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If you follow my Twitter feed, you’ll know that my personal view is that Britain ought to vote to leave the EU in Thursday’s referendum. The most compelling case, from a Catholic perspective is presented here, by Tim Stanley. There is also another highly persuasive video from Toby Young of the Spectator.

However, a friend of mine, Dr Rupert Beale, is passionately in favour of remaining in the EU and has asked me to host a guest blog proposing an alternate view. In the interests of impartiality I am delighted to do so.

Wherever you stand on Britain’s membership of the EU, I would urge voters to exercise their democratic right to participate in Thursday’s referendum, remembering the millions of servicemen and woman who have given their lives in order for you to enjoy this privilege. We cannot complain about the result, unless we have taken part.

Over to Dr Beale:

Our earthly rulers falter, our people drift and die;

The walls of gold entomb us, the swords of scorn divide.

I had intended this to be a riposte to the various arguments with a Catholic flavour in favour of the UK leaving the EU, but the words of G.K. Chesterton’s hymn have been swirling round my brain of late. I fear that what I might have written would have been scornful. There’s been quite enough of that.

What I ask of all people of good conscience who believe that the EU is not a good thing is this: please do not vote for us to leave.

Many people were upset by the death of Jo Cox despite never having met her. I cannot imagine the shock and anguish that her husband must be feeling. Somehow he found the strength to issue a very dignified and fitting tribute to his wife. One poignant sentence stands out for me: “She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her.”

It is love for one another that defines us as Christians. A love that imitates Christ’s universal and self-sacrificial love. That is why we defend all human lives, and why we do not try to make different categories of worth between persons – all are infinitely loved by an infinite God. Value to us is the dignity and flourishing of persons; it is not a number of pounds in a bank, even if it’s the Bank of England.  People to us are equal: born or unborn, young and vigorous or old and dying. They are not different in value for being British or French, Romanian or Bangladeshi.

We can have a debate about the European Union. It’s a human political institution, with all the usual faults. I have argued that Britain benefits from membership (it certainly does in narrow monetary terms). I have also argued that British political influence has been a good thing in the EU as regards an area that’s personally important to me: scientific research. This scientific excellence fostered by the EU promotes economic growth, as well as the health and wellbeing of Britons, Europeans and all humanity. These, we should agree, are good things. Furthermore, it’s very hard to see how the UK could get a better deal outside the EU.

The EU is not an unalloyed ode to joy. There is a point of view that the loss of sovereignty entailed by (for example) allowing an international court primacy over a British court is intolerable. Some believe that the EU is remote and less accountable than it should be. The original noble ideals of the predecessor to the EU – which were couched in rather specifically Christian terms – have to some extent been betrayed.

Personally, I do not see that voluntary submission to the judgements of international courts (not confined to the EU of course) is a regrettable loss of sovereignty, but I think you can have a reasonable debate about it.  There is also a very uncomfortable argument that it is in fact Britain that’s bad for the EU (our influence is by no means always for the best).

The EU is a collection of 28 separate nation states, one of which is our own decidedly imperfect one. I agree that the EU has done and continues to do things which go against the high ideals of its founders – but imperfection is to be expected, whatever mechanisms are in place to help smooth relationships between our different countries.

Whatever you think about the EU, it cannot be emphasised enough that the merits or otherwise of the EU are not on the ballot paper. What’s on the ballot paper is leaving the EU. The wider context of this vote is not the impassioned but usually polite discourse between committed Christians. The context is fear of immigrants, lies about money, distrust of foreigners, distrust of economists, distrust of politicians, distrust of journalists, distrust of ‘experts’ – distrust of everybody.

The context is also a national political debate in which we have the love of money played off against the fear of immigrants. Across continental Europe, the context is many national parties that wish their particular country to break off from the EU (and most of those parties make our own Far Right seem pretty tame).

The context is also the recent horrible killing of an MP doing her job. The suspect has given his name in court as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain”. Inevitably, the motives and state of mind of the suspect have been subject to speculation, and that speculation has varied depending on the particular views of the speculator.

It’s illustrative of the poverty of the national debate that this terrible tragedy is being used to score points. It’s Jo Cox’s husband’s words that we should take to heart, and not give way to hatred. That means no hatred of foreigners, and it means no hatred of politicians either – even if they are guilty of rabble-rousing and xenophobia (as some most assuredly are).

The secular debate around the EU referendum has been conducted in terms which are too often bound by entombing walls of gold and the love of money. They are also being conducted in a way that suggests people – some people at any rate – can be cast adrift.

From all that terror teaches, from lies of tongue and pen,

From all the easy speeches that comfort cruel men;

From sale and profanation of honour and the sword;

From sleep and from damnation, deliver us, good Lord!

In a sea of lies and half-truths there is one particular depth of mendacity that I wish to plunge into: the claim that £350m a week can be spent on the NHS if we leave. It is worse than a deliberate lie. It is specially designed to be a lie, because the Leave camp’s spin-doctors have realised that if they lie about it, it will be talked about a lot.

The counter-argument is that the real figure is lower: £136m. This is great for the Leave camp: it still sounds like a large number, and cements the broader untruth that the EU costs us money in the minds of voters. The demographic they are especially targeting – older Labour voters – is tickled by the promise to spend all that money on the NHS. They have told us a small lie to make us believe a bigger one – what clever fellows those spin-doctors are!

Mendacity is not the special vice of the Leave campaign. It has long ago infected our whole political discourse. If all truth is relative, a lie can surely be a legitimate tool used in pursuit of a political goal. In those circumstances, where to tell a lie is neither considered wicked nor shameful – and is in fact admired for its ability to shift public opinion – it is little wonder that people have lost trust.

Truth and truth-telling are essential to Christian values. Of course, there is nowadays little or no reference to Christianity in public life. But truth-telling is important to secular humanists and people of other faiths too. Can we not replace Christian values with ‘Enlightenment’ values? I don’t see much evidence of that happening.

The secular debate – even if conducted in terms that don’t abandon the concept of truth altogether – is dominated by narrow self-interest. Will Britain be better off? Will I be better off? Will we be able to keep the foreigners out? It’s not exactly the universal brotherhood of man. The Enlightenment owes far more of a debt to Christianity than is generally admitted. The philosopher that atheists don’t much like to talk about is Nietzsche. Right now, it’s his abyss that’s staring into us.

I could see myself voting for Brexit under certain circumstances. For example, if it became a condition of our continued membership that we join the Euro (this would by law be subject to a referendum). The procedure there would be for an elected government to carefully build global alliances and put us in a position to negotiate an orderly withdrawal (we have no such alliance in place, and all our trading partners, allies and EU neighbours are against us leaving). We would need to ensure that any exit did not produce a severe economic shock.

At present, we have no credible scenario to achieve a successful negotiated settlement, and a substantial economic shock is certain if we leave. (I accept that some economists believe we could recover in a decade or so, while others don’t – but that there will be an initial shock is agreed by all.) A severe economic shock to Britain and to the EU at this time would give rise to the perfect conditions for bigotry and hatred to flourish. This we must not allow.

If you, like me, believe on balance that Britain is good for the EU and the EU is good for Britain I expect you will vote to remain. If we do vote to leave, we give succour to the very worst elements of our national politics and the national politics of the other EU members, and we must endure the national humiliation that will follow as best we can.

Take not thy thunder from us, but take away our pride.

 

 

ihaveagreatLife

As reported in the Catholic Herald, academic Catholic theologian Tina Beattie has signed a letter to the Polish Bishops’ Conference supporting ‘early, safe and legal’ abortion.

Joseph Shaw has demolished her ethical and theological arguments on his philosophy blog here – Mrs Beattie’s position is an indefensible one from a Catholic point of view.

But there is an another important element to Tina Beattie’s letter which is so far being overlooked. She says that in” those situations where abortion is deemed necessary – such as those currently permitted under Polish law, we believe that access to early, safe and legal abortion is necessary”.

Dr Shaw reminds us of the conclusions of the 2012 Dublin Declaration on Maternal health, which was signed by over one thousand medical practitioners, which explicitly stated that ‘the purposeful destruction of the unborn child – is not medically necessary to save the life of the woman.’

On those rare occasions that medical treatment needs to be carried out to preserve the life of the mother which could endanger the baby’s life,  the timing is only important in as much as the treatment is performed at a stage when it is going to be efficacious. Sometimes life threatening complications do not occur until a later stage in pregnancy, at which point it is often possible to treat them, while at the same time preserving the life of the infant.

Tina Beattie seems to be propagating the point of view that the earlier an abortion is carried out, the easier and safer it is for the woman. This confirms the sales propaganda of the abortion clinics, who use this to pressure women to make swift decisions, ones which they may later regret.

I speak from bitter experience here as I bought the very same line, opting to take the swift ‘medical abortion’ route under pressure and thus avoid the need for surgery. If, as the letter suggests, women very often face an agonising decision in terms of what to do about their pregnancies, then suggesting that they need to make the decision as quickly as possible in order maximise health outcomes, only puts further pressure on them. The question is whether or not we ought to be ending the lives of unwanted unborn babies, not at what stage this ought to be carried out. The idea of swift early safe abortion for disabled children, is a red herring to justify the lie of abortion being the only compassionate and responsible option in certain circumstances.

The UK abortion industry justify their existence by noting that the majority of abortions performed in the UK are done so in the first trimester. For the last year that statistics are available (2014) the number of medical abortions performed, accounted for 51% of the total and 92% of all abortions were in the first trimester. Of the 184, 571 abortions carried out in this year, 2%, (3099 babies) were aborted on the grounds of foetal disability.

Mrs Beattie’s push for early, safe and legal abortion for situations of disability, rape and danger to the mother’s life as well as being morally and ethically unsound is based on a dodgy grasp of the physical reality and one that could potentially mislead women into making an irreversible decision, on mistaken health grounds.

The idea of an early, safe abortion for babies with disabilities is dangerous myth. The first screening test for abnormalities occurs at the end of the first trimester. Most women going for a 12 week scan will have already made the decision that they are keeping their baby. Women are now able to discover that they are pregnant even a few days before their period is due. The nuchal fold combined screening test, which is a specific test for chromosomal abnormalities such as Downs Syndrome, is performed somewhere between the 11th and 14th week of pregnancy. The results of an ultrasound are combined with the results of a blood test in order to give women a result which tells them the probability that their baby has Downs Syndrome or another chromosomal disorder. If the result is higher than a 1 in 150 chance, then you will be offered counselling and a further diagnostic test, either an amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling which will confirm any diagnosis. Sometimes, a nuchal fold screening may not be able to be performed, if for example the baby is in the wrong position, in which case a quadruple serum test would be carried out after 14 weeks, but like the nuchal fold test, this will only give you a probability score.

The earliest that one is therefore likely to receive a confirmed diagnosis, will be around the 14 week mark, taking into account the timing of lab result tests and appointments. Should you decide that you want to have an abortion, then it would not be performed for at least another 24-48 hours.

Realistically, an abortion for a chromosomal abnormality will take place at around 15 weeks at the earliest, at which point the procedure is already more risky due to the rapidly growing foetus. The option of a medical abortion will be long gone and the suction method to evacuate the baby from the womb, is no longer possible either. You are already looking at a more complicated D&E procedure, which carries more risks. At 15 weeks many women will be experiencing foetal movements.

That’s not to promote any method of abortion as being the more desirable, but if Tina Beattie is going to cite medical facts, then she needs to be aware that swift, early stage abortion, is off the table for women who find that their babies have a physical abnormality. And there are many other non-chromosomal disorders which are not discovered until the 20 week scan, which if the mother decided that she didn’t want to keep the baby, would necessitate a  traumatic late-stage abortion.

It’s therefore deeply problematic to cite or advocate early stage abortion as a solution for disabled children, not just on the eugenic or moral grounds, but because it is not a physical reality. A brief look at the current ante-natal support threads on Mumsnet, will tell stories of mothers being given false diagnoses of disability, along with women really agonising over what to do and not wanting to take the decision to abort their baby, until they really do have every last piece of information regarding their condition and have sought second opinions, advice, counselling and so on. Nobody is rushing to abort, even though many report feeling under pressure from the medics.

It’s a disservice to women who find themselves in this heartbreaking situation, to present them with an option of early abortion, that they do not actually have. It displays a profoundly disturbing obstetric ignorance from someone who ought to have done more basic research. It is disingenuous in the extreme to use disability as a justification for early-stage abortion. 

If I were to claim to be a card-carrying member of the Labour party and yet propagate Tory views, claiming them as legtimate Labour views and actually use my membership to gain myself a platform and employment as a representative of the Labour party, then they would be well within their rights to have my membership withdrawn and to be clear that I did not represent the party’s political views.

This isn’t about the Polish Church attempting to impose theological views on the rest of the country, but merely making their doctrinal position clear, as they are entitled to do so. Poland is a functioning democracy; any measures to protect the right to life of the unborn child are in full accordance with Article 3 of the UN Charter for Human Rights which specifically lays out the right to life, are being enacted by an elected and accountable government.

The attempt to tell the Polish bishops they are wrong seems to be about imposing a feminist agenda onto Catholicism, more than a little presumptious as well as ethically, theologically and morally incorrect, as Father Alexander Lucie-Smith has also made clear.  Hence the resulting outrage.This is not the Catholic position; to present it as such could cause confusion and worst still, cost lives.

Getting desperate

By all accounts the couple involved in the injuncted PJS really doesn’t want you to know who they are and in true Pravda style, are frantically submitting requests to Google to remove any links which name them. They really want this story to disappear into thin air.

Which begs several more questions. Judge Jackson notes that the spouse of PJS accepts that theirs is not a mutually exclusive sexual relationship. PJS has permission to engage in sexual encounters outside of the relationship.

Many people in open relationships are keen to vaunt and advocate for their situations, believing that there should be no taboo. Why not PJS?

Could it be that there is too much at stake commercially in the image of a happily married faithful stable family man? That if the public knew the dynamics of the relationship it could reflect negatively on revenue, sales and media opportunities?

Could it be that if this is made public it will upset the interests of several wealthy and influential commercial lobby groups? Could the doings of this couple who espouse a cause celebre, irrevocably damage an entire movement?

Could it be that the self-worth of said celebrity is so tied up with his public image that it would be incredibly damaging  for a narcissistic psyche, for his image to be shattered in this way?

Or could it, just could it possibly be that the attempt at cover-up is an acknowledgement and acceptance that such behaviour is not commensurate with the raising of happy and healthy children?

Aren’t we in a progressive society where your sex life doesn’t matter so long as it’s between consenting adults and feels right for them? Obviously not.

But remember folks, Judge Jackson has decided that none of these issues are in the public interest. The general public can continue to be fooled by the false public image presented by the couple and must continue to promote and fund them, oblivious to a rather unsavoury truth which may cause them to close their wallets. There is no public interest in discussing the nature of marital relationships and child welfare.

Don’t you worry your silly little heads about sexual debauchery and motherless young children. Repeat after me: “less orthodox relationships and family structures of the rich and famous must never be questioned.”

Since publishing my blog yesterday about why the case of the PJS (currently under injunction) is in the public interest, a few commentators have suggested that the argument doesn’t necessarily wash, because it’s widely known and accepted by the general public, that gay male relationships don’t tend to be monogamous in nature.

Anecdotally, I would agree with that up to a point. Regular readers will know that I worked as cabin crew in the late 1990’s, a profession which seems to attract a disproportionately high number of gay men. My observation was indeed that there were very few stable monogamous relationships; they did exist but they were in the minority. Whether or not the gay scene that I socialised in is representative of the wider population is difficult to say, but it was characterised by promiscuity, multiple concurrent sexual partners and a entirely different set of sexual norms to those which the female crew were expected to adhere to.

But as I said, this was only my personal observation and for those who would believe that I  looked upon my friends and colleagues with disdain, nothing could be further from the truth. It all seemed like jolly good fun to an untravelled twenty-something. I notched up my fair share of wild nights on the razz in gay joints in places as far afield as Bangkok – miles apart from a suburban upbringing on the outskirts of Essex, it felt at times as though I was living a surreal and glamourous dream!

And this is why I have always been reluctant to extrapolate or discuss my intimate experience of the gay male scene, because I don’t know whether or not what I experienced had as much to do with the fact that I was living an international jet-set existence with other people who were as young, free and single as myself. As long as everything was done by consenting adults where was the issue? I witnessed quite a few sordid and distressing incidents, but was happy to push them to the back of my mind. So what if someone wanted to spend take-off discussing the graphic details of their multi-way encounter with a bunch of strangers in a Cologne sauna, while in earshot of fare-paying passengers, it was all part of the craic! So what if I caught two strangers who’d only just met in the briefing room a few hours earlier, engaging in sex acts in the forward galley? Any objection, distaste or disgust would surely be homophobic?

But should I have dared to venture in any public forum, any suggestion that gay relationships (and I am talking about male ones here, the lesbians I know do tend to have life-long partnerships) do not, in my experience, lend themselves to monogamy, then one can only imagine the public shaming exercise to which I would have been subjected. All sorts of high-profile couples would have been trotted out to highlight and condemn my bigotry. Nonetheless the statistics, especially those surrounding male-to-male HIV transmission would also seem to support the contention.

As I said, I’m not sure that even is my opinion, because I’m not sure that one can generalise  using the example of the social bubble of long-haul cabin crew  and I do have friends who are in committed, faithful monogamous romantic relationships with people of the same sex.  All I can say is that I still have gay male friends in the industry who support my stance on marriage, believing that their lifestyle doesn’t lend itself towards either fidelity or children. But then again I also have straight friends who are clinging on to their lucrative, long-since abolished BA contracts which earn them more than a GP, who do manage both a monogamous marriage and children – no mean juggling feat when you are spending a good proportion of the month in another country!

It’s astounding and infuriating therefore to hear other people glibly expounding the principle that gay relationships and marriages are an entirely different proposition to heterosexual ones. Yeah sure you are going to be into monogamy and all that Caroline, because you are innately socially conservative, but other more liberal types, aren’t quite so bothered.

It’s not only annoying because they articulated something which I dared not to mention (Catholic bigot says that gay people are incapable of keeping it in their pants or being faithful to each other) but also because this is absolutely not what was sold or argued to the general public when a new definition of marriage was undemocratically imposed upon us, in 2013 and couples such as PJS were waved about as examples.

Every time anyone tried to argue that the definition of marriage was changing, we were told time and time again it was not, and that this was simply just opening up a conservative institution, one which had many benefits to society, to a wider group of people. If you attempted to make the case, that the fundamental nature of the institution was being changed, you were told that it had changed throughout the ages (which is not strictly true, the conditions under which you could enter marriage were altered along with the way in which it was formalised) but the institution itself was not in any event being radically altered, rather being made ‘equal’.

As I argued yesterday, the new definition did not abolish differentation between the types of union because those in a gay marriage, are not implicitly taking vows of fidelity, because they are unable to use adultery for grounds of divorce.

Had you asked the general public about whether or not there should be two types of marriage and whether or not marriage should no longer mean monogamy for some couples, they would not have endorsed such a prospect. What was the slogan? ‘Different families, same love’! In every single country which has recently legalised gay marriage, from the UK, to Ireland to the US it has been on the grounds that it would be cruel to deny gay people the dignity and privileges of marriage.

Those who argued that marriage was being irrevocably redefined in a social experiment were told that we were reactionary doom-mongering, hate-spreading bigots.

The judges in the case of PJS certainly seem to be holding them to a different standard than everyone else – are they reflecting a new expectation that society doesn’t demand monogamy from same-sex couples? Or is it the principle that monogamy no longer matters in a marriage and that arguments surrounding it, don’t advance any sort of debate? But if monogamy is no longer a vital element of civil marriages, then it might be nice were there to have been some consultation about this.

It seems to be widely accepted that the celebrities who blazed a trail and became standard bearers for same-sex marriage and surrogacy are not living as one might expect and yet no-one should ask any questions in terms of whether or not they have the right to bring children into this situation and encourage others to do so. (And there’s no doubt that their example has given succour to the exploitative surrogacy industry. I can think of at least one couple who cites the example of PJS and who give the impression of living in a similarly open relationship). Instead of addressing the potential damage done to children in these sorts of situations, the judiciary seems to be a signalling a head in sand approach of stopping people from talking about it. How long before we are all subject to a re-education policy by a concerned lobby group, wanting to teach children that it’s okay for parents to have lots of simultaneous sexual partners? In reality, the children of PJS are going to be brought up in a protective and supportive celebrity bubble, rather than running the gaunlet of their local comp-turned-academy.

Many people were concerned that the attempt to redefine marriage by extending it to same-sex couples was in fact a subtle attempt to breakdown the family, by altering and remodelling the insitution and removing the requirement of monogamy. According to Marxist thought, the family needs to be obliterated in order to establish and justify state intervention into every element of people’s lives.

At the time, I was inclined towards a more charitable approach, believing that those in favour were acting out of a short-sighted compassion. It’s hard to take on board the concept that a lie may have been deliberately marketed and peddled to us, in order to breakdown the family allowing the state to step in. But when one sees how the couple involved in PJS deliberately manipulated public opinion in order not only to financially profit but also to affect public policy, then it does give cause to wonder. Not once was it ever mooted that due to the nature of gay relationships which are not naturally fruitful, that the element of monogamy may thought of as an unecessary element and dispensed with.

Was this really just all about removing the idea of a lifelong faithful, monogamous, one-man, one-woman relationship as the gold standard for society and the raising of children and just giving egual legitimacy to other forms of relationships in an attempt to undermine the family? It certainly feels like it from where I’m standing.

Imagine dear reader, what would happen were someone to discover that I, a Catholic with a moderately high profile, someone who advocates the beauty and sanctity of the Christian meaning of marriage, was actually in a consensually open relationship? What if a third party with whom I’d had sex, while ostensibly in a committed relationship, wanted to sell their story to the tabloid press?

Like the vast majority of the British public, I wouldn’t have the funds to pursue any sort of legal action or injuction to protect my family’s privacy and would have to suck up the embarassment, but just say I did manage to get to court. Would a sympathetic judge rule that the privacy of my five children is paramount and that despite it being accepted that I would have sexual encounters from time to time, the image which I portray to the public of my husband and myself of being in a committed relationship, is essentially correct?

Would they buffalo? There would be none of this “commitment does not entail monogamy” guff, they would rightly rule that there is a public interest, given that I have participated in public debate on the nature of marriage. If I were to be found to be in a clandestine open relationship, or to have had extra-marital affairs, then my hypocrisy ought to be exposed. If I am worried about the effect on my children, then perhaps I ought not to have engaged in sexual activities outside of a relationship while at the same time as attempting to maintain a certain public image and accepting media invitations while promoting the good of marriage.

So why is the case of PJS any different? Because my friends, if this blogger is correct then he is a rich and famous celebrity, who just happens to be in a same-sex relationship. This is important because the conduct of these individuals, cuts straight to the core of the debate about marriage, and they were held up as an exemplary model of gay families. If these were private individuals thrust into the temporary spotlight, through no fault of their own, then arguably there would be a much better case for allowing their privacy.

But this is not the case with PJS and his partner. They have repeatedly put themselves into the media, including in 2014, inviting the whole world to their  wedding  via Instagram, posting intimate photos of the event, together with the hashtag ‘share the love’, with no disclaimer that their love was not monogamous. Prior to that they had been in a civil partnership since 2005.

I don’t give two hoots about the specifics of what PJS got up to, apart from noting that it all appears rather squalid. When the entire issue of same-sex marriage was debated in Parliament it was assumed that gay marriages would be conducted under the same auspices as heterosexual marriage and have the same level of commitment. As it turned out, the legislation was so tricky to enact, gay men and women actually enter into a different version of marriage to that of straight couples. Fidelity is not a legal requirement – gay men and women are unable to use adultery as grounds for divorce. 

Perhaps this is why the High Court has ruled that their infidelity is of little consequence to the overall image of commitment and loyalty which they attempt to cultivate amongst the public? This is a relationship which has acquired two children using the means of surrogacy. We don’t know whether or not their two sons are still maintaining contact with their mother, but what if the couple do split up as has been suggested by some outlets? The case of poor Rocco Ritchie demonstrates how difficult life is for children of divorced celebrity couples? What stability will they have, split between two warring male households, one of which is headed by a man soon to hit his seventies?

It’s not clear whether or not PJS and his celebrity partner were in an open relationship when they acquired their first son via surrogacy in 2010, but the alleged infidelity took place in 2011, with the next son coming along in 2013. Neither of the boys are listed as having a mother on their birth certificate. There is most definitely a public interest in debating whether or not a couple in an open relationship should be able to acquire children through surrogacy, and obliterate the name of the mother, who is deemed an irrelevance. In the case of two gay males in an open relationship, is two people who love them the basis of all child welfare, as is so often claimed? Is ‘love’ really all that matters? Are open relationships, whether gay or straight, the best environment in which to bring up children?

This is a couple who are often cited as being a wonderful example of surrogacy and gay parenting, and yet the public are not permitted to know that their relationship is not what one might reasonably expect. There is an implicit acknowledgement and understanding that married couples will be faithful to each other, a sacrifice commonly accepted by the public, as being in the best interests of the children. Open marriages no matter, who they are carried out by, contradict this principle.

What it means to be married, is of crucial importance to society as is the welfare of children. And yet in their wisdom, the High Court judges have decided, that we, the plebiscite are not allowed to know, that the relationship is not all that we might reasonably assume – that this couple have not, in fact, chosen to forsake all others. The judgement says “to publish will not advance the public debate or provide support for any of the competing opinions which are in circulation.” In other words, lets silence this debate before it’s even started, or identified what it’s all about because we don’t like what other people may have to say and furthermore, we don’t think opinions contrary to ours have any validity.

This couple chose to use their relationship and their profile to attempt to alter public policy. As a gay male friend of mine noted, this injunction feels like a gag to protect appalling social policy and dreadful decisions from public scrutiny.

We all have a right to a private life. But if you make your private life part of the public debate on marriage, hold up your relationship and family as being one which should be emulated and affect public policy, then if your relationship turns out to be founded on a questionable premise, the the rest of us do have a right to know, especially when the new definition of marriage affects not only our own marriages, but impacts upon religious freedom, education policies and is lauded as being a British value, with anyone who disagrees being branded a potential extremist threat.

It blows my mind that the judges have arbitrarily ruled that fidelity or monogamy can no longer be safely assumed to be an essential part of any committed relationship and that no-one is allowed to discuss the implications of this couple and their effect on public policy and debate, on pain of jail. What does it say about free speech in our society when a rich and famous member of the Establishment is able to use the state to force a person to stay silent about their sexual encounter with you, on pain of imprisonment? What is happening when the Speaker of the House of Commons is able to arbitrarily restrict Parliamentary Privilege and when Joe Public risk being put into jail if they dare to link to and discuss the wider implications of information easily available in another part of the United Kingdom.

clinton-baby-1-600x450

 

The pro-life world is currently in uproar about remarks made by Chelsea Clinton at a recent fundraiser for her mother, Hilary, in which she claimed to have left the Baptist Church at the age of 6, thanks to its stance on abortion.

 I was raised in a Methodist church and I left the Baptist church before my dad did, because I didn’t know why they were talking to me about abortion when I was 6 in Sunday school.

Going on to defend her faith and that of mother’s which she believes is wholly compatible with a pro-choice viewpoint, she said “I recognized that there were many expressions of faith that I don’t agree with and feel [are] quite antithetical to how I read the Bible…But I find it really challenging when people who are self-professed liberals kind of look askance at my family’s history.”

The subtext is clear – support of abortion is compatible with Christianity as evidenced by her family’s own religious faith. Many people would take issue with how far the Clinton family exemplify Christian values, but let’s be charitable and accept her belief that her family are all God-fearing Christians. It still doesn’t mean that their interpretation of the Bible when it comes to abortion is the correct one, and billions of Christians around the world, would vehemently disagree as to whether a Christian can sanction the killing of the unborn. But I can accept that this is a genuinely held, if theologically flawed, point of view.

Where I do take issue, is the idea that voters are being asked to uncritically accept the idea that the six year-old Chelsea had such a prodigious intellect that she was able to criticise the appropriateness of abortion as a topic in Sunday school and make a conscious decision to reject the Baptist church thanks to a theological difference of opinion. It stretches credulity to say the least.

A far more likely explanation is that upon being asked about what they learnt about in Sunday school that week, little Chelsea piped up something about abortion and Hilary whipped her out sharpish and promptly attempted to unpick any pro-life sentiment or ideas which may have taken root in the impressionable six year old’s brain.

How many, even precocious, six year-olds would really object to being given a pro-life point of view in Sunday school, believing that abortion was a vital necessity and one which could be supported by a certain interpretation of Scripture?

Either Chelsea’s recollection of events is distorted, or she is telling blatant untruths, but either way it displays an unhealthy narcissism. Does she genuinely expect voters to believe that hers is such a brilliant mind that she was able to critically engage with theology and the thorny issue of abortion as a six-year old? In effect she is saying, ‘I was so wise and wonderful, that I knew, even at the age of tender age of six, that abortion was a great, wonderful and necessary tool for women’s empowerment. I am descended from the great tribe of political and academic heavyweights, listen and look upon my mighty intellect, ye proles, and take heed’.

Where pro-lifers are wrong however, is to assume that if she is telling the truth, that this is evidence of abusive or bad parenting, on the basis that no six year-old ought to know about abortion. If that is the case, then the Baptist Church which was mentioning such things to six year olds, deserves criticism. Although pro-choicers like Chelsea, ought to be honest with themselves as to why? If abortion is simply more than a removal of unwanted tissue or cells, and not a real human being, then what is the problem with telling children about it, in similar terms to describing a tonsilectomy or other similar minor procedure?

I remember losing a glut of Facebook and Twitter followers, who were all ironically pro-choicers, who were appalled when I mentioned that I’d had to discuss abortion with my eldest child, who was about seven at the time. It was felt that children wouldn’t be old enough to fully understand abortion and therefore shouldn’t be told. Which is in itself an admission that there’s something more moral and fundamental at stake that just putting a stop to a pregnancy. There’s also the feeling from both pro-lifers and pro-choicers that the role of parents is to protect their children from life’s horrors, until they are able to contextualise them. Again, an implicit understanding that abortion is not a ‘nice’ thing or a suitable topic for children.

I was forced to broach the issue, albeit in very gentle terms, with my daughter when she was in Year two or three, simply because she could read. She saw a leaflet from a pro-life organisation that was kicking about the house and asked what the word meant. She also overhead an answerphone message from a media outlet inviting me on a show to discuss abortion.The final nail in the coffin was having to drive past large displays of graphic images outside Brighton’s abortion clinic. She could see for herself what they were. I don’t believe in lying to children, or treating them as though they are stupid, but answering their questions in age-appropriate ways. Ours is a household in which lots of things are discussed calmly and sensibly, without ever once inviting scorn or hatred upon people. My daughter’s school was taken over by the notoriously progressive Brighton College – therefore we found ourselves forced to broach certain difficult and taboo topics, living as we did in a hub of LGBT activism with a disproportionate amount of the population who reject heteronormatism.  It’s ironic that many of those who are campaigning for children to be taught sex-education including the topics of homosexuality and transgenderism in schools from the age of 5, are recoiling at the notion that children could be told about abortion.

It was perhaps inevitable that a child in my household would become exposed to the concept of abortion, although interestingly it hasn’t yet cropped up with my younger children, the oldest of whom is now also six. So I don’t blame Hilary Clinton for Chelsea’s exposure to pro-choice views from an early age, because to some extent this was inevitable, although I would question anyone, on either side of the debate, who decided to sit down and explain the concept of abortion with a young child. I don’t have a problem with taking young children to pro-life events, or even with them joining in with prayer vigils outside clinics – it can very simply be explained without having to go into the specifics of abortion.

Most children, when they learn about abortion, are naturally horrified. They know instinctively that it’s an abhorrent and upsetting thing, which is why caution needs to be exercised and the topic needs to be discussed sensitively.

The horror and disgust levelled at Hilary Clinton is because, if Chelsea is to be believed, then she must have put in quite a bit of work to overcome a young child’s natural revulsion and convince her that abortion is a perfectly acceptable act. Children instinctively look to their mothers to protect them, they understand that their mothers have carried them in their tummies and the thought that a mother might decide to kill or get rid of a baby in her tummy is the stuff of childish nightmares and anxieties, especially if they believe that it’s something that their own mother might do at some point.

Heaven knows, I have some terrible explaining of my own to do at some point, which is why I was so distressed to be so publicly outed and betrayed by a former friend about my own abortion, a few years ago.

But where we do need to be careful, is in our condemnation of Hilary for her supposed indoctrination of Chelsea. No matter how heinous her views, as a parent, she has every right to pass them down to her children, and tragically this seems to have been the case. Chelsea obviously feels immensely proud and privileged to have been the recipient of such an upbringing and that her mother did the right thing in imparting her views.

The rights of parents as primary educators of their children is integral to Catholic teaching and therefore it is hypocritical of us to attempt to abuse or denigrate others for exercising those very same rights that we lay claim to when it comes to our own  children. We don’t have to tolerate the ideas which others are passing on to their children, but we must respect others’ rights to educate their children into their own value system, with the proviso that these views do not encourage, condone or coerce vulnerable youngsters into acts of violent terrorism.

The same accusation of harm or abuse, that we could level at militant atheists or devoted pro-choicers, could and often is, similarly and far more frequently lobbied at those of us with religious and socially conservative views.

As a 35 year old mother, Chelsea Clinton has had ample opportunity to reflect upon the values instilled in her as a child and either accept or reject them. But her experience bears out what both Catholics and left-leaning socialists accept. The family remains the most powerful source of political and religious evangelism there is and a family who not only expresses, but also positively lives out their convictions or views without hypocrisy are infinitely more likely to pass them down to future generations.

A few weeks ago my friend posted a status update on Facebook highlighting a plea for help from a forum mainly populated by men. A poster’s girlfriend had found herself unexpectedly pregnant and the young man simply didn’t know what to do.

Without going too much into the specifics of the situation, he was a mature student, his girlfriend was slightly older than him, had a well-paid secure job and a child from a previous marriage. On discovering she was pregnant, her initial reaction was one of delight she assumed that they would be having the baby and set about telling all her friends and family.

Though the young man shared some of his girlfriend’s excitment, he was at the same time, daunted and understandably so. Although he loved his girlfriend, he took the responsibilities of fatherhood seriously and wasn’t sure whether or not now was the right time to take their relationship to the next level. The news that she was expecting sent the woman into what seems to be a frenzy of nesting. Immediately she made a series of demands upon him which involved him making a series of unnecessary and excessive sacrifices. He would need to abandon his plans for a PhD in a specialist scientific discipline, take up extra shifts on his minimum wage job and move in with her. He’d also not be allowed to take any of his pets into her home and neither would he be allowed any space of his own to study. He’d have to make do with the family’s kitchen table. Furthermore the baby’s arrival date was causing him some concern, it was due to coincide with his finals. He’d therefore had a major panic, feeling trapped, that she was bouncing him into a baby that he wasn’t ready for and while he wasn’t averse to the idea of a baby, he just couldn’t see how things were going to work out.

The replies to his request for advice made for uncomfortable and depressing reading. They ranged from the uncharitable to the downright misogynist. The general consensus was that nobody with any ounce of intelligence ever became accidentally pregnant. His girlfriend had obviously done it deliberately to trap him and he’d be best off getting rid of the pair of them. The mother of the baby was put on trial, her contraceptive arrangements were analysed in minute detail with all the blame for the mishap laid at her door.

Which is where I came in. Under the use of the pseudonym for obvious reasons, I weighed in with some friendly impartial advice. I pointed out that his girlfriend would likely be feeling physically dreadful as well as emotionally vulnerable. The effects of progesterone, in particular, should not be underestimated. It was only understandable that she might want to go into a ‘everything needs to be instantaneously perfect’ tailspin, but that she also needed to understand that while everything would be fine in due course, not to fret or sweat the small stuff right now. The issues about the kitchen table, workspace and so on could all be sorted in due course. Likewise, while she would need his support when the baby was born, the University should be able to be flexible in terms of timings of exams and that actually, a newborn baby is not perhaps as time-consuming as he may be imagining. While he’d need to be on hand, that would be more to help his girlfriend, rather than be responsible for all of the care of the baby. Newborns tend to sleep for the first few weeks or months of their lives and most men don’t tend to take huge amounts of maternity leave. Being there for his girlfriend didn’t mean that he wouldn’t be able to have a few hours to himself every day to catch up on study or revise for exams. The woman’s daughter would be at school, so he might have to help with school runs etc, but it wouldn’t be an unmitigated logistical nightmare. All relationships involve an element of compromise and sacrifice.

I also pointed out to the assembled posters, that contraception can and does fail. We shouldn’t automatically assume the worst of people, especially when BPAS are quoting that over 60% of those presenting for an abortion claim to have been using some form of birth control. Some of the posters had been suggesting BPAS counselling – I pointed out in a matter of fact way that I hadn’t found abortion clinic counsellors either impartial or helpful and that there was the tiny matter of vested financial interests.

So, anyway, having given him some food for thought, without proselytising, but just helping him to see that it could be logistically possible, he countered that having given himself some time to think about it, actually he really did want to have the baby.

But by then it was too late. Thanks to his wobble, his girlfriend had decided that he was too immature and too unstable to be a father and booked in for an abortion. He then began to message me and then text me privately to ask what he should do. His girlfriend claimed that any normal man would have been overjoyed at her news and gone straight round her house with a bunch of flowers to celebrate.

The guy doesn’t deny he messed up, his prevarication had cost him dearly. She was terrified at the prospect of becoming a single mother of two children, she believed that all the work would fall on her shoulders and was unprepared to take the risk. What could he do, he begged me, to convince her how serious he was about her?

Err, get married, I suggested tentatively. Funnily enough, he said, he had planned to propose to her early next year when it was their anniversary and they had a country hotel booked for a friends wedding. He had even asked one of her female friends to scope out a ring. Tell her that, I urged. He did. It was not enough. Start making concrete plans to show how serious you are, was the next suggestion. He did. He already had a savings account set up which he had designated for the baby. Just keep talking to her was my advice, tell her not to rush things.

But no, she repeatedly told him that she needed to be ‘realistic’, she couldn’t trust him and that she would only bring him down. He was going out of his mind with anxiety, texting me to tell me that he thought she might have mental health issues because since deciding to abort she had gone sick from work and was hiding away from the world.

He spoke to her parents, who already knew and they were in agreement with him, feeling that she had been unreasonable and unrealistic in her demands, but understanding that following the collapse of her previous relationship she was feeling vulnerable. They also did not want her to abort the baby.

The young man was worried about the effect of abortion on his girlfriend’s physical and mental health as well. He didn’t identify as ‘pro life’ but he could not see a good reason for her to abort the baby. He desperately wanted to be a father to his little boy or girl. He sent her a series of impassioned and harrowing texts begging her not to take the life of his baby, telling her what a great mother she was, how he wanted to be a proper family with her and her child, how the child would love a sibling. Please, he said, talk to me, cancel the appointment, please don’t kill our innocent baby, please give them a chance. He said that he would take custody of the child, if she was so adamant that she did not want him or her.

I informed a Facebook pro-life group who, together with a monastic community, were storming heaven. The guy had no idea where the abortion was going to take place, or at what time. His girlfriend had shut him down. She wasn’t responding to his texts, apart from to say ‘if you love me then you’ll support and respect my decision’. To which all he could say was that loving someone doesn’t mean validating their destructive actions.

All day my phone was pinging. He hadn’t heard from her, perhaps, he said, our baby is being killed right now. I kept trying to hold out hope for him that she may have had a change of heart, although counselling him that he had done all he could. If she was dead set on the idea, then there was very little he could do to stop her. She didn’t deny it was a baby, but this was all about doing what she believed was right for her. Her last text to him was ‘you need to stop this’.

Anyway, at about 6pm he discovered that she had gone ahead and had the abortion this morning. She had spent most of the day groggy in hospital, but he was angry, because she had appeared to spent much of the afternoon on Facebook instead of telling him. I have told him not to be angry – she is obviously feeling defensive and wanting distraction.

The point of all this? Anecdote is not the plural of data, but here is the story of one baby who has lost their life to abortion this year. A baby who was much wanted by their father and grandparents and initally by their mother. Sharing stories and personal experiences help us to make sense of the world. I want to write this down and share it, by way of memorial to just one of the unborn children who will have lost their lives today. Rest in peace little one. Know that many of us prayed for you. We have the consolation of knowing that you have gone to the Lord.

My thoughts are pretty simple. This is just another demonstration for me of what a wicked and insidious development abortion-on-demand is. There is no happy ending here. A baby has lost their live and a man is at home beside himself with grief. He says he hasn’t been able to sleep or eat properly for weeks or concentrate on work. A formerly loving relationship is in tatters, with both parties harbouring feelings of anger and resentment. A mother has to deal with the repercussions of her decision while at the same time, caring for her child.

Not once in his man’s decision was there an element of patriarchy, wanting to control her uterus or chain her to the kitchen sink. This guy realised that he loved his unborn baby and wanted them to live. The reality of abortion means that every single pregnancy becomes a lifestyle choice and children are given a specious right – to be meticulously planned and born into ‘perfect’ circumstances which supercedes their basic right to life. Had abortion not been an option, he wouldn’t have had his damaging wobble and would have stepped up to the plate sooner. But we are all now conditioned to think not of new life, not of a baby, but of choice.

The abortion clinic who carried this out have neglected their duty of care and potentially broken the law. If there were mental health issues necessitating abortion then these needed to be further investigated and treated. Though they only appeared to manifest once the decision had been taken. But if the mother gave the reason as being that she had trust issues with her boyfriend, this case wouldn’t seem to neatly fall within section C of the act.

There’s also a lesson in there somewhere about the wisdom of believing that committing to have a baby with someone is a different thing from enjoying a long term sexual relationship with them. The greatest commitment one can give to another is to be open to the possibility of having a baby with them. Stripping sex of a procreative element, inherently strips it of an element of commitment. But that’s for another time. I think the guy has been foolish, but I don’t blame him for it, he’s no different to most men in contemporary society. The feminists who would shout their abortions would no doubt lynch both him and me for being manipulative, but I see no winners, no victory, no progress and certainly no joy in this woman having exercised her ‘reproductive right.’.

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