Pipe down, Christian soldiers

8:38 pm - January 20th 2008

by Kate Belgrave    

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A little preamble: There is nothing in this world that winds yours truly up like political and/or religious opportunists banging on about restricting access to legal abortion, and foetus rights, and 40 years of legal abortion delivering Britain of two generations of conscience-free sluts, etc.

The truth is that pro-lifers drive me BANANAS. I have frothed about them all over the internet and most social events I’ve attended. Alas, the pro-life contingent and their political backers witter on, undaunted by the fact that the great majority of the British public supports a woman’s right to choose.


About 300 women (and a small cluster of blokes) turned up at the Houses of Parliament last week for an Abortion Rights meeting about the threat posed to the 1967 Abortion Act by proposed – and opportunistic – anti-abortion amendments to the government’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. Pro-lifers are particularly keen to lower the present 24-week gestational limit for abortion.

The bill – as you doubtless have guessed – has absolutely nothing to do with abortion law (it’s about reforming the regulation of human embryology as the sciences of fertilisation and embryology move on at pace). Sadly, complete irrelevance ain’t putting the god-squad off.

One Baroness Masham has already attempted to perpetrate an amendment to reduce access to abortion for women who discover their babies have severe disabilities. Her notion was to force women in that situation to see their pregnancies to term – to give birth, as renowned pro-choice doctor Wendy Savage said at the abortion rights meeting – to children they know are doomed.

MPs might be crazy, but they’re not all stupid, and the brighter ones know very well how women instinctively respond to the thought of being trapped by an unwanted pregnancy.

‘There have never been so many women in this room [as there are tonight],’ Labour MP Katy Clark began at the start of the meeting. She reminded us also that this very committee room in the House is used for Monday night meetings of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

‘I spoke at the University College of London about this issue on Monday night, and older man and younger man after younger man stood up and debated what rights they thought that women should have… Well, many women are going to speak this evening. What we’re expecting over the next few months [as the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill progresses)… is a whole range of arguments put forward about why abortion rights need to be restricted in this country… we must build such a campaign [that] the men who are going to vote on whether we have the right to make a choice have no choice but to accept that we need real rights…’

MP Diane Abbott hit the key point of the entire abortion debate when she observed that the anti-abortion lobby doesn’t really give a stuff about children’s rights, no matter its yabberings otherwise. As Abbott correctly observed, the people who so vehemently pronounce themselves concerned with the rights of the unborn child tend to fade from the picture entirely when the child is born. Certainly, they are extremely hard to find when it comes to promoting better welfare benefits for single mothers, or voting for free nurseries for children, or speaking up for poverty-stricken children of asylum-seekers and that sort of thing.

‘This is not about the rights of children,’ Abbott said. ‘This is actually an anti-woman campaign. This is about if we are going to be so bold as to have sex inside and outside the bounds of patriarchy, we should suffer.’ Hear hear, Diane. Hear hear.

Even Conservative MPs see the point of supporting the majority view. Their own partly-legendary John Bercow – a pink-faced ranter whose extreme rightwing views once earned him the nickname Son of Tebbit – went out on the kind of liberal limb that generally has Tebbit raging about David Cameron and his new generation of Conservative blouses.

I nearly fell off my perch myself when Bercow started, I have to admit.

‘There isn’t a compelling scientific, or ethical, argument that is made to support this proposition (to reduce the time limit for abortion),’ came Bercow. ‘We shouldn’t simply be fighting a defensive and rearguard action against an attempt to turn the clock back 40 years with truly frightening consequences for thousands and thousands of women… there is a compelling case for the modernisation of abortion law… I happen to believe there is a good argument for a wider variety of locations in which the abortion procedure can be performed… I will be with the supporters of the 21st century and of women’s rights….’ Couldn’t have put it better myself. (Couldn’t believe my ears, either. Talk about a complete ethical transplant. Luckily, Bercow’s speech is on YouTube. Go ahead and watch him and feast on amazement).

Doctor and Lib Dem MP Evan Harris (‘I’m usually known by the Daily Mail as Dr Death, for my support for a woman’s right to choose’) came up with the useful numbers. As a member of parliament’s science and technology committee, he was able to report the committee’s recent findings on the upper time limit for abortion in detail (this was the investigation that, if memory serves, a few of the Lord’s messengers tried to infiltrate and influence at the end of last year – a couple of doctors who contributed to the committee’s work on the science of abortion failed to declare that they were members of the Christian Medical Fellowship. Rotters).

Harris explained that one of the key questions MPs like to tax themselves with when it comes to abortion is that of the upper time limit for abortion, and foetal viability after 24 weeks. ‘[The science and technology committee found] that while survival rates of 24 weeks and over have improved, they have not done so below that gestational point… that is critical, because now we have an all-party report that sets out the clear evidence and makes it [the evidence around keeping the 24-week limit] absolutely clear.’

Harris also noted there was no reason why women needed to get signatures from two doctors before having an abortion (some of us think they shouldn’t even have to get one signature), or why nurses couldn’t carry out the procedure. ‘We need to force this parliament to deal with these issues now… to ensure that we bed down the current time limit and get the liberalisation that we should have.’

Excellent stuff, and we’ll give the last word on it on this occasion to NUS Disabled Students’ spokesperson Alex Kemp. He told the meeting that the disabled people he represented were right behind a woman’s right to choose. Baroness Masham could worry all she liked about the rights of a severely impaired foetus, but Kemp had sympathy with the women carrying such a baby. People with disabilities, Kemp said, know all too well what it means to have others tell you what is best for you and your physical person. He also said that they resent being used to bash women’s rights in this way.

And who can blame him?


See the Abortion Rights website for more on upcoming rallies and meetings as the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill progresses.

See the whole meeting on YouTube.

Will be back with more. As I say, I find pro-lifers the living end.

Sunny updates: The video with Katy Clark MP is worth watching.

And as Cath Elliot points out in the comments below, it is also the 35th anniversary of Roe V Wade on 22nd January.
Blog for Choice Day

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About the author
Kate Belgrave is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. She is a New Zealander who moved to the UK eight years ago. She was a columnist and journalist at the New Zealand Herald and is now a web editor. She writes on issues like public sector cuts, workplace disputes and related topics. She is also interested in abortion rights, and finding fault with religion. Also at: Hangbitching.com and @hangbitch
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Story Filed Under: Civil liberties ,Feminism

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Reader comments

don’t have much to add, just – thankyou.

No worries. Will be following this issue v closely as the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill progresses.

I noted that Nadine Dorries, Conservative luvvy and pinup of the anti-abortion lobby, has announced on her blog that she is going to start holding her constituent surgeries in secret locations because the Feminist Fightback group is planning to picket them. (Her blog is at http://www.dorries.org.uk/ and she talks about hiding from Feminist Fightback in an 18 Jan post called Surgeries).

Nadine is a very bad girl for ratting out of the abortion debate in that way. I’ve done quite a few stories with Feminist Fightback on the abortion issue, and they are very rational young women in my view – certainly a lot more rational than me. They held a peaceful pro-choice rally in London last year.

They certainly have the right to put their views on a topic like abortion to an MP.

Pity that Nadine is refusing to discuss her ultra conservative views on abortion with them. I wonder what she and the rest of the Conservative party think about their very own John Bercow’s ode to modernising abortion law as I reported above?

Nadine also turned down my own requests for an online discussion on the issue, which was sad.

I think I’m ranting now. Going to lie down for a bit with a web cloth on my forehead.

Thanks for this update Kate – very informative. So what happens from here? Are there any Labour MPs opposing this?

Aye. Nothing to add other than to say great post, Kate.

5. Kate Belgrave

Not sure of the voting records off the top of my head, but I’ll check them this evening after work.

I can say that both of Nadine Dorries’ recent attempts to lower the time limit and to introduce a compulsory ten-day cooling-off period (something I need every time she opens her gob) last year were beaten resoundingly.

Most MPs seem to understand that the majority view favours the existing legislation and indeed favours a modernising and liberalising of it. (The Abortion Rights website has these numbers. Liberalising the law would include getting rid of the current need for two GPs signatures, and allowing nurses and other health professionals to perform the procedure).

The main concern we pro-choicers have is the noise made by pro-lifers. They’re a small group, but they’re very loud and very crazy and the mainstream media loves them. They will lobby MPs with a passion as the Fertilisation & Embryology Bill progresses, and I imagine the likes of the Daily Mail will help them all the way.

Conservative bloggers should know better that to support the extremists, but on they go. I vaguely remember seeing Iain Dale on 18 Doughty Street last year, faffing about the subject with some man of the cloth or other, both of them telling each other that it was time to take a big breath and reconsider abortion law from a conversative perspective, etc. Can’t remember exactly how that one wrapped on account of chucking a brick through the telly.

Nadine Dorries is the real horror, though. She’s the one playing the emotive card – her gig is to play up the one percent of abortions that take place after 24 weeks. Very few abortions – well, only about one percent, as I say – take place at or after 24 weeks, but old Nadine’s game is to put the emphasis of the argument on that one percent, and thus call into question the whole process and morality of abortion.

She’s BAD.

Good to see John Bercow going off at the above meeting, though. I wonder if his view is representative of the Conservatives in general. Given that they may end up in government in a couple of years, I very much hope so.

Hi Kate, and thanks for this. It was a great meeting, and it was amazing to see so many women in parliament – perhaps they’d better start getting used to it though, Instead of rushing around in a panic like they were doing last week. Hehehe.

Anyway, just thought I’d take the opportunity to advertise the upcoming protest against Ann Widdecome’s road show:

“Abortion Rights has called a peaceful pro-choice protest against anti-abortion MP Ann Widdecome’s road show ‘Not on your life . .. or anyone else’s’ which is promoting anti-abortion goals around the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. (subject to police permission).
Assemble outside Central Hall Westminster
Wednesday 6th February, 6.30pm”

7. Kate Belgrave

Yep, it was quite amusing when Emily Thornberry said the coppers were starting to panic. Lots of females in a group (except at an orgy, I guess) really worry some lawmaking and lawkeeping blokes.

Feminist Fightback is picketing the Christian Medical Fellowship this Friday as well, I think. It’s all on!

Not too worried about the Christians, really. I doubt their reach. If the Lord really didn’t like my take on abortion, he would have pushed me under a bus by now.

xxxxx Kate

I love this post very much, and am going to link to it on my own blog.

I think Hugh Muir had it right in his Guardian diary last week when he wrote:

“A formidable show of strength but security officials were clearly very nervous. When last so many women went to parliament, they headed for the railings.”



ha ha! I think we need some posts updating us on all these protests too… Thanks Kate, keep writing on this!

11. Kate Belgrave

I am in my ever-helpful fashion conducting an empirical experiment right here at my desk, just so we can settle this thing for once and for all – in the interests of fact-based findings, I have asked the Lord Jesus H Christ/Allah/Whomever to strike me dead with one of his legendary bolts by 4pm if He/She/Whomever wants me to shut it forevermore on abortion rights.

Will report back at 4.01pm, unless I come second.

I am keeping really still in my chair, just to help the other side along a bit.

12. Kate Belgrave

Still here.

Will give them another half an hour.

13. Kate Belgrave



ok – 5.30pm

14. Kate Belgrave

s t i l l


Perhaps Iain Dale would like to come over here – and bring the charming Nadine Dorries with him, of course – and tell us why Conservatives want the brakes put on abortion law? Nadine has, alas, ignored my friendly overtures thus far…

Can persons of influence who read/write Lib Conspiracy go and get Iain and Nads?


Oh, I’m sure he’s reading… there’s no need to call him 🙂

Assuming you’ve not been struck down yet, your mention is in the third (last) section here: http://community.livejournal.com/theyorkshergob/33412.html

Thanks Jennie. Yep, still here.

No Nads yet, I see.


I’m a girl, I’ve never had ‘nads… OH! I see what you mean 😉

Quite good though, isn’t?

Over in the US, today is the 35th anniversary of Roe V Wade. NARAL Pro-Choice America are calling on bloggers to take part in Blog for Choice day:

“Blog for Choice Day provides us with an opportunity to raise the profile of reproductive rights in the blogosphere and the media, while celebrating Roe’s 35th anniversary. Plus, it’s a great way to let your readers and the mainstream media know that a woman’s right to choose is a core progressive value that must be protected.”


Sunny, it might be an idea to link to Kate’s piece – give Blog for Choice Day a true international flavour…..

Updated above Cath

22. douglas clark

Kate Belgrave,

I’d have thought, that if Nadine Dorries ain’t willing to talk to folk on her own site, she’d be quite unlikely to jump into the bear pit here. Still, we live in hope.

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