Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Dr Harris and the sexual health debate - a tale of judgemental intolerance


The Government has announced the membership of its Sexual Health Forum including the anti-abortion charity, Life but dropping the British Pregnancy Advice Service. Apparently this is a truly terrible thing:

...former Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris said Life's presence could prevent the panel from functioning properly.

He told the newspaper: "When you have an organisation campaigning against the law and against current policy on sexual health, which is pro-contraception and about ensuring that abortion is a choice, then the risk is that you prevent the panel being given access to confidential information."

Quite why this is I don’t know but it reveals – in a man who lays claim to the mantle of “liberalism” – a considerable degree of intolerance. Who is he to say that one or other view on any issue should not be represented to ministers? But then Dr Harris has a bit of a track record of such judgemental intolerance, for example in condemning anti-abortion GP, Tammie Downes:

The Guardian reported that Liberal Democrat MP and noted abortion and euthanasia campaigner, Evan Harris, denounced Dr. Downes to Health Minister Dawn Primarolo and asked for an investigation.

And, as a member of the BMA’s ethics board Dr Harris tried to:

...remove the legal right of doctors to refuse to refer for or arrange abortions.

None of this makes Dr Harris wrong – there is a genuine debate to be had about abortion and I am willing to listen to the arguments for and against the status quo, tighter controls or liberalisation. Sadly, Dr Harris wants Government to only receive advice from those who share his view that abortion should be much easier to obtain. As with so many on the left – and Dr Harris certainly isn’t what I would call a liberal – the intention seems to be to close off the debate and to characterise those who take a different view as brainwashed religious zealots.

What concerns me most in all this – and I worry far more about the issue of “mercy-killing” than I do about abortion – is that by closing out the debate, Dr Harris directly contradicts his own oft-stated belief in free speech. By saying that only pro-abortion views should be presented to the Government’s deliberations about sexual health is to deny access on the basis of prejudice rather than to promote free speech.


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