Will the Cardinal’s backing help the Tories?
According to the Times this morning the Catholic Church has made “a dramatic entry into the election campaign by backing Michael Howardâ€™s stance on abortion and withdrawing its traditional support for Labour.”
The report says that the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-Oâ€™Connor, ensured that abortion would play a greater part in the coming election than any other by praising the Tory leaderâ€™s call for a cut in the legal abortion limit from 24 to 20 weeks.
Cardinal Murphy-Oâ€™Connor spoke out after the three main party leaders gave their personal views on abortion â€” traditionally a matter for conscience rather than party policy â€” to Cosmopolitan magazine.
Mr Howard said he would find parliamentary time for a debate on cutting the legal time limit while Tony Blair said that there was no pressing need for a change, arguing that women would be â€œcriminalisedâ€.
In direct quotes in the report the Cardinal said: â€œI am very pleased that this has been brought out on to the public agenda and that there is going to be a debate about it, both in the lead-up to and after the next election. It is a key issue. The position is that we are totally opposed to abortion.â€ Praising Mr Howardâ€™s commitment to reducing the time limit, he said: â€œThis is something we can commend on the way to a full abandonment of abortion.â€
In the US, of course, the legality of abortion is a huge issue that many argue helped George Bush to victory last November. The question in the UK election is whether there are votes here that could move on the issue.
Concern over abortion is much broader than just amongst the Roman Catholic community which is said to comprise of 4.1 million people. At each election all candidates are quizzed closely on the issue and their views are circulated right across the religious spectrum.
On the other hand Howard risks alienating in the women’s movements who believe strongly in the right to choose. It could also be that if abortion becomes a big issue then it could help turnout on both sides of the arguments.
A hard call but we think that Howard might be a beneficiary.