and the election
Update and comment
Alliance today lost its legal action at the High Court against
broadcasting companies that are refusing to screen its party
In 1997, the Alliance fielded
55 candidates, and this year 29 in England and three in
Scotland have been announced so far. Its broadcast was banned
in 1997, and lawyers for broadcasting companies argued this
time that again the video would offend against good taste
and decency, and should not be broadcast. David Pannick
QC, for the BBC, said the PLA could 'say what it likes about
the evils, as it perceives them, of our abortion laws
is only being prevented from broadcasting unpleasant images
into people's homes'.
The PLA defended its case
for being able show images of aborted fetuses. David Anderson
QC, for the PLA, said the Alliance wanted to place abortion
on the political agenda. To do this it was necessary 'to
let people know what is involved in this commonly performed
operation that is, of course, lawful and the majority of
cases paid for out of public funds'.
The court, however, found
against the PLA.
James Meikle, Partywatch:
ProLife Alliance, The Guardian 24/05/01
Joshua Rozenberg, ProLife Alliance fights TV ban on abortion
images, The Telegraph 24/05/01
Nick Mead, Anti-abortion party goes to court over election
broadcast, PA News 23/05/01
Comment: Give them enough rope
By Ann Furedi, director of communications, BPAS
seem to have made a calculated decision that the best way
to gain publicity is by going to court. Stephen Hone, the
chap who recently appealed to the courts, first to prevent
his girlfriend having an abortion and then to secure rights
to the fetal tissue, was supported by 'pro-life' campaigners.
In April 2001 the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children
appealed to the High Court, to order a judicial review,
arguing that emergency after-sex contraception causes abortion,
and therefore contravenes the Offences Against the Persons
Act and should be subject to the restrictions of the abortion
law. Now we have seen the ProLife Alliance's unsuccessful
appeal to the High Court to overturn a ruling by the BBC
that will prevent them showing their party political broadcast.
There is a good reason for
the resort to court. Anti-abortion activists are so few
in number, and so marginal to any meaningful social policy
discussion, that a contrived stunt is about the only way
they can make their voices heard. Without this little fracas
with the BBC, the ProLife Alliance's election campaign would
probably have passed unnoticed, even by those who live in
a constituency where a ProLife Alliance candidate is destined
to lose his deposit.
Abortion is simply not an
issue in this election. Even many anti-abortion campaigners
think the notion of running a candidate on a 'pro-life ticket'
is a waste of time. Following the recent trashing of the
relatively engaging and articulate research director of
Life in the Preston byelection, Life supporters published
letters begging that the same mistake should not be made
again. They know they are on the margins, and votes expose
So in many ways it is a
shame that the BBC has chosen to wade in and provide the
ProLife Alliance with an opportunity that amplifies its
squeaks of outrage about a legal medical procedure that
most people regard as acceptable. It is also a shame that,
by banning a party political broadcast, the BBC also forces
some of us who consider the ProLife Alliance to be vile
scum to defend their right to put their case in the way
I understand that the BBC's
objection to the ProLife Alliance election broadcast, which
was due to be screened in Wales, was that some images did
not comply with its code on taste and decency. No prizes
for guessing what these images are. At the last general
election the same organisation had the same debate over
a broadcast that showed graphic images of fetuses aborted
at late gestations. I saw the uncut version and I have seen
many others like it produced by similar organisations. They
are horrible and disturbing, but they should not be banned.
As a potential voter I believe
candidates should be able to put their case to me in the
way they want to put it. Let me be the arbiter of what is
tasteful and decent, and let me reward the candidate with
my vote or contempt accordingly. The fact that ProLife Alliance
want to flaunt harrowing images tells us as much about their
contempt for women as their actual arguments.
The medium is part of the
message, and individuals standing for election should have
the right to put their message across. As voters we should
have the right to witness it as they want it to be seen,-
not a sanitised version that the BBC finds acceptable.
In any case, the measure
of taste and decency is dangerously subjective. What offends
me about the broadcast is not the images, but that it wrongly
claims that they represent 'the truth' about abortion.
The truth of the matter
is this. The 180,000 women who have abortions in Britain
each year know that abortion involves killing a fetus. Most
are not indifferent to this. Many think that abortion is
wrong - or at least less good than having a baby. They take
their decision because they feel that, in their particular
case, to continue with the pregnancy - to have a child -
would be a greater wrong. Women wrestle with their consciences
and make their decisions, and usually doctors are able to
end the crisis pregnancy in its early weeks - long before
it is the recognisable human being that features in anti-abortion
The women who request abortion
at later gestations, whose aborted fetuses look like those
paraded in anti-choice videos, are often the saddest and
most desperate cases. These women do not need sanctimonious
campaigners to tell them their fetus looked like a baby
with arms and legs - they would have felt its kicks, and
yet still they considered abortion the best option. The
real truth of abortion lies in the reality of women's lives
- the things that lead them to make the decision that a
pregnancy is best ended.
ProLife Alliance believe
that the images of abortion will convince people to oppose
its legality. They believe that those who practice abortion
conspire to cover up 'the truth'. They are wrong.
As somebody who has been
involved for years in defending legal abortion by trying
to promote a rational public understanding of the issues
involved, I am happy to allow my opponents to expose themselves
for what they are - dishonest, manipulative, irrational,
ignorant fanatics who patronise women by insisting that
they request abortion because they do not realise it involves
the destruction of a fetus.
The images that the anti-abortion
lobby would like to thrust in front of us tell us little
about abortion but a lot about the people who make them.
I would prefer to allow the people of Wales to deliver their
verdict. Let ProLife Alliance show their video and be damned.
The following comment on abortion and politics, by Ellie Lee
appears, with a range of alternative proposals for debate
in the election, on the website www.spiked-online.com
Political leaders committed
to 'women's issues' should:
1) Make abortion part
of political discussion
In the run up to the last election UK prime minister
Tony Blair said that he would 'do everything in [his] power
to keep abortion out of politics'. Four years on, there
are still significant changes that need to be made to existing
law and policy. In order to make these changes, the provision
of abortion, like other services women need if their lives
are to be improved, should be discussed as part of politics.
It is anomalous that at a time when 'women's issues' are
supposed to be central to politics, abortion is still exempted
from political debate.
2) Tell the truth about
While contraception is now openly promoted as morally
and socially acceptable, abortion is not. It is often portrayed
as 'responsible' to avoid unwanted pregnancy through contraception,
but problematic to seek an abortion where contraception
fails or couples fail to use it.
Politicians should make
it clear that, for women faced with unwanted pregnancy,
abortion is not a problem, but a solution to a problem they
face in their lives - and that it is as responsible to end
that pregnancy as it is to continue it. They should also
promote the truth about why unplanned pregnancy happens.
Contraceptive failure and even non-use is not a sign of
irresponsibility, fecklessness or foolishness.
Money spent on public education
about the causes of unwanted pregnancy, which aims to contextualise
and explain truthfully why women have abortions, would be
money well spent.
3) Repeal the outdated
An abortion can still only be legally performed if two doctors
agree that the woman has reasons for needing an abortion
that meet one of the four criteria specified in the 1967
Abortion Act. This turns doctors into gatekeepers, responsible
for ensuring the woman's reason for abortion is a 'good'
reason. This system benefits neither doctors nor women.
This act was passed at a
time when recreational sex was still taboo, when university
education and career aspirations for women were the exception
rather than the rule, and when women were still expected
to sacrifice all for motherhood. Those who reformed the
law in the UK parliament viewed the kind of woman who would
need an abortion as a 'distracted multi-child mother, often
the wife of a drunken husband' (1): a worn-down victim,
who could not cope with bearing another child.
The context today is very
different. Around one quarter of all British women will
have an abortion. It represents a backup to failed contraception,
necessary if women (and men) are to be able to enjoy recreational
sex, and if women are to pursue careers and plan their families.
Most people accept the need for abortion. For the majority
of the general public, for the medical profession and for
those involved in abortion care, it is a fact of life.
4) Regulate abortion
as a standard medical procedure
The principle of patient self-determination now has central
importance in British medical law. A great deal of importance
is placed upon the right of an individual to make decisions
about their treatment (2). Even where the decision made
might appear irrational or morally objectionable to others,
as along as the patient understands what they are doing,
their wishes come first. This approach should also apply
In practice this would mean
that as long as the doctor was confident that the woman
concerned had consented to the abortion taking place (as
the law demands of any medical procedure), then the abortion
can go ahead. This should apply regardless of the gestation
of the pregnancy.
From the point of view of
women's abortion needs, abortion must be provided as early
as possible and as late as necessary.
5) Bring abortion policy
in line with practice
Just as the legal framework on abortion suffers from
being out of touch, so do policy guidelines. For example,
guidelines issued in 1977 by the then Department of Health
and Social Security advocate that a woman be counselled
before her abortion about her decision 'to ensure that [she]
has had the full opportunity to make a reasoned assessment
of her own wishes and circumstances'. Underlying this policy
is the notion that women will find the decision to have
an abortion sufficiently upsetting and difficult that they
need special help from a counsellor.
Yet research indicates that
many women find the assumption that they need counselling
in order to make a 'reasoned assessment' of their wishes
patronising or confusing. This approach is not taken if
women decide to continue pregnancies to term, so why is
it where they decide to end them? (3)
When abortion is more socially
accepted than in the past, and where women largely find
support and somebody to talk to about their decision from
within their personal circle of family and friends, the
policy imperative that women should be counselled is unnecessary
and unhelpful. There does not need to a be specific policy
that dictates what is psychologically best for women when
they go through the process of choosing abortion.
Politicians should make
it clear that most women who have abortion are adult enough
to find ways for themselves of managing their feelings,
and that service providers can be trusted to provide extra
support for those women who make it clear they want it.
(1) Sheldon, Sally. 1997.
Beyond Control, Medical Power and Abortion Law. London:
(2) Jackson, Emily. 2000.
'Abortion, Autonomy and Prenatal Diagnosis'. In Social and
Legal Studies Vol. 9 (4) 467-94.
(3) Hadley, Janet. 1997.
Abortion, Between Freedom and Necessity. London: Virago.