An article in the New Statesman this week implied that Conservative Party leadership contender Penny Mordaunt MP, had been involved with an organisation that ‘wants to outlaw abortion, even in cases of rape’. This might have been an interesting story if she had indeed had any relevant links to such an organisation; even more when you read it was the Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) that was said to take such an extreme position. The trouble is, neither claim is true.
Believing something to be morally wrong does not equate to wanting to outlaw it: a fact that clearly got lost in the urgency of a smear campaign against a potential Prime Minister. Two days after the first article, Penny Mordaunt narrowly lost out to Liz Truss as they vied to make it to the final round of voting against Rishi Sunak.
CMF does indeed hold that abortion is morally wrong – it is the taking of the life of another human being, made in God’s image. Our Ethical Values commit us to maintaining ‘the deepest respect for human life from its beginning to its end, including people who are unborn, the elderly, and those living with disabilities.’ But the sole article on our website, quoted selectively by the New Statesman, is an ethical discussion of some of the ‘hard cases’ around abortion. That article makes no reference to outlawing abortion in these circumstances but states that ‘many women who have been raped believe that abortion is immoral’ and therefore may choose not to abort. In such difficult and painful circumstances, does the New Statesman believe that an abortion is mandatory, or that no woman would ever choose to proceed with the pregnancy? A woman’s right to choose surely means exactly that.
In a US study of pregnancy resulting from rape, half chose not to have an abortion. The article quoted above by the New Statesman referred to an older study suggesting even higher figures. In such tragic circumstances, the choice of these women is truly ‘a display of courage, strength and honour’ on their part for recognising that abortion itself leads to further harm, resulting in another innocent victim of male aggression. Such a choice may be difficult and even shocking to some; but no one should assume, contrary to evidence, that no woman in such a painful situation would not choose to continue the pregnancy.
CMF does not maintain that in such extreme and difficult circumstances abortion should be outlawed. Current UK law provides certain restrictions around abortion that reflect the ethical seriousness of ending an unborn life. Our primary concern is with the trivialising of this law that has resulted in ever greater numbers of abortions, over 214,000 in England and Wales last year. The overwhelming majority of these cases were not the results of rape or cases of serious fetal abnormality. Yet, abortion often occurs under a degree of coercion from partners or family members. Making abortion rarer and giving ‘real choice to women’ is not the same as making it completely illegal in every case.
But let’s return to Penny Mordaunt, the subject of the original New Statesman article, and another one the following day, in which the same inaccurate claim about CMF’s position on abortion was repeated. Years ago, Ms Mordaunt co-founded Media Intelligence Partners, which later provided public relations advice to CMF, apparently when she was no longer involved. I am not aware of any direct link between CMF and Ms Mordaunt. And given that her voting record on abortion as an MP has been fairly consistently against a pro-life position, it seems most odd that such tenuous connections should be drawn to connect her with an extreme legislative agenda that neither she nor CMF would support.
The New Statesman’s editorial policy states that their journalists ‘uphold the highest standards of ethical and professional journalism’, seeking to be ‘fair and accurate’. Making and then repeating a false claim about CMF in this way is neither ethical, fair, nor accurate. Effective democracy can only flourish when there is truthfulness and integrity in the public media; without that, democratic debate will wither and die.
We would, of course, be delighted to discuss CMF’s ethical values with Penny Mordaunt, should she ever wish to. And we hope and pray that those who deliberately twist the important debate on abortion will reflect honestly on their own integrity and ethical values.