Religion ought to be a personal matter, a matter of choice, and although many religions have a lot of commonalities, they also clash on a number of issues. In the twenty-first century, we are a comparatively liberal society, but it has taken a great deal of work, and much bloodletting, to get us to this point.
I must declare at this juncture that as an atheist I don’t have a religion, but respect people’s right to choose their own faith. I believe that in a tolerant society that is the way it should be.
Despite having the so-called ‘Spirit Lords’ in the House of Lords, our parliament is, by and large, secular and certainly our laws purport to be. However, every now and then, religion creeps into the debate.
This is happening at this very moment. Once again, women’s right to choose to have an abortion is being called into question. This time it is being rebranded as a “Health Bill”, as women’s “Right to Know”. Implicit in the proposed Bill, is the accusation that Marie Stopes and similar organisations have counsellors who “promote abortion” to pregnant women and that counselling should be provided by “independent” bodies. The Guardian has a number of theories about who these “independent” bodies would be.
The two main protagonists behind this latest attempt to change the Abortion Act are the increasingly notorious Conservative MP Nadine Dorries and that well-known ray-of-sunshine, Labour MP Frank Field. Both of these MPs would probably deny their religious views are behind the Bill but they seem to have taken a great deal of inspiration from the conservative and Christian movement of the USA in the way the Bill has been worded and presented to the House. Furthermore, some months ago David Cameron already hinted that he would support lowering the legal-limit of the time-period of abortions (there was actually discussion of this during the last Labour government). Thus, it looks like this time the fundamentalists might win.
Am I wrong to think that religion has no place in politics or law-making? Reason and the facts alone should decide how we are governed, not the chosen faith of individual MPs. Abortion is a complicated issue and those who seek to simplify it on the basis of what the bible (or other religious text) says, are undermining advances society has made through intellect and tolerance of others. Because that is as that the root of all of this – not the debate about when ‘life’ starts, nor the state of mind of women after having an abortion. Marie Stopes and similar charities/non-profit-making organisations acknowledge all of those issues. This Bill is about people who believe that they have access to some essential “truth” that only they, and others who share their belief, have.
For a woman to have an abortion, it is a hard and drastic decision; something that should be HER decision and not anybody else’s. Putting more barriers in the way is cruel and inexcusable – no matter how holy the MPs responsible feel they are.