A group of about sixty protesters - three quarters of whom were female - showed up at the Liner Hotel in Liverpool City Centre last night, to show their anger at Ann Widdecombe's anti-abortion 'Passion For Life' tour.
The Human Embryology and Fertilisation Bill currently going through Parliament is intended to reform the laws on reproductive technology, which haven't been updated since 1990. However, a cross-party coalition of mainly Christian politicians wants to table amendments which would restrict a woman's freedom to get an abortion.
Under the plans - sponsored by Passion For Life speakers Widdecombe and Lord David Alton - women would only be able to get an abortion within the first twenty-one weeks of pregnancy, down from twenty-four at present. Also, women would still have to get permission from two doctors to have the procedure, instead of midwives and nurses as some pro-choice campaigners are demanding.
The speaking tour is an attempt to rally Christian support behind amendments, ironically on pseudo-scientific grounds - ie. that medical advances have now made it possible for prematurely born babies to survive from that much earlier. However, Alton and Widdecombe backed a similar (but unsuccessful) Bill in 1987, restricting the limit to eighteen weeks, and as she makes clear: "Most of us believed in no abortion at all", so "to reach the North Pole you have to take one step beyond your own front door". Clearly, this is just the first step for Widdecombe and her allies, and it is important that they face massive opposition.
At the beginning of Tuesday's demonstration, police cleared a pathway through the crowd with dogs, horses, and a lot of shoving. Their task was made relatively easy by the fact that there was a big gap between protesters on the front line and those behind, and police were able to push us into that empty space. Eventually, after a few minutes of pushing and threats, the police reinforced their cordon and Widdecombe supporters began entering the building.
Chants of "Not the church, not the state, women must decide their fate", "Pro-life is a lie, you don't care if women die" and "get your rosaries off our ovaries" were kept up for an hour and a half, before people began to realise that Widdecombe herself was not going to make an appearance, and must have gone in early to avoid a confrontation.
This was the fourth stop on Widdecombe and Alton's eight meeting tour of the UK, and a similar protest in Glasgow saw Socialist Worker claim 'a fantastic boost' for the campaign to defend abortion rights. At best, this is wishful thinking. At worst, it is the usual SWP opportunism. The state has long tolerated demonstrations within strictly defined limits, and strategists are well aware that they have they effect of allowing campaigners to let off steam harmlessly. Five years ago, over a million people marched through London to demand that Bush and Blair stop threatening to invade Iraq. It was the largest protest this country has yet seen, and it did nothing to change the politicians' minds. History has shown that freedom cannot be defended by appealing to our masters, or even shouting at them for a couple of hours. As attacks on liberty accelerate, new tactics must inevitably be developed.
If you want to make a date with Ann Widdecombe, she will be at The Foundry in Widnes on Monday 18th February, and The City Temple in Cardiff on Tuesday 4th March.