Ahead of Election, UK Bishops Remind Voters of ‘Sanctity of Human Life’

The Dec. 12 election will elect Members of Parliament from across the U.K. to the 650 seats in the House of Commons, with elected MPs from the largest party forming the government.

The Palace of Westminster in London, the seat of the U.K. Parliament.
The Palace of Westminster in London, the seat of the U.K. Parliament. (photo: Mike Gimelfarb/Wikimedia Commons)

In a message circulated to all parishes in the Diocese of Shrewsbury ahead of the Dec. 12 British General Election, the Rt. Rev. Mark Davies has denounced manifesto proposals from political parties that seek to decriminalize abortion.

On Dec. 5 Bishop Davies said that such policies presented as a program for government marked a radical departures from the traditional way the subject of abortion has been treated by political parties — namely, as a matter of conscience for individual Members of Parliament. In the light of this policy shift within mainstream politics, he urged Catholics to pray and to think carefully before casting their vote ahead of next week’s election.

In his latest intervention in the debate, Bishop Davies commended to his diocese the Nov. 29 General Election Statement of the English and Welsh Bishops, adding:

As Christians, we must express the gravest concern that a number of political parties have dispensed with considerations of individual conscience making unequivocal manifesto commitments to deny the unborn child the right to life.

I cannot fail to draw your attention to this further radical assault upon the sanctity of human life, presented as a program for government, and the danger of discarding the rights of individual conscience in determining the right to life of the unborn child.

Individual candidates may dissent from their party platforms. However, we could never give support to any policy that denies the most fundamental right to life itself — without which all other rights are without foundation.

Let us pray for all who seek a mandate from us on Thursday and for light in making the difficult choices which an election involves.

Bishop Davies comments come as both the center-left Labour and centrist Liberal Democrats have made the decriminalization of abortion part of their party manifestos for the general election. In addition, recently, the Liberal Democrats removed a Catholic candidate from standing in a constituency for the party on account of his Catholic views on same-sex “marriage” and abortion. 

The Conservative Party manifesto does not mention abortion. It has been pointed out, however, that the recent Conservative governments have increased the already substantial budget to abortion providers. In 2018 alone, this totalled £48,173,000 ($62,151,124), money channelled through the Department for International Development (DfID) to fund approximately 5 million abortions performed globally.

In September 2019, a Boris Johnson-led Government provided an additional £600 million ($773,909,030) of taxpayer money for overseas “family planning,” which will include funding abortions. The pledge is the U.K. Government’s largest ever stand-alone spend of taxpayers’ money in this area and comes on top of the £1.1 billion ($1.8 billion) already pledged over a 5 year period beginning in 2017.

Bishop Davies’ comments come hard on the heels of an earlier statement about the election from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. On Nov. 29, following their plenary meeting in Leeds, and while acknowledging Britain’s continued membership or exit from the European Union (“Brexit”) as the dominant issue in this election, the bishops urged voters in the United Kingdom to also consider other issues of human rights and the dignity of human life. Furthermore, whatever the eventual outcome of Brexit, the bishops said that the U.K. “must be committed to a positive engagement as a key international partner in promoting peace, security and responsible stewardship of the planet,” explaining that, “the test of any policy should be its impact upon human dignity, particularly for the most disadvantaged in our society.”

In the Nov. 29 statement, the English and Welsh Catholic bishops laid out several criteria for voters to consider when choosing their new MPs: poverty, homelessness, migrants, refugees and climate change, with the foremost concern being respect for human life from the womb and the care provided for those who are terminally ill and dying, “while resisting the false compassion of assisted suicide or euthanasia.” The bishops encouraged voters to consider whether the MPs they elect will uphold the dignity of marriage, the rights of parents to educate their children, and the right to freedom of religion and conscience. While urging all to pray for the well-being of the nation, the bishops said, “We should all approach this election as an opportunity to promote life, dignity and human flourishing for all.”

The Bishops of Scotland have likewise made abortion and euthanasia among their chief priorities in a letter issued to Catholic voters. The letter urged Catholic voters north of the border to revisit Catholic Social Teaching and to connect their voting with that. It was also a chance the bishops said to proclaim “the inherent dignity and value of every human being; made in the Image and likeness of God, and to promote the common good.”

“It is the duty of all of us to uphold the most basic and fundamental human right — the right to life. We should urge candidates to recognise human life from the moment of conception until natural death and to legislate for its protection at every stage, including protecting the unborn child, ensuring that both mother and child are accepted and loved.

“We should remind our politicians that abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia are, as the Church has consistently taught, always morally unacceptable.” The letter then specifically addressed the ongoing debate around the decriminalization of abortion. “Decriminalisation of abortion unhappily paves the way towards a legal basis for abortion on demand, for any reason, up to birth and politicians should be urged to resist it,” the Scottish bishops stated.

In light of the monies being poured into overseas abortion provision, the Scottish bishops said: “Our Governments should also promote a culture of life overseas, reversing the current practice of the UK Government to support anti-life initiatives, which might be described as ideological colonisation.”

Like their English counterparts, the Scottish bishops highlighted other issues such as marriage and the family, poverty, freedom of religion and conscience, the persecution of Christians worldwide, nuclear weapons and the global arms trade as all being of central consideration when Scottish Catholics come to vote.

The Scottish bishops conclude their letter by asking for prayers “for those who will be charged with representing the nation’s interests in Parliament. May they be guided towards what is good and true; to the One who can bring true peace and freedom for all.”

The 2019 British general election comes at a time of political turmoil, both in relation to the U.K.’s relationship with the European Union and within the country’s existing union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

This is the third general election since 2015 in a country that prides itself on strong government, and with elections such as this normally only every five years. In addition, in recent years, there have been a number of contentious and closely-fought referenda. The first was in 2014 on Scottish independence. Scotland voted to remain in the UK but the Scottish National Party, the chief political advocates for Scottish independence have increased in strength and parliamentary MPs are once more demanding another referendum.

More contentious still is the 2016 referendum on EU membership. An unexpected victory for the “Leave” side sent the political establishment into a tailspin, and it has not stopped spinning since. Three and half years on, the result of that referendum has yet to be implemented, and the debate between the opposing camps has intensified becoming more acrimonious with each passing week.

The general election will elect Members of Parliament from across the U.K. to the 650 seats in the House of Commons, with elected MPs from the largest party forming the government. Opinion polling so far gives the center-right Conservatives Party the edge, but opinion polls have been notoriously wrong in recent years and are no longer taken as a certain indication of the eventual outcome. This is especially so in the U.K.’s current charged political atmosphere and with such a seemingly volatile electorate.