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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Cardinal O’Connor Abortion Bid Is A Danger To Democracy

15th March 2005

The intervention by the Catholic Church into party politics on the issue of abortion has been condemned as “manipulative and dangerous” by the National Secular Society. Like the Prime Minister, we believe that abortion should be a matter of conscience, not a party political one.

Commenting on Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor’s commendation of the Conservative Party for their policy on abortion, Keith Porteous Wood Executive Director of the National Secular Society said: “This intervention is an attempt to push the abortion issue higher up the political agenda. By commending the Tories in this way, the Cardinal obviously hopes that Labour will engage in a bidding war that will make each party promise harder and harder restrictions on abortion. But there is no evidence of a popular demand for restrictions on abortion, and the political parties must not allow themselves to be manipulated into making promises to religious leaders who are often not representative even of those they purport to speak for.”

Mr Wood said that this was the latest attempt by religious bodies to manipulate the political agenda. The Government is already courting the Muslim community with promises of new legislation, and now the Catholics are jumping on the bandwagon, flexing their political muscle to manipulate the agenda.”

Mr Wood said promises of enshrining religious demands into law in order to win votes was a dangerous tactic. “Religious leaders who make these demands are not speaking for the whole of their community. There is no unanimity of opinion on abortion or anything else among Catholics and it is short-sighted of politicians to take what religious leaders — with their inevitably theocratic agenda — at face value. Poll after poll shows that Britain is one of the least religious countries in the world. Voters will not thank any political party for enshrining religious dogma into law in order to win votes.”

Mr Wood drew attention to Vatican policy: Whether they think it is in their electorate’s best interests or not, Catholic politicians are required to toe the Vatican line on matters of sexual morality. The Vatican has called for politicians not doing so to be punished. In America, the Catholic Church tried to manipulate the latest presidential election result by denying communion to politicians who wouldn’t vote against abortion. John Kerry found out that the Catholic Church would use any tactic to get its way. But Britons have a very different attitude to religion than Americans.”

He added: “In reality, the Cardinal’s statement likely to be able to swing very few votes. UK Mass attendance is only about 1⅓ million each week, just a half of what it was 25 years ago. Many Catholics — some say most — ignore some of their Church’s stances on sexual morality, such as the ones on contraception. Some Catholics will be influenced in their position by the dangers of back street abortions, and some will be voting Conservative, anyway.”

Abortion was not the only issue raised by the Cardinal, but it is by far the most controversial one.

Last updated: 17th March 2005

Published Wed, 16 Mar 2005