Sat 1st Nov 2014 | Last updated: Fri 31st Oct 2014 at 16:19pm

Facebook Logo Twitter Logo RSS Logo

Comment & Blogs

Churches and pro-life groups dread any attempt to change the law on abortion

That may be the reason Nadine Dorries felt so let down when she tried to reduce the upper time limit

By on Thursday, 27 January 2011

Conservative MP Nadine Dorries said the churches had been 'pathetic' in the fight to reform abortion law

Conservative MP Nadine Dorries said the churches had been 'pathetic' in the fight to reform abortion law

Ed West’s interview in the Herald with Conservative MP Nadine Dorries has caught my attention – in particular her criticism of “the churches” during her fight to reform abortion law. What Nadine Dorries says is this:

“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 only person in the Catholic Church who made any comment was Cardinal O’Brien. Everybody was silent because the churches were weak and cowardly in their position.”

In 2008 Dorries campaigned to reduce the abortion time limit to 20 weeks and failed. Subsequently she has been campaigning for a woman’s right to know what happens during an abortion and the psychological scars that might follow. Indeed, I have just signed an online petition organised by LIFE, asking that counselling for women contemplating abortion be made mandatory. Surely it is a good thing to fight for this? So why has Dorries received, in her view, so little support from Christians?

I think this is the reason: the churches – and the main pro-life societies – have had a problem with any legislation touching on abortion since the failure of David Alton’s Abortion (Amendment) Act of 1987. Alton had argued for an upper time limit on abortions (18 weeks), while conceding to the pro-abortion lobby that some categories, such as disabled children and those conceived after incest and rape, could be excluded from this time limit.

In case readers of this blog don’t remember, Alton’s Bill, though attracting enormous pro-life support, was filibustered out of parliamentary time so that it never became law. Worse was to follow. His Bill was replaced in 1990 by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act which made 24 weeks the upper time limit for abortions – except for disabled babies, who could now be aborted up to birth. This was a disastrous outcome.

Naturally enough, ever since then pro-life groups have been cautious in supporting attempts to restrict abortion and in giving support to initiatives such as Nadine Dorries’s one.

Although supporting the Alton Bill at the time, I have subsequently come to see that it was fundamentally flawed; not only did it create the impression among the wider, ignorant public that before 18 weeks it would be acceptable to perform abortions, but it also made a deadly deal by agreeing for tactical reasons that certain hard case categories – the most vulnerable babies, actually – could be excluded.

What opened my eyes – and changed my views instantly and for good – was reading a book examining the whole ethical question behind Alton’s Bill: Changing Unjust Laws Justly: Pro-Life Solidarity with the ‘Last and the Least’ by Colin Harte, published by the Catholic University Press of America in 2005. I do urge everyone concerned with the abortion debate to read it. Without rehearsing here all of Harte’s carefully researched and very persuasive arguments, his main thesis is simple: Christians cannot support intrinsically unjust laws; and laws that aim to restrict abortion are always going to be unjust towards the most vulnerable members of society, the disabled.

Jesus’s remark, “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do to Me”, comes to mind; indeed, Harte quotes it in order to underpin his argument. As he says, we would never endorse laws that advocate killing “some” Jews or “some” black people – yet the Alton Bill (and Dorries’s later one) agreed that “some” unborn babies must die.

I admit to a personal stake in this debate; I have a daughter with Down’s syndrome, a detectable condition, who was born in 1990, the very year that an Act of Parliament allowed babies such as her to be aborted up to birth. This legislation hasn’t changed. Fr James Morrow, who died not long ago, was mocked for his (supposedly extreme) pro-life position: that Christians must simply go for broke and fight to end legal abortion, not make tactical adjustments to save some babies at the expense of others. Before reading Harte’s book I thought Fr Morrow was an embarrassment; an extremist. Now I agree with him.

Supporting amendments to the current legislation, such as giving women full information about abortion so that their “consent” is informed, is not the same as endorsing an intrinsically unjust law. But having been badly burnt by the debacle following the Alton Bill, the churches and the Catholic laity have come to dread the fire. Is this the reason behind the “pathetic” response to Dorries?

  • Horace Zagreus

    The big danger inherent in ‘amendments’ is that they also open the door for amendments in the other direction, as happened during the last government. But for the actions of Gordon Brown, abortion-on-demand might have been enshrined in law here. On the other hand, we may never get the day that we can totally ban abortion. A lower limit, or more awareness, counselling, etc. are all current moral flaws in the abortion act as well as the big one. Removing those flaws could be a first step in the moralisation of the UK. Or not. But we have to do what we can, not what we would like to be able to do.

  • Anonymous

    Oh Francis Please!!!

    The pro-Life movement is an unmitigated shambles in this country.

    It’s ill-informed – amateurish – partisan – prone to starting fights among themselves – has too many people in prominent positions who are solely there because they ‘turned up’ or ‘expressed an interest’ or have enough family or social connections to be part of the in-crowd – and a few have used their bank-balances to push themselves to the top.

    Nadine Dorries [who in Catholic eyes is NO pro-Lifer] is right – it’s pathetic!!

    Campaigners who know NOTHING about embryological development – who can be thwarted by the lies and unscientific ideology-based fallacies of Evan Harris, Dawn Primarola, Harriet Harman etc
    - who are so enthralled with John Paul II’s whimsical meanderings in the ‘Theology of the Body’ that they’ve forgotten fundamental Catholic moral teaching
    - people who think because they’ve read a few books and have given a few speeches in church-halls on ‘natural family planning’ – that they can take on the abortion lobby…
    People who still talk about ‘personhood’ and ‘ensoulment’ without having the most basic of ethical knowledge – that personhood is being used by people like Singer to justify late abortions and infanticide ; and that appeals to ‘ensoulment’ [which is not Catholic teaching anyway - we are embodied souls not ensouled bodies] led to the ludicrous situation of Christian ministers suporting Warnock!!

    Campaigning throughout the decades – [might be a good idea to listen to Robert Colquhoun's interview with Phyllis Bowman on his Love Undefiled blog] has been embarrassingly unplanned, unco-ordinated, uninformed and grounded in a collective shirt-rending and hand-wringing despondent ‘well what do you think we should do?’

    I won’t deny they all tried really hard – they put in a lot of work – they gave a lot of speeches – attended so many committees and public meetings – they sacrificed a great deal !!

    But they were amateurs – and the results proved it – we have abortion on de3mand in this country – up to birth for any reason [a mother can claim psychological distress - if she can get two medical professionals to agree - any time limit is out!]
    if an underage girl gets pregnant – her parents can force her to abort…
    if the same underage girl wants to abort – the parents cannot prevent her

    we have abortifacients being prescibed and abortion referrals being made in CATHOLIC SCHOOLS via the deal the CESEW made with Connexions

    Good God! Our so-called pro-Life campaigners can’t even get Bishops Coinference to stay pro-Life – let alone convince the country….

    They all did their best – but they were never trained, or informed – and who can we blame for that – the people who completely abrogated their duty to the pro-Life cause – The Catholic Bishops of England & Wales.

    I hit my knees and thank God for people like Phyllis Bowman and John Smeaton – and I’ll even give a smiling nod to the Quintivalles – but for crying out loud let’s admit that they have done nothing but lose every step of the way…..and why ? because the Church hierarchy abjectly refused to help or finance them.
    To think that Phyllis Bowman and her husband nearly lost their house paying for the 1984 Alton campaign to reduce the abortion time limit – appals me – when Worlock was paying millions for Upholland golf-courses and Conference was dishing out massive expense bills and funding any new initiative anyone wanted…but Life? Don’t talk to Conference about life!!!!

  • Stuart @ eChurch Blog

    Subsequently she has been campaigning for a woman’s right to know what happens during an abortion and the psychological scars that might follow.

    And she is right to do so as has been proved today with the reinstatement and promotion of Margaret Forrester

    She was suspended for nothing more than handing out literature describing the associated problems with terminating a pregnancy.

    Margaret Forester was exercising ‘gold standard’ care, the whole premise is based in informed decision making. Her advice was also backed by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, who have expressed concern that women do not receive enough information as some will suffer mental illness and depression after the procedure.

  • David Prentis

    Germany has a requirement that a woman must receive counselling before she can have an abortion, which would otherwise be punishable, since it is unconstitutional. To get the abortion the woman has to present a certificate from a counselling office. The one who provides this certificate is in effect signing the baby’s death warrant. Only Archbishop Johannes Dyba of Fulda saw through this and refused to take part in the counselling system. It took Pope John Paull II several years to badger the German bishops into getting out of the government counselling system. They still counsel, but sign no certificates. These offices, which really try to help the mothers, get less financial support from the government. Hence one must be extremely careful about approving any scheme, though it might look good on the surface.

  • PhilipH

    I think the real problem is that the groundwork on public opinion has not been done yet in the UK. First of all it is essential to fix into the public mind the humanity of the unborn child, and that means plenty of publicizing of the latest images of unborn children in the womb. This kicks the ground away from underneath those who would deny the humanity and call it a “fetus” or similar. Once the work on public opinion has been completed then the pro-abortion politicians will find it increasingly hard to defend late abortions and abortions for social purposes as a purely victimless crime.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with paulpriest….everyone knows that the Catholic Church is against abortion but in fact all the hard work has always been done by different organisations such as Life or SPUC etc. The Bishops stay out of it for the most part in England and Wales (not so the Scottish Bishops) There is no one standpoint.
    I took his recommendation of listening to the Robert Colquhoun interview with Phyllis Bowman and I heartily recommend it to all who want to understand how people need to lobby and how not to. Sometimes one has to take a line of least resistance to get anything into law although that is often then seen as regretable.
    (Nadine Dorries’ comments relate to this I think).

    Here is the link .

  • Anonymous

    Maybe Nadine Dorries hasn’t noticed, but the Catholic lay people who make up the bulk of the pro-life movement, are at great pains to distance the movement from the Church. SPUC and LIFE make great play of their “non-denominational” status and LIFE has publicly stated that their counselling is “non-judgmental” – think about what that means. No LIFE counsellor will at any time allow the woman being counselled to feel “guilty” – that she is doing, not just something “wrong” but that she is committing one of the four sins that cry to heaven for vengeance: wilful murder. Do counsellors take that non-judgmental attitude with other murderers? Not when I did my counselling course.

    And when I attended a SPUC conference in 2008, it was noticeable that, while the activists I engaged in conversation were falling over themselves to reassure me that they were not a “Catholic” group, the Protestants to the left of me were busily stocking their stall with religious literature, under the banner EVANGELICALS FOR LIFE…

    Even the much admired Sisters of the Gospel of Life, who took their name from the encyclical of that name, immediately slapped Pope John Paul II in the face by contradicting his exhortation that “today, more than ever, we need to call things by their proper name …” – abortion is murder, the Pontiff insisted, but not in the Gospel according to the Sisters of “Life.” No, if we use that word, they argue, the media will think we are “nutters.” All this reported in a Scottish newspaper, which I have on file somewhere, but not to hand at the moment or I’d cite it.

    Instead of speaking with their unconscionable fork tongues, and tacitly agreeing with “the media,” these “Sisters” (?2? 3?) should have said that the only “nutters” in the abortion debate are those who want to pull the limbs from an innocent unborn child.

    Then, too, the Director of SPUC, John Smeaton, spends his time on his computer, churning out blogs every day on issues like homosexuality as well as abortion, and taking a handsome salary for his trouble. None of these groups is making any serious effort to overturn the abortion law.

    I agree (and always have) that reducing the age of the soon-to-be murdered unborn child is not the way to go. How are the population at large to understand the gravity of this sin and crime, if they see the supposed prolifers bargaining away the right to life of EVERY child, from the moment of conception. That David Alton was willing to sacrifice disabled babies to achieve his very weak aim, is shocking in the extreme.

    I wish I could affirm Francis’s speculation that the reason Catholics did not support Dorries is because they want an “all or nothing” end to abortion. If only. This argument can only be sustained in full view of evidence that prolifers are seriously pursuing an end to this scandal. No, I believe that the reason why Catholics are not fighting abortion full on, is because they have left God out of the equation. The Scarisbrisks and the Smeatons of this world have made a living out of the abortion law, specifically placing their work, such as it is, outside the Church. The prolife movement has failed because they made the classic mistake of trying to fight the “principalities and powers” behind abortion, without the help of God.

  • Jackie Parkes

    Please check out my post on my blog. Paul I’m not sure I agree with Phylis Bowman’s stance.. Editor CT..very interesting…

  • Jackie Parkes is the direct link

    I wrote to Nadine Dorries saying some churches had not been pathetic since I attended a fringe meeting of the Conservative Party re pro-life issues at a Catholic Church. I remember being horrified that Nadine supported abortion up to 20 weeks & to term for children with disabilities. I don’t regard this stance as pro-life in any way.

    Nadine wrote to me recently:

    I didn’t mean individual churches Jackie or their congregations, who were fabulous – I meant the institution of the church- the hierarchy of both Christian religions – Lambeth Palace etc who refused to put out a single statement. Other than the Cardinal, who was like a saint.

    Hope you and your brood are well.

    Nadine x

    Nadine Dorries MP

  • Anonymous

    Nor do I !!
    If you check what I wrote on the proposed ‘March for Life’ thread you might get where I’m coming from x

  • HVH fan

    I agree (and always have) that reducing the age of the soon-to-be murdered unborn child is not the way to go. How are the population at large to understand the gravity of this sin and crime, if they see the supposed prolifers bargaining away the right to life of EVERY child, from the moment of conception. That David Alton was willing to sacrifice disabled babies to achieve his very weak aim, is shocking in the extreme.
    –Above comment from Editor reinforces how right Fr Morrow and his supporters were in trying to save every child and every mother from abortion. For their pains they were pilloried and lambasted by members of the so-called “Parliamentary pro-life committee” as well as the General Secretary of English and Welsh Bishops Conf among others!

  • Anonymous

    Real Catholic TV – Pro-Life Movement is a DIVIDED HOUSE!!!

  • Patrickhowes

    I am a Catholic Britsih doctor who has single handedly set up a prolife movement here in Chile.A country which has a constitutional ban on abortion.It is my feeling that better to employ resources to keep the handful of countries that still respect life than cry after spilled milk!!.I have raised over 1.4 million dollars on a refuge center.With 28,000 dollars remaining,I turned to life and Spuc and the Catholic Church with a personal recommendation from the Chilena Cardinals and Bishops.We have no social system here and teenage pregnant mothers generally come from the poorest areas.All these institutions have passed me from pillar to post for the last 8 months to negate any type of help.I literally am saving life on a daily basis fighting the clandestine abortion operation.Yet all I have received is a solid NO!.


  • Patrickhowes

    I agree with most of your articles but I do think that when you have a liberal cluture of death as we now have in the UK,that any prolife advance is a god thing.If you take the abortion laws around the world,they rarely become law on an abortion on demand basis.This happened in the UK and in Spain.The 1967 abortion Act allows abortion in specific cases.The social and mental stability clause was the backdoor to abortion on demand.This was also the case in Spain and France.The effect is that eventually we get used to anything as did the helpers in Austwichtz!.Now it is time to give 12 year old girls the RU48 in the playground so that they can rush off to have a miscarriage in the toilet!.It is better as Iam trying to do within the Church to spend resource on the countries who still protect life and who are under constant attack from the WHO and women on the waves.The American prolife movement has been very successful in fighting abortion every inch of the way from firstly repealing partila bith abortion laws and then gradually enacting state bans on the issue.I feel that we could learn a lesson or two from our colonial cousins.

  • Anonymous

    Patrick : Go to the top!

    Seriously – ask His Holiness for help – it might sound ludicrous or an impossible task – but I mean it – give it a try.

    God bless – prayers go with you – and thankyou!

  • Jackie Parkes

    I didn’t know John Smeaton got paid..i thought he was retired & working voluntarily..

  • Hilary

    Essentially, Dorries’ problem is that her attempts to “control” or “restrict” abortion concede that abortion should remain legal. Despite the howling of the mainstream press calling her “anti-choice” and “anti-abortion,” Dorries’ main difficulty is that she is not, in fact, opposed to abortion. Her arguments, and legislative efforts, will necessarily fail because she does not have any serious conviction.

  • Greenmantle

    I go back a very long way in the abortion battles and well remember Mrs Phyllis Bowman claiming to have started SPUC, way back in 1966.  Since that time she has rattled the cash box year in year out and we have given, money, time and effort.  
    Now the time has come for her to leave to the pro life stage and stop claiming to have any of the answers. persuade Mrs Bowman to retire, her efforts  to save the unborn have failed but her divisiveness amongst pro lifers succeeded beyond belief.