The abortion debate borrows from the US Tea Party

Written by Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register. on 5 September 2011 in Diary
By referring to opponent Dr Evan Harris as ‘Dr Death’, Nadine Dorries and Tim Montgomerie have started to use the low tactics favoured by the US Tea Party movement

I had tried really hard to avoid blogging on the abortion debate ahead of tomorrow’s House of Commons vote. It’s a debate that has generated enormous amounts of heat and about as much light as a candle caught up in a hurricane.

I am unashamedly pro-choice on this issue. I believe that a woman’s right to choose when it comes to her own body is paramount. I do not believe that women’s rights should be curtailed or reduced because of another’s religious or moral views in the same way that my own views on religion should not curtail the right to worship freely, but I am also conscious of the strong passions on both sides and the need to keep both the debate civil and evidence-based.

The actions of Nadine Dorries, the Conservative MP who has laid the amendments about abortion counselling, have convinced me that her views have substantioal similarities with the US Tea Party.She says that her reforms would move the provision of advice from the abortion provider to an ‘independent’ party and that her motive is simply to give women more choice.

I accept neither the premise of her argument, nor her motive. If I want legal advice I ask a lawyer, if I want advice on suits I ask a tailor and if I want advice on health I ask a doctor. I see no conflict of interest in asking an expert in the field their advice and then engaging their services.

I base my assessment of her motives entirely on her own utternaces. She has said one of her motivations is that her reforms would prevent 60,000 abortions a year. Also, some of the so-called ‘independent’ providers she advocates are in fact opposed to abortion on religious grounds  and she is being advised by the Christian Medical Fellowship who support reducing the limit to 20 weeks as a ‘first step’ to total abolition.  In my opinion, this demonstrates that she has a motive other than just giving women the right to be fully informed. It seems to me that her amendment is simply trying to restrict and reduce access to abortion, bit by bit, motivated by her own beliefs.

But this blog post wasn’t prompted by Dorries’ actions (I’ve blogged in the past on her view that the way to reduce abortions is to teach abstinence only sex education). It was prompted by the way this debate has morphed from a historically passionate but respectful debate to one which has descended to US Tea Party levels of incivility.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph Tim Montgomerie, and Nadine Dorries on her blog, both saw fit to label Dr Evan Harris – who has been a continual critic of both Dorries and her motion – 'Dr Death'.

Neither Tim nor Nadine are known for their tact but by stoking the flames of an emotive issue and comparing one of their opponents to a Nazi concentration camp Doctor they’ve lost all rationality. The fact that Dr Harris is Jewish, and has family who fled Nazi Germany is only incidental, such disgraceful and loaded name calling has no place in civilised debate. An apology will not be sufficient, nor I fear, forthcoming.

These kinds of tactics are straight out of the Tea Party playbook – as is the practice of labelling prominent opponents ‘Dr Death’ or ‘baby killer’ – both terms used against Dr George Tiller, an abortion provider in the US who was shot dead by an anti abortionist in 2009. Importing the tactics of such people must not be allowed to establish itself this side of the pond.

Tomorrow is a free vote – I hope that MPs from all parties come together to vote Dorries’ amendment down - not just to stand up for a women’s right to choose - but to condemn utterly the extremism of expression which has seeped into elements of the Conservative right. It has no place in a civilised democracy.

Tags: Abortion, Dr Evan Harris, Nadine dorries, Tim Montgomerie

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