Abortion Debate Opens up in Britain’s Elections

The issue of abortion is developing into a major topic in Britain’s upcoming elections, as church leaders seek to change the current abortion laws.

Conservative Party leader Michael Howard, the main opponent to Prime Minister Tony Blair in the May elections, has pledged his support for reducing the limit for an abortion from the current policy of 24 weeks to 20 weeks of pregnancy.

“If we win the election, the Conservatives will find time to debate the issue and decide whether the limit should be lowered,” said Howard.

Blair, leader of the Labor Party, has stated that he does not plan to seek changes to the current limit.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, issued a statement in the Sunday Times, saying that “there is a groundswell of distaste about” abortion and the current laws.

“There is more and more of a shared unhappiness and bewilderment around our law and its effects,” said Williams.

Williams is the head of the Church of England and leader of over 70 million Anglicans worldwide. Both Williams and Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, are pressing for abortion to become a top issue in the elections.

“The trend is inexorably towards a sharper recognition of the fetus as a natural candidate for ‘rights’ of some kind,” said Williams. “In light of this, it is a lot harder to reduce the issue to an individual’s right to choose.”

Both the Labor and Conservative Party have stressed that abortion is an issue of conscience and not a matter of party policy. Williams warned that this should not become “an alibi for taking it seriously as a public issue” and encouraged public debate on abortion.

A Daily Telegraph poll showed that 43% of voters favored lowering the legal limit for when an abortion may be conducted. Fifty-one percent of women supported a reduction in the limit.