Political identity in the abortion debates

The pro-choice lobby is seeking to discredit Nadine Dorries by trying to portray the debate as one of US culture wars proportion

Published 02 September 2011  |  
There are those that take a pro-life view on the issue of abortion and there are those that take a pro-choice view. The Right to Know campaign subverts the rhetoric of both sides of the debate by offering women facing and an unplanned pregnancy the opportunity to access information and a space to think about what to do next. This wise subversion has sent the pro-choice lobby panicking. Their response is to attack Nadine Dorries, the main political proponent of the idea by trying to make her fit the form of a US culture warrior straw-man. The debate has now become about a political identity rather than about the issue at hand, namely the life and power of women.

In the US, abortion more than most other issues, has been the dividing line in what have been called the culture wars often associated with a party political identity. But in the UK these culture wars have not been as pronounced and acerbic, partly because those of faith who are politically active here have historic affiliations and loyalty to a range of political parties. This is a strength because it means our identity is bigger than our political affiliation, and where we do agree, we can stand together in a mixed identity, such as when Frank Field and Nadine Dorries and others stand in support of the Right to Know campaign.

Christians have divergent views on a host of issues. In practice this means that a Christian socialist who is pro-life will have neo-Marxist friends who while being pro-choice, respect the Christian socialist for their stand on issues such as poverty alleviation. There are Christian Lib Dems who will be pro-life but who might not want to ban abortion. They will want to try and make it easier for a woman to keep her baby. Finally there might be a pro-life conservative who would seek to restrict abortion, but unlike some cultural conservatives in the US, favours relationship and sex education in schools to help prevent unplanned pregnancy in the first place.

Given the diverse range of folk who hold a pro-life view, it is much harder to make the issue a matter of identity politics and thereby win the debate by smearing the opposition as simply faith based nut-jobs. The more extreme end of the pro-choice lobby has attempted to do this as Archbishop Cranmer’s blog points out.

Even the Guardian — that level headed, though ideologically liberal newspaper — has taken a resent stab at guilt by association in the form of an opinion piece by Hadley Freeman comparing Nadine Dorries to Michelle Bachman.

The Right to Know campaign, supported by Frank Field MP, the well respected member of the Labour party and Nadine Dorries MP a Conservative, are seeking to improve counselling services offered to women facing an unexpected pregnancy in the UK. Because the proposal is a matter of improving counselling services, and therefore the campaign slogan rightly speaks of empowering women, who will not be forced into counselling if they wish to have an immediate abortion, the proposals actually improve the choice women have in relation to abortion.

So it is surprising that the campaign is not supported by the pro-choice lobby. What is not surprising, though sad, is that the traditionally pro-choice (though the validity of that term should now be questioned) is attacking and seeking to discredit Nadine Dorries by trying to portray the debate as one of US culture wars proportion. Meanwhile Frank Field, that well respected and much liked recent supporter of the socialist John McDonnell, is never mentioned. You see, he does not fit the negative culture war narrative. The cheerless hysteria of the pro-choice throng has lost sight of what they are fighting for, and have made this an issue of identity politics. Who are the nut-jobs now?

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