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Archive for August, 2011

Simon at Latte Labour has written a typically thought-provoking post laying out the dangers for pro-choicers of framing this debate in religious terms. I agree with him, but for entirely different reasons. The pro-life cause flows naturally from Christian belief, but it does necessitate it; it is a cogent logical, intellectual and philosophical position in its own merit. I know of many passionate rational atheist pro-lifers, who object to the assumption that they must be some sort of religious “crazy”. It is a certainty that at any point during the debate, a detractor when faced with the irrefutable logic of when life begins, starts to clutch at straws and hurls accusations of sky pixies and imaginary friends in an attempt to prove quite how irrational you are as a person and how your logic therefore cannot be trusted. Atheists find this every bit as frustrating as Christians, many of whom have reached their position partly through logic and reasoning. They have weighed up the same evidence as atheists and come to a different conclusion.

I also think he is wrong to frame this in a pro-life versus pro-choice context. It absolutely is not, given that no changes to the time limit are proposed, nor is counselling being made compulsory. This is not stating that women are not capable of coming to their own informed conclusions, it is providing the opportunity for some impartial advice, a breathing space, for those who feel pressured, either by the swift nature of the process itself or perhaps by a family member. It is not unknown for women to feel pressured into abortion by spouses or relatives. A opportunity to talk this through in a non-judgemental fashion and in an independent setting is imperative.

Simon seems to want to categorise the pro-life Christian as being that of either an Evangelical Christian or “traditional” Catholic. He compares the statement “You cannot be pro-choice and a Christian” with those who strongly believe that the only valid form of the liturgy is in the old Latin rite. This is a straw man. What I genuinely do not understand is how anyone can claim to be a Roman Catholic, in Simon’s case a lay Dominican as far as I believe, and be in favour of abortion. This is not a personal attack, but just something that I find incomprehensible. The Catechism is abundantly clear on the issue of abortion, this is not an issue of individual conscience unlike the death penalty or Summorum Pontificum which allows for the liturgy to be celebrated in different forms, both equally valid. There is no room for manoeuvre or legitimate differences of opinion. In his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Blessed John Paul II declared abortion to be binding on the faithful which means that one has to accept it, if one wishes to be part of the body of Christ that constitutes the Roman Catholic Church. When Roman Catholics receive the Eucharist they are accepting that they are in union with each other, the Church and her teaching. I cannot understand therefore, organisations such as Catholics for Choice, or individuals who profess to be Catholic, but reject an area of doctrine which is binding. Why not become an Anglican?

Although other Christian denominations allow for freedom of conscience on this issue, the Christian position on abortion is clear. There are several biblical passages demonstrating God’s love and concern for the unborn child. I’ll quote a few:

The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:4-5).

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:13-16).

Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. (Isaiah 46:3-4).
Jesus did not explicitly talk about abortion, but it cannot be forgotten that he would have followed orthodox Jewish traditions and customs, one of which outlawed abortion. Christ was a radical, he had absolutely no problem over-turning the established order, so had he wanted to endorse the practice of abortion, it is reasonable to assume he would have done so. Christ tended to liberalise Jewish laws concerning things such as diet but crucially he tightened up on codes of ethics, giving them stricter definitions than previously, such as in the cases of marriage and adultery. Adultery no longer simply consists of the physical act, Jesus extends the definition to incorporate the imagination. It is inconceivable, pardon the pun, to imagine that he would have sanctioned abortion, though no doubt he would have extended compassion and mercy to those seeking forgiveness.
When considering abortion in Christian terms, the ideas of compassion and welfare take on an entirely different timbre. Christians are ultimately concerned with eternal salvation or lack thereof. To love one’s neighbour as oneself is to desire for them the fruits of the kingdom. Christians do not wish to co-operate or corroborate an action that has the potential to lead to another’s damnation. We often steer clear of using these terms, I don’t want to talk about cliches of hellfires but we believe that the absence of God in the next life will be desolate, painful, lonely and eternal.Christians desire this neither for themselves or for others, hence many tend to be unequivocal on this issue. Though we cannot force our will upon others, we cannot sit idly by and watch people descend into destruction of themselves and others, without at least trying to help. It is absurd to reduct Christianity’s core creed to “be nice to each folks”. As I have talked about before, one has to love God with one’s heart and soul BEFORE one loves one’s neighbour and part of this includes keeping his commandments, of which the fifth is “thou shalt not kill”.
This goes some way to explaining why Catholics on the most part seem to be so quiet on the issue of this amendment. They can see it for what it is, i.e. not a pro-life issue. A very welcome consequence could be that the number of abortions are reduced, but Catholic ethics reject the principle that the end justifies the means. The fact that fewer abortions may be performed does not justify material co-operation in sin, which is what independent counselling technically constitutes. Regular readers will remember the series of posts and debates a few months ago, in which Joseph Shaw, pointed out the flaws in my support for LIFE from an ethical and philosophical stance. The amendment if passed, will mean that fewer people go to organisations like SPUC and Care Confidential (who incidentally fared extremely well in a Daily Mail undercover report). To support the amendment entails a potential co-operation in evil. Besides it does not go far enough.
This is the only reason that I can think of as to why the heavyweight Catholic MPs in the House of Commons have remained largely quiet on the issue, leaving the inevitable fall-out to land on the shoulders of two staunch Anglican MPs. I can well understand Nadine Dorries’ frustration. Catholics who are resolutely pro-life do not seem to be supporting something that will reduce abortions. No wonder she is baffled and bemused by us. She doesn’t understand Catholic ethics, nor appreciate that many Catholics do not want to see their pro-life organisations potentially jeopardised. Nadine has been explicitly clear that religious groups cannot be involved in the official provision of counselling services. Many Catholics seem to believe that this is a piffling amendment that changes nothing, one beset by ethical difficulties and not worth wasting their time over.
I would disagree. I think the amendment will go a long way to reducing the numbers of victims of abortions, both mothers and babies alike. It formally recognises the bias inherent in the provision of counselling services by abortion providers as well as the very nature of these organisations. This is significant. The amendment crucially separates the decision as to whether or not to have a baby from the medical procedure and those who accept the counselling will be encouraged to think through all aspects of their decision instead of being rushed through a conveyer belt process.
I know a thing or two about crisis pregnancies. I’ve experienced two. Believe me being pro-life does not make a crisis pregnancy any easier, if anything it is more of a taboo to discuss the fact that you are not exactly over the moon. None of the options are easy. No-one can go through it for you and you need to be utterly convinced that what you are doing is the right thing. No amount of counselling can take the decision away from you and in some cases it will have no impact on a decision that has already been taken. But it may give a woman the emotional resources to cope. It is better than the status quo, and even if the DoH do not include organisations such as SPUC and Care on its recommended list of providers, it supports the idea that counselling can be beneficial for those facing unplanned pregnancies and does not prevent these organisations from being promoted and used by members of faith communities. It may go a long way to reducing the numbers of abortion gone through in secret by those who feel they have nowhere else to turn. I have been a little disappointed by the lack of support from the Catholic community and Catholic leaders. It is not too late.
To contact your MP, click here.

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Sunny watch.

Sunny Hundal has taken it upon himself to become the new champion of women’s rights. Somewhat rather self-importantly, he has decided to give “a series of daily briefings” regarding the proposed amendment to the Health and Social care bill.

He asks if BPAS and Marie Stopes are prevented from carrying out counselling, who will take their place, where will the hundreds of thousands of counsellors emerge to cater for the 200,000 thousand abortions a year?

He really hasn’t got the point yet has he? The counselling is OPTIONAL. Not every single woman will chose it. The abortion providers have not yet provided figures on how many woman change their mind as a direct result of counselling. That would be an interesting statistic. To claim that all of a sudden the capacity for 200,000 counselling sessions needs to be found is disingenuous.

I found the following job advertisement for a Marie Stopes counsellor. It’s quite interesting, in that it states that a counsellor must be pro-choice. Under BACP guidelines a counsellor must not divulge their opinion or feelings, non-directional counselling specifically allows for the woman to make her own mind up, so surely the counsellor’s own views are irrelevant. Although it might be highly unusual, why couldn’t a pro-life counsellor give non-directional counselling in a Marie Stopes clinic? So long as they stuck to the guidelines and kept their own personal opinions out of the matter, what would be the problem? Or are pro-lifers incapable of giving independent advice. Only pro-choicers who support abortion are able to follow the guidelines are they? How could we trust that a supporter of abortion could be truly impartial? Non-directional counselling is just that, so it shouldn’t matter what the counsellor’s particular views are.

Another interesting point about this advert, which proves Sunny wrong, is that it states that the counsellor must be BACP accredited (proof that they will be impartial) and provide their own supervision. This is the point. Like other professionals, counsellors hold their professional qualifications, independent of the organisation for whom they work. If abortion providers cannot provide counselling, the presumably these counsellors may work on a self-employed basis or for another organisation, which does not have a financial interest in the outcome of the counselling. They do not need to form part of the NHS as Sunny implies, this will not put the onus on the NHS to provide the counsellors in-house but to recommend and commission independent groups. Surely the cost should be of no import to Sunny, what matters is that the woman makes the decision that is right for her? There is nothing to suggest that the quality of advice will fall, simply due to a potentially increased volume or uptake.

The advert also specifies that the counsellors must have an understanding and commitment to the mission of MSI.  The mission of MSI is to prevent poor people in developing countries from breeding provide contraceptive and abortion services to people worldwide. Specifically in the UK, they wish to expand the scope and reach of their abortion services. It’s all there in their annual accounts. They are every inch the ideologues that pro-lifers are. Except Marie Stopes are the “right” kind of ideologues. Marie Stopes in the UK is not a charity. It charges a counselling fee and charges for its abortion services and ploughs that money back into the business for expansion and to pay its executives high salaries. In some ways their charitable status could be equated with private schools, except that private schools do not rely on government money for income. Private schools are at least transparent about their aim and are being thoroughly investigated by the charities’ commission.

The capacity for counselling is already there, it just needs to be restructured. How would the counselling be regulated? By BACP and the Department of Health. Nadine has been clear that groups with any sort of agenda in the outcome will be disbarred. The plans do not require women to go to two independent health providers. He just doesn’t get that does he? The plans require independent counselling to be offered. How many times does this need to be stated. A woman can still say “no, I don’t want counselling, I’d like to proceed with the abortion”. Nothing will change.

The evidence that MSI and BPAS aren’t offering independent advice is that they do not appear to offer any sort of practical information or aid in relation to choosing to keep the baby. A good counsellor should play devil’s advocate to a certain extent. Not just affirm your innate feelings, but go through the realities and possible outcomes of both courses of action. We know that the assistant in a dress shop is likely to tell us we look fabulous and may treat their exhortations with a healthy amount of scepticism, but not so an abortion provider. It is very clear with an organisation such as LIFE, what their aims are and any woman would instinctively know this (the clue is in the name and the picture of the unborn baby in utero). With organisations such as MSI and BPAS, their bias is hidden to vulnerable pregnant women. You are referred there by your doctor, it’s a clinic, it seems to be all about health, you see leaflets telling you that having an abortion is very common (we look to other peoples’ choices for affirmation when faced with a dilemma) and it probably will not occur to the pregnant woman, that the counsellor who is “helping” her works for an organisation who will be paid should she proceed with an abortion. It’s presented under the guises of health, of medicine but the decision to abort for purely health grounds consists of around 1% of pregnancies. The decision to terminate is not simply one of medicine, you are not treating an ailment.

Women will not have to face a delay in procuring an abortion, but given an opportunity to stop and think to discuss it further if they wish. Post 9 weeks they will require surgery. There is no difference in technique between 9 and 15 weeks; between 15 and 20, the procedure is still surgical and similar risks, but a different technique is used. A short delay might only have an impact on whether or not the RU486 abortion pill can be used. Is an artificially induced miscarriage during which you get to pass the fetal sac and experience a mini-labour, any more or less traumatic than a swift surgical procedure under local or general anaesthetic? The answer is entirely subjective.

Sunny seems to wilfully miss the point. The counselling is not compulsory and will not delay those whose minds are already made up. He assumes that everyone who requires counselling will require an abortion and that independent counselling is unnecessary as it already exists at MSI and BPAS. There is nothing to suggest that they do not overcome the obvious conflict of interest. If this amendment gives more  women the opportunity to thoroughly consider their decision, instead of feeling rushed, if it does result in fewer abortions and fewer cases of post-abortion stress disorder, how on earth can that be damaging to women’s health?

I shall be sharing further servings of Sunny Delight as and when required.

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Here’s the clip of Nadine Dorries and Dr Evan Harris discussing the proposed amendments to the Health and Social Care bill, that gave rise to my intemperate tweet.

When asked whether or not he would support the provision of independent counselling services, Evan Harris evades the question, claiming that Sky’s “script” is wrong and that women are not going to be offered an independent counselling service.

Well, your script is wrong, because they’re not going to be offered — under Nadine Dorries’ plan — an independent service. They’re going to be pushed into the clutches of anti-abortion religious organisations, who are neither trained nor responsible to give the advice and information that’s been approved by the medical royal colleges.

No, Dr Evan Harris, your script is wrong. The text of the Dorries and Field  amendment to the health and social care bill is this:

(1A)    

In this section, information, advice and counselling is independent where

it is provided by either—

(i)    

a private body that does not itself provide for the
termination of pregnancies; or

(ii)
a statutory body.”.’.

Absolutely nothing there with regards to compelling women to receive counselling, nor religious organisations. A private body that does not itself provide for the termination of pregnancies, does not have to be religious in nature. There are plenty of private counselling organisations which are not founded upon religious principles or who follow religious guidelines. There is no reason why a local counselling service to whom a patient may be referred for other conditions, may not be able to assist a woman in her decision making process.

Why are the abortion providers deemed as being uniquely able to provide impartial counselling which may not be obtained elsewhere?  Even if, as His Grace points out, BPAS and Marie Stopes did provide objective and impartial counselling, there would still be room for justifiable doubt.

There is nothing in the text of the amendment that renders counselling compulsory or forces women who are seeking counselling to go to a religious organisation. Nadine Dorries seemed to be very clear in that interview that religious organisations would not be included in any Department of Health list of independent organisations. Counselling services are not required to be approved by royal medical colleges, thus referring to them in an attempt to lend the argument weight, is specious.

And that’s why no medical organisation or medical ethical organisation that I know of thinks that it’s a good idea because there’s been no evidence — no evidence of complaints, no evidence of a failure to obtain informed consent — under the current arrangements where women are seen by independent professional counsellors, if they wish to, as part of their visit — their first visit — to an abortion provider, after either having been referred by their GP, whom they could have asked questions of, or indeed, self-referring because they have it in their mind to end their pregnancy. So I think your script is entirely wrong to claim that they’re not getting independent counselling at the moment.

This made my brain hurt. Firstly Dr Harris makes the assumption that the abortion providers’ counselling is impartial, despite the lack of evidence which might indicate that they do overcome any innate bias. Then he presents absence of evidence as being evidence of absence, i.e. the lack of evidence which might prove that BPAS are impartial, proves that they are in fact, impartial. I had to play that clip back a few times to confirm the inherent irrationality.

The point is that it cannot reasonably be assumed that the abortion providers are unbiased. Anyone who has ever done any abortion recovery counselling will tell you an entirely different story. Amongst the piles of leaflets containing soft marketing and social conditioning messages such as 1 in 3 women will have an abortion, nestling on top of waiting room tables, not once does one find any leaflets that may direct women towards services that may be able to provide practical and financial advice and support. There are charitable organisations who will assist women with claiming the relevant benefits or drafting letters to employers or who will provide  baby clothes, equipment and financial grants. Surely any impartial provider should be providing this information? Just as any woman who goes to an organisation such as LIFE, will know exactly where she can procure an abortion, via a GP, surely those providing abortions have a duty to point women towards whether they may be able to access extra help and support if they keep their baby? Give them the whole picture, if they are seeking counselling, not just the medical facts about the abortion.

This was the response to the point made by the interviewer that nothing about Christian or religious groups had been included in the amendment, and that this was a voluntary extra step to ensure that a woman had all the information, instead of being forced in one direction:

They’re not being forced in one direction at the moment. As I say, it’s unlawful to conduct any medical procedure, including termination of pregnancy, without obtaining informed consent, and as far as I’m aware, despite there being many, many abortions every year — hundreds of thousands, in fact — there’s not been a single complaint that someone’s been misinformed by the current professional counselling that exists,

Again he evades the point about independence and denies that women are being forced in one direction. We do know that abortion providers do not give out any literature which might direct women to charitable organisations that could help them, nor do they give out any information regarding government assistance, benefits or employment rights when pregnant, which is what any counsellor should do, help a woman to evaluate all the options before coming to a decision. Informed consent consists of a signature on a piece of paper to say that you understand the medical  nature of the procedure and the potential risks. If there have been no complaints, I would posit that this has as much to do with women’s reticence to come forward and complain about an abortion clinic, the issue is so heavily weighted on both sides. It is possible that a woman might feel guilt both in terms of the procedure, or feel that by complaining she is somehow letting down the  cause of women’s rights. The absence of complaints, is not evidence of satisfactory counselling, remembering that counselling needs to be concerned with helping an undecided woman with a crisis pregnancy  to explore her options. Counselling about whether or not to have the baby should not be conflated with counselling regarding the medical procedure.

Dr Evan Harris uses the volume of abortions carried out every year to support his argument which leaves one with the impression that he views the “many, many”, the hundreds of thousands of procedures as a measure of success. There may not have been any complaints about the medical procedures, but as noted, that is an entirely separate issue to the counselling. Women are not asked to sign to say that they have received satisfactory abortion counselling, simply that they understand the nature of the procedure.

Whilst no medical college that Dr Harris knows of supports this, does that mean that they are agin it? Or does that mean that no royal medical college has publicly expressed an opinion, simply because counselling services are outside of their remit? BACP have expressed support for the idea that women should have access to independent and impartial counselling services. It has also stated that Nadine Dorries has informed them that religious groups will be subject to the same constraints and criteria as the abortion providers. It is unthinkable that any physician would wish to prevent a woman who is undecided from being able to access independent counselling services. Abortion is not simply a physical procedure and any advice should be holistic to ensure that it is the right decision and not relegated to a clinical procedure.

The interview terminates with generic attacks and speculation as to who are the backers and funders of the Right to Know organisation and veering off into the realms of conspiracy theory. Obviously those who care about women having access to all options are right-wing extremists, (note the pejorative use of the word extremist for anyone who might be pro-life), Dr Harris obviously wants to whip up some fear and suspicion that this is all some major conspiracy to stop women from having abortions, when the reality is so much more mundane. It is simply to ensure that those who choose counselling, have access to all information and don’t rush into anything. But by calling everyone extremists, you not-so-subtly introduce the idea that people with perfectly legitimate views, remember that pro-choice views do not require any religious belief, are mentally unsound and prone to irrationality and violence.

As I said, after 9 weeks, the only abortion option on offer by the clinics is surgery. Women who wish to avoid surgery are encouraged to make a speedy decision, which may not be appropriate. Whilst Dr Evan Harris states that there is no evidence of harm, there is certainly a huge question mark over the impartiality of the counselling on offer by the abortion providers and it makes sense to recognise this, not simply turn a blind eye.

Why is this amendment creating controversy and being billed as a massive shake-up?

It recognises the uncomfortable truth that abortion providers turn a profit from providing abortion, it highlights a legitimate concern with regards to their impartiality and they don’t like that one little bit. That is why they are throwing absolutely everything they’ve got into fighting this tooth and nail. And if you’re wondering why the Guardian seem to be quite so concerned by the issue, take a guess who sponsors their international development journalism competition?

Marie Stopes.

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Dr Evan Harris and Nadine Dorries were interviewed by Sky News yesterday.  I watched the clip of it first thing this morning and was so incensed, I made the fatal error of tweeting in haste, calling Dr Harris “the smiling face of evil”. I have not heard the end of it from his supporters. I did apologise to Dr Evan Harris, unfortunately the 140 character medium of Twitter does not allow for nuance, his response was to call me “un-Christian”, retweet my sentiment (which was never directly addressed to him) to all his followers who piled in, and then retweet a selected part of my apology, together with his response of “Yabba, Yabba, Yabba”. Not the most reasoned discourse one would expect from a former Member of Parliament.

As I said, it was not the most judicious of tweets, sometimes in my passion I forget that one needs to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. I will explain what I mean in very simplistic terms. It is worth bearing in mind, that a basic definition of evil is the opposite of good, or from a Christian perspective, God. The killing of the vulnerable, be they unborn children, the sick, the disabled or the elderly, even when carried out with the best of intentions, still constitutes an evil act, given that it is in opposition to good, or indeed God. Most people, regardless of where they stand on the pro-life spectrum, would not consider the act of abortion or euthanasia a good thing. How may the desperate act of a woman who feels that she has no other option than to prevent her child from being born, be a good thing? How may the act of a person who feels unable to cope with the poor quality of life afforded by a debilitating condition that they have no other option than to kill themselves, be described as good?

Objectively, one might be able to argue that it is “good” that these options exist, however that is not a point of view that I share, nor do I feel that the individual acts of abortion or euthanasia are anything but an occasion of sadness. They are, by my definition, evil both in secular and theological terms. Dr Evan Harris is a pro-abortion and voluntary euthanasia activist. He campaigns to make voluntary euthanasia legal and for looser regulation surrounding abortion, policies which are an absolute anathema as far as I am concerned. Whilst I do not know enough about Dr Evan Harris that warrants describing him as an evil man, I do believe that the policies which he advocates could be described as evil without stretching the imagination too far. By describing him as the “smiling face” of evil, whilst not casting judgement upon his motives which, in the absence of any personal knowledge about him one must assume are sincerely held, or casting judgement upon his personality or his immortal soul, I meant to convey that he is the poster-boy for something that is evil and/or bad. I apologise for any implication that he himself is evil. I am not a moral relativist and cannot hide my abhorrence and repugnance for these acts which derogate humanity.

What rankles hugely is that by describing him in an injudicious fashion, Dr Harris, the avowed atheist, has accused me of being “un-Christian”. Whilst I am undoubtedly sinful and full of imperfection, Christianity requires the identification of those things which are good and those which are bad or evil. Christ himself was not afraid to call things for what they were. Those who talk of Christ as being a hippy figure with nothing but peace and love seem to forget the Christ who overturned the tables of the money lenders in the Temple and drove out them out with whips in furious, but righteous indignation. Of course, by mentioning this, I was informed by someone else that I was “comparing yourself to Christ. Special”. Absolutely not. I aim to be a disciple of Christ and follow His teaching, I don’t try to imagine that I am Christ, but I do try to model my life upon Christ’s in as best a fashion as I can.

I have been besieged by those today who are assuming that my pro-life stance is as irrational as they consider my faith. Once again I reiterate that a pro-life stance is a perfectly logical philosophical stance which requires no recourse to theism. For those who insist that the bible makes no specific mention of abortion, I would note that neither does it mention other issues that are considered wrong or immoral by Christians and atheists alike. There are several passages in the Bible in which God’s love for the unborn child is enunciated, the most famous being Psalm 139, 13-16 and Jeremiah 1, 4-5.  Plus there is the not insignficant matter of the fifth commandment.

Whilst blogging, Red Maria found me this interesting quote from Dr Evan Harris, (column 260), during the 2008 debate on the lowering of the abortion limit. When discussing the subject of an aborted fetus being born alive, Dr Harris suggests that the sight might be distressing to some people, implying that most people would not find the sight of a fetus dying at 20 weeks distressing. He very carefully avoids referring to the unborn child as such, not even using the more medical term of fetus, preferring instead the description of an unborn child as “an abortion”.  To suggest that the natural response to witnessing the death of a 20-24 week fetus should be one of clinical dispassionate detachment is chilling.

I went to see the controversial speaker Michael Voris last week, who reminded Catholics, that they should be aspiring to sainthood now, in this life, not to become the dusty relics to whom people will pray in 300 years time, for the healing of one’s foot. Like a saint, I aim to be transparent to Christ, meaning that His love may shine through me and lead others to Him. Given the amount of vitriol I’ve faced today, I’ve clearly failed in that task, something which I regret and from which I will learn.

But I will not apologise for either my pro-life stance or my identification of the killing of vulnerable people as being evil – such a stance requiring no religious belief whatsoever. I will also not apologise for or be embarrassed about my faith. Although I do intend to avoid causing undue offence and making personal remarks. I am sure Dr Harris would agree with the notion that liberalism entails freedom of thought and speech, even if those ideas and words have the potential to offend other people.

Dr Harris has finally accepted my apology and jocularly granted me “absolution”. I trust my penance for a hasty tweet was the sheer amount of flamers and trolls I received yesterday. Dr Evans suggested that my response should be to turn the other cheek. He may be right about that but nonetheless, I am not afraid to make a defence for the hope that I have within me.

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Illiberal schmiberal

So the pro-choicers are rather unnecessarily getting their knickers in a knot about the proposed “tightening of the abortion rules”, in what is described as  “the biggest shake-up of a generation”. The word “illiberal” is being applied liberally to the proposed amendments to the abortion laws. The discourse determined to denounce and disseminate dirty Dorries’ disturbing deeds has re-commenced with renewed vigour and enthusiasm.

Before pro-lifers and pro-choicers get over-excited, a little word to the wise. Sorry to disappoint you all, but nothing has changed. The abortion laws and/or access to abortion is not being altered and neither is the time-limit. Mandatory counselling is not being introduced. All that is being suggested is that if a woman requests counselling prior to an abortion, then the counselling should not be provided by someone with a vested financial interest in the outcome of the counselling, but an independent provider. That.is.all.

“But, but, but, the counselling is going to be provided by Christian pro-life crazies” they all splutter. No it isn’t. (Although whether or not Christians who believe in the sanctity of human life are ipso facto mentally impaired is another matter entirely.) The Department of Health have said that they have not yet decided on who should provide this counselling.

“But, this could result in a delay and abortion being carried out at a later stage which will be more difficult for women. Surely it’s better if an abortion is carried out earlier”.  It is likely that a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy who seeks counselling before deciding upon the next course of action, has already recognised that a human life is at stake. She needs time to consider all the options and in a society that offers abortion on demand, decide whether or not this is the only option available to her, what might constitute the barriers to childbirth and whether or not with the right help and support these might be overcome. Abortion clinics do not, at present, offer this advice;  their counselling constitutes of discussing and validating a woman’s innate feelings, which are normally borne out of panic, worry or anxiety, otherwise she would not be in that situation.

It is unethical that organisations who are paid by the taxpayer for every single abortion procedure they perform on the NHS, should also receive taxpayers’ money for counselling that simply seeks to encourage and validate a decision which is very often just a knee-jerk reaction, rather than explore the decision on whether or not to abort in any real depth. The issue of time is irrelevant, given that all abortions are legal under 24 weeks. An abortion is an abortion regardless of when it is carried out, an early medical abortion (one which involves taking the RU486 pill) may carry less medical risk than surgery, but it is a matter of conjecture which method may prove the more distressing. A woman deciding whether or not to have an abortion should not be thinking about which method of abortion will be right for her, nor pressured into making a speedy decision on the premise that she has little time left to decide. True pro-choicers should be equally concerned that the advent of the early medical abortion means that women are often pressurised into taking a decision which they later come to regret as they are under the false impression that their time is limited. At 9 weeks, there is still plenty of time to receive counselling and have a legal abortion. Time only comes into play, if a woman presents seeking an abortion at a later stage, which presents a whole different set of ethical issues. The abortion is still the same whether carried out at 12 weeks or 20, it is only the procedure that may vary and of course the development of the fetus.

It is disingenuous of the pro-choice lobby to claim that the requirement for  counselling to be independent will delay or impede an abortion. 24 weeks is a long time. A few weeks delay at the most, for a woman who is undecided, far from being the attack on women’s health, is actually in her best interests, regardless of her outcome. Whatever she decides  it will at least be considered. The reason that the clinics are fighting this tooth and nail is because a surgical abortion is more costly, consumes more resources and often a psychological deterrent. An early medical abortion is so much easier for them on all counts, regardless of whether or not it is right for the woman. Which is what we are supposed to be discussing.

“A woman won’t have access to the right information”. Why not? Or are they claiming that their counselling is not all it should be? If a woman decides to proceed with an abortion, following counselling, why will she not have access to the right information? Surely the clinic will be able to provide her with all the information she requires about her procedure? What they mean is “we are worried that independent counsellors might give women information that might deter them from an abortion that they might otherwise have had”.  I’ll say it again, this counselling is at the request of the woman who is undecided. It is imperative that she does not feel pressured or bounced into an irrevocable decision. Playing devil’s advocate for a minute, even if the “Christian crazies” talked her into keeping her baby, why is that so very dreadful? Is every undecided woman a potentially bad mother whose child is going to suffer physical and emotional deprivation? In any event, with the Department of Health involved, it is hugely unlikely that any organisation who does not hold BACP accreditation will be asked to provide the counselling.

“But BPAS and Marie Stopes aren’t businesses with financial interests, they’re charities!”  Any organisation that has to rely heavily on government subsidy and contracts can hardly call itself a charity. Like many other organisations, the charity label is simply a tax status. They have no shareholders and do not pay a dividend. That is all. They still aim to generate a profit which goes back into the business charity which goes towards generating more business and more outlets, as well as paying their directors very high salaries. They do not offer free counselling to undecided women, nor do they offer free abortions or free sterilisation. For charities, their corporate governance and marketing activities are extremely business-like indeed. These clinics exist solely to offer abortion and have stated aims of increasing the scope of their services. The NHS contracts out to them for the reason that many of its doctors are conscientious objectors who do not wish to perform abortions.

Of course when the 1967 Abortion Law was drafted, the issue of counselling was not considered. Far from enshrining any sort of legal right to abortion, the law left this in the hands of the doctors. Abortion was seen as being a method of last resort and it was anticipated that any woman seeking an abortion would have talked the issue through in depth with a doctor before the decision was made. It was deemed to be so serious that the signature of a second doctor was required to validate the procedure, as a check and a balance. Independent counselling changes absolutely nothing other than to reinstate that check and balance at the behest of the woman herself.

The net result may be fewer abortions. Why is that so problematic? And what is quite so illiberal about ensuring that whatever a woman decides, it is her own free choice, based on all the information that is available? Surely the epitome of liberalism is making one’s own free choice and not being influenced or pressured by those who may stand to make financial gain from your choice? For if your decision has been based on an incorrect information such as time limit or trauma, how may it be said to be truly free?

Postscript:

H/T to Thirsty Gargoyle who has helpfully pointed out that in law bias is deemed to exist where an impartial observer might suspect there is grounds to doubt impartiality.

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They’re still at it…

The Daily Telegraph bloggers Ed West and Brendan O Neill have both written brilliant pieces about the dangers of statism in recent weeks. I would like to add this insidious example, that I found nestling amongst the pages of the Guardian in which it was claimed that the teenage pregnancy strategy was a ‘triumph’.

I have previously discussed and debunked some of the myths, but a short recap is in order. Teenage pregnancy rates have remained static since the 1970s. Over £280 million has been poured into the teenage pregnancy strategy with the sole aim of reducing teenage pregnancies. Rates have dipped slightly but fallen well short of the stated target of a 50% per cent reduction. When considering any drop in the teenage pregnancy rate, we need to remember that the rates detail a figure per thousand teenage girls. So if there are double the number of teenage girls and double the number of pregnancies, then the rate remains the same. In 1999 around 49,900 girls under the age of 18 fell pregnant.* In 2009, the number had dropped to 45,500. Whilst no-one can dispute the drop, to call the 18% reduction a ‘triumph’ requires a flexible interpretation of the word, particularly when one considers the target of a 50% reduction. They are not even halfway there.

Obviously there has been a limited success in terms of pure pregnancies and thus the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy may tenuously cling onto this reduction, however this does not take into account the STD rate which has shot through the roof. Since 2001 for example, rates of syphilis in the age category 15-19 have gone up by 125%! No teenager should be having to deal with syphilis. What the explosion in teen STDs coupled with the slight decline in teen pregnancy rates indicates is that more teens are having sex using long term hormonal contraception, which means slightly fewer of them are getting pregnant, but the known phenomenon of risk compensation is occurring. Teens are clearly not deterred from indulging in risky sex and thus the problem is far from solved, even if the symptoms are being mildly alleviated.

I am sorry to harp on about this, but the teen sex lobby are relentless in their constant drip-feeding of choice stories and subverted data to the press, keen to distort the figures to suit their narrative and prop up their case for existence. If the figures drop slightly they cry success and demand money to continue their marvellous work, if the figures rise, then more needs to be done and with the axing of the teen pregnancy quango, they feel the need to prick the public consciousness. Particularly when pesky people like me point out a few salient facts on a political website read by influential policy makers. For as long as they cry triumph, I will be looking at the real data behind the headlines.

Returning to the subject of statism, the aspect that really disturbed me about this emotive article (note the carefully chosen working class teenage girl pictured outside a block of council flats, glued to her phone instead of looking at her baby, because obviously poor teenage mums have minimal parenting skills, compared to the middle class Guardian reader) was this:

Young people are so attached to their mobile phones, notes Nursal Livatyali, that it’s as though they’re an extra body part. “We know that anything you send to them through their mobiles will be received.”

That is why in Enfield, north London, where Livatyali is the teenage pregnancy co-ordinator (TPC), young people wanting advice about sex, contraception and relationships can text questions to a free service for an answer within half an hour.

Providing advice on sexual health is key to cutting teenage pregnancy rates, as is giving girls the confidence to insist on contraception and not to feel pressured into sex

Here we have the prime example of the ‘virtuous state’ overriding the functions of the family, by texting answers to teen’s questions about sex direct to their mobile phone and bypassing the parents. Why can’t a teen ask their mum? Or an aunt, older sister, friend etc? The reason is simply because the state does not trust anyone but itself to impart the “right” information. Who needs strong interpersonal relationships when you can just go direct to a state counsellor, a total stranger with whom you can trust all your worries about sex and who will tell you all you need to know as well as counsel you in your relationship worries and empower you to say no?

Who is going to be more effective and influential, the state employee, clinically telling you all about the different methods of hormonal contraceptive methods or your mum, who might actually tell you that if Gavin tries it on you should knee him in the knackers and proceed to give you a lecture on the perils and pitfalls of teen sex and might make sure that you stay in and do your homework instead? The state makes the worrying assumption that the parents will give advice that is either incorrect or unhelpful, whereas all the research indicates that it is strong relationships with parents and influential adult figures that make all the difference in terms of averting teen pregnancies, not a stranger texting reassuring platitudes direct into a mobile phone. Whether the parent may want to give the teenager an earful about not having sex or getting pregnant or takes a more liberal approach of taking the child to the doctors and talking through the options available with them, the point is that this is parental prerogative. This service simply assumes that the parent is unwilling or unable to support their children and gives the children their first taste of state reliance. “Don’t worry if your mum won’t approve, you can always tell us”.

Appropriate contraceptive services should be discussed with a medical practioner, who will be best placed to decide whether an under 16 should be prescribed large doses of a synthetic hormone designed to simulate pregnancy. It is not the job of the state to act as replacement parent, friend and confidante. If the state has a role to play it is that of enabler and facilitator to encourage parents to build up relationships with their children and talk about sex in an open and frank manner, such as they do in the Netherlands. Not supplant this responsibility to a third party contractor, be that Teen Pregnancy Co-ordinators or representatives from ideological lobby groups with a vested financial interest in ensuring that teens are facilitated and encouraged into entering sexual relationships.

There is something more than a little sinister about the state acting as surrogate parent providing relationship advice directly into the mobile phone of a vulnerable teen and tacitly supporting a teen’s sexual relationship without the need for parental involvement or knowledge. It does not engender a sense of parental responsibility, which as the recent riots demonstrated, is sorely lacking in many areas of society. If this service does fall by the wayside it might be no bad thing. Horror of horrors teens might actually be forced to talk to their parents. Is that really such a terrible thing?

* I cannot bear the phrase fell pregnant, it implies a passivity, that pregnancy is something that happens entirely out of the blue, an unforeseen event: “oh look whoops, one minute I was doing the washing up and next, there I was – up the duff!”

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Educating Pigeon

We are experiencing something of a technological meltdown chez Farrow. My laptop seems to have joined the husband’s phone in silicone heaven so there will be something of a hiatus until the children have swept enough chimneys to raise funds for a new one.

For some inexplicable reason, touch typing on a tablet just doesn’t seem to work too well for me, it’s so interminably slow that by the time one reaches the end of a sentence, the train of thought is lost.

So. No mobile phone and no laptop. Whatever does one do? I suspect this is rather providential as it means that I can get on with some serious reading minus distractions. Regular readers might remember that last year’s tumultuous events together with an unplanned pregnancy meant that I had to defer my degree only weeks after I had started the first year, the sickness was rendering concentration impossible and tiredness making it impossible to keep up to speed with the vast amounts of reading. Though it was a tough decision, it was undoubtedly the right one, Felicity was born via section, five weeks before the first year finals. It was never going to work.

This is a bit of a now or never moment in terms of the elusive degree. One of the biggest mistakes of my life was not going when I had the chance – it’s a long and unedifying story. My only sadness is that last year I had an Oxbridge offer, my dream was tantalisingly within my grasp, but at the time I had a then 5 month old, my husband was in ministry in Brighton, my daughter was settled in school here and it was just unfeasible. All of which makes me sound like a dreadful snob, I really am not, the quality of teaching at my university is top line and two of my tutors are very big names in their fields. It’s just in order to qualify for entry, I had worked jolly hard, undertaking a Foundation Course at Oxford University’s department for Continuing Education, which is the first year of a degree split part time over two years. I had combined it with a full time job as well as pregnancy, childbirth and weekly commuting to Oxford with a newborn baby, no mean feat and by some miracle scraped a first. Being something of an aesthete I felt like a successful Jude thrust into the playground of Sebastian Flyte. When people talk about the privileged at Oxford, that was certainly not my experience in terms of fellow students, especially the mature ones. There was an enormous diversity of backgrounds, one of the most successful people in my class was a young Muslim immigrant who combined the course with his cleaning job in the small hours of the morning, who was routinely scored marks of above seventy and who was awarded a full-time place at the end of the course.

The feeling of privilege came not from backgrounds but actually from one of appreciation and gratitude and perhaps this is what is sometimes mistaken for elitism. Oxford is an architectural delight to behold, combine that with exposure to some of the sharpest academic minds and latest ideas, resources that are second to none, walking down famous streets, dreamy spires, lush quadrangles and cloisters together with the assumption that you are worthy to be amongst these terribly clever people and it’s a heady mix. There is also a huge amount of pressure to achieve academically and an aura of undoubted competition, particularly in my class, where we were informed in no uncertain terms that any offers would be entirely dependent upon marks and applications could not be discussed until after the first year exams. I thrive under academic pressure, even if I did experience the odd mini meltdown and appreciated every single moment. Perhaps this pressure combined with the knowledge that you are considered to be an academic achiever is what gives Oxbridge graduates something of a veneer of confidence and invincibility which is often perceived as entitlement? Of course one cannot deny that Oxbridge does have a certain cachet and kudos, whilst a top job is not guaranteed by any means to graduates, there can be no doubt that one’s life chances are massively improved.

I guess I am rueful, knowing precisely what it is I’ve given up, but family life does entail sacrifices, being a spouse and parent (of whatever gender) requires selflessness. It’s not so much that where I am now is inferior, it’s just not quite the same, a campus university, although an extremely pleasant one, has a very different feel and of course there are no tutorials.

I had been giving serious consideration as to whether or not to return, given the demands of two young babies, but the forthcoming rise in tuition fees have given added urgency. My institution, unsurprisingly will be charging the full £9k in fees from next year and thus it’s now or never, although I am one of those who would be considerably better off under the new proposals; I already qualify for every single additional grant, the university has awarded me a bursary and I will receive heavily subsidised childcare, without which this just would not be feasible. Under the new system my final loan would be less and I would be re-paying in smaller chunks, but nonetheless I don’t want to delay any further. Given I have a confirmed place on a course at a University whose typical offer is AAA and this year’s unprecedented scramble for places, it would be unmitigated folly not to proceed.

Why am I doing this? For multiple reasons, in the current job market, the lack of degree is being used as a filter when there are huge volumes of applications, regardless of skill-set. I am also fed up with various condescending attitudes I have experienced by virtue of not having those two letters after my name, whereas the reality seems to be that my reasoning skills, critical thinking, lexicon and general knowledge exceed those with better prospects and paper qualifications. A Level grades have lost their impact. Even my dog seems to have 4 As and in my day an A* simply didn’t exist, I was once asked at interview why considering my A levels, my GCSE results weren’t better, numbering mere As and bereft of stars. I am still relatively young and in my 30s, but several career doors are closed. I am considered too ill-educated to enter teaching for example. Effectively I have little other choice career wise.

So minus the temptations of twitter and the net last night, I settled down to some serious reading and finished book 2 of Paradise Lost. I wouldn’t recommend it as a bedtime read; thoughts of a hybrid consisting of half woman and half fish giving birth on an hourly basis to rabid dogs who gnaw at her intestines and Sin and Death building a bridge in Satan’s wake to enable easy access from Hell to Earth through Chaos, certainly focussed the mind during night prayer. Reading reminded me of the predominant and most important reason for my degree: I have a passion for the subject and I enjoy learning. Rather too much I should imagine, in an ideal world a combination of literature, languages, history, theology, philosophy, politics and economics would be perfect. In an ideal world I’d never work again, I’d spend all the time when the children are at school ensconced in a comfy chair and surrounded by bookcases. But when I had a lightbulb moment, recognising all the cultural references that have become part of our everyday unconscious vernacular, when I read about earth being suspended from heaven via a golden chain and other worlds being formed out of “his dark materials”, I experienced the ripples of pleasure and recognition and felt just that little bit richer. When as an avowed proponent of a very small state the following lines gave pause to re-consider my opinion:

“Unacceptable, though in Heaven, our state
Of splendid vassalage; but rather seek
Our own good from ourselves, and from our own
Live to ourselves, though in this vast recess,
Free and to none accountable, preferring
Hard liberty before the easy yoke
Of servile pomp. Our greatness will appear
Then most conspicuous…”

And I found myself prompted to ponder on questions of politics, philosophy and theology, via the medium of literature, I realised that not to study would be doing myself and my children an enormous disservice.

Perhaps the loss of a computer will be a beneficial development. Too much surfing leads to to incomplete knowledge and lack of objectivity. In the meantime, I’ll continue to keep my nose to the academic grindstone, as at heart I am something of a Rita. I cannot look at my copy of Blake without lapsing into “oh you can’t dooooo Blake without Innocence and Expeeerience can you”. Nor can I resist the urge to answer every question with “put it on the radio”. And when I find myself considering whether or not Sidney was the ultimate proto-feminist and whether Stella was the new Orpheus, I cannot work out whether to be enormously self-satisfied or whether I am indulging in irrelevant academic pretentiousness. If nothing else, the next three years might well give a little more self-insight in that regard?

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