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Jeremy Corbyn: Mixed Principles On Life Issues

by Peter D. Williams

He’s been elected by a landslide, appointed his Shadow Cabinet, served at Prime Minister’s Questions in a very distinctive style, and got through his first week as Leader of the Opposition. How, though, should right-to-lifers consider Jeremy Corbyn? To answer that question, it’s worth looking at his long, and very mixed record.

Corbyn has served as an MP since the 1980s and has always been a long-standing supporter of the abortion lobby. In 1988, he voted against David Alton’s Bill to reduce the upper limit of abortions. In the fight over the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, he voted three times for abortion up to birth on various grounds including fetal disability. He also voted in favour of the compulsory enrolment on a published register of doctors with a conscientious objection to abortion (despite warnings that it could be used as a blacklist) and for the Abortion Act to be extended to Northern Ireland.

In 2008, during the Commons debates over the second Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, Corbyn voted against amendments that would have banned the production of ‘saviour siblings’, reduced the upper limit for abortions to 22, 20, 16 and 12 weeks (respectively), called for counselling where the unborn child has a physical or mental abnormality, and aimed to stop the production of genetically modified babies. He opposed the closing of loopholes that potentially allow human reproductive cloning, the manufacture of embryos that begin as animals but could then develop to become predominantly human, and the placing of human gametes – sperm or eggs – in animals. Finally, he voted against an amendment affirming a child’s need for a father, and abstained on the vote over an amendment that would have banned the production of human/animal hybrids.

Earlier this year, he voted against the Bruce Amendment, which would have clarified the law on sex-selective abortion.

Corbyn has a similarly dire record in signing pro-abortion Early Day Motions (EDMs) – formal motions submitted for debate in the House of Commons that are more generally used to draw attention to an issue. In 1997, he signed one expressing support for the present abortion law, that made highly questionable claims about back-street abortions to justify the present situation. He went 0n to sign an EDM in support of the ‘Voice for Choice’ Campaign, which aimed to oblige doctors with ethical objections to abortion to declare this, and asserted that abortion should be available on the request of the woman in the first fourteen weeks of pregnancy throughout the United Kingdom. As in his voting record, he also signed an EDM calling for the extension of abortion to Northern Ireland.

Corbyn also signed a number of EDMs that oppose the U.S. defunding of abortion and population control programmes. He supports over-the-counter sales of the morning after-pill (an abortifacient) to girls of sixteen and over and signed an EDM in 1999 that called on the Government to legalise over-the-counter sales of this drug from chemist shops without prescription, as well as one in 2000 that congratulated the Government for doing so.

On end-of-life issues, Corbyn has actually consistently opposed assisted suicide and euthanasia, voting against the Joe Ashton Bill in 1998, and signing EDMs that oppose euthanasia by omission. Unfortunately, this vocal opposition has not translated to his voting record. He abstained on amendments to the Mental Incapacity Bill that would have prevented euthanasia by omission, and did not attend the vote on the Marris Bill the week before last.

Not then, an encouraging history. Of course, things could have been worse. Of the other Labour leadership candidates, Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper were amongst the few MPs who supported the Marris Bill. Cooper in particular has been a radical supporter of abortion and indeed has used the positions she has held in Government and the Shadow Cabinet to pilot through anti-life legislation and defeat legislation that would strengthen right-to-life protections. As Shadow Home Secretary, for example, she organised the defeat of the Bruce Amendment through an informal whip.

Aside from thanking our stars that the Labour leader is not as antipathetic to the right to life as others might have been, we can take comfort in one other fact. Corbyn was for years a rebel within his own party, voting for what he thought to be principled and right. From such a man as leader, we might be able to hope that the individual conscience of Labour MPs will be respected, and that Labour right-to-lifers will be able to work to convert their party from the culture of death.