An E-mail From A Reader About Abortion

I was glad to receive this e-mail from a regular reader who disagrees with some of what I said recently about abortion and Gordon Brown’s position.

Dear Adrian,

As a regular reader of your blog, I am pleased that you are highlighting the issue of abortion. You may also be interested in this video of Peter Saunders.

However, I disagree with you about whether this should be party political issues.

You said — “This is based on the fundamental principle that the people of the UK do not elect parties, they elect individuals to serve them, and on moral questions those representatives are best placed to make those judgment calls.”

I would like to see political parties taking a stance [on] abortion like in America. Without this, I don’t see much [chance] of dramatically changing the law on abortion.

I think the USA can make a better claim to saying that they elect individuals rather than parties.

In the United States, I think people [can] exercise greater choice over who there (sic) elected representatives are. For example, in the Florida presidential primaries held this year, about 1.89 million people voted for Republican candidates, and about 1.67 million people voted for Democratic candidates—meaning over 3,570,128 people voted in a PRIMARY election [1], out of a population of 18.25 million [2] — around 20% of the total population — the population eligible to vote would be smaller.

In contrast, when David Cameron was elected leader of the Conservative Party, he got just 134,446 votes. [3] Mike Huckabee came 4th in the Florida primary, but got roughly double the number of votes in Florida alone that David Cameron got in total in his leadership election. [1]

In terms of selection for parliamentary seats — primaries for the US Congress can get [a] turnout of around 10% or 20%. [4, 5] In contrast, MPs have been selected as the candidate for safe Conservative seats with just 0.3% Conservative voters voting for them. [6]

In summary, I think the general US population has far greater say in who the candidates of the main parties are. People don’t just vote between the two or three people with a chance of winning the election.

I believe that elections in the UK are more based on party (as opposed to individual) than they are in the USA — after all, the leader of the biggest party in the UK is the prime minister, without necessarily having been elected to that office himself (e.g. Gordon Brown now and John Major until 1992).

US primaries mean that voters get a say in the position of the candidates at election. For example, even though the Republican Party campaigns on a pro-life party platform, [7] Republican primary voters had the choice to select a range of presidential candidates, from the strongly pro-life Mike Huckabee to the pro-choice Rudy Giuliani. I believe that Rudy Giuliani’s pro-choice views [8] contributed to his failure to win the Republican nomination, and has ensured that the Republican candidate is relatively more pro-life than the Democratic candidate.

If we had a better “primary” system in Britain, then there [would be] a better chance that candidates for a political party would reflect the views of the party grassroots. This means pro-life Conservatives could have a better chance of ensuring that the Conservative candidate was pro-life — as I think happens to some extent with the Republican party in the USA.

Currently, however, we have to vote for the better party, and no party is clearly better on abortion. I want the parties to take a clear stance [on] the issue of abortion so that I can vote for the party that I agree with. The Labour government is introducing damaging legislation (from a pro-life perspective), but consistently seems to argue that this should not lose them votes. In 2005, after Michael Howard expressed personal support for lowering the abortion limit to 20 weeks, Tony Blair appeared to argue that if you are pro-life, then there shouldn’t be a way for this to affect your vote — arguing that abortion should not be an election issue. [9]

It could be argued that given low turnout at candidate selection election in the UK, there is more chance for a small group of party members to influence a parties (sic) position on a particular issue. However, there are also concerns about how democratic selection of MEP candidates for the Conservative Party is — where the candidates do not necessarily represent the views of party supporters (e.g. on attitudes on the EU).[10]

A vote for the Conservative Party may be marginally better than a vote for Labour on pro-life issues — as some senior Tory MP support more restrictions on abortion.[11] However, a vote for the Conservative Party is not a vote for a pro-life party. There seems to be little chance of any government (including a Conservative one) ending abortion soon.

If the Conservatives (or another party) took a pro-life stance, there would be a clear electoral way to change the law on abortion. Currently I don’t know know how I could vote to end abortion unless I happen to be in a constituency with a strongly pro-life candidate.

In contrast, a vote for John McCain in America could realistically result in appointments to the Supreme Court that would result in Roe vs Wade being overturned. [12] This would not end abortion in America, but it would be real progress.

Best wishes,


[1] Voting Figures for Florida Primaries

[2] Population Figures for Florida

[3] David Cameron’s Election as Conservative Party Leader

[4] 2000 Virginia Congressional Primary

[5] New Orleans Primaries for U.S. House of Representatives

[6] Selection of Conservative Candidate for Cambridgeshire North East

[7] Republic Party Advertising Their Pro-Life Positions

[8] Justin Taylor on Concern From Pro-Life Christians About the Chances of Rudy Giuliani Being the Republican Presidential Nominee

[9] Tony Blair on Voting About Abortion

[10] Complai
nts About the Conservative Party MEP Selection Process

[11] Senior Tories Promise to Vote for Lower Abortion Limit

[12] Justin Taylor Notes That Voting for John McCain is the Best Hope of Limiting Abortion

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