I turned up on Wednesday evening at the Friary behind Westminster Cathedral for the start of the Catholic Herald’s Friary Talks. The first speaker was Nadine Dorries MP, who talked about her pro-life battles in the House of Commons. Dorries, a former nurse, witnessed a late-term abortion aged 19; the baby was born alive and she was instructed by a senior nurse not to attempt to help it. This experience has coloured her parliamentary career; she told us that helping to protect unborn children is the reason she is in Parliament.
I don’t doubt her sincerity, her hard work or her courage. She receives constant abuse and death threats because of her stand. When she told sympathetic fellow parliamentarians that she wanted to try to bring about changes to the current provisions for legal abortion, “everyone warned me not to touch it”, telling her “Why do you think no one has dared raise this subject since 1990?” (The same year that Parliament voted to fix the legal limit for abortions at 24 weeks, but excluding disabled babies who could now be aborted up to birth.)
When she was involved recently in trying to amend the Health and Social Bill to prevent pre-abortion counselling from being the monopoly of abortion providers, Dorries worked 18 to 20 hours a day for 18 weeks before the Commons debated the subject. As we know, the Government withdrew its support and her amendment was then inevitably defeated.
Despite this, Dorries is still hopeful, and has said that before the next general election she would like to see the legal age of abortion reduced from 24 weeks to 20 weeks gestation.
Yet there is a problem: her proposed 20-week limit will not, I understand, protect the weakest and most vulnerable of the pre-born, those with detectable conditions such as Down’s syndrome or spina bifida (although it would protect babies with “minor” detectable defects such as a club foot or hare lip).
However you dress this up, this means accepting the practice of eugenics. Under other circumstances I might have agreed with Dorries that amending the law to save a greater number of babies – though at the expense of abandoning others – might be the realistic, pragmatic and sensible goal. But I am compelled to reject it, and therefore to withhold my support for Dorries’ future strategies, because – as some readers of my blog will know – I have a daughter with Down’s Syndrome.
To go down this road, I would have to turn my back on unborn children like my daughter and her friends in order to save healthier (and therefore more socially acceptable) babies. This is worse than the film “Sophie’s Choice”. What message does it give to all disabled people? It informs them that in the parliamentary game of barter and bargaining, concessions and exemption clauses, they are of least account and will receive the least consideration. Christians should remember that, “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do to Me.”