Making abortion an election issue


Universe Column for April 10th 2005

by David Alton

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor has asked us to “think carefully” about the position of the political parties on “the right to life” before casting our votes. He is right to do so.

In summary, 6 million legal abortions have been performed in Britain – with the law permitting abortion up to birth on a disabled baby. Abortions have taken place at later than 30 weeks gestation for reasons such as cleft pallet. Britain also provides millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to support China ’s one child policy (which leads to the forcible abortion and sterilisation of millions of women). This is with the support of all three parties.

In addition, since 1990, more than one million human embryos have been destroyed or experimented upon.   Since 2003, cloning of human embryos (which involves their creation, manipulation, disembowelment, and destruction) has been widely practiced and will be accelerated (in defiance of a 2005 United Nations call for a worldwide ban). Attempts are also being made in Parliament to legalise the killing of the sick and dying by introducing Dutch-style euthanasia laws.

The author of the 1967 Abortion Act, David Steel, says the upper time limit for abortion (24 weeks for most unborn babies, birth for disabled) should be lowered to 12 weeks. None of the leaders has supported him. Tony Blair has said he has “no plans” to make 24 week abortions illegal. Michael Howard says he would make a marginal reduction of the limit to 22 weeks, and Charles Kennedy says “I don’t know what I would do.” All of them support the use of human embryos for experimentation. Mr. Blair and Mr. Howard have both spoken out against legalising euthanasia while Mr. Kennedy’s party has official supporting it (and also policy on extending the Abortion Act and human embryo experimentation. Labour also has official policy on abortion, including the a black list of  doctors and nurses who invoke the “conscience clause” and refuse to undertake abortions).

Given that this is much of a muchness,  the only way to cast a vote for “the right to life” is to find out where individual candidates stand and then  to vote accordingly. One word of caution: don’t ask easily evaded generalised questions, ask some very specific questions and ensure the answers (or failure to answer) appear in print:

What specific things might you ask? Here are seven questions for starters.

1. Would you vote for David Steel’s call for the upper time limit on abortion to be lowered to 12 weeks?

2. Do you think that the law should discriminate against a disabled unborn baby, allowing abortion on grounds such as cleft pallet, up to birth?

3.  Would you support the United Nations call for a ban on the destruction of human embryos for the purpose of cloning embryonic stem cells?

4. Would you support a ban on tax-payers money being used for China ’s one child policy and switched to poverty reduction instead?

5. Would you vote against legalising suicidally-motivated advanced directives and against the removal of food and fluid from a patient with the deliberate intention of killing the patient?

6. Do you support the Royal College of Nurses and the British Medical Association in their opposition to the introduction of Dutch-style euthanasia laws?

7. Would you introduce, as your first priority, a Private Member’s Bill on any or all of these issues during the next Parliament?

There are many other questions you might also want to ask but how a candidate answers these will probably tell you all you need to know before deciding whether in conscience you can give them your vote. But, if we don’t ask the questions and then consider the answers, it is difficult to see how we will be able to follow the Cardinal’s advice to “think carefully” before casting our votes.

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