Tuesday 27 May 2008

Beware of playing abortion party politics

Some of the media have been spinning the story that, under a Conservative government, there might be restrictions to the abortion law. Pro-lifers need to be very wary of such spin. It may end in tears.

One of the main protagonists for reducing the upper limit for abortion in the recent parliamentary debates was Nadine Dorries, the Conservative MP for Mid-Bedfordshire. She is openly pro-abortion in the early months of pregnancy. In the House of Commons abortion debate on 20th May, she said: “I should like to make my personal position clear, because it has been misrepresented in the past few days. I am pro-choice. I support a woman’s right to abortion – to faster, safer and quicker abortion than is available at the moment, particularly in the first trimester. That is my position.”

It was under a Conservative government that Parliament voted for abortion up to birth. David Cameron, the current leader of the Conservative party, is on record as saying with regard to such abortions that the current law should remain.

It was also under a Conservative government that the upper limit for abortions was raised for abortions generally; and human embryo research was legalized, backed by the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.

Today, David Cameron backs human animal hybrid embryos and “saviour siblings” whereby rejected embryos, who won’t provide an appropriate tissue match for their sibling, are destroyed.

People mistakenly claim that the time limit was reduced from 28 weeks to 24 weeks by the Conservative government’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. However, because of amendments to the law made by the 1990 Act, the previous limit, which was based on the capability of the baby to be born alive – not a fixed number of weeks (28) – was abolished and a 24 week time limit was introduced but only for certain cases. In other cases (including where the abortion is carried out on the grounds of disability) abortions can be and are now carried out right up to the time of birth.

Every child who had reached the stage of development of being “capable of being born alive” was protected by the pre-1990 law. Since 1990 that protection has been removed. So the effect of the 1990 Act was to increase the time limit for abortion in most instances and in many cases right up to birth.

It was pro-lifers who pressed for the 1990 Act to contain provisions relating to abortion, in the hope of being able to insert some restrictions, particularly early time limits. Sadly this tactic backfired, resulting in a less, not more, restrictive abortion law.

SPUC said at the time: “… Kenneth Clarke [the secretary of state for health] was … responsible for giving MPs a misleading concept of the clause allowing abortion up to birth when it was debated at the Report Stage of the Bill on 21st June [1990] … He informed the House ‘the doctor will terminate a pregnancy while attempting to save the life of the baby if he can’. However, termination such circumstances has always been allowed but previously it has been described as ‘induced birth’. For the first time it can be legally categorised as abortion, and, whatever the claims of Mr Clarke, there is now no law compelling a doctor to save the life of the child.” (Human Concern, summer 1990)

Fast forward to 12th May 2008, and the Second Reading of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. The shadow Conservative Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley, demonstrated an equally frightening nonchalance towards the right to life of unborn children when he called for the law to be changed to allow early abortions to be made more easily available, as I blogged that week.

Dr Helen Watt, the director of the Linacre Centre for healthcare ethics, was right to say recently (in relation to the various life issues under consideration in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill): “We get the Parliament we deserve, and should all give a top priority at the next election to these issues, looking less to party affiliation and more to the voting records of individual MPs”. (Catholic News Agency report)

SPUC agrees. SPUC is political but not party political – and that will reflect our policy at the next general election.