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One of the concepts that I have often struggled with when expounding on the subject of pornography is whether or not the female stars are themselves victims. Recently there has been a lot of discourse regarding the topic of sex workers in mainstream media, Women’s Hour on BBC Radio 4 recently had an illuminating discussion, in which one sex worker passionately, articulately and  convincingly argued that she was no victim.

The problem is that mainstream soft-porn such as the ubiquitous 50 shades of grey, and Belle de Jour’s Diary of a Call Girl, has brought the taboo into the mainstream, giving practices which are often seedy, grim, painful and unpleasant, an alluring and glamourous appeal. It is not sufficient to be well-educated or cultured, or professionally successful, ideally we should all be sexual gourmands willing and able to indulge in and expand the flavours of our sexual palate, if we are to be considered true sophisticates.

Catholic culture and theology will naturally eschew and reject such worldly thinking, nonetheless this narrative of women involved in pornography as victims, is a difficult one to unpick when discussing on a secular level. One doesn’t need the reams of emerging data on the dangers of pornography and of porn addiction to believe that pornography is essentially the misuse of another human person, whether that’s the person involved in the making of it, or the person viewing it. Pornography is not only damaging to the individuals associated with it or who choose to use it, but to society as a whole.

Which is why this piece, written by a mainstream feminist is an essential read, as it rejects the entire frame of sexual empowerment, expressing sympathy with someone who is the target of abuse as a result of their sexual activities does not mean that one has  to embrace their choices as valid. It rejects the frame of pornography as being an issue of individual choice and validates critique of pornography as being about the manufacture and commodification of sexual desire.

By asking “how does porn – its material production, its normativity, its wide availability, and its ubiquity in pop culture – affect our desires and our capacity for intimacy?” feminists can offer a critique of porn without falling into the honey trap.

Summing up, the author asks

“The issue isn’t whether porn is liberating for her.  The issue is:  is porn liberating for us?”

Now that’s my kind of feminism and of course it will give fuel to those who would wish to despairingly equate feminism and/or Catholicism with Puritanism, whereas actually both Catholics and feminists would agree that sex is a good and pleasurable thing which should be enjoyed by women and men alike, but we would differ on the appropriate context. The default Catholic position is one of sex positivity, so long as the parameters of sex were described as being heterosexual and within marriage. It’s not that sex per se is harmful, dirty or bad, we accept the sheer power of the thing, which is why we wish to harness the power as a force for good, namely reinforcing intimacy between a married couple and procreation.

But what really struck me about this intelligent piece was that it, perhaps subconsciously rejected individualism and moral relativism and the popular feminist mantra that woman’s choices must automatically be celebrated by virtue of her gender. Female solidarity does not mean that we have to applaud, ostracise, shun or pity women who choose the lucrative career of working in one of Hugh Heffner or Peter Stringfellow’s establishments, but rather that we ask deeper questions about the nature of female flourishing and freedoms and use reason to explain, persuade and convince others of our point of view.

The technique is similar to Catholic humanist apologetics however, feminists will be at an advantage in that they may not have to face the ‘you are an irrational believer in the sky fairy’ schtick, but that they will invariably have to fend off some critique of their appearance, sexual appeal and perceived lack of desire (such as the shameful treatment of Clare Short) demonstrates that sexism is still alive and well. This isn’t the fruits of patriarchy however but the consequences of the sexual revolution which held that every women had not only to be constantly ‘up for it’ but must also conform her appearance to a sexualised male gaze.

For all its coherence nonetheless, I couldn’t help but be frustrated, particularly when I noted that it had been picked up and tweeted, naturally enough, by pro-choice feminist and writer Sarah Ditum. If feminists are able to see the illogical and harmful stance of choice feminism, recognising and accepting that certain individual choices can contribute to and propagate wider harms, why can they not apply this principle to abortion. If they are able to identify the key issue about pornography, what it actually constitutes and signifies, then why are they quite so blind to the nature of abortion? If Naomi Wolfe, a key pro-choice feminist can state that abortion rights activists ought to acknowledge a death involved, then why is mainstream feminism unable to engage with and unpick the harms done to mother and child by abortion. And why are those of us who have been hurt by abortion, or who attempt to highlight the damage caused to womankind as a whole, rejected by the mainstream movement?

blondpidge:

It’s rare I re-blog, but YES YES YES!! Finally a feminist who speaks my language and ‘gets it’.

I give you the divine Camille…

Originally posted on TIME:

Fertility is the missing chapter in sex education. Sobering facts about women’s declining fertility after their 20s are being withheld from ambitious young women, who are propelled along a career track devised for men.

The refusal by public schools’ sex-education programs to acknowledge gender differences is betraying both boys and girls. The genders should be separated for sex counseling. It is absurd to avoid the harsh reality that boys have less to lose from casual serial sex than do girls, who risk pregnancy and whose future fertility can be compromised by disease. Boys need lessons in basic ethics and moral reasoning about sex (for example, not taking advantage of intoxicated dates), while girls must learn to distinguish sexual compliance from popularity.

Above all, girls need life-planning advice. Too often, sex education defines pregnancy as a pathology, for which the cure is abortion. Adolescent girls must think deeply about their ultimate…

View original 578 more words

I’ve written the following to my local MP. It may be too lengthy, but do feel free to copy and paste and plagiarise at will when writing to your local MP, as strongly suggested by LIFE charity. One wag from there tweeted that the government’s consultation with BPAS and Marie Stopes as to these new procedures was like asking advice from the fox on how to secure the chicken coop. Couldn’t have put it better myself!
the_fantastic_mr_fox08
I may also meet with Mr Weatherly, not only about this issue, but to ask him why on earth we should vote for him when he has explicitly suggested to David Cameron that churches who do not perform same-sex ‘marriages’ should be stripped of their licence to perform weddings. Voting for him would seem to be akin to a turkey voting for Christmas, but hey-ho, let’s see if he can manage to win back Catholic and Christian support on this issue. There is a vibrant politically engaged Catholic and Evangelical community in Brighton and Hove for whom life issues are crucial in deciding where to put the cross on the ballot paper.
Dear Mr Weatherly
On Monday of this week, I was invited in my capacity as a Catholic columnist and broadcaster to debate by Oxford University’s Students for Life organisation, the following motion “This House regrets the passing of the 1967 Abortion Act” against Kate Smurthwaite, feminist comedian and deputy-chairman of the organisation Abortion Rights.
In the course of conducting some research for the debate, I came across some very telling speeches from Hansard, where even pro-choice politicians were denying that the proposed bill would lead to abortion on demand.
In particular David Steel, one of the original architects of the bill said this:
“We want to stamp out the back-street abortions, but it is not the intention of the Promoters of the Bill to leave a wide open door for abortion on request.”
 
This tallies with his subsequent remarks made in December 2013 in which he referred to the almost 200,000 abortions which take place in Britain on an annual basis and said that he never envisaged that there would be so many abortions. 
 
Another MP, Jill Knight, now Baroness Knight, had this to say in her speech to the house:
 
Although I have been sympathetic to this Bill, I could never go all the way with the suggestion that there should be abortion on demand, which, of course, is what subsection (1, c) actually means. This subsection is so wide and so loose that any woman who felt that her coming baby would be an inconvenience would be able to get rid of it.
There is something very wrong indeed about this. Babies are not like bad teeth to be jerked out just because they cause suffering. An unborn baby is a baby nevertheless. Would the sponsors of the Bill think it right to kill a baby they can see? Of course they would not. Why then do they think it right to kill one they cannot see? It seems to me that this is a most important point. I have come to believe that those who support abortion on demand do so because in all sincerity they cannot accept that an unborn baby is a human being. Yet surely it is. Its heart beats, it moves, it sleeps, it eats. Uninterfered with, it has a potential life ahead of it of 70 years or more ; it may be a happy life, or a sad life ; it may be a genius, or it may be just plain average ; but surely as a healthy, living baby it has a right not to be killed simply because it be may inconvenient for a year or so to its mother.”
 
Her speech was greeted with uproar, she was rebuked by the Speaker of the house for being ‘emotional’ when she described the abortion process, which consists of dismembering the unborn child and her prediction that subsection 1,c of the Act would lead to abortion on demand was poo-poohed as exaggeration. 
 
Those who enacted the 1967 Abortion Act, did so whilst promising that abortion would not be available upon demand. These promises are clearly not being kept and the law routinely broken.
 
In the UK, more than 200,000 abortions take place every year, which is a total of almost 7 million, in the forty-five years since the 1967 Abortion Act was passed. This amounts to almost a tenth of the UK population who are missing. 
 
An official review carried out by the National Collaborating Centre for mental health in 2011, stated that abortion does not improve mental health outcomes for women with unplanned pregnancies, despite the fact that over 98% of the abortions performed in the UK every year are done so under mental health grounds, leading Dr Peter Saunders, of the Christian Medical Fellowship, to posit that they are in fact technically illegal. 
 
The former Conservative health secretary, Andrew Lansley took steps to introduce some further, un-debated and undemocratic changes to current abortion law provision. Disturbingly he has removed the requirement for a woman to be seen by the two doctors who need by law to authorise her abortion. 
 
This provision was put into the law precisely to protect women from exploitation, recognising the serious and grave nature of abortion, that it ends a human life, a definition which even Ann Furedi Chief Executive of BPAS, the UK’s single largest independent provider of abortions would accept. According to the draft Revised Standard Operating Procedures, (RSOPs) published as part of the public consultation, one which was incidentally, not widely publicised, doctors will no longer be required to meet with a woman before signing off upon her abortion, this instead will be left to a ‘multi-disciplinary’ team which could include people who have no medical or nursing training. 
 
It’s worth noting that in 2008, when he was shadow health secretary, Andrew Lansley advocated removal of the two doctor rule, during the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in his second reading speech, however he later backed off following adverse publicity and an amendment aimed at dispensing the two doctor rule, was never debated or voted upon.
 
Mr Lansley’s proposals were not posted on the government’s website until 6 months after  the abortion clinics were issued with them and neither were they publicly announced. 
 
The consultation surrounding them has now closed and the Department of Health is about to release these new guidelines to abortion clinics and doctors. At no point have these new proposals which radically alter the implementation and spirit of the Abortion Act been debated. 
 
I am also disturbed to learn that in response to a question from Fiona Bruce MP, the Public Health Minister, Jane Ellison MP has confirmed that the department of health had general discussions about the Abortion Act with BPAS and Marie Stopes International, and said that there are no plans to consult on a draft as the new proposals are designed to to set out the department’s interpretation of the law. I note that no post-abortive women have been consulted as to their views and experiences. 
 
Speaking from my perspective of a woman who has suffered serious consequences following an abortion procedure, which was performed in a similar type of fashion to the proposals suggested by the Department of Health, this rubber-stamping attitude caused me a lot of harm. I was not administered the medication to terminate my pregnancy by a doctor, nor was I seen by a doctor at any stage during my abortion procedure, despite the fact that I suffered from severe and abnormal bleeding. Neither was it ever explained to me that I could expect to experience a form of labour, that the bleeding could be extremely heavy, painful and prolonged. At no point did I ever receive any sort of counselling, I did not even know that this was available. My appointment consisted of my telling a woman (I have no idea if she was medically qualified or not) of the predicament I found myself in and being told that it would be irresponsible to have a baby, although there were no medical facts that would indicate that either my physical or mental health would be at risk. 
 
My mental health was however, compromised as a result of the procedure. 
 
It is an undeniable fact that not only does abortion end a human life, but it also causes very real harm to many women, either physically, emotionally or both. 
 
Abortion procedures need to be tightened up, as my experience shows women are already deprived of the support and information that they need from the abortion clinics when faced with a crisis pregnancy. 
 
Making abortion routine in this fashion, normalises the taking of human life, as well as causing untold harm to the women affected. 
 
Perhaps most importantly from your perspective, there is massive public opposition to these proposed changes. According to a Com Res poll on 7 March, 90% of women believe that women seeks an abortion should always be seen by a qualified doctor. 80% felt that a woman’s health would be put at risk if she was not seen by two doctors. Another 80% said that doctors who lie about having seen patients should be prosecuted and well over half believed that the two doctor requirement should be more rigourously policed in private clinics. 
 
We have recently seen the abhorrent practice of gendercide whereby unborn babies are aborted solely due to their female sex been exposed as occurring in UK abortion clinics. This relaxation of the rules does nothing to prevent this abuse. 
 
The 1967 Abortion Act was brought in on the grounds of compassion in very limited cases and yet it is routinely contravened and has caused untold harm to mothers and babies alike. 
 
Regardless of your view on abortion, I would like to seek your opinion on whether or not a government minister can or should re-write statue law on such a vital issue in such a clandestine and undemocratic fashion, without public approval. 
 
As my democratically elected MP in the key marginal seat of Hove, I would very much welcome your views on this issue. 
 
I refer you to this excellent and comprehensive article by Dr Peter Saunders on how David Cameron’s Conservative party has presided over the largest liberalisation of the Abortion Act since 1967, without a democratic mandate. 
 
Yours sincerely
 
Caroline Farrow

Recently when the largely manufactured ‘scandal’ surrounding pro-life counselling and crisis pregnancy centres (CPCS) hit the headlines, some members of the pro-life movement were extremely keen to denounce un-scientific or allegedly un-ethical practice and disassociate themselves from such groups, in order that they would not be tarred with the same brush.

While this was understandable in many ways, I have come to the conclusion that harsh and over-the-top criticisms (of which I have been personally guilty myself) should be avoided where possible and any  public critique or correction should be done with charity. With that in mind, it is nonetheless important that if the pro-life movement wants to be afforded any credibility, that we do not seek to ignore or brush under the carpet any errors but rather confront the charges often laid at our door by pro-choicers and if they have any validity, publicly seek to address any shortcomings both in terms of attitudes, approaches and information given out to women.

It is in this spirit that I therefore wish to offer the following comment.

This morning, a story has appeared in the Daily Mail, regarding the case of a pregnant woman who was seconds away from taking pills to terminate her pregnancy following a diagnoses of pre-natal death. Fortunately the mother insisted upon a second scan when she returned to the hospital a few days later which demonstrated that her baby was in fact alive. The little girl has now been born, is making good progress despite being born with some congenital abnormalities, the NHS trust involved has come to an out of court settlement and most importantly changed their procedures to ensure that women are always given access to a second scan to confirm the original diagnoses before taking any action to end the pregnancy.

Admittedly I am extremely sensitive about this topic, not least because it is about now that I would have been giving birth to our baby Raphael, had he or she lived. Nonetheless, it was disappointing to see this story being picked up and spun by the normally responsible Life Charity, as follows:

I’m not denying that it is an important pro-life story and no doubt it will be picked by SPUC in their regular news round-up, however there is little point in highlighting a problem, without suggesting a viable solution. The point which is being missed, not only by the Daily Mail, but also by LIFE, is not that a woman should have multiple scans as screening is allegedly often wrong, rather that she should have access to a second independent expert opinion, as soon as possible after the original diagnosis.

In the case of Mrs Wiggins, the lady featured in the story, she should not have been sent home without a second opinion or confirmation as to the status of the baby. A second scan should not be offered days later, or immediately preceding a termination, but on the same day as the diagnosis. No woman beyond 10 weeks in pregnancy should be sent home with a provisional diagnosis that her baby has probably died but she needs to come back a few days later or in a week’s time to confirm.

If you are told that your baby has died, you should be in no doubt whatsoever, and, to be fair, cases like this are thankfully rare. Recently there has been a question mark over the diagnoses of early miscarriages, which means that organisations concerned with maternal health need to work together to ensure that existing guidelines are adhered to and the advice given to women should include advice to seek a second opinion as well as a wait and see approach before terminating a suspected silent miscarriage in the very early stages, where there is often a margin of error in terms of  dates and measurements.

I found the story distressing, as would any woman who had experienced a silent miscarriage, because like Mrs Wiggins I only had one scan and this therefore raises the horrifying possibility that I may have terminated a living child. In my case I am as confident as I can ever be that the baby had died, for a number of reasons. Firstly, the person carrying out the scan spent quite a long time examining the baby in silence before telling me that there was no heartbeat and I could see for myself that the baby was not moving. Secondly, the scan was not carried about by a midwife on a maternity ward, but a qualified  radiographer who specialised in ultrasound. Thirdly, her diagnosis was not only confirmed by her colleague recording the measurements, but a third party, whom she immediately telephoned and asked them to come to verify her findings. So while the scan  took place on a single occasion, it was confirmed by 3 different medical professionals.

This should be the model of care for all women in order to minimse distress and enable them to take the decision as to their next course of action. In my case what continued to cause distress, was due to the fact that this had occurred at the end of the first trimester, my body had not acknowledged that the baby had died and so was continuing to chuck out pregnancy hormones meaning that the foetal sac was still growing and I was still feeling pregnant and growing larger. As can be imagined I am acutely sensitive to any suggestion that I may have inadvertently killed a healthy baby, as would most women be who were in a similar situation. Casting doubt over whether or not the diagnoses were correct, is irresponsible unless you are going to offer supportive resources.

Which is why pro-life groups need to ensure that they don’t jump on sensational stories which could compound the hurt and distress of women, but offer a measured response, including reassurance that these cases are in the minority and that if there is room for any doubt, then women should not rush to terminate a suspected silent miscarriage. Better still join forces with miscarriage support groups to campaign for better treatment.

What doesn’t help is using this case to cast doubt upon the reliability of pre-natal screening. Recently there have been some notable mistakes with parents mistakenly told that their babies are disabled, but in the majority of cases, the diagnoses are correct and parents take the agonising decision to abort after several detailed scans at a later stage. While we must objectively state that such abortions cannot be condoned, neither should we do anything to compound the grief and trauma of the parents, including casting doubt on pre-natal screening and diagnoses.

Pre-natal screening is not in an of itself an evil – so long as it is used for therapeutic effect, to heal and cure babies and advance the cause of fetal and neo-natal medicine which should be curative. While we should be wary that there is scope for error, neither should we reject screening as unhelpful or out of hand. Personally if one of my children were to be born with a disability I would want to know in order that we could adequately prepare and be in a position to support our child and provide optimum care.

The right of disabled babies and children to life, should not be conflated with issues surrounding misdiagnosis and pre-natal screening not least because it runs the risk of implicitly condoning or justifying those cases where the diagnoses is correct.

Pointing out that sometimes mistakes in pre-natal screening can occur should always be accompanied by relevant advice and support in case you are affected by these issues. It’s always tempting to maximise the pro-life element of these stories and jump on the outrage bandwagon but not always the most responsible course of action.

Pro-life must always be pro-woman, it must remember that it has a duty of care to all women, which includes those of us who have experienced the pain of miscarriage and abortion. That must by necessity include telling the truth but neither must it install a sense of fear, panic or distress in those who are struggling in the aftermath of losing a child, but instead offer sensible advice, reassurance and accurate medical information and access to counselling and healing for women who may be affected.

Feminine game changers

mad-men

BBC Woman’s Hour have launched the 2014 Power List, to identify the top ten women who are changing the way that power operates in today’s society.

No doubt the list will be replete with high achieving professional women and the feminist twitter crusaders, such as Caroline Criado-Perez who successfully campaigned to have the face of Jane Austen put on a banknote and then faced an online backlash of hatred. I’m yet to be convinced that having a woman on a banknote or banishing pink lego is anything more than superficial tinkering, it does nothing to change sexual exploitation of women, for example.

Alice Feinsten, the programme’s editor has said that she is really  looking forward to hearing whether our judges think the high-profile whistleblowers and Twitter crusaders that have made the headlines over the past year are forging new rules of engagement in the circles of power.

Emma Barnett, chair of the judging panel has noted that the age of social media means that women no longer need to be successful purely in the boardroom or their professional sphere, basically making enough noise on the internet means that one can become a major game-changer regardless of whether you are a grandmother in your seventies or a politically interested teenager.

In many ways this is great news, it certainly contextualises and explains much of the unprecedented amount of online trolling, personal attack  and stalking that comes my way, especially from certain LGBT and pro-choice lobbies, who obviously do perceive me to be something of a threat or potential power-changer and therefore feel the need to neutralise or undermine the challenge with personal smears. Catholics on the internet are making their presence felt and being included in mainstream media as a result. Nonetheless awards such as these, leave me banging my head against the desk in frustration because they are everything that is wrong with modern feminism and far from recognising and celebrating authentic, genuine womanhood, are reinforcing the culture that seeks to undermine femininity.

One of the biggest mistakes that feminism has ever made in its desire to achieve women’s equality, is to judge female success by what women do, or achieve, particularly in the wider world of work, culture and politics, as opposed to who they are. In this quest for secular achievement, motherhood has been denigrated or cast aside as being oppressive as it seemingly prevents women from being in the public sphere where all the important decisions are made.

In terms of vital game-changers, no-one is more important in a young baby and child’s life than their mother and this is one of the reasons why media feminism is arguing itself into irrelevancy because it seeks to sideline the lives and concerns of ordinary women up and down the country, whether or not they are staying at home with the children or juggling a fairly-low grade job with childcare and instead engages in naval-gazing academic discussions of ‘intersectionality’ and labelling other women  who haven’t got to grips with the politically-correct terminology or media-speak as ‘transphobes’ or generally ignorant bigots. I asked my sister, a highly intelligent, forty-something, successful director of her own AIM-floated company and mother of four children whether or not she knew what the term ‘cis’ meant or what ‘intersectionality’ was all about. She looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language, and noted that most people haven’t got the time to be dealing with such pretentious nonsense. While no-one is suggesting that the needs of the transgender community should be ignored, neither are the specific  concerns of a woman who was  born a man, top of the list of priorties of your average woman, whether she is a housewife, working woman, someone surviving on benefits or a combination of all the above.

That is not to say that a woman can not be a true woman unless she embraces physical motherhood, the emergence into Catholic consciousness of the phrase ‘feminine genius’ the term first coined by Blessed John Paul II in his groundbreaking apostolic letter, Mulieris Dignitatem about the dignity and vocation of women, 25 years ago, has led to a tendency by some to idealise motherhood as being the principle way of fulfilling Catholic femininity.

If we are wishing to call women to fulfil their potential as created beings of God, then just as not every man is called to marriage or the cloister, neither is every women. Working women are every bit as able to fulfil their vocation to authentic femininity as their housewife sisters or those who by choice or necessity straddle the dual worlds of work and home. The key is in whether or not they harness their  ‘feminine genius’ which is predominantly about giving, sharing and serving.

Nonetheless it is a huge mistake for Catholic women to buy into mainstream feminist thinking about smashing the glass ceiling, or being power-changers in the wider world, as promoted by the likes of Woman’s Hour, because this inherently undermines the achievements of women on an individual level. Raising children and changing nappies may not win any accolades or been seen as a worthy achievement, but it is still vital because the world needs healthy and emotionally well-adjusted adults who thanks to a stable upbringing will be able to take their place in the world and contribute to the common good.

Most women cannot identify with the movers and shakers, because while they may present aspiration and ambition, for most, a high-powered career is unachievable, together with the demands of children. Moreover it is not what many of us want – middle class mothers are deserting the workplace in droves. I was privileged to be selected as one of the BBC’s 100 women, nonetheless throughout the day of networking and discussion, I could not stop thinking how far removed, sitting in a break-out session with Helen Clark, former prime-minister of New Zealand and Cherie Blair, was from the lives of millions of ordinary women, whose main concerns would be how to put food on the table, keep safe from the elements or protect themselves and their families from either militia or a totalitarian state.

It’s difficult to distill the essence of feminine genius into one distinct quality, it isn’t purely about raising children, nor achieving career and worldly success, it isn’t an agenda, a career plan or ‘to do list’. It should not be obsessed with accomplishments or  eliminating feminine characteristics in order to make us more like men. It’s a rather more ethereal and elusive prospect, being a woman is really about ‘essence’; a set of traits unique to womankind,  wholly distinct from men.  Whether or not they achieve physical motherhood, the general ability of women to procreate means that we have the power and potential to inject love into the world. Essence is being, not doing. If we understand who we are then we are able to transmit that whole truth the world before we have even opened our mouths. This is why faith should not be considered irrelevant or supplementary to the feminist cause which should address deeper philosophical questions such as ‘who am I’, ‘what is woman’ and consider those things which are vital to female flourishing.

Feminine gifts are counter-cultural and intangible and involve the ability to go beyond appearance, to understand and intuit things on a visceral level and pick up underlying and unspoken issues. The potential to become mothers imbues us with the gift of nurture, to nourish human love and then give that back to the whole world in whatever sphere we choose. If women seem more concerned with human relationships than men, it’s because motherhood equips us with the ability to accept, nurture and heal. It’s no coincidence that most young babies come to know and love their mother first,  because women are equipped to foster the intimate bond first formed in utero.

‘Feminine genius’ then, requires women to be a sanctuary for the human person. It is the ability of a woman to be at peace with herself and radiate the gift of love, of fostering and nurturing relationships to the world at large. To use the vernacular, it requires women to be a ‘true girlfriend’, not competitive, not obsessed with material accomplishments and secular achievements, but to put our talents at the service of others, to couch it in Christian terms, to become an icon of the Church, in order to find true fulfilment.

Being included on female power-lists, smashing glass ceilings and setting out to become lone women secular pioneers, places limitations on the scope of feminine genius. I always know when I am in the presence of a successful gracious, dignified, noble and powerful woman, not because of what she wears, or what I have read about her in the press, or what I know about her personal circumstances but because of how she makes me feel in our relationship, whether that be one of familial bonds,  friendship, or professional association.

This is what women are best at, the feminine genius lies in creating and nurturing relationships based in love. As far as feminism is concerned, if you eschew material and professional success in favour of a more spiritual approach, attempting to attain the things that matter and respond to the desires of the heart and soul, then you are not doing everything you can to become a fully-fledged modern woman and do not deserve to be a part of the club.

Women can only be game changers when they give love for no other reason than it is no less than every single soul deserves. We are called to build a civilisation of love, brick by brick, and restore the culture of life. Authentic feminine beauty lies in abandoning self-focus, rising up and bringing an elegance to virtue, socially selfless and sensual, bringing out the true beauty of other souls.

If we use this criteria then there are far more worthy women I can name, than those who have ruthlessly pursued goals of self-fulfilment and secular success or who have managed some superficial achievement by earnestly bashing out diatribes on their keyboards. The irony is that their goals transcend the temporal heights of BBC plaudits and they would therefore be wholly uninterested.

Since 2007, a group of pro-lifers in Oxford have regularly met once a month to stand outside the entrance to the John Radcliffe hospital in order to silently bear witness to the sanctity of human life.

Their vigil takes place at the weekend, when no abortions take place, therefore they cannot be accused of harassing or distressing pregnant women and neither can they be accused of causing a breach of the peace – their witness is entirely peaceful.

Recently they have attracted the attention and ire of pro-choice activists, who have angrily tried to disrupt the witness, getting up close and personal, quite literally in the face of those standing in silent solidarity. This video footage is extremely telling – what strikes me are the tactics of intimidation attempted by the pro-choicers, who are without a doubt the aggressors here; attempting to close down a peaceful legal event, prevent freedom of expression and then quite unbelievably and perhaps predictably, claiming victim status.

Joseph Shaw has uploaded the photos of the event to his Flickr stream here.

This is exactly how pro-life witness should take place, quietly, peacefully, en masse and without making the pro-life movement vulnerable to spurious claims of harassment. It is patently obvious that no harassment or provocation by the part of the pro-lifers has taken place and yet the handful of protestors intent on disrupting the witness nevertheless audaciously attempt to claim otherwise.

The other interesting point to note here is that, to the best of my knowledge, this witness has not been organised by any of the major pro-life charities or lobby-groups, this is activism at its best, a group of like-minded people getting together to take some practical action. This kind of thing  reminds us that actually that in some situations we don’t need to be sheep, waiting to be herded and marshalled into action by someone else or an official group, complaining that ‘nothing ever gets done’. Provided we stay within the precepts of the law, then there is nothing to stop similar witnesses taking place up and down the country and this is precisely what vigils such as Forty Days for Life are attempting to achieve.

For those who mutter about whether or not vigils are the best tactic to win hearts and minds or are ‘effective’, once again I want to scream at you – ‘prayer is never wasted’.  Furthermore I’d also wonder whether or not succumbing to secular unease about prayer in the public square is advisable. Only one group of people stand to benefit from fewer public pro-life vigils and it isn’t the vulnerable pregnant women!

Finally, there has been a lot of chatter on social media over the past few weeks regarding attempts to disassociate the pro-life moment from overt displays of religiosity, in order to make it more ‘inclusive’. I would strongly agree that there needs to be more secular initiatives, a pro-life attitude does not require any recourse to theism as several atheist or even wiccan pro-life colleagues of mine would testify. I agree that pro-life sentiment needs to move beyond being perceived as being solely within the realms of ‘religious whackjobs’, which is why we have several official non-religious pro-life charities and lobby groups, which incidentally, does not make them immune from attack. The abortion ideologues will attack from whatever angle they can, they simply find the religious stereotype the easiest one to deal with.

What the above video demonstrates however, is the effectiveness of these witnesses  - how a group of people standing in silent solidarity or singing a simple timeless Latin chant can arouse such irrational anger. Obviously they are thought to be dangerous in terms of swaying public opinion  -why else would these handful of extremists go to such lengths to counter their message and issue empty threats?

What those within the pro-life movement need to remember is that while some may not been inclined towards overt displays of religiosity (although I know of several pagans who participate in 40 Days for Life), attempts to remove or conceal prayer, are misguided. Pro-life is never purely about the politics or PR, it will always for the Christian involve prayer and practical action.

Furthermore Catholics are the core constituents in the movement, the ones most likely to give of both their time and their money and as shown above, the ones most inclined to actually get off their backside and do something, whether that be attending a vigil, volunteering with or donating to a pro-life charity, or organising some sort of fund-raiser. It is never a matter of mere ideology. Efforts to be inclusive, should not write off or alienate the stalwarts such as the good people in this video in their well-intentioned aim to soften the sceptic and hardened neo-liberal hearts.

Congratulations to all those involved in Oxford – cages are obviously being rattled.

(Note the amount of young women taking part; quite a contrast from the middle-aged feminists and the man ludicrously holding the ‘my body, my choice’ banner).

Rejecting the frame

Since I wrote yesterday’s post regarding the brouhaha surrounding pro-life Crisis Pregnancy Counselling Centres, (CPCs) some valuable additional information has come to light.

Speaking with one of the groups involved yesterday, it appears that all is not quite as would seem in terms of this ‘damning’ video coverage. Firstly, the undercover reporter made 4 separate visits to the counselling centre and repeatedly pushed the issue with regards to breast cancer. Not having got what she wanted, they then went to find another centre who would indeed tell them what they wanted to hear, although it’s worth replaying the video recording or watching if you have not already done so. What was said, was not the most scientific, but neither was it the most outrageous lie.

With hindsight we can think of better ways that this information could be phrased and instead of  pro-life groups splitting into factions, actually we all ought to be supporting each other in terms of developing best practice. It’s not often that I agree with   SPUC, but in this instance, Paul Tully’s statement regarding groups who provide pro-life counselling for women, is bang on the money. They are truly heroic. Unlike the abortion clinics or sex education providers they receive absolutely no government money (which calls into question the whole issue as to whether or not they should be regulated) and they provide help and assistance to women on the very fringes of society, typically those in low socio-economic groups who do not qualify for any sort of government help. Pro-life counselling groups, do not just counsel but they provide very real support, such as money, housing, shelter, accommodation, employment and skills-based training, life-skills and in some cases literally put food on the table for starving pregnant women. Their support is wholly unconditional, if you are pregnant and going to suffer as a result of carrying your pregnancy to term, they will provide support for you for as long as you need it.

One has to ask how representative this video tape is of an ordinary undecided pregnant woman’s experience. If the groups are guilty of anything it is of naivety, although my understanding is that they regularly receive time-wasting visitors, whom they are able to see off at the first pass, who ask suspicious questions and repeatedly request to be shown graphic images. That is not the typical reaction of a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy and neither is an in-depth grilling on potential negative consequences of abortion.

That is not to defend the the poor phrasing or, misleading information but interestingly the Telegraph reports have not included any of the accompanying literature which does include some of the statistics.

We should also remember what counselling is – as Jack Scarisbrook of LIFE said a few years ago, it is not about imparting information, but allowing a safe space away from pressures for a woman to consider all of her options. A Catholic group may well take issue with the idea of non-directive counselling, because the counsellor must allow a woman to come to her own decision, even if that entails aborting her baby. However where counselling is provided by a group like LIFE for example, it is highly likely that a woman who has come to explore her options is undecided and therefore the counsellor will help her uncover the negative feelings about her pregnancy and decide whether or not they are valid, without actually advocating any course of action. It is undeniable that a woman who is feeling unsure about whether or not to abort, when given a safe opportunity to explore her feelings will more often than not choose a positive outcome for her baby.

In terms of Catholic counselling, the idea that women are pushed, cajoled, or pressurised is again a fallacious one. A counselling session will not force a woman who is unwilling to continue her pregnancy to term, to do so. The only  ‘damage’ which could be done, is that having had her conscience pricked and been exposed to a point of view which seeks to emphasise the humanity of the unborn, she could then be more prone to feelings of guilt, which begs the question as to whether or not the decision was indeed the right one for her. Guilt does not simply spring from someone pointing out an opposing ideological stance.

As to the medical data this is always supplementary information and incidental to the main decision which is always ‘can I cope with a pregnancy and young baby at this point in time’,  but so long as it is presented factually and accurately, then it would be doing a great disservice to women to deny that issues and complications can and do arise post-abortion. Cases of women who were persuaded against abortion purely because of health risks are rare, although Courtney Kardashian seems to have been swayed and has not as yet expressed any regrets. In fact she consulted her doctor to learn more about the risks who said this:

“My doctor told me there is nothing you will ever regret about having the baby, but he was like, ‘You may regret not having the baby.’ And I was like: That is so true. And it just hit me. I got so excited”

How very unscientific! How very ideological! How dare he give her such an opinion, instead of a neutral assessment of the data!

And this is the point. If the NHS was subject to secret filming of what was said to patients there would be a scandal on a daily basis. Medical staff are instructed to give you information in clear, plain and understandable English, instead of lapsing into scientific jargon. They are supposed to couch things in terms one can understand. Of course they shouldn’t come out with falsehoods or give you an opinion upon a best course of action, but they frequently do and often in very strong terms.

This is often at its most pronounced in terms of pregnancy – I have frequently been told in a very forceful manner what I ought to do both in terms of how I should deliver a child and contraceptive measures. In two pregnancies, I have been advised that I ought to consider abortion by members of the NHS on what constituted social grounds, namely the spacing of my children. Like many Catholic women we have received the obligatory hectoring post childbirth about our ‘irresponsible’ use of Fertility Awareness. Frankly that is infinitely worse than what we have seen in the pro-life counselling centres yet this happens on a daily basis on the NHS. Clinical judgement always brings an element of personal opinion into the equation. Telling a woman that she ought to have an abortion and then, as happened in my pregnancy in 2012, that she ought to go for counselling to consider it further when I refused, is in many ways worse as there is little choice when it comes to whether or not to use the NHS and staff judgement carries considerable authority.

All this worry and angst is solely driven by the pro-choice brigade – god forbid that a woman may feel anything less than wonderful following an abortion. No-one wants to see post-abortive women punished or made to go through unnecessary anxiety, but neither should pro-choice be allowed to dictate the framework here, which is one of medicalising an issue of moral judgement and closing down any viewpoint which seeks to persuade that abortion could in any way be wrong.

Two years ago, Telegraph columnist Tim Stanley wrote a fascinating piece about the success of the pro-life lobby in America, noting that they had borrowed the left’s language of health and safety and used regulation to good effect in terms of forcing clinics to ensure women’s safety. The reverse is happening over here. The liberal establishment are propping up the government-funded abortion and sex education industry to make morals a matter of medics. We are seeing this in campaigns for statutory sex education and best practice which seek to exclude parents who may not share the state agenda or curriculum in providing the correct ideology and now we see it in terms of the abortion industry and counselling which needs to be on the clinics’ terms.

Pro-lifers should not capitulate or hand-wring, counsellors need to ensure that they get their house in order, that women are given the facts and information that they need but neither should we forget that at least two lives are always at stake.

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