Should abortion be an election issue? Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the leader of the Roman Catholic church in England andWales thinks so. But then Catholics also think wanking is a sin that will land you in Hell. Come to think of it, in the la-la world of Catholicism, pretty much everything is a sin - although of course a last-minute apology to God will sort things out. Let's hope God shares this view, or there are going to be some pretty annoyed Catholics roasting on spits in Hell.
On this particular issue, we can say with some confidence that Cardinal Cormac is wrong. Whatever your views on abortion, it has enormous practical consequences for ordinary women, and, to a lesser extent, their partners.
Tinkering with abortion law should not be taken lightly, and as such it's not the sort of thing that should be dragged into a general election. If there are going to be changes to the law it should be after a real debate about the scientific evidence and the practical consequences of making abortion harder. Anyone who intends to make cheap political capital out of women faced with this incredibly difficult life decision, is surely the lowest of the low.
Step forward Michael 'Fucking' Howard.
The Gaylord of Darkness has said the upper limit for legal termination should be reduced from 24 weeks to 20 weeks. Howard has been pretty quiet about abortion in the past (though not, sadly, about political correctness) and there is no compelling reason not to assume this is just another dismal election ploy. It's politics so downmarket it makes Colleen McLoughlin look as classy as Helena Bonham-Carter.
The Tories have had a difficult time getting at New Labour recently because the politics of the two parties have converged so much. Now they seem to have plucked abortion out of the air despite the fact that abortion hasn't been much of an issue in recent years. This is desperation, pure and simple. If this trend continues Howard will end up trying to appeal to the gay vote by offering Oliver Letwin's arse to anyone who fancies it. (Mind you, we'd buy the video.)
That's not to say abortion time limits aren't a topic of debate. The time limit for abortions was reduced from 28 weeks to 24 weeks in 1991. Modern neonatal units are equipped to save babies of 24 weeks and below, and the medical science is getting better, although the death rate of those born at 24 weeks is high, around 75 per cent.
But even if babies can be saved at an early stage in their lives, there are still big questions about how that affects abortion. Foetuses may be human, but at what stage they can properly be called a conscious being is incredibly difficult to answer. It's actually a troubling argument - none of us can remember things from very early life, let alone the womb. What we do know is that foetuses are not aware or conscious in any child or adult sense of the word for quite a while. At 26 weeks they have a fairly well-developed nervous system, but doctors disagree about when pain can first be experienced. While abortion may be distasteful, it's obviously not, as extremists claim, the same as murder.
But the overwhelming argument in favour of abortion is a practical one.
The problem with hardline Catholics is that on abortion - as with contraception - they hoot their traps off about 'morality', but appear to have little or no interest in the practical consequences, ie. unwanted children, beleaguered teenage mums, rape victims having to bear a rapist's child, broken relationships, the trauma of putting a child up for adoption, etc. It's like juggling with chainsaws then being genuinely puzzled why your arm has fallen off.
Children, like pets, are not just for Christmas. And unlike pets, they don't just force you to pay for kennels or catteries during your holidays. Quite simply: being pregnant when you don't want to be is a source of untold personal misery. And it doesn't matter if you're a successful career woman or a teenage chav: bringing up an unwanted child is not a good idea.
It's nice to see that Michael Howard regards dabbling in other people's misery as a valid election strategy. Not content with being merely unpopular, he seems to want to become the most despised man in Britain. It's hard to see how he can increase his level of personal repulsiveness at this stage. Except perhaps by calling for gypsies to be gassed.
Go on, Michael. Cut to the chase.