Many who gaze across the Atlantic have long been amazed at the way in which the toxic issue of abortion fundamentally distorts the U.S. political agenda.
With a certain amount of smugness, the British have told themselves that things are very different in the UK.
Here, such issues are settled not by divisive decisions of the courts, as in the U.S., but through the democratic and unifying route of Parliamentary debate and votes.
Yet now it appears that abortion hysteria is beginning to distort British politics, too.
Amendment: Frank Field and Nadine Dorries have been pushed the law changed, yet it looks as though their proposals will be lost after a screeching u-turn.
Just one week ago, an amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill drafted by Tory MP Nadine Dorries and Labour MP Frank Field looked set to sail through the Commons on a wave of general approval.
Their amendment — to be debated in the Commons this week — aims to break the stranglehold of abortion clinics which are the sole state-funded providers of counselling to pregnant women who are contemplating abortion.
The measure would open up to independent counsellors this optional process of advice and guidance to avoid any possible conflict of interest by abortion providers.
According to opinion polls, no fewer than 92 per cent of MPs, along with around three-quarters of the public, said they supported the amendment. For its part, the Government let it be known that it was already developing proposals to introduce independent abortion counselling for women.
Nevertheless, the amendment now seems likely to be lost because the Government has performed a screeching U-turn and urged MPs to vote against it.
In an unprecedented letter to Tory MPs, Health Minister Anne Milton said that ministers would themselves vote to block it. This has been interpreted by some Tory MPs at least as a covert attempt to whip them all into the ‘no’ lobby.
Yet abortion has always been decided by free votes rather than the imposition of party lines. So why has the Government suddenly decided to wreck both the amendment and this sacred constitutional protection for issues of conscience?
Unprecedented: Anne Milton sent a letter to Tory MPs saying that minister would vote to block the proposals.
It has been suggested that this was yet another example of Nick Clegg forcing David Cameron to adopt a Left-wing position. Well, maybe.
What seems more plausible, however, is that with the Prime Minister’s antennae so finely tuned to the Guardian/BBC agenda, he simply took fright at the vitriol being hurled from the Left.
If so, this demonstrates once again the power of the campaigns of instantaneous demonisation and denunciation now employed to silence those who uphold a socially conservative position by tarring and feathering them as swivel-eyed bigots. It is particularly instructive that the amendment’s co-sponsor, Frank Field, has not been subjected to the abuse being hurled at Nadine Dorries.
For Field is a decent and principled man of the Left. But those seeking to characterise the measure as an import from what they portray as the knuckle-dragging, U.S. Right-wing Christian fundamentalist agenda cannot acknowledge Field’s involvement.
For this would destroy the demonisation strategy by suggesting the amendment is motivated by sound and decent principles. So, tellingly, Field has been all but airbrushed out of this venomous campaign. It is Dorries, the Tory bogeywoman, who receives the hate mail and death threats.
The impetus behind the amendment is a change in British attitudes. While only a minority would want abortion made illegal once again, thus returning to the evils of back-street butchery, there is now widespread revulsion over two aspects in particular of the current situation.
The first is the unmistakeable humanity of the foetuses subjected to late abortion. The second is the enormous abortion rate, which last year amounted to more than 200,000 terminations in England and Wales.
According to Dorries, up to half of those women who have independent counselling change their minds and decide not to abort. However, when women are referred straight to an abortion clinic for counselling, that number can be as low as 8 per cent.
It does not follow from these figures that the two abortion clinics providing most of the available counselling, Marie Stopes International and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, are subjecting vulnerable pregnant women to pro-abortion propaganda.
Maybe they do exude a more subtle ethos of pro-abortion sympathies — but that would hardly be surprising, since they are, after all, abortion clinics.
The reason for the different rates might merely be that women who seek out independent counselling have a more open mind in the first place and so are more likely to decide to have the baby.
Counselling service: Statistics appear to show Marie Stopes and other clinics to be be pro-abortion and therefore offer advice that way - but it is not surprising given that abortion is the very reason they exist.
Whatever the explanation, surely only a zealot would be complacent about the huge number of abortions — a number which was never envisaged when the procedure was legalised.
Dorries has been pilloried for declaring that she wants to bring the number down. Yet how can any decent person not want to bring down the huge rate of what should only be a procedure of last resort?
Some of the objections used in the past week — that if tens of thousands more children were born as a result this would put pressure on social services — have been spine-chillingly callous.
They are sobering evidence of the brutalisation of attitudes that abortion virtually on demand has brought in its wake.
So if independent counselling would reduce this toll, who could possibly object? Only the pro-abortion zealots, whose visceral hostility to faith-based counselling is based on the fact that this changes some women’s minds.
This is no more than opposition to thinking independently. To put it another way, to the pro-abortion lobby, if a woman decides against having an abortion after counselling, she has been brainwashed, but if she decides to go ahead with it she has reached her own decision.
Now we can see the vacuity of the pro-abortion slogan: ‘A woman’s right to choose.’ From the reaction to the Dorries-Field amendment, a woman only has the right to choose counselling that is pro-abortion.
Compromise: Louise Mensch has put forward proposals suggesting women should be able to receive support from faith based charities and abortion clinics.
Having said that, it does seem unnecessarily divisive to prevent abortion clinics from themselves offering counselling. Surely women should be able to access counselling from both faith-based charities and abortion clinics, as another compromise amendment by the Tory MP Louise Mensch is suggesting.
This would seem to allow various folk to climb down from their respective trees. After all, Downing Street said the Prime Minister supported providing women with more counselling about their pregnancies, but didn’t want to shut down what was provided by Marie Stopes and the BPAS.
Nevertheless, the Government has refused to back even the Mensch compromise. By way of explanation, the Department of Health came up with a prize bit of obfuscatory waffle about there being no need to define independent counselling.
This makes little sense. The real reason is surely that this Conservative Prime Minister is running so scared of the ‘nasty party’ tag that no compromise with the Left is possible.
But what is nice about thinking there is nothing wrong with 200,000 abortions a year? What is nice about wanting to prevent pregnant women from accessing different types of counselling? What is nice about demonising people in order to shut down debate?
Surely this is what is really nasty. The country is crying out for leadership to stand up to this kind of bullying and intimidation. The Prime Minister should get up off his knees and support women’s genuine right to choose.