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Cardinal tells Catholics to reject Labour over abortion

The Catholic Church in England and Wales entered Britain's election campaign yesterday by backing opposition leader Michael Howard's stance on abortion and withdrawing its traditional support for Tony Blair's Labour Party.

The Times reports that Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor ensured that abortion would play a greater part in the coming election than any other by praising the Tory leader's call for a cut in the legal abortion limit from 24 to 20 weeks.

The Archbishop of Westminster went on to admit that Labour is no longer the natural party of choice for the UK's six million Catholics.

His views could be particularly significant in marginal constituencies with large Catholic populations such as the West Midlands, the North West and parts of London.

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor spoke out after the three main party leaders gave their personal views on abortion traditionally a matter for conscience rather than party policy to Cosmopolitan magazine.

Mr Howard's commitment to find parliamentary time for a debate on cutting the legal time limit contrasted with Mr Blair's view that there was no pressing need for a change. The Prime Minister made clear that there would be no change under Labour, arguing that women would be "criminalised".

The Cardinal said: "I am very pleased that this has been brought out on to the public agenda and that there is going to be a debate about it, both in the lead-up to and after the next election. It is a key issue. The position is that we are totally opposed to abortion."

Praising Mr Howard's commitment to reducing the time limit, he said: "This is something we can commend on the way to a full abandonment of abortion."

He spoke out as the Catholic bishops of England and Wales issued their general election letter advising Catholics on how to decide about casting their vote. The issues included marriage and the family, criminal justice, education, the global common good and immigration.

Following widespread media attention, the Cardinal issued a statement of clarification stressing that his public stand does not amount to endorsement of the Opposition Conservative Party. But he admitted that he is "intervening" in politics, "because there is a point at which religion and politics touch".

He said: "There are moral issues which affect the good of society as a whole about which I, as a religious leader, cannot stay silent, because the Gospel is not silent on them."

The Cardinal pointed out that in commending the Opposition's call for a reduction in the time limit on abortion, he was also praising the Government on its initiatives to tackle debt and poverty.

Cardinal tells Catholics to reject Labour over abortion (The Times 15/3/05)
Cardinal clarifies his position on election document (Independent Catholic News 15/3/05)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Church in England and Wales | The General Election 2005
10 Downing Street | Briefing from the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman on Abortion (15/3/05)

Bishops welcome PM's commitment on abortion debate (CathNews 10/2/05)
Deputy PM and Anglican Primate fuel anti-abortion campaign (CathNews 3/2/05)
Top theologian urges reflective calm in abortion debate (CathNews 2/2/05)
Abbott backs new anti-abortion lobby (CathNews 1/2/05)
Meeting of Bishops' taskforce on pastoral responses to abortion (CathNews 24/12/04)
Bishops propose abortion alternatives (CathNews 26/11/04)
Persecution today for 'mad monk' Abbott (CathNews 10/12/04)
Melbourne Archbishop welcomes abortion debate (CathNews 10/11/04)

Bishops issue General Election letter (Independent Catholic News 15/3/05)
Catholics turn away from Labour over abortion row (Daily Mail 14/3/05)
Howard backs abortion law change (BBC 14/3/05)
Keep abortion a conscience vote, says No 10 (The Guardian 15/3/05)
English Cardinal backs Tory abortion proposal (Belfast Telegraph 15/3/05)
Support for abortion could spell trouble for reelection for Brazil's president (Catholic News Agency 15/3/05)
Archbishop says he is not backing Conservatives (Ekklesia 15/3/05)
Support Tories over abortion, cardinal tells Catholics (The Guardian 15/3/05)
Cardinal tells Catholics to reject Britain's Labour over abortion (AFP/Khaleej Times 15/3/05)
Catholics to ditch Labour (The Sun 15/3/05)

16 Mar 2005