Representatives of a number of women’s groups and medical organisations have written an open letter to Theresa May to urge her not to allow issues such as abortion to be used as a bargaining chip in a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
Groups including the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), The Fawcett Society, Mumsnet, Unite and the Royal College of Midwives have urged the prime minister not to “allow the clock to be turned back on women’s rights” as the Tories continue their discussions with Arlene Foster’s socially conservative party.
The open letter to May said: “We are writing to seek a categorical assurance from you that you will not allow women’s rights and, in particular, women’s access to abortion to be used in any kind of trade-off with the Democratic Unionist Party.
“We would strongly oppose any proposal to re-open the issue of time-limits or to in any way restrict women’s access to abortion.”
It added: “We are a pro-choice country which supports a woman’s right to choose. In our last parliament, MPs across all the main political parties voted for a bill to decriminalise abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy in England and Wales.
“50 years since the Abortion Act was passed, there is clearly an appetite to extend, not restrict, reproductive rights.
“We urge you - do not allow the clock to be turned back on women’s rights, and do not turn your back on the women of Northern Ireland.”
The letter was also signed by Humanists UK, Women’s Aid, the Trade Union Congress (TUC, the Nation Union of Teachers (NUT) and journalist Caroline Criado-Perez, among others.
The DUP is anti-abortion and has fought the extension of abortion rights to Northern Ireland, where laws on terminations are far stricter.
Access to abortion is only permitted if a woman’s life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health, meaning many women have to travel to England, Wales or Scotland.
The party is also opposed to gay marriage and has often taken a sceptical view of climate change.
In a blog on HuffPost UK, the Fawcett Society said: “A political party whose representatives believe in creationism, that gay relationships are ‘ungodly’, that breastfeeding in public is exhibitionist, and whose leader has vowed not to see the 1967 Abortion Act extended to Northern Ireland but (generously) said she would carefully consider provision for rape victims.
“To say that we and a large number of other women’s and progressive organisations are alarmed and extremely concerned by this arrangement is an understatement. That is why the Fawcett Society has joined forces with BPAS, Women’s Aid, Mumsnet, the TUC and many others to write an open letter to the Prime Minister.
“Fundamentally, we want a categorical assurance from the Government that women’s rights will not be used as a bargaining chip with the DUP. The UK is a fundamentally pro-choice society. We expect our Westminster Government to defend and reflect that. The DUP do not, yet they hold the balance of power in this new arrangement.”
It comes as Sir John Major has warned the prime minister that the deal she is attempting to strike with the DUP in order to stay in Downing Street could put the Northern Ireland peace process at risk.
The former Conservative PM told the BBC on Tuesday afternoon he was “concerned”, “wary” and “dubious” about the proposed agreement.
He also said a deal with the DUP would cost the Conservative Party a “bucketload” of votes at future elections.