Oxford Students for Life

Promoting a culture of life in the University and beyond

Month: April, 2016

Pro-Life and Conservative

Another article in our series “Pro-Life and Political”, in which several writers will explain how their different political opinions shape their pro-life views.

I have always been cautious about giving political allegiances or parties the same weight as moral issues: my moral beliefs come before my political stances. Nevertheless, morality is a political issue. The rightness or wrongness of particular actions occurs within society, and so our actions are necessarily both moral and political. If we value our morality at all, it will guide and impact upon the political sides of our lives. Being pro-life is not a party political issue, and does not even belong on any particular part of the traditional left-right political spectrum. But my ‘small-c’ political conservatism informs, and is informed by, my pro-life stance.

Conservatives generally want people to have a chance in life, what the Australians might call a “fair go”. This is the basis of why most conservatives have an instinctive liking for the market: everyone has a chance to succeed; the best ideas, if things work properly, will produce the best results. There is no “fair go” for the little ones aborted before they are born. The ‘terminated’ are never given a chance in life. They’re not even given a chance to breathe. It can sound silly, but how many great economists, great academics, great businesspeople, great sportspeople have been killed in abortion clinics? They haven’t been given their chance, which violates so many conservative principles.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that, “everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of the person,” in Article 3. It also says, “Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.” These are the ground rules that govern conservative rhetoric, which emphasises liberty and security for all. It seems obvious to me that this extends to the person inside the womb. What are the pre-born if not human? They have their human DNA in its completeness, they are growing, and their dependence on their mother should make us more, not less, compassionate towards them. The unborn child is a ‘person’, as even Hillary Clinton admitted recently, and so has the right to life, liberty, and security as all other persons.

The fight for every person to be equal before the law is a conservative fight: conservatism rails against the disregard for the individual, against the overwhelming power of the state, against the morphing of the individual into one greater collective. The individual person is the most important thing to a conservative; working together with other people, self-sacrificing for others, and fundamentally being recognised as an individual with their own – not just collective – inalienable rights. We must be liberal in giving these rights, and acknowledge that even an individual person whom we cannot see directly (though we can interact with them) has these rights.

Women, sadly, have many pressures to kill their children in the womb. Conservative values instinctively fight for measures to prevent these pressures: building strong family bonds; creating a strong society based on the family rather than the overarching state; creating local support structures; reducing dependence on the state (the same state that will give them an abortion if they ask for it). The conservative looks to the local community, guided by minimal but strong laws, to create environments where motherhood is valued. Creating multiple local environments, where life is respected and valued, requires strong community bonds based on positive ideals rather than state-imposed edicts or class war. Conservatives naturally gravitate towards this ideal.

End of life care is a major pro-life issue that I feel is often overtaken in favour of abortion, but both have conservative aspects. End of life care is where the battle really is: this is where the culture of death is attacking now, and we must be ready to fight it. On this front, too, my small-c conservatism calls for a pro-life attitude: respect the individual, care for them, acknowledge their rights. Even if we talk dispassionately about market forces, where else do we find such a repository of wisdom than the elderly? Where else are caring skills able to flourish more than caring for the sick and the old? These people, with their innate value (as well as their opportunities and mines of valuable thoughts), cannot just be extinguished in the name of ‘progress’ in our throw-away society.

I was asked to write a short article about being pro-life and conservative. I hope this has explained something of how having conservative values and being pro-life go hand in glove. But I know – and am glad – that people from many different political persuasions are pro-life. Ultimately, I am pro-life because I believe in the inherent value of all human life from conception to natural death. That requires engagement in politics, but goes beyond political allegiance.

John Coverdale took his Ecclesiastical History degree at the University of Oxford in 2013, having studied at Campion Hall. He currently works in the heritage sector.



Pro-Life and Labour

Another article in our series “Pro-Life and Political”, in which several writers will explain how their different political opinions shape their pro-life views.

These days, it is becoming increasingly rare to be pro-life and a Labour Party activist. This is surprising given the commitment to human rights, which lies at the heart of socialism and its concern for the most vulnerable in society, together with its opposition to the death penalty. In his Maiden Speech in the House of Commons, during the Abortion (Amendment) Bill 1979, Dale Campbell Savours MP cited Aneurin Bevan’s ‘In Place of Fear’: The capacity for emotional concern for individual life is the most significant quality of a civilized human society’ .

Although the Labour Party has no plans to change abortion law, it is still expected that people who wish to progress in the Labour Party are pro-choice. Indeed, the Labour Party group set up to encourage women to stand as parliamentary candidates, Emily’s List, stipulates that women who put themselves forward support a woman’s right to choose.

Over recent years, abortion amendments have focused on time limits, but it’s important that abortion is seen in a much broader context, where women make decisions based on their housing , employment rights, and healthcare.

It is a great shame that so many in the Labour Party too readily dismiss the pro-life cause, since there is enormous potential to make common cause on a wide range of issues, which would benefit women faced with an unplanned pregnancy.

Labour has long campaigned for more affordable housing. One commitment that could be made would be to give women in poverty, faced with an unplanned pregnancy, a high priority for housing. This would certainly be a controversial move, given the belief of some – though unsupported by evidence – that some women only get pregnant to get a Council flat. It is also vital to provide supported housing for young women who might struggle to look after a child on their own.

Maternity rights, maternity pay and the right of women to return to work after having a baby have gradually improved since the 1990s, thanks to the Employment Relations Act which Labour introduced in 1999, and pressure from the EU. Pay and benefits for working mothers means that women no longer have to fear the loss of their livelihood when they have a baby. Children’s Centres were another ambitious but highly successful Labour Party initiative during the first two Labour terms in government after 1997. These were built on the belief that support in the early years of a child’s life are the most important for improving every child’s life chances.

Under Labour, Child Benefit rose significantly. Sadly it is now being cut back by the Conservative Government and limited to the first two children in a family. For many families on a tight budget and high housing costs, the pressure of an unplanned third pregnancy might tempt some couples to consider an abortion. The number of larger families is actually not very high in the UK. Financial support is important for all children, regardless of where they come in the family.

Insecurity of employment and housing bedevil British society today and place enormous pressure on relationships. Campaigning for more affordable and secure housing and for employment rights are both essential for helping families stay together as well as being longstanding planks of Labour Party policy. Women (and it is almost always women) who are left without either the emotional of financial support of their child’s father face a double blow. Not only are they reliant on a single income, often part-time, they are also unable to find suitable housing in many parts of the country since two incomes are needed to pay the rent. My own experience as a city councillor in Oxford has shown me that poor women, who are left to bring up children on their own, are the people who suffer most from cuts in benefits and public services.

The Labour Party has an excellent record in providing support for pregnant women and those with children. It can and should work together with its pro-life members to create a society where support for women with unplanned pregnancies is so good that abortion would very rarely ever be the choice a woman would want to make.

Mary Clarkson has been a Labour City Councillor in Oxford for the past 18 years and is a former student at the University of Oxford, having read English at St John’s.