UK: Cardinal Cormac Murphy backs Tory anti-abortion position
The Independent -- London -- Tuesday March 15 2005
Cardinal backs Conservatives on time limit for abortions
By Ben Russell and Colin Brown
The leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Britain, Cardinal Cormac Murphy
O'Connor, has plunged the church into the general election by backing a call
by Michael Howard, the leader of the Conservative Party, for a reduction in
the upper time limit for abortion.
The Cardinal came close to advising Roman Catholics to support the
Conservatives over the abortion issue, in an echo of the campaign by the
religious right in the US presidential election in support of the
Republican, George Bush.
"Abortion, for Catholics, is a very key issue, we are totally opposed to
it," he said last night. "The policy supported by Mr Howard is one that we
would also commend, on the way to a full abandonment of abortion," said the
"I think, as Bishops, we are not going to suggest people support one
particular party," he added. "There has been a notion in the past that
Catholics would be more in support of the Labour Party because they were
working-class people. "Now I'm not so sure that will be quite so true today,
the Labour Party has developed," the Cardinal said.
The Prime Minister has made it clear he is uncomfortable with abortion, but
has said he would not support a cut in the upper time limit from 24 weeks.
But Mr Howard has signalled he would support a cut to 20 weeks, and a
cross-party group of MPs is launching a campaign for the law to be tightened
possibly to 10 weeks, which would outlaw many abortions.
"It is very important that this debate has been opened into the public
arena, both in the lead-up to and after the election," said Cardinal O'Connor.
The Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child plans to distribute
information outlining MPs' views in churches and in door-to-door campaigns
in selected seats, while the hardline UK Lifeleague pressure group warned
that it would target a dozen pro-abortion MPs.
Interviewed by Cosmopolitan magazine at the weekend, Mr Howard made it plain
he favoured reform of the law, declaring: "I believe abortion should be
available to everyone, but the law should be changed. In the past I voted
for a restriction to 22 weeks and I would be prepared to go down to 20."
But Mr Blair told the magazine: "Obviously, there is a time beyond which you
can't have an abortion and we have no plans to change that although the
debate will continue."
Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, said he had voted for a
22-week limit, but said medical advances meant "I don't know what I would do
Jim Dowson, national co-ordinator of UK Lifeleague, said the organisation
would attempt to mobilise the anti-abortion vote in a series of
constituencies. He said the group would distribute more than 3.5 million
leaflets and was planning "high-profile stunts" in the constituencies of
senior Labour figures, including Mr Blair.
Cardinal O'Connor also said the Roman Catholic Church is opposed to embryo
cloning, which again will put the church on a collision course with a
Labour-led Commons committee which will come out in favour of greater
freedom to allow developments in fertilisation and embryology.
A leaked draft report by the Commons Select Committee on Science and
Technology will reopen divisions about the rights of unborn children, when
it recommends that parents should be allowed easier access to in-vitro
fertilisation (IVF) and doctors should be free to screen embryos for
The report also sharply criticises the Human Fertilisation and Embryology
Authority for taking moral and ethical decisions, which the MPs say are not
within its remit as a watchdog body.
Screening of embryos for diseases would be highly controversial and could
lead to parents being allowed to choose the sex of their children.