The head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales has called for abortion to become an issue in the general election.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor said Tory leader Michael Howard's call for a reduction in the legal time limit for abortions was "a step in the right direction".
And he urged voters to consider the right-to-life at the ballot box.
Prime Minister Tony Blair said there were no plans to change the law but "debate would continue". And he said abortion should be a matter of conscience, not party politics.
Do you agree with Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor? Could abortion issues change your vote? Should it be a matter of conscience or party politics?
This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
Absolutely not! If we allow religion to dictate how we live our lives we will be taking a step back into the Medieval ages! It should be up to the woman to decide, with a guiding hand from our government, and no input from any religious group!
Riordan Tomlinson, Lancashire, England
I'm not sure where Bob from Portsmouth gets the idea that the Catholic Church is a minority religion from. There are over 5 million Catholics in the country, with 1 million regularly attending church (which is the same number of Anglicans attending church). It is also worth noting that the Roman Catholic Church is the largest religious organisation in the world with over 1 billion members.
Jamie Reeves, Hounslow, UK
The decisions that affect the way our country runs should be based on cold hard facts not feelings or beliefs. This country needs a clear separation from the rule of law and the rule of god. Our politicians need to rule with their heads not with their hearts.
Michael Joslin, New Malden, UK
Religion and politics should never mix. Religion is a personal choice and should never be used in regards to decision making for the whole population.
Duncan Wilkins, Stevenage UK
Here we go, let's blame the big bad Roman Catholic Church for everything yet again, as Britain is one big "godless" society. The simple point is, if a premature baby is born at 24 weeks and someone crept into the hospital and turned it's incubator off, that person would be tried for murder. But yet that same baby would still be allowed to be killed in the womb. That is the cold hard facts and that's what we are dealing with.
If the church decides to criticise and get involved in politic debate, then it must be prepared to get attacked back and this is something the hypocritical church will not be happy about.
Colin Grant, Manchester, UK
The problem isn't that he has a point of view but that his position in a religious body gives his opinion more weight than it ought to have. If my next door neighbour made the same remarks nobody would pay any notice at all. In a secular democracy does religion have the right to this much air time?
Chris G., Cambridge UK
God preserve us from a country where religious and moral issues dominate the political scene!
Rosemary Seton, London, UK
The Queen isn't allowed to vote in elections or to make her political views public. If she were to do so, it could unduly influence the outcome of elections. I think that religious "leaders", of all faiths, should abide by the same rules.
Rob, London, UK
Cardinal O'Connor has just as much a right to free speech as anyone. The repeated attempts of secularists to take those rights away from people of faith amounts to religious persecution. The civil rights movement in the US was lead by clergymen. What if they had been silenced by the "politics and religion shouldn't mix" dogma?
Christy, St Louis, USA
Abortion should always be a matter for the individual. The facility should be there but it is up to the woman to decide whether to take it or not. I am old enough to remember the back street abortionists and the damage they caused. That is where we would return to should the Catholic church have it's way.
It is right to bring it into the debate. It is also right not to make it a party political issue and leave it as a free vote.
J Caruana, Chatham, Kent
This is not a political matter, yes it could sway votes. This subject should be left to the individual who have to live with the decision, and the doctors who carry out the procedures!
Catherine Edwards, Alloa, Scotland
Abortion policy is one of the main issues which will affect my vote. Politics is about the governance of daily life. If we, as a society, don't protect each other from the moment of conception, who will be left to vote!
Clare Ward, London
As a member of our great free and democratic society, I reserve the right to ignore any laws that pass that are based on a religion that is not my own. I will not have the beliefs of others forced upon me by the state!
Andy, Stafford, UK
If the Catholic Church rethought its ban on birth control, perhaps fewer women would be in the position of contemplating an abortion. Remember also that the Catholic Church condemns the use of condoms in the midst of the AIDS epidemic, thus condemning thousands do die, while maintaining the stance that it is Pro-Life!
HD, London, UK
Interestingly such debate was not had when the Church entered the political arena against euthanasia. Because the unborn child is unseen, does not diminish its right to life. The Church does not judge or condemn, but it must express its moral conviction on such topics (as did all other religious groups, with the notable exclusion of the CoE), without their teachings where would society be? I am pleased the Cardinal spoke up, keep up the great work.
Paul O'Callaghan, London, UK
The Cardinal is allowed his own opinion based on his faith but that should not be pushed onto other people who have a different faith or idea. It should be a down to the personal opinion of the mother (and father) involved rather than a political party. The only way abortion would change my vote is if a party wanted to ban abortion altogether and therefore remove a persons choice.
Emma M, Lichfield, Staffordshire
Whatever the rights or wrongs of the debate itself, I do find it quite interesting that the vast majority of comments appear to come from the male population, none of whom will ever be put in the position of having to contemplate an abortion!
Jill Wood, Midlothian, Scotland
Religion and politics mix in many developing nations in the world to the detriment of the people who have to live under their oppressive regimes. Just taking that one element of the issue I don't think the two should mix.
I feel this should not be a matter for party politics! There are so many things to consider when making your choice who to vote for and this would just complicate things even further. I am sure someone told me once that only at around 24 weeks gestation can you pick up certain mal formations or syndromes in the foetus/baby.
This should be a matter for the doctors and parents to decide. I am a mother of two and take this matter very seriously indeed. I value the life of the unborn dearly but to bring a dreadfully handicapped child into this world is too cruel. Life is difficult enough! Religion has a lot to answer for. Why create more misery?
Ruth Walters, Romford, Essex
Can't these religious people keep their opinions to themselves. We see often enough the result that their beliefs have in Catholic Ireland with young girls having to come to this great free country of ours to have abortions. So what does this head of which is a minority religion in this country expect, all that would happen is back street abortion with the obvious medical problems or girls taking a trip to the continent.
Before he starts spouting his opinions in the future perhaps he should look at the size of the churches congregations to gauge the public opinion of these outdated religious beliefs. Who elected him anyway?
Bob Bebbington, Portsmouth, England
I think abortion should be a political agenda. I support the Cardinal of Westminster.
Danelia Cardona, Chichester, UK
In an overwhelmingly secular country, religion has absolutely no place in politics. These people don't know better than the rest of us, they are not elected by the population and should stick to preaching to their own and not the rest of us.
The only way to break the link between religion and politics is to stop religious people voting: either by stopping them from being religious or taking away their franchise. Stalin tried this: the result was not the atheist paradise some people here seem to think would result from separating religion from politics.
Simon Richardson, London, UK
Religion is a political matter. I believe as strongly in my morals, brought on by my socialist outlook, as any Christian believes in their morals. If the mass populace chooses to make abortion an issue then it should be, but frankly, I don't think enough people care enough about changing abortion laws in this country.
Jack, Milton, UK
We need to tread very carefully, understanding that the Catholic Church has a repressive viewpoint that can be seen as un-democratic. Abortion is a very emotive subject matter and needs to be treated with great care. Right-to-life is one side, right-to-choice is the other and these viewpoints will not be bridged.
The Church needs to respect this and not make the question of abortion an election issue, or to try to influence due process by telling the faithful how to vote. That sort of influence is not democratic and is a step backwards to the old ways of social hierarchy.
George Hinton, Twickenham, Middlesex
If politics and religion mix the problems arise of what religions and what issues. Catholics may want a ban on abortions. The Islamic community may want headscarves worn by all women in public. The Church of England may decide it wants to stop Sunday trading. A religious person might be happy to have their religious issues as part of the state law, but would they really be willing to accept the issues of other religions? Draw the line and stop the mix - it will only make a mess.
Ajana Zabel, Singapore, ex-UK
Religion is by its very nature dogmatic and not given to compromise, the very stuff of politics. To encourage religious perspectives to enter into mainstream politics is to threaten to undo fifty years of progress in the tolerance we now enjoy. Additionally, religiously motivated voting undermines democracy by handing more power to the leaders of voting-blocks under their control.
Cormac Murphy O'Connor's statements were irresponsible and overreach his remit as Archbishop of Westminster. Church and state should be rigidly separated or we risk falling into the same trap as the US, leading to derision and policies that disregard anyone who is not a member of whichever particular faith holds most sway.
I agree totally with the Cardinal. Abortion and right-to-life issues do change my vote and have done in the past. This is literally the most important issue of life and death the country faces. I would vote for (or against) a party depending on its policy on this, and would like to have the opportunity to do so.
Brin Dunsire, High Wycombe, England
Howard is trying to gain the backing of the Catholic Church in order to recruit new voters. He would rather jeopardise the physical and mental wellbeing of many thousands of women in the UK than risk losing another general election. It's a disgusting, cynical ploy that will ensure that for the first time ever, I do not vote Conservative.
Linda K, UK
I am a Catholic but I really can not agree with Cormac Murphy O'Connor. I feel that abortion, hard though it is, is unfortunately an imperfect solution to an imperfect world. You can not ignore key issues that often lead to an abortion and compassion should be shown at all stages. It is indeed a question for conscience and this move by some people to control everything in society is short sided and flawed.
I count myself very lucky to have never been in the position where I have had to make a personal decision regarding an abortion and if I ever am I'm not sure what decision I would make. However, the main point is that it is a personal decision and that I would be able to make a choice. I am an adult and would make an informed decision. I could never support any political party that would take that choice away from me.
Emma, Warrington, UK
If we want to limit abortions in Britain, wouldn't proper sex education be a better answer than legislation?
Nigel Baldwin, Portsmouth UK
The right to life itself is surely the most important issue of all. Politicians who deny that the electorate should have a say over the issue of abortion are being extremely arrogant. Surely all voters have a right, and indeed a duty, to inquire how election candidates will vote on the issue. That's democracy - the British people have never had the chance to have a proper say on the issue.
Tom Rogers, Lincoln
Of course everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I don't agree with a religious leader using that platform to make political points. While the moral structure of our society may have its roots in Christianity, the fact is we have a secular political and democratic process.
I totally disagree with religious leaders interfering in this way, assuming that they speak for others. Surely one of the main causes of the problems in the Middle East is the inability to separate religion from politics. Do we want to live in a Westernised version of Iran?
Mark Malik, Teesside, UK
Religion and law have always been inextricably linked: are not most laws based on the Ten Commandments? Add to that the right of the Cardinal to voice his opinion on the matter, personal or dogmatic. However, in pushing the subject to be an election matter he has gone too far in meddling in politics. Separation of state and church is a must in the modern, multicultural and secular UK.
Lenny P, Guildford
Whether people like it or not, religion and politics do mix. People's religious convictions are going to influence their political views and they shouldn't be expected to sweep their views under the carpet. It's our democratic right to voice our opinions, whether those convictions are based on religious and political views or not.
I was shocked to learn that there are women who use abortion as an alternative to contraception. But obviously, if the mother's life is at risk abortion would be justifiable. But all I hear these days is a 'woman's right to choose'. Yet none of them mention the child's right to live. Let's hear a little more of women's responsibilities! Yes. I fully support Cardinal Cormac's comments. Politics and religion go hand in hand.
Let America be a warning! The evangelical Christians are in charge, and the whole country is sharply divided over the issue, despite the constitutional split between Church and State. Do we want religionists running the country?
Mark J, London/ US expat
Should religion and politics mix? Of course they should! Everyone, even the atheist, has a religious point of view. To ban anyone with a religious point of view from political debate would be to ban everyone!
The matter of abortion would never come into who I would vote for. Abortion should be a choice for those responsible. Politics and religion should not keep you imprisoned in making certain choices. I find it hard to take that abortion can be considered murder as I do not remember, nor have I ever met anyone who does, my time in mum's womb.
The abortion question is not only a political question, but primarily an ethical one. Why wouldn't a religious person be allowed to contribute to the abortion debate? Because it is a social issue? To formulate the question in that form ("should religion and politics mix?") every time a religious person (cleric or lay) gives his opinion on a social issue is an attempt to isolate religion out of the spheres of society.
To say religion and politics shouldn't mix is silly. There are many issues that are important to voters in an area - perhaps due to their religion. Our whole calendar and year nomenclature is based on religion for goodness sake!
The various churches have been trying to present fairy tales and superstition as truth for centuries, in order to perpetuate their influence. Religion now is of only minority interest in this country. It should play no part in the political process.
Now that it seems religion is becoming untouchable and not up for criticism for it views the Church is taking advantage of this and trying to mould laws that just mirror their views and not those of the public in general. Just because abortions are available does not mean that Catholics have to have abortions. It is a somewhat selfish view that no-one can have abortions due to the views of one section of society.
Also, what is not mentioned regarding babies being able to live outside the womb earlier and earlier: this does not broach the act that very premature babies are prone to mental health problems and physical problems as their bodies have not fully developed and never will. Just because we can save these premature babies does not automatically mean we should.
Steve, Loughborough, UK
The Cardinal has made it plain that a reduction in the legal time limit is just the beginning. He will not be satisfied until abortion is abolished. It is important that all free-thinking men and women fight to stop the church taking away a woman's right to choose.
Roger Hart, Deal, UK
Without meaning to make a sweeping statement and give no credit to the younger generation, the fact is, we don't seem to vote. Hopefully, the public raising of issues such as abortion should engage the younger generation and actually prevent them from switching off at the sound of taxes, environment, asylum etc. Even though religion and politics shouldn't mix, they do and sometimes start heated debates. Maybe the discussion of topics which directly effect the younger generation or someone around them could be the push needed to vote.
Secularists are hypocritical when they say the Church should not impose its values on society. That is exactly what they are doing when they say that. The issue is not about forcing anyone to have a certain faith or anything like that. The issue is about 6 million precious and perfect lives that have been destroyed in the UK since abortion became law in 1967. Therefore, I think it is a valid political issue. It amazes me how the same people who are strongly opposed to the death penalty for a convicted murderer are often the same people who are up for killing innocent babies.
The Cardinal's position - "a step in the right direction" - is nonsensical. If you oppose abortion as being a form of homicide, whether for religious or other reasons, then time limits are irrelevant. They are equally irrelevant if you accept abortion is a matter of choice. Only if you try - as does the current law - to pretend that it is some kind of medical self-defence - do time limits come into it. Personally I favour choice in what is a private medical matter.
Adam Gilinsky, Scotland
Abortion is about the destruction of human life before birth. It is equally reprehensible to destroy a life before birth as after birth. This should be an issue, in fact the main issue at the next election.
John Scotson, Altrincham, England
Yet again the media is kicking up a fuss about nothing. So far as I can see the Cardinal was not recommending that anyone vote Tory, he was simply raising this as one of a number of issues that Catholics may wish to consider when deciding who to vote for.
Of course religious views should be considered when deciding which party or candidate to support. MPs are our representatives in parliament and I for one would rather that my MP was moral and capable of changing his views on opinions if presented with new information, rather than a self-serving, ambitious, sycophant. I find voters who only vote along party lines rather lazy and narrow-minded. I think it is commendable that the Cardinal is encouraging his parishioners to get out and be more pro-active.
Marie, York, UK
Religion and politics should not mix at all. Religion is a personal choice, and while it may help someone decide on an issue, religion should not be used to justify it. What many people fail to realise is that secularism allows everyone their own opinion, whereas religious laws and politics exclude people. As for abortion, I am firmly pro-choice. If religious people want to be against it then that is their choice, but they should not restrict the freedom of other people to choose.
Matt Wood, Bristol, UK
It's interesting to read people say religion is irrelevant and abortion is up to the woman to decide. Why then don't we go all the way and allow abortion right up until birth? Or take it further - allow unwanted children to die from deliberate neglect if they aren't old enough to feed or care for themselves? Hang on, why not just allow anyone who annoys you or inconveniences you to be killed off while we're at it? How about the old, the sick, the mentally ill... Anyone see where this trend is going! I think it was a train of thought some bloke in Germany followed during the 1940s....
Chris Ransom, Colchester, UK
See here, all the criticism is being heaped on the Catholic religion, when in fact, the state attempts to control and regulate the church as well. Who is head of the Church of England? The State, in the form of the Monarch is. Until this changes, any criticism of a church for interfering in politics is hypocritical.
Gareth, Sheffield, UK
Whether you like it or not religion and politics have always gone hand in hand, if you believe in a certain religion and a certain political party holds views that oppose your religious beliefs then you are not going to vote for that party.
Stephen, Sheffield UK
I most certainly do not agree with Cardinal O'Connor or Michael Howard. In fact I wonder what makes either of them think that his opinion matters in the slightest to a woman in the predicament of having an unplanned pregnancy. The gospel is all very well but it cannot pay for a new pram, baby clothes or baby food, nor can it provide a father to the child if the woman is on her own. The majority of politicians and religious leaders are male, therefore have no business telling modern women what they should or should not do in relation to an unplanned/unwanted pregnancy. The current abortion law is fine as it is.
Kat from Scotland spouts the usual rubbish about clergy not being able to tell women what to do. Abortion is all about the child's right to live not the woman's right to choose. Also, Kat, the Gospel certainly does mean that we help poor mothers to buy prams and all the other items she and the new baby need. The current law is a disgrace.
Fr David Swyer, Albourne, UK
The Roman Catholic Church is doing what it used to do so much. Mixing politics and religion.
Dane Marshall, St. Paul MN /USA
Whether secular, humanist, Muslim or Christian we all have a worldview which shapes every judgement we make, including who to vote for. The Cardinal is right to encourage people to engage intelligently with issues before voting so that a vote for any political party is given out of conviction and with justification.
David Woolley, London
To make abortion some kind of political football is, quite simply wrong. My view is, and always has been, it is the right of the woman to decide and not some moral do-gooder bleating from his pulpit nor some third-rate politician hoping to snare a view votes.
Shaun Crowther, Barnoldswick, UK
Oh dear! Here we go again following the US once again. This time it's rise of the Christian Right. The so called "authority" of the Church no longer exists and Cardinal O'Connor should just keep out of modern people's lives. Long live the secular state!
Duncan, London, UK
The legal limit for abortion was set at 24 weeks because at the time babies born at 24 weeks always died - they were incapable of independent life. Medical technology has advanced to the point where babies born at 24 weeks are now viable. In effect we're aborting babies that can live outside the womb. Michael Howard's proposals are fairly sensible: 5 months is plenty of time to arrange an abortion if you wish one and at the same time it recognises that medical technology has changed.
I believe that the Cardinal's comments (and would believe the same of anybody who made those comments) on moving the legal time limit for abortions from 24-20 weeks is entirely reasonable in the face of new scientific evidence as to the development of the foetus in the womb. If a woman is pregnant, she will know far sooner than twenty weeks, which is four and a half months pregnant! However I disagree with the use of abortion as an election tool. It is something entirely personal; it does not belong in politics.
Christianity teaches tolerance of other's ideas and beliefs. Something, some here, appear to lack. The Cardinal wasn't saying "Vote Tory", he was simply stating that his personal view, and that of Michael Howard, were not totally at odds in this instance.
Glen, Welling, UK
If Catholic women chose not to have an abortion it is their choice, as should be for all of us who aren't religious. It is getting very tiring all these arguments that keep appearing in the news where any religious group tries to complain and impose their views on the rest of the population. Personal responsibility for one's actions should be a matter for every individual regardless of creed.
Ana, London, UK
I can't speak for religions other than Christianity. Politics do not belong in Christianity and vice versa. Or has Cardinal O'Connor never read Matthew 22:21 or Mark 12:17 or Luke 20:25. Or maybe he just hasn't the understanding. If the church wants to politicize its views they must do so without referring to their views as being Christian. Their views and the teachings of Jesus are not synonymous.
Daniel Kennedy, Cumbernauld Scotland
I think the Catholic Church has caused enough pain and misery in this world and until it modernises and accepts that birth control in most of its forms is acceptable then it has no right to comment on the abortion issue. Young women who have unwanted pregnancies are often the most vulnerable in society. I for one do not want a return to the world of Vera Drake - abortion must and will remain a legal right in the UK.
The only person who should decide about abortion is the woman involved - she is the one faced with carrying an unwanted pregnancy; it is her right to choose not politicians or celibate clergy. We do not want to go back to the days of illegal backstreet abortions where thousands of women died. Every child should be a wanted child and every mother, a willing mother
Neil Rogall, UK
If Mr Blair wishes to ignore abortion when other political parties are making an effort to address it then he does so at his peril. I for one will be taking it very much into account on deciding where to cast my vote. It isn't an issue that concerns simply Roman Catholics. I find it very difficult to vote for a party which takes no account of the moral views of such a large portion of the population on such a vitally important issue.
What upsets and angers me when the debate on abortion yet again rears itself is the so called 'religious leaders' and 'pro-lifers' have more than likely never found themselves in the position where abortion is the only answer and wish they would realise the decision to abort is one of the most difficult decisions a woman faces and unless they have experienced it for themselves they should learn to keep quiet and not force their beliefs on others. (And before you ask, yes I have been in this position where I made the correct decision for myself and chose to have an abortion).
I would say life is already an election issue, but life includes wars, the NHS, car accidents and other things. If the Cardinal is saying that abortion should decide my vote he will find I vote against the party he recommends.
John, Fleet, UK
The outdated and out of touch church should simply mind its own business. It is up to the woman concerned whether she wishes for an abortion - it is her body after all. Wasn't it the Pope who said that women raped in Bosnia shouldn't be allowed the morning after pill or an abortion? Enough said.
Religion is a philosophy mixed with superstitions. The philosophy can't help but effect your choice of political parties but it's the superstition that should be kept apart.
Religion is totally irrelevant in a modern and increasingly secular world. It causes more problems than it solves.
Richard Bagnall, Cambridge, UK