Pro-Life Catholic Wins Leadership of Australian Federal Opposition Party

Tony Abbott, the former federal minister for health and a pro-life Catholic, has won the leadership of the opposition Liberal Party of Australia, putting him in line for possible leadership of the country in Australia’s next general election.

The Federal Member for Warringah and shadow Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, was voted in at the party’s Dec 1st leadership convention, beating the incumbent Malcolm Turnbull by a single vote. The vote makes Tony Abbott the first social conservative to lead the Liberal party since the resignation of John Howard.

Abbott is known for his outspokenness on life issues. In a speech at the University of Adelaide in 2004 he asked, “Why isn’t the fact that 100,000 women choose to end their pregnancies regarded as a national tragedy approaching the scale, say, of aboriginal life expectancy being 20 years less than that of the general community?”

“Even those who think that abortion is a woman’s right should be troubled by the fact that 100,000 Australian women choose to destroy their unborn babies every year.”

Anthony Ozimic, communications manager of the UK-based Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) and an expatriate Australian, told (LSN) that Tony Abbott has come to international attention as a Catholic whose political record is in keeping with his Church’s social and moral teaching, unlike his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull, also a Catholic politician but one who has voted against Catholic pro-life teaching.

“With unborn children increasingly under threat worldwide, the advancement of pro-lifers to the highest ranks of political leadership is greatly to be welcomed,” Ozimic said.

Abbott’s win was also welcomed by local pro-life groups who said they are “excited” about the vote and its implications for Australian politics. Right to Life Australia president Veronica Andrews told The Age that she hopes Abbott will oppose abortion and voluntary euthanasia in parliament.

“He hasn’t promised us anything for sure but we’re excited by the idea of Abbott,” Andrews told AAP on Tuesday.

In 2006, as health minister, Abbott refused to allow the abortion drug RU486 to be made available in Australia, arguing that it was more dangerous to women than surgical abortion. This led to a conscience vote in which the House of Representatives deprived the health minister of regulatory control of the drug.

In response to that vote, Abbott recommended expanding counseling services for women seeking abortions and criticized the national acceptance of abortion, saying, “We have a bizarre double standard, a bizarre double standard in this country where someone who kills a pregnant woman’s baby is guilty of murder but a woman who aborts an unborn baby is simply exercising choice.”

Abbott has also opposed the use of embryonic stem cells and cloning in health research in another conscience vote, preferring continued use of adult stem cells. In family law, Abbott proposed a return to at-fault divorce to reduce the divorce rate, a system that required spouses to prove offences like adultery, habitual drunkenness or cruelty before a divorce was granted. Such a system was largely abandoned in western countries in the 1960s and 1970s.

In comments after this week’s leadership race, Abbott also blasted the current Rudd government’s climate change legislation, a key issue for parliament in the coming weeks, denouncing it as a tax grab.

“As far as many, many millions of Australians are concerned, what the Rudd Government ETS [emissions trading scheme] looks like is a great big tax to create a great big slush fund to provide politicised handouts, run by a giant bureaucracy.”

Writer Greg Ansley noted in the New Zealand Herald that Abbott is likely to move the Liberal party further to the right in general, “distinguishing the Opposition from the blurred centre to which both sides of politics have steadily gravitated.”

The Australian’s Greg Sherridan wrote, “The contest between Rudd, a convincing and thoughtful social democrat, and Abbott, a convincing and thoughtful conservative, is likely to be sharp, invigorating and good for our political culture.”

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