Thursday, September 01, 2011

Abortion and party politics do not mix

Ten years ago, when shadow Health Secretary, Dr Liam Fox appeared to suggest that the Tories should become the anti-abortion party. In 2001 Fox was quoted in the Conservative Christian Fellowship prayerbook as saying that the UK's 'pro-abortion laws' should be scrapped. You may also recall that in 2005 the then Tory leaders Michael Howard almost made abortion a general election issue when, towards to start of the campaign, he told Cosmopolitan magazine 'I believe abortion should be available to everyone, but the law should be changed. In the past I voted for a restriction to 22 weeks, and I would be prepared to go down to 20.'

It is because of examples like this that I am just a little sceptical about the campaign by the Tory MP Nadine Dorries to strip charities and medics of their exclusive responsibility for counselling women seeking an abortion. A former nurse, Ms Dorries lead a parliamentary campaign to reduce the upper limit for abortion from 24 weeks to 20 weeks when the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill was debated in the Commons a couple of years ago.

At present, all legislation on abortion in Britain is considered as a matter of conscience and decided under a free vote. What worries me is that some MPs and campaigners may use the forthcoming debate as a means of polarising attitudes where the issue of abortion is seen only of terms of being a vote winner, or a vote loser. Britain has a long and enviable record of allowing its elected representatives to make up their own minds in matters of conscience. The danger, as I see it, is that some of Ms Dorries’ colleagues may well be tempted to frame the debate about abortion in such a way that it heralds an attempt to try and establish a political arm for the Christian right in Britain.

Ms Dorries has stated that her campaign is not a religious campaign (yet 6 out of the 10 organisations linked to it are backed by Christian evangelicals) nor, we are told, is it politically motivated. Let’s hope it stays that way.

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