Edward Leigh speaks out on abortion at Cornerstone Fringe Event in Birmingham

(Also speaking: Nadine Dorries MP; Chairman: John Hayes MP)

Date: Tuesday 30 October

Venue: Upper Cloister Hall, The Oratory, 156 Hagley Road, Birmingham

Time: 1.00 p.m.

Introduction

Ladies and gentlemen, I am very glad to see so many of you here today. Many of you will recognise my courageous colleague and fellow-Cornerstone member Nadine Dorries, who has campaigned so strongly for a reduction in the time-limit for abortions to 20 weeks. She and I are going to talk to you today about imminent proposed changes in the law affecting abortion. They are likely to come before the House of Commons in a matter of weeks, when the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, to give it its full ponderous title, returns to Parliament for its Report stage. This is a further opportunity for MPs to introduce amendments to the Bill. It’s the stage when all MPs can speak on them.

Imminent threats in HFE Bill from pro-abortion side

As many of you will already be aware, the major threats from our opponents are: legalising abortion on demand; enabling nurses to carry out abortion – including in GPs’ surgeries – and removing the requirement for even one doctor’s signature.

There is also an amendment in the offing to extend the UK mainland abortion laws to Northern Ireland.

It is vital that anyone who does not wish to see further liberalisation of the abortion laws writes to their MP urging them to vote against such amendments and in favour of those which, like mine and Nadine’s, seek to restrict them.

Abortion and human rights

As a symptom of the peculiar inversion of values that are now dominant in our ruling establishment, when the Bill banning fox-hunting was brought before Parliament, both Houses between them were allowed to clock up 700 hours of debate about the “welfare of the fox”. Last May the house of Commons was given just three hours to debate the welfare of the unborn child and its mother. So that is the context in which we have to make our case.

The amendment I moved last May sought to limit social abortions to those carried out before 12 weeks’ gestation. In Europe, the most common position is for abortions to take place before 12 weeks. In the UK (England and Wales), nearly 90 per cent of abortions are performed before 12 weeks. So my amendment would not have affected some 89 per cent. of abortions.

There is rightly much talk in Parliament about human rights and the rights of the vulnerable.

In my personal view, there is just one, overwhelming, fundamental human right: the right to life.

That is where I stand; I do not know any other way.

My fellow MPs all take different views – though it is nonetheless true that there are a good many more pro-lifers on the Conservative side, as well as more who are prepared to vote for a reduction in the time limit, and other restrictions.

Whatever your point of view, it is a fact that an unwanted foetus can become a wanted child, but a dead foetus can never become a living one.

Experience of counselling centres; mental health issue

I knew that I would not get the support of many parliamentarians when I said this, but it is pro-woman to take the position that we take.

The experience of many counselling centres shows that when given a real choice, very few women want to snuff out the tiny lives they are carrying. When freed from the often coercive pressure to abort her child and given proper support, a woman can be heroic in facing the challenge of giving birth in difficult circumstances. This is borne out by the experience of organisations such as Life and the Pro-Life Initiative in Glasgow set up by the late Cardinal Winning. These and others have saved the lives of thousands of babies who might otherwise have been aborted by offering counselling as well as moral, financial and housing support.

Another development on our side is that the Royal College of Psychiatrists recently issued a statement about the mental damage to women’s health caused by abortions.

So those counselling centres have not only saved the lives of thousands of babies; they have saved the mental and physical health of their mothers.

Suicide risk

In some cases, they may have saved the mothers’ lives as well; according to two recent authoritative studies women who have abortions are six times as likely to commit suicide as mothers who give birth.

So an abortion sometimes ends two lives, not one.

UK (England and Wales) out of step with rest of Europe

It presents a bleak picture of our country that we have one of the highest abortion rates in Europe-200,000 a year.

As I said in the Commons last spring, in modern Britain, the most dangerous place to be is in one’s mother’s womb, which should be a place of sanctuary.

We in Britain are way out of step with most of Europe. In the rest of the EU, about two thirds of countries have a limit of 12 weeks or lower.

The public are beginning to realise that we are out of step with many other countries. That is partly because, as a result of advances in modern medical science, they know so much more about what goes on in the womb.

Council of Europe’s call for abortion on demand

Nonetheless, there is a danger on the European horizon: last March, a creature known as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe called for the legalisation of abortion “on request” throughout Europe. Ironically the Council of Europe was founded in 1949 to further European integration mainly by harmonising human rights law. At its heart is the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights, which enforces the Convention. It’s true the Council of Europe cannot pass laws; but it can pass resolutions which influence the laws of its member states.

So we should beware of the way the wind is blowing.

Recent moves to liberalize law in Europe: Portugal & Spain

Only last year Portugal – which had previously made abortion conditional on saving a woman’s life or preserving her mental or physical health, legalised abortion on demand up to 10 weeks; and only a fortnight ago [Sept 16] it was reported that the Spanish government, which recently granted human rights to apes, including the right to life  – I promise you I haven’t made this up! – called in a group of “experts” to advise it on liberalizing its abortion law by the end of next year or early in 2010.

At the moment in Spain, abortion is legal up to 12 weeks. The Spanish Equality Minister – how many crimes have been committed in the name of equality! – didn’t specify exactly how the law would be changed; she just said the new law would “guarantee the fundamental rights and legality of women and the professionals who attend them.” How many crimes have been committed, or excused, in the name of “fundamental rights”!

Irish case – appeal against Irish law

And this is not the only example of the great pro-abortion crusade that is being fought across the EU. Just last week, it was reported that three Irish women are appealing to the European Court of Human Rights against their not being allowed abortions under Irish law. Currently in Ireland, danger to the mother’s life is the only legal ground for an abortion. Two of these women wanted abortions due to physical complications with their pregnancies; the third felt she could not cope with a new baby after having had her other children taken into care.

If this case succeeds, it could set a precedent that will affect abortion law throughout Europe. The case is being supported by the pro-abortion campaign group, the Irish Family Planning Association. The only piece of good news about this is that at least the ECHR has given permission for the Family Research Council (FRC) to intervene in the case. Bill Saunders of the FRC says: “we will work tirelessly to ensure that unborn children remain protected in Ireland.” Let us hope he succeeds. The ECHR’s decision would only be binding on Ireland, but it would of course step up the political pressure on other ECHR member states.

Polish case

In a similar case in Poland, a woman who was told her pregnancy might damage her eyesight was not allowed to have an abortion. In her case the ECHR recommended a review of the Polish law.

But in spite of all these developments, and of the Spanish and Portuguese moves to greater liberalisation, note how much lower the limits on abortion still are in the majority of EU countries than here in the UK.

UK public opinion changing

Given those European norms, it is not surprising that public opinion in Britain is changing. A recent ComRes poll showed that 58 per cent. of the people, including three out of four women, think that abortion should be limited to 20 weeks or less, and 41 per cent. of women think that the abortion limit should be lowered to 12 weeks or less, so ours is not an extreme view.

Words of wisdom from forty years ago

Forty years ago, a Member of Parliament made this telling statement: “When a decision about abortion is taken, the mother can speak, the doctor can speak, the father may well speak, but what can the child in the womb say? The child cannot speak. She cannot say, ‘I want to live.'”

I believe that we should give that silent child a voice.

Results of vote last May

But, as you probably know if you are here today, all those options for reducing the time limit were defeated – even that for 22 weeks. Of course, knowing the parliamentary arithmetic, I had not expected to win the vote on my own amendment, but it was depressing that not even a fortnight could be cut from the term for legal abortion.

All the more reason to vote Conservative, given that the majority of our colleagues, as well as our leader, voted in favour of Nadine’s amendment. I understand that the majority of new Tory candidates also back 20 weeks; some would go further. But 20 weeks looks achievable with the return of a Conservative government.

It could be a stepping-stone for a further reduction in time.

If you agree with me, do please write to your MP as soon as you possibly can.

Thank you very much.


Position Statement on Women’s Mental Health in Relation to Induced Abortion, Royal College of Psychiatrists, 14 March 2008

2 Fergusson, DM, Horwood, LJ, and Ridder, EM, Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47, (1) , 2006, pp. 16-24; Gissler, M et al, European Journal of Public Health, 15 (5), 2005, pp. 459-463.

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