At the start of July, something unexpected happened: Britain’s pro-life movement, long accustomed to being on the losing side, scored a victory in parliament.
Pro-abortion MPs had attempted to hijack the Domestic Abuse Bill by adding two amendments: one to introduce abortion for any reason up to 28 weeks, the other to allow both medical and surgical abortions to take place in any location if a woman is in an abusive relationship. This would include so-called “tele-abortions” with consultation happening only over the phone.
The fight had been a long time coming. Amid the chaos of the last parliament, there was talk of pro-abortion MPs doing the same to a similar bill last autumn. Buoyed by the success of forcing abortion on Northern Ireland, they were confident they could repeat the trick.
However, when the time to strike came, they were confounded.
The amendment to introduce abortion up to 28 weeks was not selected for debate by House of Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle. Then, a large number of MPs, including those not normally counted as pro-life, rose to speak out against the second proposal. Dame Diana Johnson, the amendment’s proposer, withdrew it.
Conservative MP Tim Loughton, who had voted in favour of temporary measures to allow women to access medical abortions at home, described the amendment as a “step too far”.
His colleague Alexander Stafford said the proposal “could in fact worsen the very problem that it tries to address”.
“By removing confidential face-to-face meetings between women and a medical professional, it becomes impossible for clinicians to establish whether the woman was coerced into requesting the home pill or even whether it was in fact her on the telephone,” he added.
MP and barrister Sir Robert Neill spoke from his experience as a criminal practitioner: “On more than one occasion, I found instances where part of the abuse had been to force the victim to have an abortion.”
He pointed out: “The irony is that reliance on a telephone call to procure the means of doing that does not give the safeguard of knowing who is standing next to the victim when she makes the telephone call. I have certainly seen instances of that in practice, as other criminal practitioners will have done. Although the intentions are good and well meant, I have a concern about moving down the route set out in [the amendment].”
Pro-life campaign group Right to Life UK said abortion lobbyists realised they were facing defeat and encouraged Dame Diana to withdraw the amendment. Had it been put to a vote and lost, it would have been the abortion lobby’s first Commons defeat since abortion was legalised in 1969.
The group has previously observed that there are now more MPs sympathetic to the pro-life cause since the December 2019 election. That election also saw numerous prominent pro-abortion MPs lose their seats.
However, no one could seriously call this result a turning point. The abortion lobby has suffered a defeat, but the parliamentary arithmetic is still on their side. Many MPs who opposed the proposals this time said they were poorly drafted and not suitable to be tacked onto a bill about domestic abuse. So what happens if a new, better drafted attempt comes along?
Britain’s pro-life movement still has a mountain to climb if it is to make meaningful change. Abortion supporters have spent the past few decades working their way into the country’s major institutions and have made it virtually impossible to be pro-life in the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties.
Pro-life supporters have failed to mount a serious response to this and, while pro-lifers still seem welcome in the Conservative Party, ten years of Conservative-led government has done nothing for the movement.
Pro-lifers can congratulate themselves on July’s unexpected win, but in the grand scheme of things it may not matter. When the next Labour-led government comes – as it surely will someday – it will be overwhelmingly pro-abortion. Is the pro-life movement ready for the fight?