Melanie McDonagh

Rebecca Long-Bailey shouldn’t be hounded for her views on abortion

Rebecca Long-Bailey shouldn't be hounded for her views on abortion
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Well, the witchfinders have come for Rebecca Long-Bailey. Website Red Roar has unearthed Long-Bailey's responses to the question of abortion on the grounds of disability. She wrote:

'It is currently legal to terminate a pregnancy up to full-term on the grounds of disability, while the upper limit is 24 weeks if there is no disability.

I personally do not agree with this position and agree with the words of the Disability Rights Commission that ‘the context in which parents choose whether to have a child should be one in which disability and non-disability are valued equally.'

This is, you might have thought, a pretty uncontentious observation, based as it is on the rather fundamental premise that people with disabilities are of equal value to anyone else. And there is no more fundamental discrimination than the right to kill a disabled foetus up to birth, which you can’t do to a normal foetus.

The numbers involved aren’t huge in the context of the overall abortion rate of over 200,000 a year, but they’re not entirely negligible. In 2018, 3,269 abortions were carried out on the basis that there was a 'risk that the child would be born seriously handicapped'. That mostly means conditions like Down’s syndrome but can also include conditions such as Cystic Hygroma, which can be very nasty but do not always need treatment.

Yet there’s been a terrific fuss about the revelation, resulting in RLB’s office hastily clarifying that she “unequivocally supports a woman’s right to choose”, mentioning her support for the (flagrantly undemocratic) extension of abortion to Northern Ireland in the absence of the Stormont assembly. Emily Thornberry hasn’t been slow to take advantage of the situation, saying that she has 'been on the frontline in the fight against...anti-abortion laws in Northern Ireland'.

Actually RLB, whom I’d never thought of in any other capacity than as a Corbyn continuity candidate, went further in her interview with the Salford cathedral people.

She defended the right of anti-abortion candidates to hold elected office. Compare and contrast with the Lib Dems under frightful Jo Swinson, which first adopted defecting Labour MP Robert Flello but then dropped him like a hot pan-handle over his views on abortion and gay marriage, which he voted against.

RLB’s Catholicism goes further than these things, though. Rather movingly, she observed that her Catholic faith taught her that “the only society we should be striving for is one based on love”. That’s made her seem an altogether more rounded, interesting person.

The one thing that worries me about all this is the twinning of concern about abortion with Catholicism. Certainly the church has stood firm on the issue, but only on the basis that it values the sanctity of human life, womb to tomb, which I’d have thought most non-religious people do instinctively. There’s nothing religious about being pro-life. The sooner agnostic and atheist pro-lifers break the connection between opposition to these things and religion, the better.