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As general election nears, bishops across UK stress right to life

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn addresses a rally in Lancashire (Getty)

Every voter and politician must resist attacks on the right to life, and Catholic politicians must do so as both a human rights matter and as a “fundamental matter of our faith,” Northern Ireland’s Catholic bishops have said ahead of the December 12 UK general election.

“We have consistently said that the equal right to life, and love, of a mother and her unborn child is so fundamental to the common good of every society that citizens deserve the fullest participation in the democratic debate about the legislation which governs it,” Northern Ireland’s bishops said on December 5.

Northern Ireland’s strong laws against abortion were drastically weakened Oct. 21, under an act of the UK Parliament that took effect due to the absence of a ruling executive in the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly.

“This was a tragic day for the unborn children who will now never bless our world with their unique and precious lives,” the bishops said. “It was also a sad day for our local democracy as this draconian Westminster abortion legislation was introduced over the heads of local citizens.”

“The right to life is not given to us by any law or government, and any law that removes this right is unjust and must be resisted by every voter and political representative,” they continued. “For Catholic politicians this is not only a matter of protecting the human right to life but also a fundamental matter of our faith. Voters have a duty to inform themselves on the position of election candidates in respect of their willingness to support and cherish equally the lives of mothers and their unborn children.”

The general election will be the UK’s third since 2015. Normally they would be held every five years.

The elections in England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland will determine who will fill a total of 650 parliamentary seats in the House of Commons.

Brexit is a central issue. Prime Minister Boris Johnson hopes the early election will increase the number of Members of Parliament for his Conservative Party, making his Brexit plans easier to achieve.

The Conservative Party currently leads a governing coalition, with confidence and supply from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party. The Conservatives Party has not mentioned abortion in its most recent party platform.

Sinn Fein, a nationalist party putting forward MP candidates in Northern Ireland, backs legal abortion up to 12 weeks into pregnancy. However, its MPs do not take their seats in parliament.

Two UK opposition parties, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, have made the full decriminalization of abortion part of their party platforms. Recently, the Liberal Democrats deselected a former MP as a candidate because of his Catholic faith and views on same-sex marriage and abortion.

Party members are required to support these party platform stands on abortion. The move has drawn criticism from Church leaders like Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury.

“As Christians, we must express the gravest concern that a number of political parties have dispensed with considerations of individual conscience making unequivocal manifesto commitments to deny the unborn child the right to life,” Davies said on December 5.

“I cannot fail to draw your attention to this further radical assault upon the sanctity of human life, presented as a program for government and the danger of discarding the rights of individual conscience in determining the right to life of the unborn child,” he said.

The bishop asked for prayers for candidates and for “light in making the difficult choices which an election involves.”

Both Catholic and Anglican leaders have criticized the pro-abortion rights party platforms.

Christine Hardman and James Newcombe, who are Church of England bishops, have written an open letter on behalf of the House of Bishops promising the Anglican bishops will “vigorously challenge any attempt to extend abortion provision beyond the current 24-week limit.” Their letter responded to 383 clergy and laity who in their letter to The Times objected to the manifesto promises to decriminalize abortion.

The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales issued a November 29 statement urging voters to consider issues of human rights and the dignity of human life.

The English and Welsh bishops laid out several criteria for voters to consider when choosing their new MPs, foremost of which is respect for human life, including in the womb, and including care for those who are terminally ill and dying “while resisting the false compassion of assisted suicide or euthanasia.”

The fate of Northern Ireland as the United Kingdom prepares to leave the European Union was another major focus of Northern Ireland’s Catholic bishops. They said the outcome of Brexit will have “a significant impact on our fragile peace and on our political, economic and social life.”

“Competent voices are needed to enunciate our concerns and we encourage voters to choose candidates who value positive relationships within and beyond these islands,” they said.

Other topics of the bishops’ letter included welfare reform, housing and homelessness, and human trafficking.

The major significance of the approaching election “brings an even greater responsibility on us, as followers of Jesus, to reflect in a conscientious and informed way on the breadth of issues involved,” the bishops said. They called for prayers for political candidates and respectful discussion about the issues at stake.

The Bishops’ Conference of Scotland also stressed the right to life as fundamental. The bishops’ pre-election message did not endorse any political party or candidate, but said abortion, assisted suicide, and euthanasia are “always morally unacceptable,” and that all politicians should be urged to resist the decriminalization of abortion, which leads toward abortion on demand for any reason.

The Catholic Parliamentary Office, an agency of the Scottish bishops’ conference, also reports on its website the votes of politicians on several bills, organized by parliamentary constituency.

These votes include the decriminalization of abortion, which the office said would clear the way for “abortion on demand, for any reason, up to birth.” MPs’ votes on a bill to legalize assisted suicide are also recorded, as are how MPs voted on the parliamentary act which imposed permissive abortion laws and same-sex marriage on Northern Ireland.

Distributions of a leaflet version of this information by priests in the Angus area prompted accusations of favoritism towards the local Conservative Party candidate because the leaflets noted the Scottish National Party candidate’s pro-abortion rights stand, the newspaper The National reports.

A spokesman for the Scottish Catholic Church rejected this claim.

“As you will be aware 59 different messages were sent out each one referencing the voting record of the incumbent MP. They show a range of voting behavior and do not indicate support or otherwise for any candidate, rather they offer publicly available information to parishioners on the most fundamental moral issues … addressed in the last parliament,” the spokesman said.