An Opportunity and a Threat

Via this gloriously strident piece from Laurie Penny, here’s a long article on the F Word about a fray that’s going to be reopened any time soon.

Lisa Ansell brings fresh points to what often seems like an over-rehearsed debate.

1) Rather than on the health and protection of the patient, the abortion debate is essentially focused on the rights of a fictional person that does not exist in any legal or medical sense.

2) There is not yet a satisfactory objective answer to the question of where life begins.

3) It is the only medical issue in which the patient is deemed unable to understand the moral implications of their treatment.

4) We think that ‘pro-life’ craziness is a vulgar American phenomenon that couldn’t possibly catch on here. Unfortunately:

We have an All Party Pro Life Group within the House of Commons, whose administrator is funded by the innocuous sounding CARE.

CARE is one of a number of Christian lobby groups within Parliament. ‘Christian Action, Research and Education’ has been described as ‘architects’ of various attempts to restrict abortion provision, and its establishment of a presence in Parliament has come under scrutiny from the Charities Commission. Its annual report shows that it has had 20 interns working within the House of Commons, at a cost of £70000, even though it is prohibited from political lobbying. Its interns are present in the offices of senior members of the Conservative party, in the office of a backbench Labour MP and the offices of several Liberal Democrat spokespeople. ‘Christian Concern for our Nation’ spends a great deal of time and money supporting MPs who will further its cause.

These groups are mirroring tactics of fundamentalist Christian groups in the US, with a concerted, long-term strategy of attacking gay rights and abortion. Their influence is being keenly felt within the Conservative party, and their presence is established in a House of Commons which has changed dramatically.

In recent political history, there has been little desire among the majority of politicians and pro-choice groups for abortion to become a political issue – these groups have pushed it back onto the political agenda.

Seventy one of the MPs who voted against the cut in the upper-time-limit for abortion stood down at the end of the last parliamentary session, and little is known about the views of the MP’s who have just taken their seats. It may be tempting to dismiss Nadine Dorries MP when she says that ‘the real opportunity for abortion law reform would arise with a Conservative government’, but pre-election polls showed a majority of Conservative MPs supported a cut in the 24-week limit.

Our Prime Minister and our Equalities Minister both support a cut in the 24-week limit, and regardless of Cameron’s murmurings of ‘abortion on demand’, it seems likely that this issue will find itself discussed in Parliament sooner rather than later.

While it has always been an issue where MPs vote with their conscience, the fragile nature of our coalition government means that the need to support its policies could take precedence over legal, medical and scientific arguments which support a woman’s right to autonomy over her own body.

Image of Argentinian pro-choice demo by Gabby DC

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