25 February 1997
Who's Afraid of the Pro-Life Alliance?
Carrie Clark responds to the publication of the Pro-Life Alliance's
The anti-abortion Pro-Life Alliance was launched at a press conference
this week - confirming its determination to make abortion into an
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
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.
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