Labour drops feminist gloss

British policies continues steadily to be ‘Americanised’. This has seen the Clintonisation of New Labour, which looks more and more to the US Democratic Party as its model. Now we have the entry of the abortion hating, anti-women gang into the arena of parliamentary electoral politics, with the Pro-Life Alliance threatening to stand up to 70 candidates against senior opposition MPs at the general election.

The emergence of the ‘pro-life’ bigots as an organised political force has engendered much liberal soul searching and concern. We have had to endure the hypocritical cant of media pundits and bourgeois politicians - particularly Labour MPs like Clare Short, who describes herself as an ‘ethnic’ catholic - moaning about the politicisation of abortion. Apparently, it was all non-political until the horrid Pro-Life Alliance came along and upset the applecart.

Church of England members have appeared on the radio, warning about the dangers of the ‘two extremes’. That is, those who are opposed to abortion under any circumstances and those who believe in abortion on demand. Very sensibly of course, the C of E does not approve of abortion itself, but generously believes that women should be allowed to have an abortion under exceptional conditions - ie, if the victim of rape or under medical advice. Otherwise, life is sacred and hard cheese if you want otherwise.

The response of the Labour Party has been venal and shamefaced. No great shakes there. But it is still, nevertheless, nauseating to see the feministic, ‘pro-woman’ gloss of New Labour peel away within seconds as soon as the prospect of (potentially) losing some votes appears on the horizon. This led to the sorry spectacle of Meg Russell, New Labour’s national women’s officer, who treated us to the following statement: “Abortion doesn’t feature highly for New Labour in its policies on women.” Almost going one better, Janet Anderson, Labour’s parliamentary voice on women’s issues, stated that abortion is “not an appropriate election issue” and that Labour “has no policy on abortion”.

It is no secret that there are a fair number of ‘pro-life’ MPs on the Labour benches. This is only to be expected, in some respects, given the working class catholic background of some, such as Clare Short - even if she herself is ‘pro-choice’, albeit in a timid fashion. If abortion became one of the defining issues of the future, the possibility for dissent and low-scale, simmering civil war amongst the Labour ranks increases. Clearly this would not be in keeping with its new image of monolithic unity.

There should be no hiding of the fact that the Pro-Life Alliance is a poisonous and nasty organisation, which must be ruthlessly combated. Its manifesto is ultra-reactionary: it aims to outlaw all abortions (even following rape), except where the woman’s life is directly at risk. The Alliance is also anti-IVF, test tube baby treatment for infertile couples and implacably opposed to all experiments involving embryos. Who can doubt the anti-human, genuinely anti-life nature of the Alliance?

The Catholic Church and all manner of other reactionaries are fond of pointing to the evils of abortion on demand, which is supposedly ravaging and depopulating the land. This is a sick joke. Under the current 1967 Abortion Act - hate object of the ‘pro-life’ reactionaries - women have to be vetted by two doctors and then subjected to patronising and compulsory counselling in order to be granted an abortion by the authorities. If you can prove that not having an abortion will harm you mentally or physically, then OK; if not, the ‘experts’ know what is best for you. To call this ‘abortion on demand’ is a parody of reality.

Additionally, the increased cutbacks in the NHS are adversely effecting abortion services - ie, it is being rationed. In North West Lancashire only women under 18 qualify for an NHS abortion; in Brent and Harrow the age limit is 19; in Wiltshire and Bath it is 20, and in Barnet and Herefordshire it is 21. Some local authorities, notably Enfield and Haringey, are imposing a means test on women who seek an abortion. Inevitably, more and more women will be forced into backstreet abortions.

Communists unashamedly - unlike the Labour Party or the 1967 Abortion Act - fight for abortion rights and raise the slogan, ‘Fight for abortion on demand’. It is obvious that under capitalism real ‘abortion on demand’ is a chimera, as the system is built on the back of women’s oppression. Like the catholic cardinals and Pro-Life Alliance, we should not hesitate to take up and champion this political struggle.

Eddie Ford