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Coffee House General Election 2017

Labour’s abortion stance is the final straw

Well, that didn’t last long: in April, I rejoined the Labour Party. Last Sunday, I cancelled my subscription and cut up my membership card. Being part of the official opposition to a Tory Government, my conscience can live with; being the official opposition to the unborn, it cannot.

I’ve always leaned towards backing Labour. And while my radicalism may have mellowed somewhat in my old age, I would certainly have voted for Jeremy Corbyn in the first leadership contest. So when the snap election was called, it seemed like an obvious move to put my money where my ballot is. But the first sign of trouble came almost immediately afterwards, when Labour’s leaked draft manifesto revealed that:

‘Labour will continue to ensure a woman’s right to choose a safe, legal abortion – and we will legislate to extend that right to women in Northern Ireland’

The first part of that sentence is dispiriting enough. Labour’s pledge to act ‘For the Many’, it seems, is not so inclusive a vision after all. While the promise to extend abortion provision still further is even worse: there’s no mention of any limiting conditions – including whether the people of Northern Ireland actually want it or not. Of course, those most directly affected get no say at all. They never do.

There is also not the slightest acknowledgment that some people might find this to be, at the very least, problematic. After all, one needn’t be an out-and-out pro-Lifer to feel some qualms around this topic; very many do, it seems. Yet the manifesto makes no concessions whatsoever: there’s nothing about offering ‘a woman’ the helps she may need to avoid feeling forced by circumstance to exercise her ‘right’. And not even a murmur against the prevalence of gender-selective abortion.

My hopes were raised, if fleetingly, when the finished manifesto was unveiled. A first glance at the headlines suggested that part of the pledge had been changed in light of ‘an outcry’. Thank God, I thought: there is hope for Labour after all. But this made the inevitable disappointment worse. People had indeed been up in arms: to protect the rights of Stormont – the new version promises to ‘work with the Assembly’ in achieving its goal – rather than protect the rights of the unborn.

So that was that. Not all pro-Life Labour members will agree with me, of course: better to stay and fight from within, and so on. I’ve a great deal of sympathy with that view. But we all must draw our lines somewhere, however futilely. And so here, with a heavy heart, is mine.

Stephen Bullivant is Consulting Editor at The Catholic Herald and Professor of Theology at St Mary’s University, Twickenham  


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