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The Pro-Life Life – and Carlisle Election Candidates

Last weekend and this weekend, every church in Carlisle (so far as I’m aware) had leaflets handed out detailing the responses of the Tory and Labour candidates on two questions regarding pro-life issues. The questions focused on two issues deemed to be particularly pressing with regards to legislation, or the likelihood thereof. The details of the responses by the five main candidates to these questions are below (I confess I do not know if the independent candidate, Alfred Okam, received the chance to respond to these questions – if you’re reading this Alfred, I’m happy to update the post to include your views).
Personally, I find these pre-election exercises important and frustrating in equal measure – important, because they usefully outline candidates’ views on what ought to be our ‘red lines’, though frustrating because they often display a narrow focus. On a local level, with an individual co-ordinating responses at their own expense and time, this is logistical reality, and a great many thanks are owed to those who perform this service for their fellow churchgoers in Carlisle or anywhere else. Yet, to make a broader point, we must also be wary of reducing the pro-life vision down to a clutch of ‘yes or no’ questions, in isolation from the broader coherence and beauty of the pro-life vision – see the SPUC voting guide here for an example. This frustrates because it sells short – like explaining the depths of love by putting on a Hollywood RomCom. 
This, of course, impacts on the questions asked, even the questions deemed legitimate, and one often finds a lack of recognition that the pro-life agenda encompasses the economic too, so that social justice is a legitimate item for discernment under the pro-life banner. Whereas it has become commonplace for people to question how orthodox Catholics can remain part of the Labour Party (an issue I addressed in the Catholic Herald here), nonetheless one might be inclined to suggest that those Catholics who dismiss issues relating to a pro-life economy and the welfare state are putting their politics before their faith every bit as much as those whom they accuse of doing the same. One can accept that there is an issue of degree here, and there is a hierarchy of importance – but we must at least allow the idea that some cast their nets wider and consider issues that exist further down that hierarchy. After all, our narrative is broad and wide – if responses to immigration encompasses watching poor immigrants drown in the Mediterranean, is that a pro-life issue? If responses to austerity involve limiting child welfare to two children (one can only wonder what that will do for the abortion rate), is that a pro-life issue?
Which brings us back to the specific. On the day these leaflets were given out, one young-ish Mass-goer explained to me that he was a Labour man, but that he could not vote for the current Labour candidate after reading her responses to the questions asked. I’m sure he won’t be alone in thinking that. And, as a Labour supporter myself, it does present a problem. We have a candidate that would not represent our views on these matters, standing against a Tory candidate who has (on these particular issues – though not on issues of, say, welfare, or immigration, or the economy). It is no secret that Labour’s hold over the ‘Catholic vote’ (loosely termed) is on the wane (see here) – the results of this brief survey point toward to just one of the wider reasons why that might be.
All of which means that, for some, the pen might linger longer over the ballot paper than it might otherwise have done. Whereas, from a party perspective, left-leaning Catholics might hope this does not translate to more Tory votes, nonetheless could we really blame those who find it difficult weighing their commitment to social justice, and the pro-life narrative it encompasses, against their pro-life commitment on the more explicit issues of euthanasia or abortion? Come voting day, Catholics must make their own decision according to their conscience – they, we, believe we answer to a higher power than just the temporal.
Catholics will not find a party that neatly encompasses and manifests our unique vision of the Good Life – there will always be a reason not to vote for someone.  Catholics, like everyone else, are seeking a ‘best-fit’ party. Whichever way the vote goes come May 7th, we should continue to work ceaselessly for a genuinely pro-life society, in all its richness and beauty, touching every aspect of life and the way we, as a society, choose to value it.
Anyway, the two questions asked, and the responses from each of the five main candidates, are below (note: I have edited out more generalised comments and included the specific responses to the questions asked) :
I would be most grateful if you could let me know your views on, and likely support for:
1) Any proposal to introduce “assisted dying”, (as recently promoted by Lord Falconer, for instance).

Labour – Lee Sherriff (@MissLeeCarlisle)
[These answers were given via a meeting and the detail provided is from the questioner] Ms. Sherriff said that in principle she is not against allowing the medical profession to actively assist in the death of a patient, but that there should be safeguards. She is not fully acquainted with the details of Lord Falconer’s Bill, but would support it.

Conservative – John Stevenson (@John4Carlisle)
In response to your questions, if I am re-elected as MP for Carlisle I would vote against Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill. The question of assisted dying is an incredibly morally complex one, but I believe that such a change in legislation, even with safeguards, would be a dangerous step too far. I believe this particularly in respect to the elderly and vulnerable in our society.

Lib Dem – Loraine Birchall (@LoraineBirchall)
My belief about assisted dying is that it should be allowed, but only with extensive legal and medical safeguards to ensure that this is the genuine wish of the individual involved.    
Green – Helen Davison (@HelenDavison1)
With regard assisted dying, as I understand it from looking at Lord Falconer’s proposed bill it is talking about physicians being able to prescribe medication for an individual to self-administer and only to someone who has been assessed as being terminally ill and able to make a mentally competent decision (so not clouded by a treatable condition such as depression). I understand too that it is different from assisted suicide (for people who have chronic conditions or disabilities who are not dying) and voluntary euthanasia (where the doctor administers the medication to the individual). The draft bill sets out strict regulations under which it would occur and also ongoing monitoring of it by the Chief Medical Officer.  In theory I am not against this. If someone has reached that point towards the end of their life that they really cannot bear the suffering they are under and palliative care is not alleviating their symptoms I would like them to have the opportunity to make that choice. However, as I understand it the BMA remain against it and I would want to understand their reasons for that before saying yes to it. I would also want to be sure that it was not open to abuse and that, within our healthcare set up as it is that it would work. This again leads back to the need for a better funded adequately-staffed health service which the Green party is fighting for.
UKIP – Fiona Mills (@FionaMillsUKIP)
For ‘assisted dying,’ I would need to be convinced that there were robust safeguards in place so that there could be no instances of coercion or foul play. 
 2)    Any proposal to reduce the time limit for medical abortions below the current norm of 24 weeks

Labour – Lee Sherriff (@MissLeeCarlisle)
Ms Sherriff said that she had always been a strong supporter of Women’s Rights, and appreciated the difficulties women faced. She felt the critical issue was viability of a foetus outside the womb and would not support any reduction in the current time limit.

Conservative – John Stevenson (@John4Carlisle)
In regards to the issue of time limits for abortion, I do support a reduction in the current limit. It is my view that we should be in line with other European countries who have shorter time limits. I would vote accordingly in Parliament.
Lib Dem – Loraine Birchall (@LoraineBirchall)
As for your second question, there have been a variety of debates since the law was changed to reduce the time limit from 28 to 24 weeks and discussions are still ongoing regarding dropping the time limit to 22 weeks.     I do believe women should have the choice but I’d like to know more about the impact of reducing the time limit before making my decision and have asked for more information on this subject.

Green – Helen Davison (@HelenDavison1)
With regard to reducing the age limit for abortions from 24 weeks. Firstly I think it is important to recognise that abortion is not something that women undertake lightly. It is a huge decision to make. Much as I personally feel uncomfortable that foetuses are aborted, I would not want us to go back to a situation where people feel compelled to use back-street abortions, with the inherent health risks to the mothers. And so it remains important that it is available to women in a safe environment. I assume there were good reasons as to why the limit was set at 24 weeks originally and would want to see good evidence as to why it should now be reduced before doing so. I am aware that some women do not discover until the 20 week scan that there are abnormalities with their baby and they need the time to make the right decision for themselves. 
I think in the wider societal context we should be doing more to reduce the need for abortions in the first place and Green Party policy would support this happening. Counselling should be offered to every woman considering an abortion. We would seek to significantly improve sex and relationship education at schools with appropriate education about the consequences of sexual activities at an age before they are likely to become sexually active, alongside providing young people with parenting skills, so they may feel more able to deal with pregnancy should it happen. We would want to ensure adequate provision of free family planning advice by properly trained health workers and counsellors. Our policy is also to ensure adequate financial and social support for parents, particularly lone parents and those with disabled children, so that women do not feel pressure to terminate a pregnancy purely because they would be unable to make financial ends meet.
UKIP – Fiona Mills (@FionaMillsUKIP)

Regarding the 24 week time limit for abortions, I would be supportive of reducing that limit.