The UK’s Conservative Political Figures Linked to the US Anti-Abortion Drive
Numerous Conservative MPs, donors, and allies have spoken at and collaborated with Washington D.C. think tanks and organisations working to overturn the state-wide right to safe, legal abortion in the US
Leading Conservative MPs and their donors have close ties to think tanks, networks and foundations determined to roll-back abortion rights in the US, Byline Times can reveal.
Liz Truss, Sajid Javid, Dr Liam Fox, Daniel Hannan, and Owen Paterson all have links to the radical-right Heritage Foundation think tank which lobbies against abortion rights.
Abortion, always a contested issue in the US, is currently under threat as the Supreme Court gets ready to hear a case that could overturn Roe v Wade – the 1973 ruling that legalised terminations across the country.
“Anti-abortion politicians have exploited their power for this exact moment: the opportunity for the newly comprised Supreme Court to take away our right to abortion,” Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, told Byline Times. “In a country where your ability to access abortion already depends on your income and ZIP code, the court’s decision could even further decimate access.”
Before abortion was legalised in the US, women who were pregnant and did not want to be were forced to take extreme measures, including unsafe medications or surgery. Black, ethnic minority and poor women were worst impacted – 80% of women who died after undergoing an illegal abortion in New York in the years preceding decriminalisation were black or Puerto Rican.
The Heritage Foundation is backing calls to roll-back abortion rights. It calls for policy makers to “enshrine equal protection for all human beings in law, from conception”. Its legal fellow Sarah Parshall Perry has observed that the “Supreme Court should avail itself of this opportunity to make a long-overdue course correction on abortion”, has called Roe an “unwarranted and unwise power grab”, and said that “overturning Roe would return abortion policy to the states where it belongs”.
But the Heritage Foundation is just one of many international radical-right, anti-abortion organisations linked to Conservative Party MPs and party donors, as well as UK political figures.
These include the Leadership Institute, Alliance Defending Freedom, the Cato Institute, the Federalist Society, and Agenda Europe.
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A Bridge Across the Atlantic
Key to the relationships between the US-based Heritage Foundation and the UK right is Conservative MP Dr Liam Fox.
His own think tank Atlantic Bridge held events sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, before it was dissolved in 2011 following complaints to the Charity Commission. According to the Guardian, old caches of the organisation’s website revealed prominent Conservative MPs George Osborne, Michael Gove, Chris Grayling, and William Hague were all on Atlantic Bridge’s advisory council.
Despite Atlantic Bridge closing, Fox’s relationship with the Heritage Foundation continued when he delivered the think tank’s annual Margaret Thatcher lecture in 2018, receiving a donation worth more than £6,000.
That same year, former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson gave a talk – he received a donation worth £8,254 to pay for the trip from the organisation UK2020 LTD. International Trade Secretary and Women and Equalities Minister Liz Truss addressed the foundation in 2019.
The former MEP, prominent Brexiter and now member of the House of Lords Daniel Hannan’s think tank, the Initiative for Free Trade, worked with the Heritage Foundation to draw up a detailed, 239-page draft legal text for a US-UK free trade deal. Other think tanks from the Atlas Network – a group of 450 free market organisations – took part in the consultation process which was funded by the Cato Institute, a radical-right initiative from the Koch Brothers.
In 2017, the Cato Institute filed an amicus briefing to the US Supreme Court in support of anti-abortion fake health clinics.
The Heritage Foundation was also represented at the 2015 Conservative Party Conference, at a drinks reception organised by the Institute of Economic Affairs think tank. The current Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid was the guest speaker.
Attending alongside Heritage and Javid was the TaxPayers’ Alliance – a think tank set up by the Brexit Vote Leave campaign’s Matthew Elliott. In 2013, Elliott attended an event organised by the Leadership Institute, a key player in the American anti-abortion right.
The Leadership Institute provides training for conservative campaigners and counts former US Vice President Mike Pence as an alumni. Virulently anti-abortion, when Pence was Governor of Indiana he signed a law that mandated funerals for aborted foetuses. He was also a key instigator in the Republican war against reproductive health charity Planned Parenthood.
The Leadership Institute has close connections with Turning Point USA via its Campus Reform campaign. The right-wing youth organisation’s star speaker, Candace Owens, is married to Turning Point UK’s former chair and Conservative Party donor George Farmer. Owens is anti-abortion and famously had to apologise for comments she made about Adolf Hitler.
An Agenda for the Natural Order
Crucial to Atlantic Bridge’s funding was Conservative Party donor Sir Michael Hintze who bailed out the think tank with a £60,000 loan in 2011. The Australian banker was ennobled by former Prime Minister David Cameron and has given £3.2 million to the Conservative Party.
Hintze’s asset manager, Oliver Hylton, attended a secretive summit in London in 2013, where top of the agenda were discussions on “strategic pro-life strategies”.
It was hosted by Agenda Europe, a transnational organisation that seeks to “restore the natural order” in the West by rolling back abortion and LGBTIQ rights.
Another attendee was Charlie Hoare, of the organisation Christian Action Research Education (CARE). CARE provided the secretariat to the Pro-Life All Parliamentary Group a year after it hosted an event in favour of conversion therapy. Its leadership programme provides interns to Westminster MPs including Fiona Bruce, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, and founder of the Conservative Christian Fellowship David Burrowes. Former Department for Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb started his career as a CARE intern. Philip Blond, of the think tank ResPublica and credited for shaping Cameron’s political ideology, was another attendee.
Co-organising the London summit was Terence McKeegan, who is an “allied attorney with the Alliance Defence Fund” (Alliance Defending Freedom) and was formerly counsel for the anti-abortion European Centre for Law and Justice.
The law being discussed at the Supreme Court is based on model legislation promoted by the Alliance Defending Freedom as part of its plan to “eradicate” Roe v Wade.
“I am happy to say the first 15-week limitation based on our model language was just introduced in the state of Mississippi this week,” its senior counsel Denise Burke told an Evangelicals for Life conference in 2018. The anti-abortion Conservative MP Fiona Bruce spoke at a conference organised by its European arm, ADF International, in Vienna in 2019. She received a £927 donation to cover costs.
The final anti-abortion think tank with links to Conservative and other UK political figures is the Federalist Society. Speaking to the New Yorker, conservative legal activist Edward Whelan explained how “no one has been more dedicated to the enterprise of building a Supreme Court that will overturn Roe v Wade than the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo”. The Federalist Society hosted a fringe event at the Conservative Party’s annual conference in 2018. Speaking at the event was Conservative MEP David Campbell Bannerman, alongside Martin Howe QC.
Other political links include the former UKIP and Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, who addressed a Federalist Society event, as did Professor Matthew Goodwin of the Legatum Institute – a think tank set up by Baroness Philippa Stroud who has spoken against telemedicine for abortions.
“Will this court overturn Roe v Wade?” asked Pro-Life Action League’s Eric Scheidler, speaking to USA Today. “It’s possible. But I think we’re more likely to see this court put more restrictions on abortion. I think five years from now, we’ll realise that Roe v Wade was slowly overturned without it ever making a big headline.”
“By taking this case, the court will be reviewing nearly 50 years of precedent guaranteeing our right to abortion,” said Alexis McGill Johnson.
The fate of women is being decided in September by mostly male jurists and three Donald Trump appointees whose sole purpose is to overturn the landmark 1973 ruling.