In the build-up to the Iraq War the British Left were out in full force under the banner of the Stop the War Coalition. Although the arguments against the invasion of Iraq were compelling and reasonable, I rapidly lost interest in protesters’ arguments because of the multitude of placards stating various Left-wing grievances. As a young social conservative I felt totally alienated from a perfectly reasonable and moral cause due to its hysterical hijacking by Left-wing militants.
When Lord Falconer presents his draft bill to legalise assisted suicide, arch proponents of liberal abortion laws will oppose him. Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney, for example, is opposed to assisted suicide and even Lord Winston, a prominent supporter of embryology experimentation, has voted against moves to legalise assisted suicide.
If success in politics demands building parliamentary networks and co-operative relationships in order to achieve political ends, perhaps it is time for a drastic change of tack.
What if pressure groups opposed to the destruction of human life from conception to natural death considered separating for future parliamentary battles? One key group would defend the rights of the unborn child and the other would focus on opposing the legalisation of assisted suicide and/or voluntary euthanasia.
Both groups would take a strictly evidence-based approach to influencing and resisting future legislation. Religious sentiments or distracting arguments about sexuality would be kept out of the equation.
On a practical level this might make sense in terms of focus, expertise and the raising of funds but there are further incentives for this approach.
The following thought is depressing for pro-lifers; but they must face the reality that a pro-choice parliamentarian who admires a lobby group for their persuasive stance against assisted suicide will be quickly put off when they visit the website to find that it features pictures of unborn children and maybe even a press release opposing gay marriage.
The parliamentarian who received impassioned opposition, even hostility, from one lobby group due to his support for abortion may find it difficult to work with them at a later date to oppose assisted suicide. And we cannot forget that abortion is not like many other political issues – it has a unique emotiveness and can cause enduring acrimony when opinions differ. Of course, the right to express a private view must always be defended, but if lobbyists concentrate their professional efforts on one end of the debate alone this may prove fruitful.
Furthermore, because of the way pro-life groups currently operate, campaigners make continuous comparisons with abortion and euthanasia but this is not necessarily helpful given the many parliamentarians who do not view assisted suicide as a question of private morality but of public safety.
I appreciate that for some supporters and opponents abortion and euthanasia go hand in hand, as they both boil down to the principle of defending human life or personal choice. But there is a vast middle ground in between, in and outside Parliament. Those who occupy this territory will be sympathetic to at least one of the issues that much of the pro-life movement care so passionately about and work tirelessly for.
Just as a reasonable anti-war pressure group can fast become a shopping list of Left-wing demands, pro-life groups run the risk that Parliament and the public perceive them as the equivalent of the American “religious Right.” They need to be convinced otherwise.