Anti-abortionists to target MPs

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The Independent Online
Anti-abortion campaigners yesterday put senior politicians on an election hit-list when they announced that they would field more than 50 candidates at the election in an attempt to force their views on to the political agenda.

Most of the Shadow Cabinet and senior members of the Government are among those who will be targeted by the Prolife Alliance Party, which has private financial backing.

Bruno Quintavalle, a philosophy graduate who leads the group, rejected resorting to the kind of violence that anti-abortionists have used in the United States. "We totally reject any form of harassment or aggressive picketing or any other sort of picketing which we have seen from the pro- abortion lobby against us. We do not condone any form of violence and distance ourselves unreservedly from it," he said.

However, the decision to publish the names of 222 MPs, mostly from the Labour Party, with an allegedly "anti-life" record, will be seen as very provocative. The group highlighted the names of 70 Labour MPs and 10 Tories who it accused of having an "extreme anti-life record".

They include the Secretary of State for Health, Stephen Dorrell, and two predecessors, Kenneth Clarke, and Virginia Bottomley; Alastair Goodlad, the Tory chief whip; Gordon Brown, the Labour shadow Chancellor; and Harriet Harman, the Labour spokeswoman on social security.

The Labour leader, Tony Blair, who has expressed personal unhappiness about abortion, will not face a direct challenge from the Prolife Alliance Party, because Mr Quintavalle said the Tory candidate for Mr Blair's Sedgefield seat is committed to the pro-life campaign to reverse abortion law reform.

Mr Quintavalle, whose mother is also committed to the pro-life cause, refused to disclosed who is paying for more than 50 candidates to stand at the election, which could require pounds 25,000 in lost deposits, and a further pounds 350,000 in election expenses.

A spokesman for Mohamed al-Fayed, the owner of Harrods who has given substantial backing to the Christian Democratic Movement to promote morality, denied he was backing the group. "He is not funding the Prolife Alliance because he doesn't wish to become involved in party politics," the spokesman said.

Denying it was a single-issue group, it published a manifesto with the repeal of the Abortion Act 1967 as the priority. It said it would outlaw all abortion except when brought about indirectly by treatment necessary to save the life of the mother. It would repeal the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, which has permitted the development of test-tube baby techniques. All assisted-conception techniques would be outlawed where more embryos were created than were immediately returned to the mother's body. Freezing and destruction of human embryos would be banned.

The manifesto also promised to outlaw all forms of euthanasia - already an offence in Britain. The group said it would not end its campaign with the election, but would use the publicity it gained to maintain momentum for the abortion law reforms to be reversed.

Barbara Follett, the image guru and Labour's prospective candidate for Stevenage, believes abortion will not be an issue at the election. "We have now canvassed 85 per cent of the constituency and the issue of abortion has only come up about five times on the doorstep. It's not at the forefront of most people's minds. People are much more worried about jobs, about housing, about education and about health," she said on BBC radio.

Tim Wood, Tory MP for Stevenage, who is defending a majority of around 4,800 with his "mainstream" pro-choice views, warned against the pro-life election campaign. "I find it both from the personal point of view, and the general point of view, extremely damaging. As soon as we begin to get a development of candidates who are pursuing a single issue, we will then have a perversion of the normal democratic processes in terms of selecting candidates who, in the round, represent the broad views of their constituents," he said.

The Bishop of Oxford, the Right Rev Richard Harries, chairman of the Church of England's board of social responsibility, said: "I would resist the idea that [abortion] is the only major issue but it is a very important one and it is good that it should be highlighted."

Hit list, page 9

Leading article, page 15