On Saturday SDLP Leader Alasdair McDonnell committed not just himself but also his party to absolute opposition to any change in abortion law.
This is disgraceful enough, but he would not even be open about the real reason. Abusing his GP credentials, he tried to argue that he knew that you could never be sure that a fatal abnormality was fatal. Of course, there are some cases of doubt, but it is a matter of fact that sometimes doctors can be 100% sure that the abnormality is fatal. So he is frankly making up myths to create a dodgy “practical” reason for what is in fact a profoundly and fundamentally religious stance.
Even if we were foolish enough to accept Mr McDonnell’s reasoning based on his professional experience, he committed his party to absolute opposition to any change in abortion law – meaning that the SDLP joins the DUP in rejecting access to abortion services in cases of rape.
Let us be clear here, there is absolutely nobody who opposes abortion in case of rape – except on religious grounds. You cannot be human and believe that a victim of rape should be forced to carry a foetus which reminds her hourly of the very horror that she has just been through. This is, therefore, an invasion into civic space of an exclusively religious argument – i.e. where religious arguments have no place. It is an attempt to impose an exclusively religious view on a diverse, secular society. That is exactly what the Conscience Clause is designed to do too. It is unacceptable.
Remember, no one would be forced to have an abortion under the Department of Justice proposals, even if these were specifically extended to include cases of rape. People of religious view would have every right not to have them. But let us be very clear what Alasdair McDonnell is saying to rape victims here: “I, a man, have a religious view; and that means you, a woman and a victim, should be deprived of any choice. Oh, and my personal religious views are more important than your emotional wellbeing.”
This, of course, came at the end of a week when the SDLP had already disgracefully defended single-denomination teacher training, committing us to another generation of schooling along sectarian lines in a society recovering from conflict along sectarian lines (and to removing student places just so we can subsidise trainee teachers, around a third of whom we know we will never need). The SDLP is, therefore, content for students to be deprived of places on courses across Northern Ireland and for sectarian educational division to be maintained as long as specifically Catholic teacher training continues to be subsidised by our rates and taxes. This is from a party which laughably claims the title “progressive”?!
This would all be a thundering disgrace at the best of times, but let us also remind ourselves that the abortion issue is one which directly affects only women. Men are never faced with the lonely choice, the lonely decision, and the lonely recovery. The SDLP – and let us be clear that Mr McDonnell spoke for the whole party – is putting Catholic rights ahead of women’s rights. It’s so very telling, and it’s utterly contemptible.