Conservative MP Takes £22,000 Second JobFor American Group Linked to Anti-Abortion Campaigns
The backlash over the secondary employment of MPs rolls on, as Sam Bright and Sian Norris reveal the lucrative role of one backbench Conservative
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Conservative MP Rehman Chishti is being paid £22,400 a-year to work part-time for a religious pressure group in the United States linked to anti-abortion, anti-LGBTIQ efforts, Byline Times can reveal.
A new entry in Chishti’s register of interests shows that “from 1 March until further notice” he will receive £1,868.19 a-month for 10 hours of work on behalf of the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI), based in Washington DC.
Chishti holds a formal title at the RFI – ‘Senior Fellow for International Religious Freedom policy’.
The RFI covers a wide-range of issues around the persecution of religious beliefs and recognises religious liberty as a human right. It provided a financial benefit of £2,400 in 2021 to the UK Parliament’s All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for ‘International Freedom of Religion or Belief’.
Part of the focus of the RFI – in respect of religious liberty – is abortion rights. It campaigns for conscience clauses that allow for medical professionals to refuse to give abortion care. It was also critical of President Joe Biden’s repeal of the global gag rule – which under President Trump banned federal funds from being donated to NGOs that provided abortion. An article on the RFI website said: “Muslim, Jewish, and Christian faith communities want a US civil forum free of coercive requirements to partner with, promote, or financially support abortion providers”.
The reproductive rights charity MSI Reproductive Choices estimates that the gag rule led to an additional 1.8 million unsafe abortions under Donald Trump’s presidency and 20,000 maternal deaths.
Chishti is one of 24 associate scholars at the RFI, alongside individuals linked to a range of anti-abortion, anti-LGBTIQ initiatives.
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Take, for example, associate scholar William Saunders – chairman of religious liberty at the Federalist Society. This organisation has campaigned for anti-abortion judges on the Supreme Court, with conservative activist Edward G. Whelan saying that the Federalist Sociey’s leadership has been “dedicated to the enterprise of building a Supreme Court that will overturn Roe V. Wade”.
Another associate scholar is Andrew G. Graham, who serves as senior counsel for academic and professional affairs at Alliance Defending Freedom – a religious freedom giant that has campaigned against abortion and LGBTIQ rights.
They are joined by Todd Huizinga, senior fellow for Europe, who has a relationship with with the One of Us Federation of Pro-Life Groups which started life as a petition by the anti-abortion, anti-LGBTIQ organisation CitizenGO. Huizinga also has links to the Acton Institute – partially funded by organisations linked to the disaster capitalist Koch Brothers – and the anti-abortion, anti-equal marriage think tank the Heritage Foundation.
The RFI has also argued against extending anti-discrimination legislation to LGBTIQ people on the basis that many religions (or at least some of their followers) don’t tolerate non-“traditional” sexualities and relationships.
In an article written on the RFI website, Huizinga argues that LGBTIQ rights activists, academics, journalists, business leaders and Democrat politicians “now express a profound intolerance of orthodox religious faith and its traditionalist views of human sexuality”.
Rehman Chishti was the Government’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief from September 2019 until his resignation in September 2020. He was also vice chair of the Conservative Party, covering faith and communities, from January to November 2018.
There has been sustained scrutiny of the second jobs undertaken by MPs, following the case of Owen Paterson – forced to resign as an MP after a scandal involving his lobbying on behalf of two private firms. The Government has therefore faced pressure to place limits on these side-roles, with some ministers urging Boris Johnson to consider either recommending a time limit that MPs may devote to secondary employment, or a cap on earnings.
However, it was revealed last week that the Government believes a time limit “would be impractical”, while an earnings cap “could serve to prohibit activities which do not bring undue influence to bear on the political system”, such as writing books.
Chishti and the RFI did not respond to Byline Times’ request for comment.
Conservative Links to Anti-Abortion Movement
Rehman is not the only Conservative MP with links to the anti-abortion movement in the US and UK. The groups named above have also played host – and donated to – other UK politicians.
The chair of the ‘Pro-Life’ APPG Fiona Bruce spoke at a youth conference organised by Alliance Defending Freedom’s European arm, ADF International, in 2019. The organisation paid her expenses, at £927.
The Pro-Life APPG has received £9,001 donations in kind from its secretariat, the anti-abortion Right to Life charity. The charity has links to various MPs, including Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg.
The anti-abortion Heritage Foundation is a popular destination for Conservative MPs. In January 2022, former International Trade Secretary Liam Fox spoke at its Awakening Conference, with the foundation paying expenses totalling £14,990. Trump’s Vice President Mike Pence, who spearheaded anti-abortion legislation between 2016 and 2020 and signed a law forcing women to have burials for aborted foetuses, was part of the line-up.
Conservative Party chair Oliver Dowden also recently gave a speech at the Heritage Foundation, despite the right-wing think-tank being accused of trying to undermine US democracy with its voting reform policies.
Byline Times approached Bruce, Fox and Dowden for comment, but did not receive a response.
Rolling Back Abortion Rights
These connections come as the US Supreme Court debates ending the constitutional right to safe, legal abortion, and as the UK Government prepares to rollback abortion access in England.
In March 2020, the Government allowed for telemedicine for abortions in the early weeks of pregnancy. This meant that women could get permission from medical professionals, on the phone, in order to receive abortion pills that could be taken at home.
It initially seemed that the policy would become permanent, before the Department of Health and Social Care performed a U-turn and said it would end telemedicine in August. Such a move would roll back abortion rights for millions of women, girls and pregnant people in England.
A successful vote in the House Lords led by Baroness Sugg means that the House of Commons will now debate and have a free vote next week on whether to retain the policy.
The anti-abortion movement, including Right to Life, has campaigned for an end to the policy, including by making the contested claim that telemedicine makes it easier for abusers to coerce women into abortions, and that it is not dignified for women to miscarry the foetus at home.
This ignores the evidence from domestic abuse charities that victims and survivors prefer telemedicine as it gives them more control to end forced pregnancy, and that women taking abortion pills at a doctor’s surgery miscarry at home anyway – while some under the old policy were forced to miscarry in public after leaving the GP’s office.
The focus on miscarrying at home suggests that the end goal of those campaigning against telemedicine abortions is to do away with medical abortion altogether, drastically inhibiting women’s access to safe and legal terminations.