AN SNP rising star made a pro-life statement at a prayer breakfast at the height of the controversy over the lack of abortion rights for women in Northern Ireland.

MSP Kate Forbes, who has been tipped as a potential Minister, told an audience including SNP donor Brian Souter that politicians should recognise that the treatment of the “unborn” is a “measure of true progress”.

At an event last week organised by the National Prayer Breakfast for Scotland (NPBS) organisation – 24 hours after a Westminster debate on abortion – a keynote speech was delivered by bus tycoon Souter, who funded a private referendum in 2000 in a bid to stop the repeal of homophobic legislation known as "Section 28".

Several individuals, including Forbes, then took to the stage at the Prestonfield House hotel in Edinburgh. Her lengthy “prayer for the nation” included: “May our politicians recognise that the way we treat the most vulnerable – whether the unborn or the terminally ill – is a measure of true progress.”

A spokesperson for the Abortion Rights campaign said Forbes is “entitled to her own personal views", but added: “What is hugely concerning to Abortion Rights is the linking of her public duties, a definition of societal progress and anti-choice sentiment.

“To talk of ‘true progress’ and ‘the unborn’ fails to recognise all the women who have died as a result of desperate measures taken to end unwanted pregnancies.

“It also ignores the fact that in Northern Ireland today women are still forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, unless they can afford to travel for healthcare.”

The decision of voters in the Republic of Ireland to overturn a constitutional ban on abortion has put the focus on Ulster, which only allows terminations where the life of the mother is at risk.

Critics of the restrictive abortion system say women are being denied their human rights and MPs last week debated calls to change the law.

However, Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist party, which props up the Tory Government, is adamantly opposed to liberalisation.

The Herald:

Picture: Souter at the event

The split is also visible among SNP parliamentarians, with some MSPs and MPs backing a change of the law in Northern Ireland, while others argue that doing so would undermine devolution.

Forbes, who has been the SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch since 2016, represented her party on BBC’s Question Time last month and was asked about the controversy. At that point, she restricted her comments to the constitutional aspect of the row, saying: “I fundamentally disagree with the idea of a British Prime Minister imposing, whatever her view is, on the people of Northern Ireland, when it comes to a devolved issue.”

Scottish Labour MP Danielle Rowley said: "I think a better measure of political progress is the extent to which we achieve equality for women in all parts of the United Kingdom."

She added that “such interventions” also cast “doubt on the excuses offered by the SNP when they failed to stand in solidarity with Northern Irish women in Parliament this week on the issue of criminalising abortion”.

NPBS trustees include John Deighan, who is the chief executive of the ?Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) in Scotland, and Dr Gordon Macdonald, who once described abortion as the “most prolific human rights abuse in the world today”. According to the NPBS website, nine of the group’s 10 trustees are male.

Forbes made her comments on the day before the Supreme Court concluded that Northern Ireland’s conservative abortion laws, which ban terminations in cases of rape and incest, are incompatible with human rights legislation.

However, the case was technically dismissed, meaning that the ruling was not a formal declaration of incompatibility.

Forbes, a Christian, is an aide to Finance Secretary Derek Mackay and is believed to be a leading candidate for promotion to the SNP Government.

After her Question Time appearance, bookmaker Ladbrokes tweeted: “Is Kate Forbes a plausible runner as next SNP leader when the time comes?”