Nadine Dorries and Frank Field have launched the Right to Know campaign this week, in a bid to ensure that women facing unplanned or crisis pregnancies are “guaranteed access to independent information and advice from someone who had no vested financial interest in the outcome of their decision.”
On the face of it things, this would seem to be a very worthy goal, I for one would certainly support legislation which entailed that women facing an unplanned pregnancy would be able to discuss all her options in anon-judgmental manner. I agree that women often feel rushed and pressurised into taking the decision to abort without access to adequate medical information and have relevant experience of being in this situation myself. Often women go into the procedure without a knowledge of what this will entail and the potential physical and emotional repercussions. If one subscribes to the notion of choice, then the information as to precisely what that choice entails needs to be presented in order for the choice to be truly free and informed.
Even the passionate campaigner for women’s rights, Laurie Penny, advocates that abortion is not talked about enough, is still taboo, and indicates that women are not given the correct information about what the procedure entails. In an article written last year for Comment is Free in support of the Marie Stopes TV advert, she states:
“women still have little notion of how to arrange a termination or what to expect until they find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy. Caitlin, 24, called the Marie Stopes helpline when she had a medical termination last year. “I was in incredible pain after taking the abortion pill at home, and I had no idea whether that pain was normal or if I was in danger,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going on – but the person on the helpline talked me through everything.”
Surely if Caitlin had been given the correct information in the first instance, she wouldn’t have been left alone in that situation and would have had a better idea of what to expect? I suspect that Laurie Penny only wishes for abortion to be discussed upon her terms, namely those of pro-choice, however if we are going to make the subject less of a taboo, then we need to be honest and clear about what it is and what it involves.
I do not subscribe to the coercive and manipulative techniques employed by a few pro-life organisations, mainly those run by evangelical Christians. There is a time and a place for evangelization, whilst not criticising those are motivated by their faith to end the slaughter of innocent children, I would number myself among those, an appeal which makes recourse to the Bible is meaningless, unhelpful and perhaps counter-productive. For those wishing to hammer home the point that this is indeed an unborn child’s life which is at stake, again to subject a pregnant woman to gruesome images of aborted fetuses is an unpleasant and wholly unnecessary tactic, designed to cause maximum stress and induce feelings of guilt in a vulnerable pregnant woman. This is not counselling, but emotional blackmail.
A choice to continue with a pregnancy needs to be a positive choice, one taken out of faith and love, not simply because one feels too guilty to contemplate the alternative. Early on in this unplanned pregnancy, I was asked by a medic whether or not I “accepted” it, which upon reflection I found to be helpful language. Do I accept my unborn child? Couched in those terms, there could only be one answer. Accepting and acknowledging the presence of an unborn child undoubtedly helped me to come to terms with those difficult few months at the very beginning and again now, when the prospect of birth and the shadow of major blood loss is looming.
The problem with the Dorries and Field campaign is that it is, at its core, fundamentally dishonest in its stated aims. Nadine Dorries has tried and failed on more than one occasion to get the legal abortion limit, currently at 24 weeks reduced. To many on the side of the pro-life lobby, this seems a worthy goal, surely the fewer abortions, the better? Whilst it may seem a pragmatic approach to attempt to work with what we have, to attempt to reduce the amount of abortions that are performed, surely it’s better to perform 50 abortions as opposed to 100, the ends do not justify the means. If you are truly committed to the pro-life cause, then you accept that all abortions are abhorrent, all deaths of unborn children are repugnant, not that some are alright and inevitable.
Dorries and Field are being disingenuous in that they are seeking to reduce the amount of abortions performed via the back-door, claiming it is about the welfare of the women, which indeed it is, whilst their real target is to pragmatically reduce the number of abortions that are performed. If we are going to attempt to do this, we need to be straightforward and honest about it, not hoodwink the general public under the guise of women’s welfare, leaving us open to accusations of dishonesty and a scant regard for women’s best interests.
I agree that independent counselling should be mandatory, however we need to accept, that in a society that condones and encourages abortion, this independent counselling will not change the minds of many women, and will be seen by many to be a pointless obstacle, although to my mind, if it does change the heart and mind of just one woman, if it saves the life of one baby, it will be worth it. If one is determined to go ahead with a particular course of action, counselling should affirm that belief. If however you are unsure, or need clarification, or simply to discuss the barriers to your having a child, then a good counsellor should explore those barriers with you in an impartial way, to help you see whether or not they may be overcome. What a counsellor should not do, is attempt to sway you either way, but explore the decision, what it would entail and what the possible results might be. A counsellor’s role is to help you to reach the decision that is right for you. If we are being honest then we have to accept that for many women, counselling will not change their decision to abort and could be perceived as a punitive measure. I would assert that truly independent counselling is no bad thing, but it changes nothing in terms of the availability of abortion; it may provide validation and affirmation to many, it may perhaps avert the possibility of future abortion-related trauma, no sane, rational or truly compassionate person could actually desire that someone suffers as a result of their decision to abort a baby, but counselling has to be seen purely in terms of helping women understand their options and absorbing the information available, not as a surreptitious way of getting the numbers down. There are really only two ways of reducing the amount of abortions that are performed in this country, one being sensible sex education, by which I mean an abstinence plus based approach and including a physical and ethical discussion as to the realities of abortion and secondly legislation which bans the practice, or severely restricts it.
The criteria of independent counselling by someone with no vested financial interest in the abortion procedure, could be used by any organisation with a vested financial interest in ensuring the child lives, without taking into consideration the needs of the mother and further undermine the pro-life cause. All organisations who carry out such counselling, must be BACP accredited or registered, such as LIFE, for example, who have absolutely no financial interest in the continuation of the pregnancy. A BACP accreditation will not be granted to those organisations who cannot guarantee absolute impartiality. Tactics should not include emotional blackmail or manipulation, which is far more likely to inflict lasting psychological damage in a vulnerable woman, which is what Dorries and Field state they want to avoid. If they are genuine about wishing to help women, then the amendment to the health bill needs to state that counselling should be carried only by an BACP accredited organisation.
The other difficulty with Norries campaign is that whilst rightly identifying the “abortion conveyer belt”, which many woman movingly describe, from the moment the first tentative phone call is made, they feel they have sparked a chain of events which they are powerless to stop, the enquiry about the abortion itself, being taken as implicit rejection of the pregnancy, she then goes on to mention adoption as being a potential solution, stating that last year “only 400 babies were put up for adoption” as most women chose abortion as an alternative. Firstly, we as a society should be rejoicing and celebrating that fewer and fewer women are deemed unable either by themselves or others to cope with a newborn baby. Of course it is preferable that babies are adopted as opposed to aborted, however, there is some nuance missing in this message. There is absolutely no way that a civilised society should be encouraging women with unwanted pregnancies to act in a so-called responsible fashion and give up their babies for adoption. On one level this solves the many difficulties involved with IVF, the discarded fetuses, the cost and the pain of the procedure, but it still treats babies like commodities, it denies their basic rights to a relationship with their birth parents whilst solving another problem in our society, that of infertility. I’m not knocking adoption per se, it is a wonderful and generous gift on behalf of the adoptive parents and often the birth parents alike, but it is not without its difficulties as many families involved in adoption would testify. To tout it as a solution in the fashion of Nadine Dorries is nothing short of crass.
You don’t want your baby? Well you can’t kill it, so what you should do is give it to someone who really does want it. Simple. Does she have any idea of what it must be like to give away your birth child? Would she ever have contemplated it? I doubt she has been in the position of even needing to consider giving away her children. There is a huge shortage of surrogates in the UK for a reason. Most people do not want to go through 9 months of pregnancy, bond with the unborn child in their womb and then give it away. Most who do, act either out of financial imperative or have some underlying psychological issue as opposed to pure altruism. Women do not need to be told that it is their moral duty to carry a child for 9 months, give birth to it and then instantly give it away. This happened countless times in the 50s and 60s with some tales of absolute horror and heart-break, mothers were forced and coerced into giving away their children. Yes, adoption is better than abortion, but it should not be the very first solution that comes to mind. When the vast majority of women get to the stage of giving birth they have accepted and acknowledged the existence and presence of a child within them, they have bonded with it, nurtured it, endured physical trials and tribulations for it and most are enthusiastic about meeting their newborn. Even those women suffering from depression are given support and assistance in bonding and coping with their newborn, children are not taken away unless it is in the direst of circumstances. It is a generally accepted truth that mothers are best for their children. I cannot imagine anything worse than being separated from my baby shortly after birth. Any woman who has given birth will testify to the huge rush and surge of hormones which make you instantly bond with your baby, the love often comes later believe it or not following the shell-shock of birth, but there is an innate desire to want to hold, look at, cherish and protect the little being that you have produced. A woman should never feel compelled to give up her newborn baby and even if she feels that this is the route she is going to take, a get-out clause should always be available and open to her.
Dorries’ suggestion that more babies need to be adopted is crass, inhumane and cruel. I am tempted to note that it is indicative of a total lack of compassion and understanding of the issues involved, utilitarian, not Christian in principle. The number of adoptions in the UK should have no bearing on whether or not independent counselling is a good idea and reveals the true motives beneath this campaign. Admittedly there are problems with the adoptions process in the UK meaning that many children languish in state care homes as opposed to go to loving families, but adoption should not be the only alternative to abortion and should not be touted as the solution to the 200,000 abortions that are performed in the UK every year. Besides many infertile couples are choosing firstly to go down the route of IVF, adoption being the last resort, not least because they would prefer the experience of pregnancy and a child who is biologically theirs. Adoption seems to be a red herring if the issue of women’s welfare when considering abortion is at stake.
Actually what mothers need is time to accept and adjust to the reality of pregnancy, I always think that there is reason why pregnancy lasts what seems to be an unending age. Not only so that the baby may be adequately prepared but also so that you may adjust as well. In these last few weeks it is difficult to think of anything other than the, in my case, not-so-little baby inside you, and wonder what it’s going to look like, whilst wishing profusely that it wouldn’t kick you so hard and would hurry up and be born.
Being pro-life does not have to stem from an inherent Catholic or Christian belief. It is a perfectly natural, logical, philosophical belief, but with that in mind, Catholics need to remember that at all times, the Catholic approach to matters of health is always holistic, it is always body and soul. It is not the utilitarian approach of too many abortions, well lets see if we can kill two birds with one stone, get the abortion rate down, whilst increasing the number of adoptions. Guilt tripping women into adoption is not the holistic solution in a society that accepts, endorses and encourages abortion and will cause an individual untold mental anguish and distress.
Pro-lifers need to ask themselves what they need to do help mothers facing crises pregnancies. This needs to go beyond acts of mere charity, it’s all very well giving money for a pram, new equipment, a temporary place to stay etc, the moses basket is going to be of negligible use in six months time. Two years after giving birth following an unplanned pregnancy, the cot is redundant, as are the baby bottles, trousseau and the buggy is on its way out. Its at that point that the interest in the baby wanes and that the woman requires the most support in terms of job options, childcare, housing, and so on. She needs to be able to have her life in some sort of order, not be resigned to a life on hand-outs or charity. She needs to be empowered and enabled to help herself, not given piecemeal bits of money and equipment.
Women with crises pregnancies are above all human as are their unborn children and both need to be treated as such, not as pity cases who need to give up their babies for the good of society and not as pariahs either. What can we do to help mothers in these situations? Some organisations do go a long way to providing training and life skills to those in need of them, admittedly, but they do not go far enough.
Trying to reduce the number of abortions performed circumvents the issue. If we want a society that rejects abortion, that recognises it for what it is, the vast majority of the Irish population do not want abortion on demand and they have the lowest maternal death rates in the EU, then we do at least need to be honest about that, rather than attempting to manipulate the numbers down. We also need to be clear, concise and truthful about the science and our sources as opposed to making spurious claims, which any decent statistician will expose. There IS compelling evidence that abortion is linked to psychological trauma, but the truth is more nuanced than sane woman has an abortion, 6 months later she is admitted to a psychiatric unit. Very often women who find themselves in the situation of facing an unplanned pregnancy, have other issues going on, which may have contributed to the unplanned pregnancy and compound the trauma experienced. If we are going to use stats we need to make sure we understand them or they have been independently verified, that they hold up to scrutiny and substantiate the story, not undermine it.
I am an idealist, I want to protect the most innocent and vulnerable in our society, including the unborn disabled child. However I want to be upfront, honest and truthful about that. I support anything that might save the life of an unborn child, but I do wish this campaign had been better thought out in the first place. That said, if I were a pro-life MP then I would support it, something is better than nothing, and credit needs to be given to Nadine Dorries in that she does feel passionately about this issue and at least she has actually made an attempt to change things, but she does need to be more transparent in her use of data and cut back on the spin, which does not help the cause.
We should all take an honest look at the factors in society which might constitute barriers to pregnancy, then work to overcome them. Speaking from experience, a woman with an unplanned pregnancy does not want to be told what to do, pity or charity. What she wants is hope for the future with her child, a light at the end of the tunnel, the prospect that she will be able to manage and build a life for her and her baby. No contraceptive is 100% effective, nor is it possible to stop people from having sex and accidents occurring.
What we need to think about is not risk management, not the killing of humanity, or working towards a set quota of abortions or the re-distribution of babies from poor single women, to rich married ones, but how to build a society whereby a woman is not driven to feel that there is no other option other than to kill her child and that this is an acceptable choice.