Letter to Rebecca Long-Bailey

30/01/2020 Comments Off on Letter to Rebecca Long-Bailey

On 18 January, I wrote a letter to Rebecca Long-Bailey MP as a member of the Labour Party and an abortion rights advocate, to ask her more about her views on abortion, as reported in the Guardian, Telegraph and Catholic Herald during the previous week, and to respond to them. I felt none of these newspapers, who only looked at her views on late abortions for fetal anomalies, asked her enough about where she stands, which I think it is crucial to know for anyone considering voting for her. The Labour Party has been in the forefront of support for abortion rights for many years. While everyone has a right to their personal opinions, I feel the Party must not have as its leader a woman who is opposed to abortion, let alone one who would invite the Pope, who is virulently opposed to all abortions, to any Labour consultation on abortion. She has not (yet) responded to me. Here is my letter:

Ms Rebecca Long-Bailey MP

18 January 2020

Dear Ms Long-Bailey,

I am writing to you as a member of the Labour Party and as a long-standing advocate for women’s right to safe abortion. I am a member of the Voice for Choice coalition in the UK and the founder and former editor for 23 years of the journal Reproductive Health Matters. I have also worked internationally for women’s right to safe abortion for over 45 years.

Reading the various Guardian, Catholic Herald, Telegraph and other stories about your views on abortion the past few days, I’m concerned about several things. One is that you seem to be confused about what you actually support and don’t support in regard to abortion, because you make a distinction between your personal views and your views as a member of the Labour Party and of Parliament.

If you “do not agree with allowing abortion on the grounds of disability after the standard limit of 24 weeks”, then you are opposed to an important aspect of the current British abortion law, with the implication that if it came up in Parliament, you would argue and vote to restrict the current law. But then, the Guardian says, you “stressed that this was a personal view”. Surely this is untenable. If you “argued last year against being able to abort on the grounds of disability later than if there is no disability”, then this is a political stance, not just a personal view.

Which leads to my second concern. Are there other aspects of the current British abortion law that you do not support? No one from the press seems to have thought to ask you this, but it is a relevant question. I would be very keen to learn the answer. I’m glad you supported law reform for Northern Ireland, but given the fact that their previous law violated an international human rights convention, there was little choice. What about now, with Stormont finally sitting again. If the DUP tries to restrict the new law, where will you stand?

For me, this is nothing to do with your being Catholic, and I’m sorry to learn people are holding that against you. I have many friends who are Catholic who support abortion rights fully. There is an international Catholics for Choice network, and there are millions of Catholic women around the world who have abortions every year for whom it was a necessity. But how pro-choice are you?

According to the Guardian, you said you “would play a part in ensuring the views of the Catholic church were heard in any Labour consultation on new laws and regulations on abortion”. That is certainly not just a personal view. And what Labour consultation?

I’m afraid I will not be voting for you on 11 February on the basis of that remark alone. As a humanist and a secular person, I believe politics and religion should be kept absolutely separate. Not least when we are talking about a church that is virulently anti-women’s rights and that has covered up and failed to put a stop to its own sexual abuse of children.

Returning to the issue of abortion and disability: In 2017, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities contradicted themselves in their recommendations to the UK when they disagreed with allowing abortion at any stage in pregnancy on the ground of fetal impairment.[1] Thankfully, the government rejected their recommendation to change our law.

I wrote to the Committee at the time as follows:

“…It is surely a contradiction in terms to call [as they did] for ‘women’s rights to reproductive and sexual autonomy to be respected’ and then to call for an exception to those rights for any reason and in this case, for one reason only.

“This is no different from other groups calling for abortion not to be allowed in cases of rape or incest, and still others in cases where the embryo/fetus is female, and still others in cases where there is a risk to the woman’s life. All three of these are actual stances taken by those who are anti-abortion in different parts of the world. For anyone apart from the pregnant woman herself to decide… denies women’s rights to reproductive and sexual autonomy. It means that there will always be someone – who is not the woman herself – who will assert their power to determine what she is and is not permitted to do. In the end, it means someone else can always deny her an abortion. That is the power you wish to exercise in your recommendation to the UK….

“The only way to avoid this conundrum is to reject assertions that the embryo/fetus: a) has human rights before birth, or that: b) any condition in the embryo/fetus is the reason for abortion or for refusing abortion. In other words, it must always and only be the woman’s reasons for abortion that count – and the bottom line is that she seeks an abortion because she cannot cope with having that baby at that time….

“Fetal anomalies are medical conditions that arise when something serious or even fatal goes wrong during fetal development. Medical science is working hard to identify these conditions and figure out why they occur and whether they can be treated or prevented. Women carrying an embryo/fetus with one or more of these conditions needs to know they are there, so as to be able to decide whether this is a pregnancy and potentially a child who, if it can survive at all, she can cope with for the rest of her life. She has to take into account her own, her partner’s and her existing children’s life circumstances, and whether she will get any support to do so.”

In the end, if motherhood is not voluntary, an extreme form of discrimination and forced labour is imposed on the pregnant woman.[2] The alternative to removing the right to an abortion on grounds of fetal impairment after 24 weeks is to remove the 24-week restriction on abortions for all grounds. Only a tiny handful of women will be affected no matter what their reasons for abortion. But they will be eternally grateful for the same support that 99.99% of other women who seek an abortion receive.

I hope you will reconsider your position.

Kind regards, Marge Berer

  1. “Concluding observations on the initial report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” CRPD/C/GBR/CO/1, 29 August 2017 (As adopted during the 18th session of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (14 -31 August 2017)
  2. R Copelon, et al. Human rights begin at birth: international law and the claim of fetal rights. Reproductive Health Matters 2005. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1016/S0968-8080%2805%2926218-3

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