Parliament is shortly to be given the opportunity to end the repugnant discrimination that allows abortion up until birth for handicapped babies.
Last week, Lord Kevin Shinkwin, a relatively new Conservative Member of the House of Lords, announced that he would be using the place that he drew in the Ballot for Private Members Bills in the House of Lords to introduce his Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill. That Bill would end the heinous anomaly in our law which has meant that since 1990, whilst there has been a general limit of 24 weeks’ gestation for most abortions, the discriminatory performing of abortion for disability up until birth itself has been permitted for even the most minor disabilities, such as cleft palate and club foot.
Combined with developments in the diagnostic tests for a variety of genetic conditions, such as Downs Syndrome, this provision has permitted the disabled unborn to be identified and killed in the womb so that they don’t become a “burden” to their mothers or society. That doctors and nurses, whose primary responsibility should be to care for their patients, especially the vulnerable disabled, are willing to participate in this horrendous holocaust is a particularly heinous offence against every moral principle to which those professions should adhere.
That a spokeswoman for the Royal College of Midwives, instead of arguing that this discrimination should end, has instead recently argued that abortion up until birth should be permitted for all babies, with no legal time limit, brings shame upon that noble profession and its members. They should rise up with one voice to object to what has been said in their name, without them being consulted. They should demand a retraction, an apology and a resignation.
As Lord Shinkwin challenged in his profoundly moving contribution to the recent debate on the Queens’ Speech, “If anybody thinks such obvious discrimination [against the disabled] is acceptable, I respectfully invite them to imagine the outcry if the same were applied to skin colour or sexual orientation. Such discrimination would rightly be regarded as outrageous.”
Lord Shinkwin is one of many Members of the House of Lords who fully understand of what they speak when they talk about the potential of those whose lives are touched by disability, because he is personally profoundly disabled. This has not stopped him making a major contribution to public policy formulation in this country.
He was educated at Ratcliffe College and graduated from the University of Hull with a degree in Politics and Legislative Studies. He worked for almost 20 years in the voluntary sector, serving in various public affairs roles, including at the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (now Action on Hearing Loss), Macmillan Cancer Research UK, and The Royal British Legion, where he led successful campaigns on the Armed Forces Covenant and securing reforms to the Coroners’ Service for bereaved Armed Forces families. This despite a seriously debilitating medical condition. It’s going to be hard for the advocates of liberal abortion laws in either House of Parliament to dismiss his integrity, his experience and his compassion.
Despite only having taken his seat in the Lords a few months ago, Lord Shinkwin has already become a powerful advocate for the right to life cause, as well as a valued friend of your author. As more Members like him emerge, in both Houses of Parliament, the more hope we have of building a consensus that the right to life of any individual, either at the beginning of life in the womb or at the end of life in a hospice or hospital, does not depend on whether they are disabled or dependent, but rather on the basic principle of their humanity, of the sanctity of their life.
During his contribution to the debate on the Queens’ Speech, Lord Shinkwin hung his remarks on the peg of the element of the Speech which committed Her Majesty’s Government, led by Prime Minister, David Cameron, to tackling barriers to opportunity and “giving every child the best start in life.”
“Surely, if life chances are to have meaning, if every child is to have the best start in life as the Prime Minister quite rightly wishes” argued Lord Shinkwin “disabled children must first be given an equal chance to live”.
That, loyal and patient readers of this column, is where you come in. Not for us the luxury of simply following these political developments from our armchairs after our post-prandial naps. No, we are called upon, challenged to act so that those who promote the dignity and sanctity of life in public office have our full support, to maximise the chances of the success of these vital initiatives.
First, even though the Bill is being considered by the House of Lords, we can each write to our local Member of the House of Commons asking that they in turn make representations to the Prime Minister urging that his Government give every practical support and encouragement of this initiative so as to smash the paradigm that the life of a child with disability is of less value than the life of one without.
Secondly, we can make representations to Members of the House of Lords, particularly if we have disabilities of our own or care for those who have. Personal testimony can be moving and persuasive. You may happen to know of Members of the House of Lords who live in your local area, in which case it may be appropriate to write to them. If you don’t have such information, however, you can find a full list of Members of the Lords at www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/lords/ . Why not pick a few whose surname is similar to yours and write to them?
When writing, please, at all times, be courteous; that is one of the hallmarks of debate in the Lords, and please address your intended recipient by name. Dear Lord XX or Dear Lady YY will suffice, unless you happen to be an expert on genealogy and etiquette. Encourage them to give a fair hearing to Lord Shinkwin’s Bill and the arguments he puts forward, and ask them to contact Lord Shinkwin if they need any additional information about what he is seeking to achieve and why he is seeking to achieve it.
Then perhaps we can all say a short prayer, not to Saint Jude the Patron of Lost Causes, but perhaps this time to Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Patron of the Pro-life Movement, or to Saint Giles, Patron of those with Disabilities.
Lord Shinkwin’s arrival in the House of Lords and his decision to use the opportunities that affords to promote the dignity of the disabled have given a real boost to our supporters in Parliament. Let us in turn not shirk our own responsibilities to give them the support they need and deserve.
This article first appeared in The Catholic Universe of 27th May 2016
Cllr Chris Whitehouse KSG is Chairman of Westminster’s leading political consultancy, www.whitehouseconsulting.co.uk, Secretary of the Catholic Legislators’ Network, a Trustee of the Right To Life Charitable Trust, and a Member of the Isle of Wight Council (Cons. Newport West).