London (CNSNews.com) - Britain's opposition Conservative Party has been criticized by its political opponents and pro-abortion groups for calls by its health spokesman, Liam Fox, to have abortion severely restricted, if not abolished completely.
Fox is quoted in a prayer diary distributed by the Conservative Christian Fellowship (CCF), a group within the party, as saying he would like to see the current 24-week limit for legal abortion to be reduced considerably - or preferably for abortion to be outlawed altogether.
Abortion is not traditionally a party political issue in Britain, but Christians in the Conservative Party would like to see it take a tougher line, perhaps even make abortion an election manifesto issue.
Pro-life groups here welcomed this week's decision by President Bush to deny federal funding to international agencies involved in promoting abortion
Should the Conservatives form the next government, Fox will become Health Secretary and therefore be responsible for abortion policy. The other Conservative lawmaker whose portfolio in government--that of Home Secretary--would cover abortion is Ann Widdecombe who also has strong pro-life views.
Party leader William Hague has also called for tightened laws, and says he is personally opposed to abortion, except in the case of rape.
But a spokesman for the party's Central Office said in response to queries that, irrespective of Fox's personal opinion, "abortion is not a party political issue and remains open to a free vote if the issue ever came before the House [of Commons]. Views on abortion are a private matter for all members."
Labor lawmakers and Britain's largest chain of abortion clinics, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), slammed Fox's comments.
"Most Christians in this country do not share the narrow prejudices of the religious right in the U.S.," said one Labor parliamentarian in response.
BPAS spokesperson Ann Furedi said in reply to an invitation to comment that Fox was a "maverick," whose comments showed how out of touch he was with public opinion.
"In Britain the vast majority of people support the widespread availability of legal abortion. Opinion polls show there is more support for the law to be liberalized than for it to be restricted."
Fox, a Scottish Catholic and former physician, is regarded as a rising star in the Conservative Party. He has taken a strong stand in recent weeks against government moves to allow the cloning of human embryos for stem cell research.
In the CCF booklet, he asks members "to pray that there would be a huge restriction, if not abolition, of our pro-abortion laws."
He was also quoted this week as saying: "When we say 'Thou shalt not kill' I believe that we should mean that, rather than say 'Thou shalt not kill unless parliament says it is OK.' "
At a time the leaders of both major parties are chasing the "faith" vote, the CCF, based at Conservative Party headquarters, is said to have a growing influence on party policy.
Asked to comment on this assertion, CCF director Tim Montgomerie said the fellowship has, after conducting more than 300 meetings gauging the views of UK churches, made a number of recommendations to the party.
These covered the promotion of marriage, an end to a ban on Christian broadcasting, allowing more church schools, and encouraging "faith-based" welfare.
"All of these recommendations - and we are certainly not the only people who have recommended them - have become party policy," Montgomerie said. "Other recommendations are still being considered."
He declined to comment when asked if the CCF would like the Conservative election manifesto to include a pledge to bring forward a Bill on restricting abortion, saying "the CCF never expresses a corporate opinion."
Montgomerie said many, perhaps most, British Christians hold pro-life views, although "it has never been the political issue that it is in the U.S."
The CCF will in the months ahead be distributing half a million newspapers at public meetings, outlining five Conservative policies likely to be of interest to Christians.
A future Conservative government promises to restore a recognition of marriage in the tax and benefits system; encourage church-based welfare programs; end license discrimination against Christian broadcasters; give religious communities new opportunities to run schools; and "declare war on corruption and political correctness that prevents aid reaching the poorest of the world."
See Earlier Story