Letter: Free speech and the right to life

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your leading article 'Unacceptable protests against abortion' (30 March) rightly warns of the dangers of confrontational tactics. However, these points must be balanced by freedom of speech and associated civil rights.

Kenneth Clarke's decision to deport Don Treshman following a television interview is a gross over-reaction and may well be clouded by his own pro-abortion position. It was Kenneth Clarke, while Minister of Health, who promoted the Act that currently allows abortion up to birth on the disabled. This Act has doubled the numbers of abortions after 24 weeks in less than a year, and was the first Bill whipped by the Government in favour of a pro- abortion position.

Your confidence in parliamentary procedure to settle the abortion debate is sadly misplaced. Although the original 1967 Act which legalised abortion received government time, none of the pro-life Bills over the next 25 years received equal treatment and my own Bill was talked out of time in 1988 after receiving the largest majority for a pro-life Bill on second reading.

Nor are the private clinics and the International Planned Parenthood Federation as innocent as they have been painted. The IPPF currently funds China's abhorrent policy of forced abortion and sterilisation and the private clinics which have been at the forefront of profiteering social abortion and such distressing practices as flushing the remains of the pre-born into the sewers.

This discrimination against pro-life attempts to raise the issue encourages extra-parliamentary activity such as the demonstrations proposed by Don Treshman (the American anti-abortionist). Britain has an honourable tradition of free speech and the right to protest under the rule of law, exercised from the Chartists to the Suffragettes and beyond. To deport Mr Treshman without any offence having been committed or any charge being brought is an injustice.

On Mr Clarke's part this is a clear case of the breach of Voltaire's principle: 'I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.'

Yours faithfully,

DAVID ALTON

MP for Liverpool Mossley Hill (Lib Dem)

House of Commons

London, SW1

30 March

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