My fight for life
PHYLLIS BOWMAN, one of the founders of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child, challenges Simon Lee's recent claim that the pro-life lobby has muddled the issues of abortion reform and politicians' voting records
pROFESSOR SIMON LEE, in his article "Abortion: get it right this time" (10 Jan), makes a number of assertions which are incorrect. At no time did any prolifer including Cardinal Winning or any other bishop put forward an amendment to the Abortion Act which allowed abortion up to birth.
The facts are these: SPUC was always confident that we had a majority in Parliament opposed to abortion on demand (as was shown to be the case in 1990 when the one vote we won was opposing an amendment to allow specifically abortion on demand with the agreement of only one doctor).
At the same time we had always been confident that we did not have a majority in cases of abortion on grounds of handicap, rape, incest or other "hard cases". During the passage of the Corrie Bill in 1979 (which sought to tighten the law) it became obvious that there were a number of MPs whose views on handicap were so extreme that they would do what they could to obtain abortion up to birth and experience at that time suggested they could well win the vote.
As Professor Lee states, the upper limit for abortion was governed by the 1929 Infant Life (Preservation) Act which was interpreted by the medical profession as preventing abortions after the 28th week. In order to achieve abortion up to birth the proabortionists began lobbying for the links between the Abortion Act and the 1929 Act to be severed, thus eliminating the so-called upper limit.
Even before then (from the time of the Corrie Bill, in fact) SPUC began lobbying against the introduction of any Bill to lower the upper limit (usually referred to as "weeks" bills) because we knew pro-abortionists would introduce an amendment, which they could well win, allowing abortion up to birth for handicapped babies. The evangelical pro-life group CARE agreed with out assessment and supported us.
SPUC sent out hundreds of thousands of information sheets on the situation. Contrary to the impression given by Simon Lee, Cardinal Winning and the Scottish bishops, as well as the hierarchy of England and Wales, all opposed "weeks" bills because of the dangers, as did every senior MP and peer involved in the pro-life fight.
Indeed, when in the mid1980s a campaign gained strength among younger MPs to introduce a "weeks" bill, Bishop Vincent Nicholls and Nicholas Coote (on behalf of the bishops of England, Wales and Scotland) had a private meeting at the House of Commons to put forward their view and pointing out the dangers.
The younger MPs did not accept the warning (I am sure for quite genuine reasons) and when they went ahead, SPUC, CARE and the bishops did everything they could to support them (hoping for success) rather than creating huge splits in the pro-life movement.
FAR FROM ANY frontbenchers accepting amendments put forward by prolifers, the fact is that none of us dreaded that the then Tory and Labour leaders would be quite as horrendous as they were in their attitudes to unborn children.
May I add that there is no way in which Cardinal Winning or indeed any other Catholic bishop could be blamed for what happened. Indeed, I would add that throughout the history of the abortion law, Cardinal Winning has taken a constant active part in fighting the law and has a far more knowledgeable understanding of events than appears to be the case with Professor Lee.
May I also point out that one could not possibly seek to compare Mr Blair's record on pro-life issues with the records of either Paddy Ashdown or John Major.
Mr Blair had voted for abortion on demand, he has voted for abortion up to birth on three occasions, he has voted for the extension of the abortion law to Northern Ireland (although the one issue on which all the Northern Irish churches and political parties represented at Westminster are united is in their opposition to abortion), and one cannot get a clear statement from him or his Front Bench on the intro duction of euthanasia through making advance directives mandatory.
In comparison, neither Mr Major nor Mr Ashdown have ever voted for abortion on demand, abortion up to birth or for the extension of the abortion law to Northern Ireland.
Furthermore, whereas Margaret Thatcher and James Callaghan were the two worst Prime Ministers we have had in 30 years from a pro-life point of view, John Major has been by far the most fair.
After meeting with a deputation of Northern Ireland MPs of all parties (a quite historic event), he proposed that while the people of the Province felt as they did, his Government would oppose any attempts to liberalise the law there; he also opposed the introduction of the Law Commission Bill in its present form because it would ease the way to euthanasia through the use of mandatory advance directives, and he has publicly stated that his Government will oppose any attempts to introduce euthanasia or to ease the law in any way.
In comparison all the prolife groups have been banned from having stands at Labour Party conferences and when Cardinal Winning wrote to Tony Blair regarding Labour for Life being banned from having a stand on euthanasia he was not even extended the courtesy of a personal reply.
It is little wonder that at last year's Labour Party conference the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, which was allowed to have a stand (and a huge one, at that), their workers were absolutely confident that if Mr Blair wins the general election their first Bill liberalising euthanasia will reach the Statute Book.