10/06/2017 11:05 BST | Updated 10/06/2017 11:42 BST

Owen Paterson Hints At Debate On Reduced Abortion Times As Tories Enter Pact With DUP

Former minister says 'you might get a debate' on issue.

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An ex-Tory minister has hinted there could be a Commons vote on increasing abortion limits as his party looks to cement its alliance with the Democratic Unionist Party.

When asked about the impact the Conservative deal with the Northern Irish right-wingers could have in Parliament, Owen Paterson told the BBC’s Today programme: “I don’t see many major social issues coming up.

“You might get a debate I suppose on further reduction of abortion times as medical science advances.”

His remarks provoked fury among opponents, as well as some healthcare professionals and more liberal Conservatives. 

The DUP holds an anti-abortion stance and terminations are illegal in Northern Ireland unless a woman’s life is in danger or there is a serious risk to her physical or mental health.

Last year, its leader Arlene Foster said: “I would not want abortion to be as freely available here as it is in England.”

The current legal abortion limit is 24 weeks.

Paterson, who was secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs from 2012 until 2014, was also asked about the DUP’s position on gay rights.

“That is all devolved,” he said.

“It’s not only a free vote issue, most of this, but it’s nearly all devolved and that’s down to the politicians in Northern Ireland to resolve.”

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The London-Irish Abortion Rights campaign was set to hold a rally on Saturday morning to highlight their opposition to Theresa May’s announcement her party would enter into a partnership with the DUP after she failed to secure an overall majority in this week’s snap election.

 The Green Party said the Tories ‘coalition of cruelty’ was putting women’s rights under threat.

Deputy leader Amelia Womack said: “We may have seen a record number of women gain seats in the Parliament this week, but the 10 MPs of the anti-abortion, anti-equal marriage DUP look set to have a disproportionate influence which should concern us all.

“The DUP’s obstruction to legal abortion in Northern Ireland has left many women in dire circumstances, forced to travel to England where they are not entitled to NHS-funded terminations or face prosecution for seeking help at home.

“It is deeply concerning that a party responsible for so much pain could be in a position to exert so much influence. Women’s rights are under threat and we must work together to stop a lurch to the right under a Tory-DUP alliance.”