Tory issues abortion threat

Pro-life and pro-choice camps reveal fault lines in parties as aide reinforces Cardinal's remarks
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A ministerial aide yesterday said he would spoil his ballot paper rather than vote for a Tory election candidate who supported abortion.

The remarks by Dr Robert Spink, the Tory MP for Castle Point and a parliamentary private secretary at the Home Office, fuelled fears that abortion now threatens to become an election issue for the first time in Britain.

They followed an attack on abortion by Cardinal Basil Hume. The Archbishop of Westminster said in an interview on GMTV: "I am quite convinced that abortion is a great evil in our society and really unworthy of a civilised society." As the leading Roman Catholic priest in Britain, the Archbishop will give strength to the Pro-Life Alliance which is threatening to field up to 50 candidates at the election to make abortion a campaign issue.

"There's no way in which the church will change its attitude towards that, and I think in future generations we'll be pleased that somebody has stood very firm on that issue," Cardinal Hume said.

Dr Spink, a PPS to Anne Widdecombe, the Home Office minister who converted to Roman Catholicism, said he would not vote for a Tory candidate who was "pro-choice".

He said on GMTV: "I would find it very difficult to vote for the Tory candidate . . . I would probably personally spoil my paper."

He added: "We have abortion virtually on demand. I believe politicians should look at abortion laws and tighten it up. The abortion of one twin while the other twin was left in a mother's womb was an abomination and should not have happened."

Tory leaders said last night that if abortion became an election issue, it would damage the Labour Party more than the Conservatives, who had fewer supporters of the campaign for a woman's right to choose.

A Tory source said: "If you look at the two parties, there are more [pro- choice MPs] on the other side. They have more women MPs who are obviously pro-choice and they have Emily's List [a campaigning group to get more Labour women elected]."

The Labour frontbencher Clare Short attacked the Cardinal's views saying the Catholic church's attitude had cost it the support of her generation of women.

Ms Short - who had a strict Catholic upbringing -and her ex-husband gave up their son, Toby, for adoption when he was six months old. She was reunited with him in October.

Ms Short said yesterday: "It's very sad that the Catholic church retreats back on to this territory. It lost almost all the women of my generation because of its attitude to sex. They suggest that abortion is the primary moral question; it is not." She described the church's view of morality as "distorted" and said she favoured a law regulating the availability of abortion but leaving it to the individual to make her choice.