Anti-abortion lobby forces shift in ethical investment

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Several financial institutions are withdrawing investment in companies involved in providing abortions after growing pressure from people wishing to save in ethical trusts.

A campaign by Christian anti-abortionists has led some fund managers to disinvest in private hospitals, pharmaceutical firms that produce "morning- after" pills or carry out research on embryos, and manufacturers of equipment used in terminations.

Standard Life, Europe's largest mutual life assurer, is likely to launch an ethical unit trust in the spring. John Allan, unit trust investment manager, says the organisation is surveying its clients. No final decision has been taken, but Standard's ethical unit trust will probably refuse to invest in any company connected to abortions. Standard's pounds 50bn of non- ethical funds will not be affected.

Mr Allan last week met representatives of Ethical Financial, a "pro-life" independent financial adviser, which has contacted many of the country's insurers asking them to invest in line with Christian principles.

Brian Spence, Ethical Financial chief executive, said he expected Standard Life's new fund to adopt an abortion boycott. "Their question was, will they be more likely to lose business or gain business? I think it is clear they would gain business. I did tell them it would cause a reaction, as there is a minority which will make a lot of noise."

Mr Spence said that although there had been a big increase in ethical investments in the past two years, these have focused on the wrong issues. "People are more important than animals, but the vast majority of ethical funds have an emphasis on animal rights rather than people."

Aberdeen Investment Management is already boycotting companies connected with abortions, as are the Genesis funds managed by Ethical Financial and targeted at Christians. The Henderson Ethical Fund intends to do the same, subject to approval from its clients.

Mr Spence said other funds were considering joining the boycott. A similar campaign in the US, which has a bigger, more militant anti-abortion lobby, has led to some large financial institutions pulling investments out of private hospitals.

Standard Life's headquarters is in Scotland, where the Catholic church has led a vociferous campaign against abortion, but the company says this has not affected its views. The Catholic church in Scotland says it has not pressed companies to distance themselves from abortion. The Church of Scotland has asked Scottish businesses to invest more ethically, but as it is split on abortion it has stressed arms and the environment.

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children says it "applauds" fund managers who refuse to finance abortions.

Moral maze, Business page 16