Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Vote for choice.

David Cameron has this week expressed the intention to slash the time limit on legal termination of pregnancy from 24 to '22 or 20' weeks should he be elected Prime Minister. We were all expecting this. In fact, Cameron and tubthumping anti-choice MP Nadine Dorries - the self-styled 'Bridget Jones of Westminster' - all but adopted mysterious Austrian robot accents when they swore to be back with the issue under a Tory government, which is just one more reason for us all to refer to Ms Dorries as The Terminator from henceforth.

The anti-choice ideological assaults of 2008 might seem like a long time ago, but for those who weren't around during the big cross-party feminist victory over the forces of bad science, bigotry and state control, here's a precis: many Tories, including the Terminator herself, filed anti-choice amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, their first aim being to reduce the time limit on legal abortion to 20 weeks. The Terminator also launched a propaganda campaign in the Daily Mail, which was contested by this blog in conjunction with many other progressive activists and campaign groups. Pro-choice MPs, with support and encouragement from reproductive freedom campaigners and scientific focus groups who had the hard data on why reducing the time limit is arrant bollocks, responded with their own pro-choice amendments, including one on the extention of abortion rights to Northern Ireland. In the end, a free vote was held, amidst a huge demonstrations in Westminster and beyond. The 24-week time limit was upheld by 304 votes to 233 in the first vote on the issue in parliament for 18 years.

Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg voted to uphold the 24-week time limit; anti-choice apologist David Cameron voted to lower the limit to 22 weeks, in a clear statement that he prioritises moral posturing and misogyny over treating his female constituents like human beings who can make their own choices. A large proportion of the 233 votes for reducing the time limit were Tory votes. And now Cameron has had the gall to ask us to elect him on a platform of forced birth and bigotry. If one has any feminist compass at all, one should not be voting Conservative. Period.

However, on this issue as with so many others, it's not a simple case of Red good, Blue bad. In 2008, The amendment to extend abortion rights to Northern Ireland was quashed after some government filibustering, in which the DUP's nine votes on the 42 day detention-without-trial period for suspected terrorists were traded directly for a guarantee that Northern Irish women would continue to be denied basic medical care and be forced to carry pregnancies to term or travel to England to access pregnancy termination services. And yes, setting that statement down in black and white still makes me feel nauseous. When the DUP walked through the Commons to cast their votes for 42 days, MPs who supported human rights screamed 'what were you paid?'. This is what they were paid. The bodily autonomy of Northern Irish women sold over their heads for a statement vote trading our essential freedoms for an airy notion of national security.

I suspect that New Labour expects us to forget about things like this. I won't be forgetting. Not ever. Not about the welfare reform fiasco, not about 42 days, not about the surveillance state, not about the Iraq war, not about the Digital Economy Bill, and not about the cold way in which Brown sold out Northern Irish women. I'm not under the illusion that any of this would have been anything but crashingly worse under the Tories, but I can't blithely give my vote to Labour after this litany of betrayal and disappointment.

In short: on this, as on so many other issues, there is no obvious choice between parties. The only thing that feminists, scientists and anyone who objects to the idea of forcing women to give birth against their will can do is be sure to vote for the heroes of the pro-choice movement, those MPs of all parties who can be relied upon to defend women against the brutal forced-birth agenda that's coming around the corner.

Pro-choice heroes:

-Diane Abbott in Hackney (Labour, sitting)
-Evan Harris in Oxford and Abingdon (Lib Dem, sitting)
-Emily Thornberry in Islington (Labour, sitting)
-Stella Creasy in Waltham Forest (Labour, PPC)
-Lynne Featherstone in Haringey (Lib Dem, sitting)

You can find out how your MP voted on the issue here, at Liberal Conspiracy (via Public Whip).


  1. Erm, Arnie is Austrian American, not German... there seems to be an unfortunate hint of reductio ad hitlerum in the confusion.

  2. Austrian robot accents, not a terribly important correction in the grand scheme of things but...

  3. Political fence sitting statement.The Austrian would be talking about sterilisation.Lets hope they dont win.

  4. Ginger and Lime14 April 2010 at 15:20

    Nadine Dorries once accused the Speaker of the House, John Berkow, of ruining the tourist industry by refusing to wear the traditional britches and buckled shoes, opting instead to wear a conventional suit with a normal pair of zip-fronted trousers instead. Apparently Ms. Dorries believed that by hiding his shapely calves beneath trousers Mr. Berkow was actively discouraging foreigners from visiting London by reducing the pageantry associated with the Houses of Parliament.

    Personally I don't believe that many visitors to the country would be swayed one way or the other by John Berkow's wardrobe, but there you go.

    I mention this to support my belief that Nadine Dorries is a nut. Personally I think it would be better to politely ignore her and move on. When I visited her website recently it also looks as if she has given up the ghost!

  5. Have you seen this:

  6. Penny,

    My wife is due to have a baby later this year (I would say my wife and I were it not for the fact that she will be doing all the hard work and I will merely be the spectator).

    The sight of a 12 week scan had quite an impact and, for me at least, transformed any discussion about when a life starts. It made things personal in a way that a spirited defence of the existing termination limit does not.

    I don't think this is about forcing women to give birth against their will, rather it is about determining what is an acceptable date to accept the rights of an unborn child v the rights of a mother to live their life as they wish. To argue that it is misses the point.

    There are no heros or villains in this debate as it is far more important than party politics. Having said that the 2008 Abortion Bill/Act was supposedly a free vote in the House of Commons the PM's view was that the Bill keeping the 24 week limit was a significant part of the government's legislative programme - so it retreated away from a free vote.

  7. On pro-choice heroes I would also include Katy Clark - Labour - Ayrshire North & Arran as she has spoken on many pro-choice platforms.

  8. I think you raise some really important points and I knew nothing about the NI issue, so thanks. But like 'Anonymous' I find this whole topic quite difficult and don't think it's fair to say that anyone who is uneasy about the current abortion limit is a misogynist. In any case I can't imagine this is an issue Cameron would actively want to pursue - he wants to have it both ways - persuade religious types he's on their side but in practice do nothing to upset those who want to maintain the status quo.

  9. Quite impressive to analyse anti-choice forces without using the words "Roman Catholic". In Britain all RCs will abuse any position to which they are elected or appointed to try to impose their sect's rules on the whole population. Consider the record of the "liberal" (and divorced) Shirley Williams. So if Choice is high priority, don't vote for a RC.
    Lovely to see the DUPpies in bed with the Papists. Apart from denial of abortion rights, is there any other issue ever debated in Parliament that could be described as "Rome Rule"?

  10. Great piece. It's very disappointing that Labour and Lib Dem MPs aren't prepared to actively support 24 weeks before the election. Cameron also voted for 20 weeks in 2008 and mentioned lowering it to 18/19 weeks at a Cameron Direct in Luton last year(on youtube).

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