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Eastwood's claim to moral high ground rings hollow when it comes to abortions

SDLP leader shares more with Donald Trump than he would like to admit, writes Fionola Meredith

Published 18/11/2016

Donald Trump and Colum Eastwood are both opposed to pregnancy terminations
Donald Trump and Colum Eastwood are both opposed to pregnancy terminations
Donald Trump and Colum Eastwood are both opposed to pregnancy terminations

Who's worse, Donald Trump or SDLP leader Colum Eastwood? I know, it seems farcical to compare the two. Trump is set to be the most powerful man in the world, swept to triumph on a tsunami of anti-establishment rage. Eastwood, meanwhile, is the leader of a declining nationalist party in small, obscure Northern Ireland.

Trump is a narcissistic demagogue; he's venal, vulgar, aggressive and given to hateful outbursts against women and immigrants. Eastwood is a young bearded chap who advocates a kinder, gentler form of politics - youthful, progressive and inclusive.

Truth be told, Eastwood is a bit of a pipsqueak when it comes to the world stage, which is why he was pilloried for his response to the Trump victory, in which he vowed to snub any White House event during Trump's presidency because of all the misogyny and racism. No doubt this rejection left the President-elect devastated, snivelling into one of his gilt-trimmed handkerchiefs.

Eastwood also said that we mustn't be angry about Trump's win. Instead he encouraged us to display "the softer sentiment of sadness".

"Trump's was not so much a victory of right over left, it was a victory of fanatical and fantasy absolutism over a more considered, coherent and kinder politics," he explained.

"It is for this reason I have said that I will not attend a Trump White House. I choose to stand by a very different set of values than those displayed by this man."

But do you really, Mr Eastwood? Because I think that you and Mr Trump share more values than you're prepared to admit.

When it comes to the crucial issue of abortion, both Trump and Eastwood are 'pro-life'. Trump wants the US Supreme Court ruling which legalised abortion to be overturned, and he says he will appoint an anti-abortion judge to the nation's highest court.

Eastwood's party, the SDLP, joined forces with the DUP to torpedo an attempt to amend Northern Irish law to allow for terminations in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities.

Permitting women who find themselves in this most distressing of circumstances - where the child has no chance of survival - to get a termination, is the least, the absolute least, that a society which considers itself remotely humane should do. What is kind or gentle or progressive about denying a woman that choice?

Trump's running mate, Mike Pence, now the new Vice-president elect, is a hardline opponent of abortion too. In his home state of Indiana, Pence signed a law this year that, among other restrictions, would have banned abortions due to genetic abnormality. A federal judge subsequently blocked the law. But even if the legislation had stood, Mike Pence's Indiana would still be more liberal in the way it treats women than Northern Ireland. Thank you very much, Mr Eastwood.

Perhaps I am being unfair to the SDLP leader. Perhaps he has a more nuanced approach to a woman's right to choose than Trump or Pence. But if he has, I have yet to hear it. To date, I have found Mr Eastwood's responses to questions about abortion incoherent and evasive. He has said that he opposes the extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland and he's said: "We have to protect life". Beyond that, it's a bit woolly.

Is Mr Eastwood's opposition to abortion absolute, or can he countenance termination in the case of rape or incest? I would really like to know.

If you are the leader of a political party, it's vital that you make your views explicitly clear on this most pressing issue of social justice.

Possibly, he's worried about the effect that any kind of softening of the SDLP's traditional anti-abortion line might have on voters.

But if you're an avowed man of principle, standing up for compassionate, progressive values in the face of Trump's ugly agenda, then canny vote-winning pragmatism shouldn't be a factor, should it?

Besides, according to a recent Amnesty International opinion poll, 69% of SDLP supporters agree with access to abortion in cases of rape or incest, with only 17% opposed. And 62% support abortion when there is a fatal foetal abnormality, as against 26%. Attitudes are changing, even in the crusty SDLP. It would be ironic if the party's youthful, future-facing leader failed to acknowledge that shift.

Colum Eastwood took a passionate stand against Donald Trump's misogyny. But to me there is something deeply misogynistic about refusing to support women's access to basic reproductive rights. Mr Eastwood should examine his own conscience, and indeed his own policies, before scaling the high moral ground.

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