Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Americanisation of UK Politics?

The last couple of weeks have been fantastic for the Tory Party - almost their first good news in over a decade. The discussion over Margaret Dixon's shoulder operations completely took the wind out of Labour's sails over health; since then, the Government have shot themselves in the foot over the Prevention of Terrorism Bill. And now, the Catholic Church is putting its weight behind the Tory party due to its new stance over abortions. The front page of today's Times, as well as the BBC website, both led with this story - good press at a time when it is most needed.

Yet I feel distinctly uneasy about abortion being turned into a political issue. The labels "pro-life" and "pro-choice" are two of the most immoral phrases I can think of in the political landscape, and are made even more offensive by the attempt to place the debate over abortion at the forefront of a debate over "moral issues". The decisions behind an abortion must be very, very difficult to make, and to turn them into an entrenched political debate is unhelpful.

For we can see from America just how divisive the issue of abortion can be. On one side, we have the religious fundamentalists who believe that, once conceived, there is a human life; on the other side we have raving feminists who insist it is the woman's right to choose at all times. I have no truck for either side. But this is an emotive debate, and passions run strongly on both sides. I don't know exactly how strong the Catholic lobby will be in this country, but weighing in on such a debate in this manner isn't going to help anyone.

From the doctor's point of view, abortion is a very strange subject. A baby to whom the doctor is committed to saving one day, may be aborted the next. And the idea of time limits seems somewhat arbitrary as well - how big a difference will cutting four weeks off the limit for abortion really make? Especially when pregnancies are today known earlier and earlier.

My personal opinion is that of Bill Clinton - abortions should be safe, legal, but rare. Forcing desperate women into the backstreets for dangerous life-threatening procedures is not the act of a civil government. But neither is allowing abortion on demand. Yet these are tricky issues - and emotive for a reason. Demonising either side, therefore, is not the answer. People are supposed to be put off politics by a macho, name-calling style. If we are going to go down the US route of campaigning on moral values, I fear even more people may tune out.