment of the poor and marginalised that abortion represents.

These are the people that know that abortion is rarely a choice, it’s a sentence and a betrayal, it’s a means by which abusive and exploitative men get their way, it’s a way that the corporate world exploits women for profit and greed. It’s part of a machine of abandonment and betrayal that includes contraception and the myth and lie of choice and self determination.

I expect it’s also why the most active people in Catholic parishes tend to be working class women, as well as the most orthodox. They know what “liberalism” really means: the denial of women, the reduction of women to sexual objects, the destruction of marriage and with it the dignity of women and children.

It’s a shame because these are all natural Labour voters, people who believe in solidarity and the protection of the marginalised and exploited.

There was a time the Labour party would have been the natural choice of pro-life people.

For what it’s worth, if RLB, as a public figure, supports and promotes “the right to choose” then she has excommunicated herself from the Catholic Church and there should be a pronouncement from the bishop of her Diocese that she is to be denied communion. You can’t be a Catholic and support killing the unborn. Those are mutually incompatible.

jan mozelewski

22nd January 2020 at 6:19 pm

All fine and large. And the debate about the ‘right to choose’ is constantly being revisited and so it should be. (I have to declare a personal interest in it.)
But the reality is that there is nothing ‘worrying’ about anything Long-Bailey says. Because she is totally irrelevant, and will be for some considerable time, if not indefinitely.
Better things to angst about that the opinions of this blow-up-doll-alike.


25th January 2020 at 11:19 pm

‘Better things to angst about that the opinions of this blow-up-doll-alike.’ —

Yeah, like the huge wave of Tory betrayal that is about to sweep over northern voters (particularly those who so foolishly voted for them in December) when almost the entire infrastructure and development budget of the UK is pumped back into London and the South East (as it always is).

Francis Lonergan

22nd January 2020 at 9:48 am

Convention on the rights of the child.

“Bearing in mind that, as indicated in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth”,”

Isn’t the UK signed up to this?

Francis Lonergan

22nd January 2020 at 9:41 am

“Reproductive rights” and “right to choose” what nonsense Orwellian doublespeak. When women have arrived at a point where abortion is a consideration it is obvious that the right to choose has already not been exercised and reproductive choice has not been a consideration.

And Ella wants to have no time limit so that it is possible that unborn human beings can be torn limb from limb at 38 weeks. How can anyone support such evil?

Claire D

22nd January 2020 at 3:14 pm

Good questions.

David Green

25th January 2020 at 8:53 am

I know its frightening.
Ms Long Bailey has a right to put politics aside on this matter.
Babies need protection from being slaughtered in the womb.
A clear message is to promote the family and have children born into a loving home.
Abortion is not an alternative form of contraception.
Why bang on about climate change and the future of our children when the most dangerous place is inside the womb itself.

Ted Glen

22nd January 2020 at 12:00 am

Why is this so difficult? Ella Whelan really is a fanatic on this and it’s painful.

If, as I’d suspect, 90% of people can agree that a 1 hour old embryo does not represent life to the point of being protected legally the same as you or me, but can also agree that a child 1 hour before birth should be endowed with the same legal protections we would expect to have ourselves, then we can all agree that at some time in between those two points, it becomes immoral to destroy that biological entity, as we agree that it has ceased being a potential life we have terminated, into an actual life we have killed.

We can argue, as people have since time immemorial, as to what traits bestow the status of being alive, yet for all we know of biological growth we are still left with subjective speculation. There is no right or wrong answer, other than that absolutists are demonstrably wrong.

Some questions do not have a black and white answer, and this is one of them. Ella Whelan comes across as petulantly simple minded in insisting that there is one, and particularly reminiscent of the woke elite she so despises who try to shut down debate by labelling anyone who disagrees with her as a mysognist. If she instead tried to articulate the arguments refuting her position and engaged with them, she’d earn more respect.

Francis Lonergan

22nd January 2020 at 9:54 am

“We can argue, as people have since time immemorial, as to what traits bestow the status of being alive”

Would you say that an amoeba or a bacterium is alive?


25th January 2020 at 11:19 pm

Well, yeah. Some of them even stand for Parliament.

Tinfoil Hat

21st January 2020 at 8:29 pm

The embryo is not part of the woman’s body. It is separated by the placenta, which is ejected after birth (or abortion). Her egg, his sperm. If the woman has the right to a legal abortion, then so must the father to maintain fairness, with sexual equality. And abortion must trump survival to please the sisterhood. How evil can it get to be fair and a feminist.

jan mozelewski

22nd January 2020 at 7:04 pm

Oh don’t talk drivel. The placenta does not grow on its own! The woman grows it….from her own blood and oxygen supply. It is totally connected to her. As someone who has suffered placental abruption I can tell you it was me who felt the pain and suffered the considerable risk. Not the man.


25th January 2020 at 11:04 pm

Well said, Ms. Mozelewski.

nick hunt

26th January 2020 at 12:36 pm

So can the embryo, which is genetically distinct, be understood only as the mother’s property? Is the discarded foetus no more valuable than a discarded appendix? And do you allow any paternal voice in the decision to discard?

John Sayer

21st January 2020 at 11:47 am

Unless there is an actual health risk involved in a pregnancy, abortion is not a ‘health issue’, no matter how many times it is claimed to be so. Pregnancy is not a disease. The ‘healthcare rights’ argument is therefore redundant. If it is morally acceptable to kill a child in the womb because it is disabled, then it follows that it is also morally acceptable to kill it after it has been born, surely? In the final analysis, the only issue of choice involved is that of the woman choosing to either *want* to go through with the birth or *not want* to do so.

jan mozelewski

22nd January 2020 at 6:21 pm

There is ALWAYS a health risk involving pregnancy.

Stuart Hart

20th January 2020 at 10:23 pm

If a young girl gets pregnant she is often advised to have an abortion because “it is her body” and “she has a right to choose what she does with it.” If the same young girl self-harms she is NOT told “it is her body” and “she has the right to choose what she does with it.”
Why the double standard?
Remember, when you are talking about the life in her womb it is certainly NOT of the same genetic makeup as her body and therefore MUST be a different person. Why does she have the right to kill another?

Cedar Grove

7th February 2020 at 10:51 pm

Because all persons have a right to refuse to allow another to occupy their body space. That’s true in the matter of sexual contact, and it’s true of babies.

If babies are part of women’s bodies, women have the right to say yes or no to allowing their wombs to be occupied. If babies are separate, the argument above applies.

christopher barnard

20th January 2020 at 7:06 pm

Abortion rights are something which our elected representatives choose after being elected by women and men too.

As women have never had the right to choose their own abortion rights Ms Long-Bailey cannot undermine that choice.

Bear Mac Mathun

20th January 2020 at 6:18 pm

So Long—Bailey is permitted to have certain beliefs, so long as she can’t act upon them or influence society or politics to accepting those beliefs? That sounds rather like a liberal version of totalitarianism


12th February 2020 at 4:25 am

Her job is to represent the people, not herself

L Strange

20th January 2020 at 6:03 pm

There are umpteen forms of contraception available and free to women n this country, the ability to insist that the man uses a condom (the only form of contraception we have, and that we have to pay for), the morning-after pill for accidents and, currently, almost six months to decide whether to go through with the pregnancy or kill the baby. And all this is provided without any legal or social expectation of conscience or accountability.

The suggestion that women’s ‘reproductive rights’ are restricted is a fucking sick joke.


25th January 2020 at 11:20 pm

Have to agree with you there.

Steve Roberts

20th January 2020 at 5:57 pm

A hugely important article from Whelan not allowing this issue to sneak under the radar.
It should be a massive worry for all who believe, in any serious way, that women, in the particular issue of abortion rights are still genuinely oppressed, denied the basic rights to live a full social. and political life available to other autonomous citizens, yes potentially 50% of the population.
A potential PM who allegedly has as her basic political philosophy an emotional compassionate caring of the needy, the left behind, those with a serious lack of equality of opportunity and here she is refusing to fight to demolish one of the last bastions that keeps women, and only women ,as oppressed citizens.
I doubt that RLB does not understand the present law, she will be fully aware of it and its implications for women that Whelan points out. It is true that “This is a low blow from Long-Bailey” but it frankly also indicates she is just another continuation candidate, an ideal one for the political class, again as Whelan points out she can lie, but she is clearly a manipulator, of words and deeds, a manager, of people, citizens ,a user and deceiver, twisting words and implying things or as we say up north” ..she can talk all day and say nowt..”
A woman PM against womens freedom, how quaint and caring.

Neil McCaughan

21st January 2020 at 3:19 pm

You are Titania McGrath, and I claim my five pounds.


25th January 2020 at 11:15 pm

‘A woman PM against womens freedom, how quaint and caring.’ —

Yeah, but she’s nowhere near the level of Thatcher, who was against *everybody’s* freedom.

nick hunt

26th January 2020 at 12:47 pm

No, Thatcher was not a demon. Give your smearing and sneering a break, Xenops.

Jerry Owen

20th January 2020 at 5:38 pm

‘Women’s reproductive rights’.. I have always found that an odd phrase as it masks what it really means which is.. ‘I will do exactly as I wish with no regards for anyone else, especially the unborn child that I chose to have’.

Paulie Walnuts

20th January 2020 at 4:05 pm

“It is about whether one believes women should be free to exercise their moral autonomy” …. Really? The ‘moral autonomy’ to murder a viable human being ..? A child born at 24 weeks can live. It is a person. I dislike 99% of RBL’s politics but I think she did something fairly amazing by speaking as she did (and I suspect that pretty much any other politician would have been subjected to howls of outrage from th Labour Party).

Claire D

20th January 2020 at 3:36 pm

On the contrary I applaud Rebecca Long-Bailey’s courage for saying this. I never thought she would win the leadership race and maybe she does’nt think she will either, but it takes some guts to voice this opinion to her party. Good for her.

Women would still have all the choices they need to control their reproductive systems if the abortion limit was lowered to 12 weeks and it would bring us into line with the rest of Europe.


25th January 2020 at 11:09 pm

The limit for most abortions appears to be 12 weeks in 16 European countries: https://righttolife.org.uk/what-are-the-abortion-time-limits-in-eu-countries/

Neil McCaughan

20th January 2020 at 3:30 pm

What about the rights of the butchered and mutilated child? What about the rights of the child’s father?

There’s nothing nastier, or more ugly, than hypocritical cant about a “woman’s right”. Call it by its true name. Murder.


25th January 2020 at 11:10 pm

You are probably right in most cases, but when does life begin? At conception? Surely you accept that abortion is morally acceptable in situations where the mother’s life is in danger or the child will be extremely handicapped?

farkennel smith

20th January 2020 at 3:06 pm

A womans right to choose?To “choose” to murder her unborn child,a distinct entity with it`s own unique dna?Since when is murder a right?Whelan says it`s a difficult decision.This suggests that the woman KNOWS that what she is doing is wrong.If it was just a “healthcare” decision,why would the decision be difficult?No one agonizes about having an appendix removed,why would you agonize over an abortion?

Cedar Grove

7th February 2020 at 10:54 pm

No. The decision isn’t agonising because women know abortion is wrong.

It’s because an embryo has the potential to become a foetus, and then be born to commence life as a person, and no rightminded human being can take the decision to reject that possibility lightly.

But after birth, the child has to be cared for, and that usually isn’t done by the people who insisted on its being born.

Tom Helme

20th January 2020 at 3:01 pm

Abortions are never a great thing from whatever angle you come from. I believe you respect people’s different opinions on the subject – especially on a website that espouses freedom of speech.

Jerry Owen

20th January 2020 at 10:24 pm

No, you don’t have to respect views you don’t approve of.


25th January 2020 at 11:11 pm

You don’t have to respect those views you disagree with but you cannot stop people articulating their own opinions.

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