Date: Mon, 27 Jan 97 09:18:03 CST
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Brian Hauk)
Subject: Abortion Debate Heats Up In Britain
Abortion Debate Heats Up In Britain
LONDON—Opponents of a woman's right to abortion opened
the new year with a fanfare of media headlines about moral
values and a bid to make abortion an issue for the spring
general election. Cardinal Basil Hume, the head of the Roman
Catholic Church in England and Wales, told the GMTV's Sunday
program December 29,
There are some things which are
clearly good. There are some things that are clearly
evil.... I am quite convinced that abortion is a great evil
in our society.
social action and political
intervention to oppose abortion. The leader of the Catholic
Church in Scotland, Cardinal Thomas Winning, echoed this
appeal. In a BBC interview the same day, he accused the
Labour Party of silencing antiabortion members of Parliament
(MPs). In October, Winning denounced Labour Party leader
Anthony Blair, who he said had
washed his hands of
None of the main capitalist parties are prepared to make abortion an election issue. But a new party has been set up with that intent. The Pro-Life Alliance will stand around 50 candidates on an antiabortion ticket. This number will give them the right to an election broadcast, in which they plan to show a late-term abortion. The founder of the party, Bruno Quintavalle, is the 25-year-old son of Countess Quintavalle, a leader of the antiabortion group Life.
Mohamed Al Fayed, the multimillionaire chairman of Harrods department stores, has promised to back the Pro-Life Alliance candidates to the tune of 25,000 ($US41,500).
When the Pro-Life Alliance announced its plans in
November, the London daily Independent reported that Janet
Anderson, Labour spokeswoman on women's issues,
comment. Labour leader Blair said that he was personally
hostile to abortion but that this should not be a party
John Reid, Labour MP for Motherwell North in Scotland
and an opponent of abortion rights, said Winning
Tony Blair has steadfastly protected the
rights of MPs to vote ... according to their conscience.
Labour frontbench MP Clare Short declared that she favored a law regulating the availability of abortion, while leaving it to the individual to make her choice.
David Nolan of the Birth Control Trust told the
Independent that the Pro-Life Alliance
to see an end to all abortions.... The public does not see
abortion as murder, so the pro-lifers want to make it seem
more gruesome. They have lost the mainstream argument so
they are resorting to shock tactics. They want to show
footage of a late term abortion, and yes, that is gruesome,
but so is any operation.
The National Abortion Campaign is highlighting the
Abortion: keep it legal, keep it safe in response
to these probes. The 1967 Abortion Act made safe and legal
abortion widely available, with free provision through the
National Health Service (NHS). Before then a doctor and
woman were liable to life imprisonment for abortion except
for the most extreme cases where pregnancy threatened the
woman's life. Before 1967, tens of thousands of women turned
to the backstreets each year for dangerous, illegal
In 1965, hospital records indicate 3,050 women were treated for post-abortion poisoning. Between 1961 and 1963, some 160 women were recorded as dying as a result of abortion. That number fell to four in the years 1985 to 1987.
The 1967 law was a historic breakthrough for women. It
says a woman can obtain a legal abortion if pregnancy poses
a risk to her life and in cases of fetal abnormality.
Abortion is also legal if a woman's physical or mental
health, or that of her children, are put at greater risk by
continued pregnancy. An article in the January 4 Economist
noted that formally the law states that two doctors must
certify compliance. It states that free NHS provision and
delays vary across the country. However the Ecomomist
Informally it [the law] is interpreted liberally
so that most pregnant women who are adamant that they do not
want a child can get safe, legal terminations.
The 1967 Act does not apply to northern Ireland.
Thousands of Irish women from the north and south travel to
Britain each year for private, often delayed abortions. In
1994, at least 7,000 Irish women traveled to Britain for the
procedure. Changes to the 1967 Abortion Act were introduced
in Parliament in 1990. Time limits were lowered from 28
weeks to 24 for most cases. Time restrictions, however, were
completely withdrawn for late abortions in cases of risk to
life, fetal abnormality, or
risk of grave physical and
mental injury to the woman. In 1993, 89 percent of
abortions in England and Wales were performed at 13 weeks or
less. An estimated one in three women of child bearing age
has had an abortion.
A national opinion poll in October 1996 showed 81 percent support for a women's right to choose. Last August another poll recorded that only 37 percent of Catholics supported tighter abortion laws, despite the position of the church hierarchy.
Since 1967, members of Parliament have introduced bills five times attempting to restrict the abortion law. Each was met by street protests and failed. The biggest demonstration, in October 1979, was supported by the Trades Union Congress and drew 80,000 people.
The gains of the 1967 act have not been reversed, and
the main political parties are unwilling to launch a frontal
attack on abortion rights. But the high profile abortion
debate and a battle between the Conservative and Labour
parties for the banner of
family values are part of an
ideological campaign against women's rights.
Prime Minister John Major made a new year pledge to put
home life and family values at the top of his campaign in
the 1997 elections, which must be called by May. Major
at the core is my strong belief in the family and
our national institutions as the foundations of a free,
caring and decent democratic society.
In recent months sensational headlines blamed a
parental responsibility for crime and other
social problems. The Evening Standard October 28 ran an
So, do working mothers damage their
children? It reported a study by the Institute of Economic
Affairs which claimed that preschool child care damages
children and causes bad behavior.
Other articles try to extend this
caring parenting to
the womb, with reports claiming
proving fetal pain, complete with multicolor pictures of
Discussion in the media has also focused on calls for freely available abortion up to 12 weeks, but tighter restrictions after that.
Tory MP Elizabeth Peacock recently introduced a bill to
partial birth abortion, though the procedure is
rarely, if ever, used in this country. The bill stands no
chance of passing, as time will run out before the election.
Last summer, the Society for the Protection of the Unborn
Child (SPUC) obtained a court injunction to delay a woman
receiving a selective abortion of one of two twin fetuses.
This was moot, as the woman had already had the abortion.
Both it and the Peacock bill mark legal probes to restrict
women's rights to abortion, however.
The National Abortion Campaign has called a picket for 12 noon, February 1, outside the Harrods store in London's Knightsbridge district to publicly challenge the Pro-Life Alliance and defend a women's right to choose.