Historic decision for Alton
by "Wan Dooley
TOMORROW night in Liverpool Catholic MP David Alton will announce ,vhether or not he is to use his private members' bill to change the abortion law. Mr Alton has been placed third on the list of members hoping to introduce a bill, providing him with a rare chance to successfully sponsor legislation.
"He has already made up his mind", a spokesman for the Liverpool, Mossley Hill MP told the Catholic Herald, "but it will be a secret until the constituency meeting Saturday".
If Mr Alton does decide to use the bill to alter the abortion law of 1967 (introduced by Liberal Party leader David Steel), then he may have to resign his position as the Liberal Chief Whip in the Commons, a job which he had held since 1985. It has been reported that he is hoping to reduce the time-limit on abortions from 28 weeks to 20 or even 18 weeks.
"I feel very strongly that 28 weeks is far too late for abortions to be conducted," he said last week.
The Liberal Chief Whip in the Lords, Catholic Lord Tordoff told the Catholic Herald; "Theoretically he could still stay as the Chief Whip in the Commons but he might want to resign that post to concentrate on lobbying for his private members' bill".
David Alton's office claimed that the parliamentary Liberal Party was split "about 50-50" over the question of abortion and Lord Tordoff confirmed that overall support for an amendment to the existing law would be strong in the Lords. As a private members' bill, any proposal would not be representative of party policy, and members of all parties would be free to choose how to vote according to their conscience.
A spokesman for LIFE described the possibility of an Alton-sponsored amendment to the law as the "best hope in 20 years for the pro-Life movement". In fact, if he does decide to tackle the abortion law, the first reading of the bill is scheduled for October 28, almost exactly 20 years to the day since royal assent was granted to David Steel's Abortion Law Reform Act, which legalised abortion.
If the bill were to have a successful first reading, it would then be presented for a second reading sometime during the new year on a Friday morning, traditional time for the discussion of such proposals. After that, it would have to go into the committee stage to be analysed before emerging for a third reading when, if successful, it would be presented to the House of Lords, who would then have to return it back to the Commons for another formal reading before it is sent to the Queen to be made law.
Mr Alton has a long record of opposition to abortion, including the ten-minute bill he introduced in 1979 seeking to curb legal abortions, which failed. He was first elected in 1979 in a byelection victory at Edge Hill in Liverpool to become the youngest member of parliament.
At the recent Liberal party conference delegates rounded on Mr Alton and accused him of challenging human rights. He responded to accusations that his bill could be seen as a back-door attempt to end abortion completely by pointing out that "reducing the deadline to 18 weeks would only stop 7,500 of the 148,000 abortions every year".