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Monday, March 14, 2005


Tory abortion

So the Tories have decided to raise the issue of abortion.

Peter Black
posted on this topic yesterday, and correctly identified this as part and parcel of the Tory appeal to its own core vote. While the Tories' overall strategy is producing results, this particular tactic is unlikely to work.

Abortion seems a curious topic to emphasise, even if one were aiming only at the hardline Tory core vote, since (unlike in the USA) the issue is largely settled in Britain. And, as the BBC reports, Howard has chosen to unveil his policy in Cosmopolitan, not one suspects the magazine of choice for his ageing target audience.

Apart from that, two things struck me about this Tory tactic. First, while Michael Howard has "pledged" to cut the time limit from 24 to 20 weeks, in practice he is in no position to do so, since the issue of abortion has always been subject to a free vote in the Commons. The most he could deliver is to make debating time available for a Private Member's Bill.

Second, if you strip away the hype, Howard's position is actually not that controversial. Most British politicians take a pragmatic view of abortion but there is also a consensus that, if advances in medical science make it possible for premature babies to survive outside the womb for longer periods, it is logical for the abortion laws to reflect that reality. In any event, only a tiny percentage of abortions in Britain are late, with only 0.6% carried out between 22 and 24 weeks.

The real significance of Howard's statement is not his precise point of view but that he has decided to try and make abortion an election issue. His objective is to create a general impression rather than to change anything in practice. But unless Howard can also demonstrate to his elderly Daily Express-reading supporters that late abortions are being carried out by asylum-seekers, he's unlikely to succeed.

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