Pragmatic compassion

My post on the non-directive counselling services provided by LIFE was pure marmite, the responses being polarised between “superb” and “rubbish”!

For me this is one of the joys of blogging in that those who had a negative response gave some detailed analysis of their objections that has challenged my thinking. Once again apologies for lack of linkage, I will rectify once I get access to a laptop, but Joseph Shaw at Casuistry Central blogspot posted a thorough examination of the potential problematic issues that result from LIFE’s provision of non-directive counselling services.

In terms of the practical issues, there is no evidence that non-directive counselling is more likely to be effective in terms of a pro-life outcome. This is indeed true and probably why the idea of independent impartial counselling is being advanced by Dorries and Field. Nadine Dorries obviously feels very passionate about abortion issues, although she cannot be accurately described as pro-life because she seems to endorse the notion of “informed choice”, the language of those who have no fundamental issue with a the choice to abort a child. If people looked at the actual substance of her proposal they would realise that far from being the perceived oppressor, Dorries is a true feminist, she wants women to come to their own informed decision, conscious of all the information and options open to them. The problem is as Nadine has previously stated her wish to reduce the numbers of abortions and her general overall PR problem, the public, perhaps understandably have issues of trust, which is an enormous pity, considering the gravity of what is at stake.

As things currently stand, the two providers which the NHS refer to, do not provide all the information and thus cannot be said to be impartial or non-directive, having a vested interest in the outcome of counselling. This is hotly disputed, but from both personal experience and the testimony of others, what the abortion clinics do categorically do not do, is pass on or provide information with regards to the financial help that might be available. They do not help a woman to explore whether or not the costs of having a baby may be insurmountable. There are a lot of myths surrounding newborns; actually in practical terms a newborn baby costs relatively little in terms of initial expenditure and outlay; not being able to afford the latest designer pram or buy the fripperies which baby magazines are so keen to push and end up being total white elephants, is not a good enough reason for ending the unborn life of a child. Even if one doesn’t breastfeed or use reusable nappies, two ways which save considerable amounts of cash, but aren’t for everyone, child benefit, tax credits and grants can cover the “running costs”, although there are of course there are other financial issues involved, one can’t generalise. The point is that none of this is discussed by the current abortion providers.

The other issue that is not discussed is the stage of fetal development, every woman I have spoken to has reported that prior to the abortion they are given an ultrasound to ascertain precisely what stage the pregnancy is at, but they have never been shown the scan, the screen being turned sharply away. Even if a woman has asked to see, she has been persuaded that it is not in her best interests.It is a policy of abortion clinics not to show women the scan so she is in the dark about the precise stage of pregnancy that she might be at. Isn’t this rather patronising? Shouldn’t a woman at least be given the option? At six weeks the fetal heartbeat can be detected, even if a woman is adamant that she doesn’t want the baby, shouldn’t she at least know, if abortion is a ‘medical procedure’ the precise nature of her treatment? It could be argued that women are able to access images of fetal development on the internet. Many of them may do so already. Do abortion clinics ask women if they have already done so?

The answer to this is no, the same response to the question of whether or not clinics advise as to the potential complications or side-effects of an abortion. The ‘counselling ‘ provided by these clinics is affirmative, confirming a woman in her decision without ever challenging it. The physical realities are often glossed over as I have written about previously. Whilst singing the praises of Marie Stopes, Laurie Penny waxes lyrical about how wonderful they were on the phone when some acquaintance was experiencing trauma due to post operative bleeding which she didn’t know whether or not was normal. Had the clinic done their job properly, then the woman would have had an idea of what to expect.

If “no woman wants an abortion”, then the issue needs to be thoroughly explored with her to ensure that this really is in her best interests. Many women would dispute this however, Deborah Orr testifies to having had two abortions and though the procedures themselves were unpleasant, she states that afterwards it was like being let out of prison and that for her counselling would have been a waste of time, money and effort. According to Orr, feminists need “to stop with the hand-wringing”. That hardly fits with the no woman wants to have an abortion narrative. A more accurate statement would be “no woman wants to be in the position of needing an abortion”. If this is the case then there is a simple answer. If despite her best efforts a woman unexpectedly finds herself with an unplanned pregnancy, then counselling is necessary to ascertain whether or not the pregnancy is a “need”.

Non-directive counselling does not preclude the provision of all the additional information that is conveniently omitted by the abortion providers and though there is no concrete evidence which suggests that it is more likely to produce a particular outcome, the likelihood is that furnished with all the information, women may well reconsider a decision to abort. When this issue is discussed, the feminists tend to change tack and display their usual cognitive dissonance. They go from violently objecting to the concept of counselling which they deem manipulative, casting the woman in the usual status as victims unable to be able to see through the nasty underhand tactics of the pro-life crazies, to a narrative which suggests that all women who have an abortion are well-informed, know their own mind and do it in a spirit of sadness. The truth of the matter is that there is a broad spectrum in terms of vulnerability, attitudes and levels of knowledge. The NHS does not hesitate to assume a low level of knowledge and expertise when it comes to new mothers or even experienced ones. My 12 week old is my third baby, I’ve breastfed all of my children for over a year, I know the signs of illness, failure to thrive and so on, but even yesterday the Health Visitor rang me, whilst on holiday on the beach, to berate me for not going to baby clinic and to fuss about the health of the baby! “I’m fine, leave me alone” is what I wanted to say to her, but realised that she was only doing her job, child welfare and health was her main concern and for every experienced mother exasperated by unnecessary nannying there is another one in need of advice and support. The same could be said of counselling services, for every woman confident that she is in full possession of all the facts and information, there is another who isn’t. After all who really researches the facts of early stage pregnancy until it becomes of immediate concern to them? Most women who tend to find themselves with an unplanned pregnancy, know they have a time limit and set about fixing the problem whereupon they find themselves on the abortion conveyer belt.

Joseph Shaw made the excellent point that the Dorries/Field amendment introduces the concept that non-directive counsellors may well become legal gatekeepers to abortion. In Catholic terms this is problematic and correlates with his idea that to provide non-directive counselling is to co-operate with evil. This already happens in Germany whereby women are legally required to undergo counselling prior to an abortion. Women who have received counselling and still wish to proceed with an abortion need to produce a certificate to this effect. The CDF has asked Catholics to disassociate themselve from groups who provide this counselling, because the provision of the certificate is to co-operate with the evil of abortion. The problem is not the counselling per se, but the provision of the certificate, therefore if the amendment is passed provided that no similar system requiring documentation from the counsellors to proceed is implemented, then this should not be a barrier to Catholic groups.

It is the idea that there should be any sort of gatekeepers which is arousing the ire of the alleged pro-choice lobby. Abortion is still technically illegal in the UK, it may only be performed under prescribed circumstances. This is why the signature of two doctors is currently required, in order that there may be a check and balance, the second signature is supposed to ensure that no malpractice, coercion or criminal offence has occurred. A second opinion was part of a law that recognised the gravity of the act and ensured that abortion was a last resort. Doctors were trusted to be the moral arbiters, not a woman. Over the years the fears of the slippery slope of many of the leading campaigners against the Abortion Act have been realised. A law designed to prevent the estimated 50 annual deaths in the UK from unsafe abortion has resulted in almost 200,000 abortions being performed in the UK on an annual basis. We have abortion on demand, which is why women seem to believe that it is their right and their choice. This is why Deborah Orr and her ilk vigorously campaign for the removal of the requirement for a second signature to make abortion even easier to access. The second signature, though treated as an exercise in bureaucracy, a complete subversion of the law, legally enforces the notion of abortion as the necessary evil, the last resort, not the back-up to contraception which Orr and Furedi claim it should be. Mandatory independent counselling consolidates the law as it stands, it is not a chipping away of rights, the right never existed in the first place. The amendment should be supported for this reason alone.

When discussing the idea of directive counselling, both Ben Trovato and Joseph Shaw noted that I constructed a straw man in suggesting that clients would be told what they should conclude at the beginning of the session, rather than, as is the case with other pro-life organisations, helped to reach this conclusion by the end of the session. I agree, however I was responding to some typically emotive rhetoric which I have never been able to establish whether it was grounded in truth. A vehement feminist, told lurid tales of women being brow-beaten, emotionally blackmailed, told they were “baby-murdering sluts”, shown graphic photos of dismembered fetuses and made to handle life-size models of fetuses. I would like to see these claims substantiated, we can’t assume that this does not go on, but the account seems grossly exaggerated. However as we have seen in the media, the Guardian in particular, publishing a disproportionate number of articles devoted to misrepresenting LIFE, they face an enormous task in surmounting their reputation as “religious nutjobs”. If nothing else my blog proves their impartiality beyond all reasonable doubt, given the reaction from Catholics. Any pro-life organisation provision of counselling is going to prove an anathema to the liberal press which will do its best to sway public opinion and whip up misplaced indignation. Ann Furedi has publicly attacked LIFE, but the one thing she has done is to admit that when BPAS sent someone undercover to investigate claims of manipulation, these were found to be unsubstantiated. LIFE, she concedes, does provide non-directive counselling, no graphic or distressing material was used.

We live in a depressing age of moral relativism whereby every choice or decision is said to be equally valid. The current zeitgeist is for an “evidenced-based” approach and for the issue of abortion to operate in some sort of moral vacuum. It has to be better that a pro-life group such as LIFE is able to be at the forefront and provide what will be seen as a best-practice model, furnishing a woman with all the facts, exploring all of the options with her, than an abortion clinic who will simply affirm a woman’s initial visceral and perhaps misinformed reaction. Certainly LIFE stand a better chance and as I said, retain the moral high ground in the secular area of medicine. This is what we have to recognise, the field of medical ethics is predominantly secular. We see nurses sacked for discussing views on abortions with colleagues and the previous government did their utmost to remove the ability from medical professionals to conscientiously object to practices against their faith. Faith is seen to have no part to play in the sphere of medicine. Appeals based on faith-based ethics are disregarded. Though the pro-life position is one that does not require any faith whatsoever, it is a common feature of all major religions, hence pro-lifers are often met with derision; objections tend to centre around descriptions of sky fairies, flying spaghetti monsters, before degenerating into generic attacks upon religion, via diversions of perceived misogyny, corruption, power and control, finished off with a liberal dusting of pedophilia, where the fundamental principles of the pro-life belief are obscured in a deluge of irrational and illiberal prejudice. Under these circumstances it seems that LIFE has no other option if it wishes to retain any secular credibility and build upon that. It is better placed than other organisations who nail their colours very firmly to a particular evangelical Christian or Catholic mast and thus risk alienating those who may otherwise be open to persuasion.

This is the crux of the argument as to why LIFE needs to continue and expand its provision of non directional counselling. Though the outcome may not be guaranteed, it is better that a group such as LIFE provides these services than an abortion clinic. As Joseph Shaw notes, a client will have some clue as to their stance, but the BACP accreditation provides the much needed reassurance. A client of an abortion clinic will be assured by their counsellor that abortion is a perfectly acceptable and valid choice, one apparently taken by one in three women, an argument incidentally I fail to understand, one in three men might have had sex with a woman without her consent, the frequency or commonality of the occurrence does not render it any the more acceptable. Upon entering an abortion clinic a woman will be exposed to lots of their literature reassuring them that abortion is a removal of the products of conception, making no reference to the fetus and with the emphasis heavily upon this is a normal everyday event, nothing major, no great shakes. All of this works towards a subliminal reinforcement of the message, downplaying the procedure, as well as fundamentally misleading a woman also increases the risk of subsequent trauma; a woman feels taken aback by her unexpected feelings of loss and at the same time unable to grieve. There are well over 30 independent studies which show a link between abortion and subsequent PTSD.

For me, the most pressing question posed by Joseph Shaw, one that I’m not sure whether or not I can satisfactorily answer without an element of deception is whether or not non-directive counselling amounts to co-operation in a moral evil, in that silence is a way that one may be an accessory to another’s sin. This is undoubtedly true, it would be disingenuous of me to deny it or indeed to find wriggle room. My only observations would be to note that this would not be a concern to a non-Catholic counsellor and by funding LIFE we would not be direct accessories to sin, but facilitating accessories to sin. Would the scale of the amount of lives potentially saved, the good, outweigh the bad? The potential to sin would be carried out by a third party as an accessory to another. It’s an indisputable problem nonetheless. Sin is sin. We cannot ignore that fact.

I think the answer for Catholics in good conscience would be to continue to fund LIFE, the good work they do significantly outweighs the morally neutral and it must be remembered that counselling only constitutes a portion of their work which as I pointed out, encompasses a huge field, from education to practical assistance and aid. My husband is one who was persuaded of the validity of the pro-life cause on a purely secular basis when in the sixth form and remains profoundly grateful to this day. Other teachers and school chaplains have verified their efficacy, no graphic images are shown and students are encouraged and stimulated to hold lively debates where all points of view are considered. I am not convinced that a Catholic should engage in non-directive counselling, however LIFE do provide free post abortion trauma services, another vital ministry and there is no reason why a Catholic could not help to heal the hurt.

Allotment Girl, a much appreciated, thoughtful regular here, gave me pause for thought. I think she deserves to have the last word.

Non-directive counselling is one way to show compassion to women who are in a situation they find difficult. Such counselling starts with the practitioner showing “unconditional positive regard”. This might be the first time a woman in this situation has been accepted for her own sake- not brow beaten and pushed in different direction. If a counsellor goes in with an outcome in their heads, it becomes more difficult to respond to the woman in front of them with proper care. It is crucial that this approach is kept and LIFE should be supported in this.
For Christian practioners they can truly be “Christ” to the women they work with. Christ deals with many people in the gospels and when he does so, he is gentle and loving, whatever their background or current situation. This has to be the model for any Christian for this is where change can happen. The way this issue is dealt with is as important as the issue itself.

Christ loved the sinner whilst abhorring the sin. The Catholic approach is always holistic, we must not get so caught up in protecting the unborn child that we neglect the humanity and needs of its mother. Christ would be smashing the abortion mills, he would be unequivocal in his condemnation of the killing of the innocents and almost certainly directive, however he would also extend a cloak of protection, compassion and love to frightened, desperate pregnant women. We should aim for nothing less.

5 thoughts on “Pragmatic compassion

  1. Did Our Lord practice non-directive counselling? An intriguing idea, but not immediately plausible.

    I’m unsure if you think NDC is (a) a good thing (b) a necessary evil or (c) something Life should stop.

    For myself, I shall support some of the many pro-life organizations whose good work does not need to be balanced against anything bad.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

      I had hoped to convey the idea that there can be no doubt that Our Lord would have been direct and yet compassionate in his approach.

      The problem is that society at large wishes to wilfully misconstrue the direction. It is fine for the abortion clinics to push their ideology, wrapped in the guise of “best clinical practice”, which seeks to facilitate and endorse abortion, but it does not seem acceptable for organisations to demonstrate to women that they have other, better options.

      As for my position, I think NDC is a necessary if unsatisfactory tool. I don’t see it as being an evil, but as I said I cannot see it being morally permissible for Catholics to act as NDCs if they keep their silence and thus collude with an act of evil.

      With that in mind I do think it is possible to be non-directional and at the same time express a personal opinion, this happened to me in an entirely different context last year when I sought advice about my degree from a student life counsellor. The counsellor recommended a completely different course of action (that I continue at Oxford instead of transfer to Sussex which was closer to my home in Brighton) to the one I took. He thought I was foolish to decline a confirmed place, but in terms of my family life, I had little other option.

      Whilst this is in no way comparable to the life or death issue of abortion, it certainly demonstrated how non-directive counselling (which it was, all avenues were explored) could encompass a personal opinion without swaying the outcome.

      I received an email from a Catholic blogger stating that they had very much enjoyed my original article, that they had seen NDC in action and were convinced as to its efficacy.

      Unless we directly witness what occurs it is difficult to come to an informed conclusion. Perhaps a LIFE counsellor could anonymously interject?

      I am in no way convinced that NDC constitutes a reason to withdraw financial support from LIFE, who are not anti-Catholic in approach and whose credibility in the secular sphere cannot be doubted.

  2. If it wrong for Catholics it is wrong for everyone. This us a matter of Natural Law, not Curch discipline.

    If it wrong Life should not be doing it, even if it politically useful or effective. End of story.

  3. interesting article. I do enjoy reading what you are writing on all this abortion stuff. here’s another thought for you. I always find is strange that prolifers are so defensive of the two doctor’s signatures. I see this as nothing more than a lock to prevent doctors from being prosecutted under the offences against the persons act. It does absolutely nothing to help women, nor would it ever, since it’s just a tick box exercise. In fact, i think that reducing the number of signatures from one to two would make it easier for women to bring action post abortion.

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