This week, Conservative MP Nadine Dorries told The Catholic Herald that she feels badly let down by church leaders – both Anglican and Catholic – in her fight to reform Britain’s abortion law.
“I need religious support. It is our core support. I need the churches being more involved, and the churches have been pathetic, pathetic, during the abortion debate in their support for what I was trying to do.
“The Church of England was the worst and the only person in the Catholic Church who made any comment was Cardinal [Keith] O’Brien. Everybody was silent because the churches were weak and cowardly in their position.
“I was even told by one envoy from the Church [of England] that Psalm 139 was ‘just poetry’. Weeks later they timidly came out and squeaked their words of support… The churches have really angered me during this debate.”
In 2008 Dorries launched a campaign to reduce the upper limit for abortion from 24 weeks to 20. It was added as an amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Bill, but, along with other attempts to reduce the limit to 12, 16 or 22 weeks, was rejected by MPs.
The Catholic Church did campaign against the HFE Bill. Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark wrote to parish priests in September 2007 to advise them of the Bill’s dangers. He said it was “very important” that people write to their MPs. Yet there was no specific, focused campaign to lower the limit.
The hierarchy was also tragically ineffective in campaigning against the 1967 Abortion Act. Lay Catholics fought bravely against the law, but the bishops woke up to it late and issued only a few weak statements.
On the other hand, is it fair to blame the Church? After all, the pro-life movement as a whole has not had any success in changing the law. And perhaps Church leaders being more vociferous would harm, rather than help, the cause.
So, is the Church “pathetic” in the fight against abortion? Or would a hierarchy that intervened aggressively in the political debate be counter-productive?