LM Comment
  2:47 pm GMT
Current Archive Subscribe
Comment LM Search Archives Subject index Links Overview FAQ Toolbar
25 February 1997

Who's Afraid of the Pro-Life Alliance?

Carrie Clark responds to the publication of the Pro-Life Alliance's manifesto

The anti-abortion Pro-Life Alliance was launched at a press conference this week - confirming its determination to make abortion into an election issue.

The PLA is expected to put up at least 50 candidates in constituencies where the none of the candidates oppose legal abortion. This number of candidates is enough to guarantee the PLA a television election broadcast - although there is disagreement about what they plan to show. The new organisation has also secured substantial funding from Harrods boss Mohammed Al Fayed - so its seems certain that the PLA has the money and support to make sure its opposition to abortion is heard as part of the election debate.

How should we respond to this intervention in the election? For some, the preferred approach is to try to discredit the PLA by voicing opposition to 'single issue' politics in general. Labour Party representatives, including Barbara Follet of Emily's List, the allegedly 'pro-choice' support group for women, have portrayed the PLA campaign with its focus on abortion as a distraction from 'the real issues'. In doing so they have tried to delegitimise both intervention into politics by organisations other than the 'official' parties, and also the focus on abortion as an election issue.

We should reject this attitude on both counts. While it is entirely legitimate for anyone to stand as a candidate in the election, the pathetic, socially inadequate no-hopers in the PLA represent a threat to nobody and nothing. The idea that the major political parties should be the only ones allowed to stand representatives in the election is an entirely anti-democratic notion. Regardless of how much we might detest the point of view held by PLA candidates, we must oppose politicians and civil servants who would withhold that right.

In reality the attempt by politicians to undermine 'single issue' parties represents a desire to keep political discussion within the boundaries set by the established political parties. Accepting this means accepting the ever-narrowing parameters of political discussion - with any view that challenges these parameters being defined as illegitimate. This is a process all democrats have interest in opposing.

The idea that abortion is not a 'real issue' and so has no place in election discussion is a good example of the way politicians are trying to keep controversial discussion at bay. They don't want the PLA to stand because they don't want the abortion issue to threaten the banal and consensual terrain that official politics now occupies. Politicians in general and New Labour in particular are running scared of the PLA because they don't want to be forced to debate the abortion issue.

The rest of us have nothing to be scared of. The PLA might represent a threat to the cosy world of mainstream politics. But for those of us who, unlike New Labour, actually are preoccupied with 'real issues' - like women's ability to end unwanted pregnancies - there is nothing to fear. The very fact that the PLA are standing in the election in the first place, and may have to resort to footage of late abortions to make their pro-life case, indicates how marginal their outlook is. Desperate to make an impact where the majority of the population support legal abortion, anti-abortionists have no option left but to hope the election gets them a hearing, and through their election broadcast rely on the 'yuk' factor to discredit abortion.

The best response for those of us who think women should be allowed to end a pregnancy by abortion is go on the offensive. We should be up front in our arguments in support of abortion. There is no need to be apologetic about supporting something that increases the ability for women to be in control of their lives. The ability to have abortions is a positive benefit for women. It means they can make active decisions about their lives. Being able to end unwanted pregnancies means women don't have to sacrifice their jobs and opportunities in their lives and simply have babies.

While the PLA might want to deny women this control and autonomy by making motherhood compulsory in the event of pregnancy, they have no chance. Even others in the anti-abortion lobby think they are mad. What we have to do is use the opportunity to talk about providing the abortion service women really need.

Join a discussion on this commentary



Mail: webmaster@mail.informinc.co.uk