Belfast Telegraph

MP recalls The Handmaid's Tale as she warns of women abused by partners

Hit TV show The Handmaid's Tale "is not a dystopia" as hundreds of women are abused by their partners getting them pregnant, a Labour MP has warned.

Jess Phillips told harrowing stories in the Commons of women "kept captive" through pregnancy, as she called on Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to offer free abortions to women in Northern Ireland.

Abortion remains illegal in Northern Ireland except in exceptional circumstances, with the NHS charging women from the country hundreds of pounds to have abortions in other parts of the UK.

Speaking during the Queen's Speech debate, Birmingham Yardley MP Ms Phillips said: "I have met hundreds of women who were kept pregnant as a pattern of their abuse.

"I remember one case where a young women was held down by her husband's brothers while he raped her to get her pregnant, thus ensuring her captivity.

"I have met victims of human trafficking literally brought to this country for their ability to bear children and reap the financial benefits for their slave owners.

"The Handmaid's Tale is not a dystopia to me - I have met women whose wounds have kept them captive."

Channel 4 drama The Handmaid's Tale tells the story of a totalitarian state where a plunging birth rate has led to women being treated as government-owned reproductive systems, forced to help repopulate the society.

It has been adapted from Margaret Atwood's classic novel of the same name.

Ms Phillips urged the Department of Health to join the fight in tackling domestic violence.

She also recalled the case of Natasha Trevis, a 22-year-old Birmingham mother who was killed by her partner days after a social worker had revealed to him that Ms Trevis had undergone an abortion.

"No one can tell me the desire to control a women's reproductive rights by this man was not an act of abuse," Ms Phillips added.

"She was 22 and on her fourth pregnancy.

"The state must never collude with this abuse, let alone perpetrate it themselves.

"By turning some women away from having abortions in any part of the UK, we make a political act to control their bodies.

"We do not have to be culturally or religiously sensitive to our devolved nations or their persuasions.

"The Health Secretary has a very real chance to help women who travel to this country by offering them safe, free abortions here in England.

"We wouldn't tolerate it with other cultural practices like FGM - why do we tolerate this?

"Today I'm here to simply ask for a simple change in health policy in this country, and I want our NHS in England to provide a safe haven to the women of Northern Ireland."

Earlier on, Conservative MP Helen Whately (Faversham and Mid Kent) said she differed from the DUP's "official party position issues of equality and women's rights", though she praised the party's responsible attitude in propping up the Tory Government.

Former shadow minister John Woodcock, meanwhile, raised fears the DUP may try to water down the Government's proposed bill on tackling domestic violence.

The Labour MP said it was a concern the bill had only been presented in draft form in the Queen's Speech.

He added: "If that means the Government is going to be taking the time to get this right and bring forward the strongest bill possible, well all well and good.

"But when you have a majority which is propped up by another party that does not share the culture and the world view of many of the members opposite - whose views I respect on issues, as (Ms Whately) said, on issues like women's rights - you do have to wonder whether there is actually some nervousness over what will be the definition of abuse.

"Will it properly take into account the full needs to be able to deter the horror of financial control and emotional abuse, which only a strong definition will do?"

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