Abortion Debates in Great Britain

 Posted by on 28 May 2008 at 4:35 pm  Politics, Religion
May 282008

Americans are used to abortion as being a hot button issue in politics. Hence, I found this article from The Economist to be an interesting contrast object of how the issues could play out politically in a system without quite such a strong religious undercurrent. In the case, the issue was a proposed law to change the cutoff point for a legal abortion from 24 weeks gestation to 22 weeks. Here are a few excerpts:

BRITONS, thankfully, have been spared America’s abortion wars. Political candidates’ positions on the matter are of little interest to the electorate. More Conservatives are “pro-life” and more Labour MPs “pro-choice”, but allegiances are rarely, if ever, based on this single issue. This is partly because Britain is less religious than America, but also because abortion laws are made in Parliament, where shades of grey can be debated, not in the courts, where black or white usually prevails.

…By precedent, votes on abortion are “free”: MPs may vote according to their consciences rather than a party directive. They still divided along party lines. Most Labour MPs—including the prime minister, Gordon Brown—voted against all the amendments, although three Catholic cabinet ministers supported a cut to 12 weeks. Most of the shadow cabinet voted for some reduction, and the Conservative leader, David Cameron, backed lowering the limit to either 22 or 20 weeks.

…The day before that, MPs had voted on two other amendments. The first would have prohibited experiments involving “chimera” embryos created by placing human DNA inside empty eggs from other mammals. The second sought to rule out creating “saviour siblings”: screening embryos created by IVF in order to select a match for an existing sick child whose life could be saved by cord blood or bone marrow from a suitable brother or sister.

All three issues went the government’s way, even though Mr Brown had to allow his party a free vote after a campaign by Catholic bishops made it clear that he risked losing three ministers if he did not.

Clearly, religion still has some influence in the debates, although not as strong as in the US. The interesting question will be whether this influence increases or decreases over the next several years.

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