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Catholic member of Liz Truss’ cabinet under fire for abortion stance



John Burger - published on 09/13/22

Thérèse Coffey has had a consistent pro-life record since becoming Member of Parliament.
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A member of British Prime Minister Liz Truss’ cabinet has come under fire for her record of anti-abortion statements and votes.

Thérèse Coffey, a Catholic who has served as a Member of Parliament and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, was appointed September 7 as Secretary for Health and Social Care.

Truss, who previously served as Foreign Minister, became Prime Minister on September 6 after winning a race to lead Britain’s Conservative Party following the resignation of Prime Minister Boris Johnson. It turned out to be Queen Elizabeth II’s last public act to receive Truss at Balmoral Castle in Scotland and ask her to form a government. Truss was the late Queen’s 15th prime minister in her 70-year reign

In addition to naming Coffey as Health Secretary, she also appointed her Deputy Prime Minister, making her the first woman to serve in that role.

Coffey was campaign manager for Truss in the Parliamentary stages of the 2022 Conservative Party leadership election. 

Immediate denunciation

Almost immediately after Coffey accepted the position of Health Secretary, a pro-abortion organization accused her of allowing her “personal beliefs” to influence public policy.

“To have a health secretary who would place their personal beliefs above expert clinical guidance is deeply concerning,” Clare Murphy, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), told the BBC. What matters is whether such a government official’s “personal convictions stand in the way of women’s ability to act on their own,” Murphy said.

According to Catherine Robinson, spokesperson for Right To Life UK, BPAS is “the UK’s largest abortion provider.”

Coffey voted recently against making abortion pills — introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic — permanently available for at-home use in England and Wales, according to the BBC. Her vote was in the minority, but Murphy accused her of voting “against the advice of leading medical bodies including Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Royal College of Midwives and the BMA.”

According to Catholic News Agency, Coffey has “long described herself as a practicing Catholic.” 

BPAS’s Murphy said that Great Britain needs 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.” But Coffey said that as health secretary, she would focus on “what the vast majority of people use the NHS” for, what she termed A,B,C, and D: ambulances, backlogs, care, doctors and dentists.

She said that even as she heads the Health Secretariat, abortion will remain legal. 

In the past, she has said she would “prefer that people didn’t have abortions but I am not going to condemn people that do.”

Potential influence

David Albert Jones, director of the Anscombe Bioethics Center, in an email to Aleteia, said, “I would not overstate the power of the Secretary of State. She cannot change the law or unilaterally shift government policy. Nevertheless, there are various ways that the Secretary of State exerts influence, including by which policies she advocates in cabinet and by which of the agreed policies she highlights in public. 

“If she remains in post for more than a year then she well may have an influence on the way that the government frames current proposals to revise the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act,” Jones said. “I suspect neither she nor the prime minister would be interested in allowing commercial surrogacy – which is advocated by some LGBT campaigners but resisted by some feminists.”

Coffey’s record has been consistent since at least 2010, when she introduced a motion in Parliament that called for “mental health assessments” for women seeking an abortion. The motion said: “In its 14 March 2008 statement the Royal College of Psychiatrists advised that healthcare professionals who assess or refer women who are requesting an abortion should assess for mental disorder and for risk factors that may be associated with its subsequent development” and called on the government to “give its full backing to mental health assessments for women presenting for abortion.”

She also voted against extending abortion rights to women in Northern Ireland, but at the time she explained that her vote was because she supported granting greater autonomy to the NI Parliament and did not believe the UK Parliament should be “exercising direct rule on this issue.”

In 2012, Coffey defended former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt after he said he believed the abortion limit should be reduced to 12 weeks, tweeting that the “majority of European countries have [a] 12 week limit #abortion.”

She has not removed that tweet. 

Robinson, of Right To Life UK, said that Coffey’s positions on abortion “are not controversial and are broadly supported by large majorities of the public.”

“For example, in 2015, she voted to introduce a ban on sex-selective abortion, a change to the law that polling shows is supported by 91% of women. Similarly, she voted against a proposed change to legislation that was supported by the abortion provider BPAS, who are complaining in the media about her views on abortion, which would have introduced abortion for any reason up to birth.

“Only 1% of women support this change to the law,” Robinson said. “In fact 70% of women want the current time limit on abortion to be lowered to 20 weeks or below, which would bring us closer to the most common time limit among European Union countries, which is 12 weeks.”

Chemist by training

Born in 1971 in Billinge, Lancashire, Thérèse Coffey grew up in Liverpool and attended St. Mary’s College, Crosby, and St. Edward’s College, Liverpool.

She attended Somerville College, Oxford,where she studied chemistry and was involved with the Oxford Union debating society and rowing. However, she was asked to withdraw in her second year on academic grounds. 

She then attended University College London where she graduated, then was awarded a PhD in chemistry in 1998. After graduating, Coffey worked in a number of roles for Mars, Incorporated, including as finance director for Mars Drinks UK, then worked for the BBC as a finance manager.

In 2010, after several failed runs for the UK Parliament and the European Parliament she was elected for Suffolk Coastal, becoming the district’s first female MP. 

In 2013, she voted against the legalization of same-sex marriage, saying, “My perspective on what marriage is really about is different from that of some other Members … For me it is fundamentally still about family, the bedrock of society.” She again voted against same-sex marriage in 2019 when Parliament considered the question for Northern Ireland.

She was appointed Deputy Leader of the House of Commons in May 2015. She sat on the Environmental Audit Committee from September 2017 to November 2019.

In July 2016, Coffey joined the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment and Rural Opportunities, under Prime Minister Theresa May. When Boris Johnson became Prime Minister in July 2019, Coffey was promoted to Minister of State.

Following the resignation of Amber Rudd in September 2019, Coffey joined the Cabinet as the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Coffey retained her position in Johnson’s February 2020 cabinet reshuffle.

According to Wikipedia, Coffey is single and is an avid football fan, supporting Liverpool F.C. She enjoys gardening, karaoke, and music.

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