How Lib Dem MPs voted in the abortion debate

by Stephen Tall on May 21, 2008

55 Lib Dem MPs took part in last night’s crucial Commons vote on whether to reduce the current 24-week limit on abortions to 22 weeks (the closest vote of the night). In what was a free vote, a majority of the party’s MPs voted against any change to the current law. Here’s how they lined up:

The following 23 Lib Dem MPs voted for 22 weeks:

Baker, Norman
Barrett, John
Breed, Colin
Brooke, Annette
Burt, Lorely
Hancock, Mike
Horwood, Martin
Hughes, Simon
Hunter, Mark
Laws, David
Mulholland, Greg
Pugh, John
Reid, Alan
Rogerson, Dan
Rowen, Paul
Russell, Bob
Stunell, Andrew
Teather, Sarah
Webb, Steve
Williams, Mark
Williams, Roger
Willis, Phil
Younger-Ross, Richard

The following 32 Lib Dem MPs voted against 22 weeks:

Alexander, Danny
Brake, Tom
Bruce, Malcolm
Burstow, Paul
Campbell, Menzies
Carmichael, Alistair
Clegg, Nick
Davey, Edward
Featherstone, Lynne
Foster, Don
George, Andrew
Gidley, Sandra
Goldsworthy, Julia
Harris, Evan
Harvey, Nick
Hemming, John
Holmes, Paul
Howarth, David
Huhne, Chris
Keetch, Paul
Kramer, Susan
Lamb, Norman
Leech, John
Moore, Michael
Opik, Lembit
Rennie, Willie
Smith, Robert
Swinson, Jo
Taylor, Matthew
Thurso, John
Williams, Stephen
Willott, Jenny

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Thanks for this but errrm when did John Penrose become a Lib Dem?
http://www.conservatives.com/tile.do?def=people.person.page&personID=34321

by Chris Gee on May 21, 2008 at 8:22 pm. Reply #

I’m surprised so many voted for a reduction in the limit as the medical evidence for doing so is very questionable. Is there any recorded incidence of any of these MPs coming out against abortion entirely, whether through religious belief or otherwise that would help to contextualise the figures?

by RedOnTheTrain on May 21, 2008 at 8:32 pm. Reply #

Well, Greg Mullholand, John Pugh and Bob Russell were the only 3 Lib Dems to vote to reduce the limit to 16 and 12 weeks, so the rest are likely not against abortion entirely.

by Tinter on May 21, 2008 at 8:49 pm. Reply #

I would never have been such a strong supporter of Bob if I had known he wished to impose his male views on women in this way.

by Nich Starling- Norfolk Blogger on May 21, 2008 at 8:52 pm. Reply #

I agree Nich Starling. It’s the woman’s body & life, not mine or yours or anyone else’s but hers.

by asquith on May 21, 2008 at 9:11 pm. Reply #

time to map these votes against other social issues (civil partnerships, gay adoption) and see whether we have any social conservatives lurking in the parliamentary party.

by john on May 21, 2008 at 9:12 pm. Reply #

John, I think that’s been done several times, already. If I can remember correctly, at least Colin Breed, John Pugh, Paul Rowen and Bob Russell were among the … less social liberally inclined. (See The Public Whip if you need evidence.)

I’m a bit dissapointed, though, that some MPs who have had a full score in voting for individual liberty so far voted with them this time. But maybe they had some good reasons for their decision, which my imagination just isn’t sufficient to fabricate.

by NN on May 21, 2008 at 10:06 pm. Reply #

by Justin Hinchcliffe on May 21, 2008 at 10:15 pm. Reply #

Bob also voted to keep the age of consent for homosexuals and anal sex at 18, and to keep cannabis class B. Also against the sexual orientation equality laws. He appears to be our most “conservative” MP.

by Tinter on May 21, 2008 at 10:25 pm. Reply #

Sarah Teather has an exemplary record in voting liberally on social issues and also has a science background unlike most MPs. I think it’s wrong to characterise people who voted for 22 weeks but against the shorter limits as being anti-abortion; there are some difficult issues around viability. I didn’t feel there was a case for a change in the law, I’m happy with the outcome; but it’s a perfectly respectable position to tie the limit to viability, while defending women’s right to safe, legal, straightforward abortion.

by Bridget Fox on May 21, 2008 at 10:35 pm. Reply #

Sarah Teather has an exemplary record in voting liberally on social issues.

Really? Well in that case she rather spoiled things on Monday night. (Because Monday night was altogether far more worrying than Tuesday night!)

by Laurence Boyce on May 21, 2008 at 11:10 pm. Reply #

“I agree Nich Starling. It’s the woman’s body & life, not mine or yours or anyone else’s but hers.”

Funny, I thought that the point of abortion was that there was another life. Otherwise, what’s the point?

by Anonymous on May 21, 2008 at 11:15 pm. Reply #

John Penrose is a Conservative MP

by Peter Dunphy on May 21, 2008 at 11:17 pm. Reply #

Yes, Stephen’s figures are a little awry. Public Whip says 32 to 23.

by Laurence Boyce on May 21, 2008 at 11:22 pm. Reply #

Thanks for corrections – have updated the list according to Public Whip (mine was based on the BBC, who got it wrong).

by Stephen Tall on May 21, 2008 at 11:36 pm. Reply #

Ahh, I just love the bravery of an anonymous poster.

by Nich Starling- Norfolk Blogger on May 21, 2008 at 11:37 pm. Reply #

Surely the issue is that this always has been a matter of personal conscience – unlike gay rights (or other human rights issues)?

It’s why the two David’s – Alton and Steel could remain on the same bench for the best part of 20 years (until Alton’s Catholic guilt drove him mad).

by Dan on May 22, 2008 at 12:02 am. Reply #

A free vote shouldn’t be followed by a lynch mob, what are some of you saying?

by Oranjepan on May 22, 2008 at 12:14 am. Reply #

What did anyone say that makes this comparable to a lynch mob?

A free vote means the party doesn’t run a line. It doesn’t mean members can’t express a view or, goodness, criticise an MP.

by Tinter on May 22, 2008 at 12:54 am. Reply #

Sure criticism is fine, but because it was a free vote what do you hope to gain by attempting to hold them individually to account?

Our party should be proud to have more accurately reflected the opinion of the house and the wider country than either of the other parties, whether we agreed or disagreed on any of the specifics.

by Oranjepan on May 22, 2008 at 1:25 am. Reply #

I see a few MPs are conspicious by their absence…naming no names…looks like my MP would have stood aimlessly by while the abortion law might have been gradually phased out…

by Jo on May 22, 2008 at 8:17 am. Reply #

I think it might be interesting if I make a list (or hopefully someone else will try to beat me to it) of all our MPs who abstain on important votes such as these. I’ve lost all respect for Jeremy…although I’m sure normal service will be resumed shortly!

by Jo on May 22, 2008 at 8:23 am. Reply #

I’ve glued the bits of Public Whip together on the abortion limit into a Google Spreadsheet.

by Ryan Cullen on May 22, 2008 at 9:46 am. Reply #

I agree with Jo here. The real villains are the eight MPs who either couldn’t be bothered or were too cowardly to turn up for such an important vote.

I am very pleased to say that my own MP David Howarth has the second best attendance record of all Lib Dem MPs.

by Laurence Boyce on May 22, 2008 at 10:44 am. Reply #

I think this is a genuinly difficult issue for MPs of all parties.

Only a minority appear to beleive that either all abortions should be illegal, or that there should be no time limit.

That leaves the majority supporting some time limit, which is essentially a pragmatic position, based on balancing a number of factors.

Personally I would support the current limit, but I would not condemn those who believe, based on potential viability, that the limit should be reduced.

by Neil on May 22, 2008 at 11:01 am. Reply #

Those voting to lower the time limit should not automatically be classed as social conservatives (though some probably are). There are liberal arguments against abortion on human rights grounds. I don’t subscribe to them, but there is a liberal case.

by Richard Ormerod on May 22, 2008 at 12:12 pm. Reply #

Of course MPs can sometimes have a legitimate reason for absence, like an illness for instance. I don’t know if all eight catched a flu before the vote, but it is possible that at least one or two of them did.

by NN on May 22, 2008 at 2:42 pm. Reply #

Or perhaps some of them were campaigning in Crewe and Nantwich?

by NN on May 22, 2008 at 2:48 pm. Reply #

Neil – very wise, summed up perfectly.

by Julian H on May 22, 2008 at 3:29 pm. Reply #

I was just surprised that Jeremy wasn’t there after seeing him on the benches the day before that’s all.

No doubt he was off somewhere else for entirely legitimate reasons.

Bit of a shame though…

by Jo on May 22, 2008 at 3:57 pm. Reply #

At least one of our MPs is in California on Parliament business, no idea where the others were.

I’m naturally pleased we kept to 24 as I think the ‘viable at 22’ argument was specious at best, shame they withdrew the on demand up to 12 amendment though. Ah well.

Do want to know what Sarah was thinking on Monday though.

by MatGB on May 22, 2008 at 4:48 pm. Reply #

The abstentions split into two groups:

Present the night before: Browne, Cable, Farron, Oaten
Not seen for a while: Beith, Heath, Kennedy, Sanders

by Laurence Boyce on May 22, 2008 at 5:04 pm. Reply #

I’m afraid I may become a little annoying on this issue.

I really don’t understand why anyone feels so strongly about a time period when only 1.5% abortions take place, other than it being part of a campaign to by the anti-abortion/catholic lobby to gradually phase the law out. These things always happen gradually never overnight.

I’m sure any abortions carried out at this late stage are more often than not for entirely medical reasons where the health of the baby or mother is put in severe danger. If you look at the BBC website you will see the large proportion of abortions take place under 9 weeks which doesn’t even necessitate a surgical procedure, just a pill (I think – I checked Marie Stopes but couldn’t download the leaflet)…

I’m sure whatever the upper limit was for abortion the same people would be crawling everywhere in the media sneakily attempting to roll it back…then perhaps a few weeks less a few years in the future, until before we know it the freedoms that we have taken for granted have vanished into thin air.

by Jo on May 22, 2008 at 5:46 pm. Reply #

What Jo says is entirely correct.

I am also very very very proud of my (not Lib Dem) local MP, Chris McCafferty, who has been brilliant throughout the progress of this bill.

by Jennie on May 23, 2008 at 1:13 am. Reply #

Jennie – What Jo says is entirely correct if you substitute anti-abortion/catholic lobby with anti-abortion/(christian/religious) fundamentalist/cynical/calculating/right-wing/sympathetic-to-vested interest lobby.

by Oranjepan on May 23, 2008 at 3:50 pm. Reply #

Before Jo insists on going around maligning MPs she should first check her facts.

by Bob Shaw on May 27, 2008 at 12:18 pm. Reply #

As this is an issue (22 week reduction) where the Party is fairly evenly divided I am surprised that it is being used to ‘out’ various ‘closet conservatives’. The desire to have a Party where everyone votes the same way on such controversial issues seems very anti-liberal. My own (LibDem) MP, whom I respect greatly, ducked this one, and I have my own views, but I am happy to see diversity within the Party. I would be very worried if abortion were no longer a conscience issue for LibDems.

by David on May 28, 2008 at 8:30 am. Reply #

David, I agree. The figures for 22 weeks do not of themselves indicate much. But, taken as a whole, the voting figures for all the divisions of 19 and 20 May do in my view contain some worrying trends.

I also strongly reject the idea that the MPs concerned are beyond criticism because it’s a “conscience” vote. I sincerely hope that our MPs vote with their consciences every single time, but this does not mean that we cannot hold them to account.

I am presently writing an article in which I intend to “out” some more MPs. You will not like it much, if it gets published.

by Laurence Boyce on May 28, 2008 at 9:17 am. Reply #

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