Pro-Life and Labour
by Oxford Students for Life
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.