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Archive for March, 2012

Providence

40daysforlifevigil tonight at Bedford Square - photo courtesy of the Diocese of Westminster

I took the decision not to attend the pro-life vigil in Bedford Square this evening. Robin is on call and so it would have entailed a return train journey between London and Brighton together with 3 children, two in a double buggy and an eight-year-old. Though I was desperate to be there, having supported 40daysforlife  spiritually and certainly since the inception of this blog,  if not always physically,  it simply would not have been fair on anyone. The counter-40 days for life demonstration had the potential to turn unpleasant and I did not want to expose a sensitive 8 year old to potentially graphic slogans and a confrontational crowd.

I am also very torn about whether or not to explain the concept of abortion to my daughter. Robin feels very much that she is of an age to understand, an American priest friend of mine told me how he was taken to these types of vigils every weekend from a very early age, however no matter how sensitively I explain the issue, there is an intuitive part of me that wants to protect my children from the horrors of the adult world, until I feel that they are able to emotionally cope with them. I think my daughter could cope if I’m honest, I think she’d be quite shocked, but I also think she would be compassionate, as she understands that being pregnant is very hard for some ladies like mummy and she knows that life is going to be very demanding for us, come August, with 3 children under the age of 3 and not much in the way of practical support or childcare.

So we stayed home and prayed together as a family instead. Fortunately, it all seems to have passed off rather peaceably, although no official reports have been filed as yet. Madeleine Teahan from the Catholic Herald was live-tweeting, as were a few other Catholics and the impression that I got was that though outnumbered – there were approximately 300 vigil participants to 700 pro-choice demonstrators, thankfully  no actual violence took place. It seems that the pro-choicers did get a bit too close for comfort to those on the vigil and were predictably quite disrespectful to those who were praying, they attempted to drown out Soul of My Saviour with 10 green bottles and generally chanted and shouted some derogatory slogans at those who were trying to pray, but that was to be expected.

The instructions for those attending the vigil were not to speak to or engage in any way with the protestors and to make as little noise as possible. The vigil was to be a silent, peaceful and prayerful affair, and this is largely what seems to have happened, the peaceful, gentle nature of the 40daysforlife participants, providing a stark contrast with the brash noisy jangling chants of the protestors. Here is the statement of Bishop Alan Hopes, the auxiliary Bishop of Westminster who was leading the prayer vigil.

One always knows that one is doing something right, when one receives flack from all sides and certainly I had much sympathy for Bishop Alan who seemed to be coming in for rather a lot of harsh and unfair criticism over the vigil. The abortion industry had the gall to call him immoral, the irony of that statement obviously bypassing them and a tiny minority of pro-lifers who don’t think that 40daysforlife is a politically wise venture, similarly criticised him, for stirring up trouble.  As I said last week, Pro-life for Catholics, should consider of politics, prayer, PR and of course, positive action to help mothers with crisis pregnancies, not just in terms of short term measures but working for changes in society. As Catholics, we should never underestimate the power of prayer, our faith is empty without it, so it was profoundly depressing to see a Bishop being criticised, for what is his job, or more accurately vocation, in terms of leading his flock in prayer. As Christians we believe God is everywhere, not confined to the linear space of a Church and we must not be afraid to carry our faith with us wherever we go. 40daysforlife is not intended as a substitute for decent political activism but rather as a compliment. It has certainly been successful in raising awareness of the issues, but I agree with Megan Moore’s commentary that the pro-life “movement” such as it is, must ensure that it is not only associated with vigils. The Catholic Bishops in England and Wales often attract criticism from the Catholic blogosphere as do clergy who are often not perceived to be doing enough in terms of pro-life work. Therefore we have to give credit where credit is due, it’s a rum do if a Catholic Bishop can’t lead his flock in support of key teachings of the Church. To be fair to the Bishop, I don’t think he anticipated that there could have been a backlash, the counter protest was only arranged after he had announced his presence. Rumour has it that Laurence England was present as well as the stalwart Clare, so it will be very interesting to see their accounts of what happened as well as read Madeleine’s official account in the Catholic Herald.

On the subject of Laurence, his moving blogpost from a few days ago, detailed the case of a woman who had been a victim of rape, who didn’t really want an abortion but felt she had no other choice. I decided to go and offer 40daysforlife in Brighton my support earlier today. There were only 4 supporters, not particularly frightening, standing next to a banner stating “We are here to help you” in the late evening sunshine. They confirmed that this lady is currently staying at their house, literally having nowhere else to go, she is homeless, needs help on a detoxification programme, is under pressure from her GP and Social Services to abort the baby, who she would really like to keep. When I tweeted about this, I was overwhelmed by the offer of help from an incredibly kind pro-life tweep who has offered to pay for a private health subscription for her. Though hackneyed, I’ve literally been crying tears of joy that someone could be moved to be so astonishingly generous. When we decided that it wouldn’t be a good idea for me to take the children to Bedford Square this evening, Robin pointed out that there would be plenty of other opportunities and that prayer at home could be just as productive and certainly safer for us.

The Holy Spirit certainly knows what he is doing. Had I attended Bedford Square then I would not have attended the Brighton clinic, made plans to support them over the weekend and I would not have tweeted about this brave woman who deserves all the support and help that she can get. God always answers our prayers, but never in the way that we might expect. What a providential end to the day. Deo Gratias.

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Ever keen to push a bit of PR for her company that has the tax status of a charity, Clare Murphy, director of Press and Public Policy, from BPAS has written an article in today’s Independent claiming that those who are using the language of business and commerce for abortion clinics are insulting women who choose to have an abortion.

She starts off by the customary dig at Nadine Dorries for her use of the word “industry” and goes on to state that this is not an original term, it has been borrowed from the US abortion lobby. It’s important that pro-abortionists mention the US at all times, because since 1973, 8 members of abortion staff have been killed. Never mind that equates to two-tenths of an abortionist a year, that regardless of the small number the vast majority of pro-lifers abhor and condemn such mindless acts of violence for which there is no justification and that all of the perpetrators have been caught and brought to justice, the general public need to be taught to fear pro-lifers and view them in a suspicious light. If you support the right of the unborn child to live, then you must be an unreasonable extremist who will resort to tactics of violence and intimidation. Let’s put to one side the notion that it is precisely the act of violence of killing an unborn child and elderly or sick people, to which pro-lifers object. It’s also important to ignore the very different political climate in the US, with its distinctly Christian demographic and relaxed gun laws.

But this is not an industry, and the people who provide this care are not tycoons.

Right – this is not industry, despite BPAS describing themselves as “the UK’s leading abortion specialist” as the leading strap line on their website? Presumably if they are the leading specialist, then other specialists must exist, ones that aren’t quite as good as BPAS? That indicates that several abortion providers exist, there are several to choose from, but BPAS is the “leading” operator. Why would one wish to describe oneself as that, if one did not want to attract several clients? If a woman requires an abortion, surely she will attend the abortions service to which her local GP may direct her? So long as the clinic operates according to strict medical guidelines, what does it matter if one is the leading clinic? Do they not all operate to equally high standards? That’s certainly what the abortion providers have been at pains to repeatedly point out of late, claiming harassment by Andrew Lansley and the Care Quality Commission who have had the audacity to inspect them to ensure that they are adhering to standards laid down by the law and following best practice.

But no, it’s not an industry, because an industry may be defined as “A particular form or branch of economic or commercial activity”. Providing abortion in exchange for money, be that from the NHS or private individuals, may not be described as commercial activity, according to Clare Murphy. It is an act of selfless generosity, from which the abortion providers do not “profit” because they do not pay out a dividend, not having any commercial shareholders. Let’s ignore the fact that for the past 2 financial years BPAS have made a profit surplus of £1million. In their accounts they state that they have managed to reduce costs by slashing the staff pension scheme that was proving too expensive. But, no, absolutely not a business. Nor an industry, the fact that different specialist abortion providers exist is a mere coincidence. And my name is Bernard.

Here’s two of their aims for the forthcoming year, as submitted to the Charity Commission.

Goal 2: Increase the proportion of abortions in the UK that bpas provides.

Goal3: Ensure performance is in line with agreed budgets.

But no, not a business, absolutely not.

Here’s how they met some of their targets:

Increase in Market Share

We acheived this by Further development of internet and multi media,Opening of 4 new Daycare units, Development of specialist resources for referers, and obtaining new NHS contracts

Performance in line with agreed budgets

We acheived this by putting an Investment and refurbishment programme in place, significantly reducing our borrowing and obtaining a satisfactory discharge of our commitment to a closed final salary scheme

Build upon our position as “thought leaders”

We acheived this by Increasing our media impact, promotion of local services, and acheiving clarification of the law in relation to Early Medical Abortion

But, not a business, dear me no. Obtaining new NHS contracts, increasing market share, bowing out of a final salary scheme and increasing media impact are all acts of charity. As are the forthcoming TV adverts. Employing marketing managers and business development officers is not a commercial activity and neither is attempting to increase market share. And my old man’s a mushroom.

On the subject of tycoons, whilst no-one would deny the right of those to be paid a fair day’s wage for the work that they do, no matter how unsavoury, BPAS’ annual accounts state that Ann Furedi earns between £110-£125,000. My guess would be that the figure falls somewhere into the higher end of that bracket, because if we look at what her peer, Tim Black from Marie Stopes earns, it is £125,000. As BPAS are the “leading” UK abortion provider, then one would expect Ann’s salary to match that at least. Last year Mr Black earnt £111, 000 but this year had a 12.7% pay rise to £125,000. The identical bracket to Mrs Furedi.These figures would not include other benefits such as pensions, expense accounts or company cars for example, which would considerably add to the value of the overall package. But no, Ann and Tim are definitely not “tycoons”, but they are definitely wealthy , as opposed to oligarchs. Whether millionaires or not, both run multi-million pound companies. Marie Stopes may well contest whether or not BPAS are the leading provider of abortion services in any rate, as last year, Marie Stopes UK had an income of £39 million, as opposed to BPAS’ meagre £25 million.

Interesting to note also that in BPAS’ accounts, termination of pregnancy services generated an income of £23.8 million, but cost £21.6 million. Their vasectomy provision is a loss-leader, losing £44K and their contraceptive provision makes a relatively small profit, sorry surplus of £100,000. Overall their contraception and vasectomy services constitute a tiny proportion of their main business, perhaps that is why they feel justified in describing themselves as “specialists”?

Anyone spot the irony, that Mrs Furedi and Mr Black earn more than the heads of Save the Children, Bernandos, Help the Aged and so on? Much better to end the lives before they start rather than alleviating the symptoms of poverty and disease and/or looking for a cure. One thing that I find it hard to get my head around is how well-paid the executives of these “charities” are in comparison to their peers. Tim Black ranks at number 3 in the top 10 of charity Chief Executives’ salaries, earning considerably more than say, the head of Marie Curie Cancer care, who has over double the income and yet earns £30,000 less. Even if Mrs Furedi does earn the bottom figure of £110, 000 that still puts her at number 9 in the top 10 of charity earners.

According to Clare Murphy, Nadine Dorries is quite in the wrong to use this language as it is obviously encouraging and inciting others to see beyond the abortion providers’ rhetoric of being charities simply in it to help vulnerable women. Though the similarities between them and a business are striking, the Department of Health must be lobbied in order to stop this dangerous terminology being used. We can’t possibly point out the information that is publicly available as a result of their choosing to apply for a certain tax exempt status.

Truth hurts. It’s more than obvious who is being insulted and exploited.

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Tonight, I made a very nerve-wracking appearance on the Moral Maze on BBC Radio 4. The script totally deviated from what I had been primed to talk about, namely abuse on the internet, the reasons behind it, the effect it has, what, if anything, can be done about it, in the light of the sentence handed down to Liam Stacey who was convicted of sending racist tweets following the collapse of the footballer Frederick Muamaba.

Internet Abuse

It’s well-documented what I have been subjected to. Death threats, rape threats, violent threats, a prolonged campaign of harassment and smearing, my family have been targeted and at least one person has set up a spoof blog ostensibly to tell others how ugly I am and list all of my various faults and frailties.

The reasons behind it?

Too numerous to mention – most obviously, the Catholicism, not being able to square the person who seems reasonable, articulate, friendly and intelligent, with their pre-existing prejudice of the rabid bigot, foaming at the mouth, wishing to hate and condemn everybody to the fires of hell. I am clearly not stupid, or brainwashed, so perhaps I must be mentally ill? One of the most common insults is that I am some hardline religious zealot, wrapping my hatred, bigotry and prejudice in the cloak and garb of reason.

Another factor is undoubtedly jealousy – difficult to strike the right tone here, but let’s just say I’m not bad-looking, I’m articulate, intelligent, well-spoken, have managed to conceive three beautiful children with no difficulty, a fourth is on the way, I have a happy marriage and manage to get the odd gig writing in the national media. Like everyone I’ve had my share of difficulties in life, at the moment life is challenging in many ways but I have the comfort of my faith and my loving supportive family.

Why do people turn into monsters on the internet?

Because they can. Though many people use the internet under the garb of anonymity for perfectly legitimate and understandable reasons, tweeting under an assumed name emboldens people and enables them to act in ways that they wouldn’t dream of if they thought they could be discovered. It takes little courage to be a keyboard warrior under an assumed name. The internet, twitter in particular, is a great leveller. We know that it’s real Members of Parliament, journalists, celebrities we are talking to, most people do not have a person managing their twitter, and this can give a misleading sense of power. People think it’s their right to be heard, which in some respects is true and under the garb of anonymity all the simmering tensions can come to the fore. The format of Tweets, which are limited to a mere 140 characters, does not allow for nuance or complex arguments, which is why so many of us blog. It gives us the space and opportunity to expand upon our arguments and explore them in greater depth. Tweets and Facebook updates demand brevity which means substance is often sacrificed to style. Everyone is searching for that perfect soundbite, to sum up a situation in 140 characters and grab the attention of those who may be listening. Twitter is a great medium for those who feel politically disenfranchised to feel powerful and listened to.

As there is no face-to-face contact, all social conventions fall out of the window. Normally when we are talking to people, we gauge how to pitch our conversation by unconscious body language cues such as gestures and facial expressions. We tend to respect each others personal space and unless we are in the throes of a full-blown row, avoid shouting and hostile gestures. All of these subtleties of human interaction and discourse are totally lost via social media. We literally become our words, which take on a whole new import. With no social conventions to govern us, it is all too easy to become self-indulgent, shout at other people, give unfettered opinions, use hostile and aggressive language, including profanities, which it would probably never occur to us to use in a real life situation.

Take the prolific tweeter and MP Louise Mensch. Though we might discuss her in private, if we wanted her to know our views, we wouldn’t suddenly run up to her in real life and shout personal abuse at her in order to get her attention. However this is precisely what happens on Twitter. People think it’s perfectly acceptable to randomly abuse or flame someone out of the blue and then get irate when they are blocked. The best way to engage with people in real life is via respectful discourse, and yet these rules are too frequently forgotten on the internet. If I wanted Louise Mensch, Nadine Dorries or even David Cameron to listen to me, I would try to engage with them in ways that showed me to be a reasonable and respectful person, not an utter sociopath. Let’s face it, if your first introduction to someone is them shouting abuse at you, or being extremely hostile out of the blue, it’s not going to incline you to be open to their views. The shutters will instantly come down.

The effects of the abuse

One of the things that I failed to get across, given the limited time, was the sheer scale and speed of the abuse. Though Kenan Malik was correct when he stated that racist abuse has always existed, people have always shouted abuse at each other, growing up in the ’60s and ’70s he experienced racist abuse being shouted at him on the street. The difference between then and now is that though the effect of abuse is no different, be it shouted on the street or typed on the internet, it still feels like a violent assault regardless of medium, what the internet and twitter in particular, enables people to do is to incite mob violence or hatred against a particular individual.

As has happened to me on more than one occasion, a person who takes against your views, is able to incite their thousands of followers in a storm of protest and outrage against you. The effect of this cannot be underestimated as it means every time you go on Twitter you are faced with a barrage of indignation and abuse all stemming from a comment taken out of context. Sticks and stones don’t break our bones, but it is more than a little disconcerting to be faced with a storm of misplaced outraged accusing one of bigotry or worse and ad-hom insults and abuse. I’ll be honest, it drove me almost to a nervous collapse, at a time when I was feeling particularly vulnerable. The answer might be to switch off the internet, but most of us have smartphones and the impact of a non-stop barrage of “you are a bigoted piece of sh*t” and similar sentiments, couched in profane language was akin to a physical assault. It is acknowledged in cases of domestic abuse, that emotional abuse can be every bit as harmful as the physical. Receiving constant hate-filled messages was like being at the receiving end of a verbal mugging. I was literally shaking, crying and too scared to switch on the computer. If I took a break I was accused of cowardice or not having the intellectual ability to defeat the arguments, if I expressed my hurt and anxiety and the effect this was having upon me, I received further abuse for “playing victim”. It was horrendous.

What augmented the situation, is that, as Neil Addison is happy to confirm, having advised me in a private capacity, is that I have been the subject of a pernicious hate and harassment campaign. Various people have been carpet-bombed with allegations pertaining to my mental health. At this point, I need to state that I have no history of mental health problems whatsoever, I do admittedly sometimes suffer a touch of ante-natal depression during pregnancy, but I have never needed or received any treatment for mental health problems. Various strangers were emailed with a series of very unpleasant allegations, a national publication was bombarded with abusive phone calls and emails about me and Neil Addison was sent a series of disturbing and increasingly rambling allegations regarding my mental health and also my family. Every time I had a disagreement with anyone on Twitter, they were sent a series of allegations about my mental health and behaviour, several of them quoted and named the offender behind the campaign. “Caroline Farrow is a nutter with a track record of mental health problems, I have been emailed about her” said one. “What about **** ******’s blog?” said another. Other Catholic bloggers were also contacted and “warned” about me, but had the grace and foresight to let me know what was going on, forwarding on the unsolicited messages they had received.

All of us have a right to our good name and reputation and yet the internet enables unprecedented campaigns of hate and smears which are very difficult to counter. No-one should be too frightened to speak out, in case some deranged individual attempts to destroy their life, on the basis of an ideological difference and a very personal hatred. I almost stopped blogging and came off the internet as a result. The only reason I had a volte-face was that various people – both other Catholics and even journalists in the mainstream media as well as the odd politician contacted me to express their disappointment, to state that they would miss my presence and that a voice should not be silenced or living in fear. To do that would mean that the bullies had won. Some people want me off the net, my presence makes them uncomfortable and they would rather that their views went unchallenged.

There have been times, however when despite the support of my family, the non-stop bullying, threats and haranguing have brought me to the edge. Even now, I am still receiving snarky comments as a result of resuming blogging and tweeting. My daughter’s godfather rang us the other day, he was concerned for me, having randomly met one of the perpetrators of the abuse, been faced with the vitriol and manic behaviour as well as intrusive and personal questions about my family, which seemed more than a little sinister. Fortunately he had the good sense not to let on his close relationship to us, but it shows the lengths to which some people will go and gave him an insight into how upsetting this must have been.

What can be done about it?

There is a problem that needs to be addressed. I know only too well how awful it is to be on the receiving end of such spite, so goodness knows how a really vulnerable person, such as someone with genuine mental health difficulties or a teenager would cope with such an onslaught. When one is in the midst of all this, one simply needs it to stop immediately. Hoping that the offender might get bored is not a short-term solution,because some people are very tenacious and bear grudges for long periods of time. I can well see how someone could be driven to suicide. We all have smartphones these days, so even if the computer is switched off, it’s very difficult to escape the constant notifications of yet another new message of abuse. It is only too easy to see how an adolescent gang can wage a relentless campaign against another who doesn’t fit into their clique. There once was a time that home was a safe space, a place where one could shut the door and escape, but the internet allows all its content, both good and bad to be permanently streamed into our homes 24/7. Perhaps this is another reason why the abuse feels so much worse, because it is very very hard to escape the tirade, which comes at a break-neck speed.

What the internet, Twitter in particular, desperately needs is a code of civility. We need to self-regulate and self-police infinitely better. Whilst I am all for freedom of speech, we have to remember that with freedom comes great responsibility. We need to be careful that our right to say whatever we want, is not a right to abuse other people at will. Free speech should be all about expressing ideas and ideologies, no matter how hateful or distasteful they may be to others. Whilst people should and must not be afraid to express opinions, there is a distinction between ideological arguments and ad-hominems and personal abuse and smear. Whilst some people might find my faith and the views stemming from it, hateful, that can never justify hateful personal abuse being thrown back by way of retort.

This is why I get so upset, because, as I have said repeatedly, abuse, insults, hectoring, haranguing is an attempt to close down debate and de-humanise a person. You are worth nothing, therefore you must not be listened to. Your views only show what a hateful, nasty person you are. That is prejudice and bigotry. Even if a view seems totally alien, it is always important to decipher what lies beneath it, rather than dismiss the person themselves. That is the way to change hearts and minds, and even if one is not successful in those ends, at least one gets an idea of what is motivating the other person and what in society needs to change, if anything, so that people are not driven to extremes of hatred.

Twitter is a notoriously unstable platform. It follows and un-follows people at will. Often you attempt to block people and yet they still turn up in your timeline. If I block someone, it is because I don’t want them to have the power to abuse or upset me. If I can’t see what they are saying, then I can get on with life oblivious. The problem is that despite blocking, those who want to harass and stalk, can still see your timeline. What Twitter really needs to do is implement a system whereby people whom you block are unable to see your tweets. I know that despite blocking the main offenders, they still continue to scan my timeline with alacrity and attempt to contact me. Or they then engage someone else in an attempt to incite them to have an attack. Like Facebook, Twitter needs to stop others from seeing your timeline.

The other thing Twitter needs to do, is be much stricter in its controls. I reported a sexual threat I received the other day to Twitter. To date they have done absolutely nothing about it, stating it falls under freedom of speech. Twitter, on the whole are very reluctant to take action against their users. There needs to be a code of civility which is enforced by both Twitter itself and its users, in order that persistent offenders can have their accounts removed.

A one-off offence should not merit action, however if someone has a track record of stalking, harassing or abusing others, and a number of separate complaints are received, then action should be taken, including reporting this to local authorities as applicable. None of us have a right not to be offended, but equally we do have a right to conduct our lives free of fear, threats and harassment.

Police Action

The general consensus is that the sentence against Liam Stacey was way too stringent. His whole life is going to be defined by one drunken episode, he now has a criminal record, he has been given a disproportionate prison sentence, more than some careless drivers who cause death receive, and is likely to be kicked out of University. All for one drunken, ill-thought out episode. Were a code of civility in place, signed up to and enforced by all users, as well as the owners of social media itself, perhaps this would not have happened.

Journalists accept that they have a responsibility and are generally quite good at self-regulating, hence the outcry about Johann Hari and latterly Robert Fisk. Journalists understand how powerful the written media is and how harmful an inaccurate story can be, or how they have the power to whip up various storms. Social media users need to understand that they can have similar power, if they have a lot of followers and also act in a similarly responsible fashion.

Where the police do get involved, sentances should not be custodial, but should constitute formal warnings that are recorded, breeches of warnings should show up on criminal records, and just as ASBOs are issued for anti-social behaviour in society, some sort of internet version needs to be issued. A persistent abuser (and I don’t mean the pointless troll) should have their internet access revoked for a set period of time, for everyone’s good.

The internet is public space, even if it is virtual, and just as it is not acceptable if someone wishes to conduct a real life hate campaign against you, neither should this be acceptable on the internet. It’s difficult to know exactly where to draw the line, we can all behave rashly in the heat of the moment, but persistent abusers must be stopped and must have a serious deterrent. If someone sent me a letter containing a death threat it would be taken seriously, therefore it is puzzling why this is thought to be less serious or frightening simply because the medium is different.

The Wild Wild West

I have often been told that I need to grow a thicker skin. It is only now that I am beginning to learn some excellent coping strategies. Though the internet should remain a largely unregulated space, it is at times beginning to resemble the Wild West, where only those with the loaded gun dare go out on the streets, the women, children, the elderly, the vulnerable stay at home.

This is not a situation we want to have on the internet. Though no-one has the right not to be offended and everyone should have the freedom of speech, it is a question of balance. One person’s freedom of speech should not be interpreted as a licence to bully. Swearing at people, using capital letters, using demeaning names, this is all bullying coarse behaviour which should have no place in a civilised enlightened society. Your freedom to call me a “dumb bitch” or a “piece of sh*t who doesn’t deserve to live” or worse still call for people to sexually assault me, may dehumanise me, but it may also make others too afraid to join in the general discourse and conversation for fear of what they might receive. That is a freedom of speech issue also. If people are too afraid to join in, either because of abuse, or because they fear their views are too counter-cultural, I know that my views are an anathema to the chattering liberal classes and because the government has regulated what may be seen as an acceptable view, then that affects us all.

What we need is some general common sense, more good manners, courtesy and civility. We need to remember that these are other human beings behind the computer screen. We need to highlight and shame bullies and abuses, not just accept it as an inevitable flip-side or consequence of the net. If only the emotionally strong should venture into the saloon bar of twitter, where public discourse on current affairs and politics is the order of the day, then an important voice is denied to the weak. That is not democratic and nor can we be said to be truly free.

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Upping the ante

Just as a counter to the many stories and rumours about 40daysforlife which are being circulated as “truth”, it’s well worth reading Clare, a regular participant of the vigils, as well as what Laurence has to say on the vigils that have been taking place in Brighton.

I was particularly struck by this comment, made on the Bloomsbury Pro-choice website earlier today, by a potential pro-choice supporter.

I was in attendance today at Bedford Square and I saw all of what occured, from the moment of the table-move onwards, and I have to say that I was utterly disgusted.
Perhaps I honestly could have believed that 40DfL were intimidating women entering the clinics, perhaps I could have been sympathetic to tea, biscuits and balloons, or your arguments and literature – but honestly, every chance of that died today.
The true face of the so-called ‘pro-choice’ movement was shown today – not in the cozy strumming of guitars or sun-bathing, but in the direct aggression and intimidation employed against those praying with 40DfL. You can both have quiet protests in corners, or even loud ones, but to move camps deliberately to (as you correctly state) a metre from the opposing protest is a terrifying move to make – one that has lost you both supporters and potential allies today. What possible good motive can there have been to shift tables and demonstrators to right infront of another demonstration? Imagine if Bobby Copper had been there, and seen you shifting selves and equipment in what could be construed as direct provocation. By blocking their signs you denied their right to protest.
What would that same policeman say, if he then saw you turning a megaphone towards to face those you criticise for intimidation, and to all chant at only a few feet from them all sorts of attacks? All this while you filmed them, some so close that the cameras practically touched them. Then members of your counter-demonstration danced around mockingly pretending to be Jesus on the cross, as per Monty Python, or mocked the religion of those attending saying “You’re talking to an imaginary friend!” and “No one can hear you!” among other things. THAT is intimidation – a few Catholics praying is something of an entirely different order.
You were here for most all of this – you did not put a stop to it, even though it was beneath your banner (and that of the Socialist Worker). If you can still, after what occured today, invite everyone who partook of it back for Friday’s demo, refer to them as awesome and give only the slightest apology (not merely grudging, but at every point self-justifying through comparison with 40DfL’s entirely less threatening activities) then I can have no respect for you or your group. I have little doubt that you will have done nothing today but have strengthened the resolved of the pro-lifers, and made sure that as many as possible attend to oppose your vicious tactics on Friday. The mockery of their religion, the shouting in their faces, and the deliberate occupation of the same corner can only be used by them as a propaganda coup. What does it matter how many numbers turn up on Friday, when those whom you bring on Sundays act like that?
Regards,

As Louise Allain, noted on Twitter earlier, it seems to be those bearing witness and holding others in prayer, who are the most vulnerable. They certainly seem to be getting an inordinate amount of abuse.

I’ve found it really hard to keep up with The Guardian over the weekend, which has become the paper of pro-choice propaganda. No sooner did one misleading, dishonest and factually incorrect article appear, ready for fisking, then another pitched up. I’ve counted at least six on this subject since Friday. The general theme seems to run along the lines of “we’ve been caught breaking the law, therefore the law is wrong and needs to be changed, abortion isn’t a medical procedure, women have a right to it without any medical consent, gender selective abortion doesn’t happen anyway and even if does then it doesn’t really matter, any clinics found to be breaking the law are being harassed by the government and media and it’s all the fault of 40days and SPUC and LIFE, who need to be stopped from giving pro-life presentations to schools in case it deters people from having abortions because we all know that abortion is such a wonderful thing, in fact we need more of it”.

As I’ve said before, these guys are plainly rattled and are throwing as much mud as they possibly can in the hope that some of it will stick. Attack is always the best form of defence and those in favour of abortion are definitely on the defensive. 40daysforlife is a quiet prayer vigil, but is being painted as something altogether different and sinister, in order that a perceived threat can be seen to be addressed. The only threat the abortion clinics face is prosecution in the face of breaking the law and a sea-change in public opinion. Which is why they are doing their best to discredit by any means possible.

It’s all getting very interesting and potentially very very dirty indeed.

I’ll end with a few comments from an “angry feminists” timeline. I think that tells us all we need to know.

I’m bleeding – according to their bible I’m unclean – can I go and rub myself up against them?

Response: DO IT. DOOO ITTTT

In your face much?
Directly in front of 40daysforlife

 I like it but it kind of looks like you want to punch foetuses out of the uterus 😉

Well we might have to if the wing nuts get their way!

sick of “pro-life” fuckwittery. Can we drown them in amniotic fluid for the irony & lulz?

How very peaceful and civilised. Abortion is a violent act –  it can be no surprise that this violence is reflected in the rhetoric and tactics of those who wish to defend it.

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I was spammed today on Twitter, by an account called Gaydads, purporting to belong to Barrie Drewitt-Barlow, one half of the UK’s first gay couple to become fathers in the UK.

Without wishing to make too much of it, here’s their opening shot, along with their responses to questions as to the ethics of paying vulnerable women to donate eggs, and/or go through pregnancy and give up their newborn child. I would suggest that they need to employ a social media manager, given that they are currently hawking themselves and their children through the media, in order to drum up publicity for their new business which aims to exploit vulnerable cash-strapped women in America help predominantly homosexual couples circumnavigate the UK surrogacy laws by going abroad.

They are obviously threatened enough to have done their research and found out where I hail from to use as “ammunition” as opposed to engage with any actual arguments. If in doubt, chuck a few ad homs about, in an attempt to make yourselves feel morally superior. I wouldn’t usually bother blogging such silliness, however I think it’s worth noting the quality of the debate, and the personalities behind a deeply dubious business.

I’ve blogged before about the inherent difficulties with surrogacy, namely that it entails the destruction of human life if in-vitro fertilisation is used, but of equal concern, is the exploitation of women and the treating of children as commodities to be bought and sold.

Here’s a few snippets from their website. I’ve added my own comments in red:

Everyone has the basic human right to be able to have a child, really, do they? I can’t find that anywhere in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, nor is it in the European Convention on Human Rights. Wishful thinking based on subjective opinion – perish the thought!!

not everyone deserves to be a parent! – only those who are good-looking and possess class and/or money, preferably a lot of it to pay for our services, should have children.

There is no doubt about it; foreign surrogacy arrangements ARE attractive, which is why hundreds of couples every year go to America and other destinations to find a surrogate and egg donor. The laws on surrogacy are very encouraging for us to travel abroad and get our babies handed over to us without too much fuss at all. – no pesky restrictive laws surrounding the expenses that need to be paid and lax legislation allowing the obliteration of the mother from the birth certificate – we can pretend that she never existed! Plus, added bonus – we’ll push gestational surrogacy at you, more pennies for us and allegedly less of an emotional link for the mother with the baby inside her. Win, win!!

It is also worth noting that once your baby is born in the USA, we can also petition the courts to have both the intended parents names put on the birth certificate. There will be NO mention of the pregnancy being a surrogate pregnancy whatsoever. Please also note that this is NOT meant to deceive, it is a positive way forward for you to be recognised as the parents of your baby.spin worthy of Alistair Campbell or Mandy. Superb piece of re-framing there chaps!

Where are all the feminists when you need them? The silence could not be more deafening. Where is the sisterhood? What could be more exploitative than rich men using the bodies of poor or less-well off women? Nothing could be more of a feminist issue as it is only women’s bodies who can be exploited in this way and typically for the benefit of men – lesbian couples rarely have to resort to overseas surrogacy. The Drewitt-Barlows argue that surrogacy may help straight couples who have been rendered infertile by the ravages of cancer, but that still does not make the initial exploitation any the more acceptable. This has nothing to do with sexuality and everything to do with the exploitation and de-humanisation of poor women by richer ones.

Though Drewitt-Barlow seem to be more concerned with advancing their partner business in the USA, it’s worth looking at the situation in India where the business of wombs for rent is thriving. The women who ‘choose’ to become surrogates are confined to clinics or supervised homes where they can be closely monitored. Their “choice” such as it is, is borne out of economic necessity and cannot said to be in any way free. Which is precisely why the laws remain so stringent in the UK, where incidentally, gay single people cannot gain full legal rights over a child born by surrogacy.

For the record the Drewitt Barlows stated that they did not endorse India for potential surrogate couples, shortly after India issued a ban on gay couples in an attempt to tighten up on their surrogacy laws. This was, they said, due to concerns about exploitation, besides their partner clinic with whom they have negotiated preferential rates is in LA, where they spend 50% of their time.  The exploitation of the poor by the rich is not mitigated by the location, something tells me that Tasmania may be the next location on the cards.

There can be no justification for the exploitation of poor women by predominantly rich men. There can be no justification for deliberately contriving a situation whereby a child is deprived of its biological parent and traded like a commodity. There can be no justification for the exploitation of young children, such as those belonging to Drewitt-Barlow who are mercilessly flaunted in the press, in order to propagate the ideology that children no longer need their biological mothers.

Perhaps that’s why Drewitt-Barlow are so angry – it’s impossible to defend the indefensible. Anyone who might object to the trading of babies, to the Western colonisation of poor women’s bodies abroad, to the reduction of women to the level of brood-mare – well they are simply ugly, lack class, are homophobic and don’t deserve to be parents.

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I was minded to look at the newsletter from my old school earlier and have taken the inevitable trip down memory lane. One of these days I really should knuckle down to writing a pseudonymous autobiography, however what jumped out at me was the invitation to attend an Easter celebration at the school, for an “afternoon of creative liturgy and sharing of the Paschal journey”.

This sums up my liturgical background quite neatly and why, unlike some Catholic bloggers, I rarely write about the liturgy, because put very simply, I am liturgically illiterate, for a variety of reasons.

Although technically a cradle catholic, my grandfather was a benefactor of and greatly involved in the rebuilding of Buckfast Abbey, where he is buried and where I was baptised. My mother is a lapsed catholic; she is of the generation who was misled by the press and her priests and felt a great deal of hurt and disappointment when Humanae Vitae was issued. My father was, although he claims he is now lapsed, a staunch Anglican and a fierce admirer of Martin Luther, “one of the greatest men who ever lived”.

Thus my upbringing or Christian formation was far from conventional, religion was barely mentioned, let alone practiced at home, apart from the regular arguments between my parents as to who was the most wicked of the Tudor monarchs and whether Mary or Elizabeth numbered a higher heretic body count, when both would become amusingly tribal. I have a vague memory of asking why lying was wrong and being told that “Jesus doesn’t like it”, which meant nothing and later on in my teens, repeating in an RE essay, my mother’s mantra that the Pope was really very wicked owing to his stance on condoms, in the attempt to be the cool kid and stir up a bit of controversy. But other than the Pope being wrong on contraception, Smithfield bonfires and the merits of Martin Luther, religion didn’t feature at all in our house, unless it came up in the context of school.

My father is rather a fine organist and played for 30 years in our local C of E parish church as well as leading the choir, hence my sister and I were both recruited to join when I was seven and we regularly attended the morning service and Evensong (complete with a copy of the Enid Blyton to read during the boring bits). Evensong seemed to consist of lots of old tone deaf people warbling, hurried putting down of a book, standing up, turning 90 degrees, singing “Glory to the Father and to the Son, And to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now and shall be forevermore Amen”, before settling back down to the book again, before another bout of singing. Not to mention burning fingers on the hot water pipes underneath the choir stalls where the books were quickly stowed.

I had absolutely no idea whatsoever that I was a Roman Catholic, or what that meant, until my sister started secondary school, at the local private Catholic boarding school. I remember the night before she started, her hurriedly being taught how to make the sign of the cross, in true nuns on the run style. My mother literally told her, “my father used to have a funny rhyme, spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch”, before dissolving into peals of laughter. She was instructed to take communion, simply by joining the queue and copying what everyone else does. When we went to the obligatory Masses on Parents’ weekends etc, I was horrified. Though my parents were totally charmed by the Headmistress in full Joyce Grenfell swing during the pre-Mass warmup of hymn singing “C’mon gels, give it some welly”, it all seemed very evangelical or Pentecostal to me. I equated Catholics with Gospel choirs and the Kenny Everett character with the big pointy hands.

My father was torn between abhorrence, embarrassment and hilarity. He chose the latter. One of the things that I’ve always admired about my father is that from an early age, he always taught me to think for myself and not to give two hoots about what anyone else ever thought. He never does. So during Mass he would literally hold his nose and belt out “Our God Reigns – Down the Drains” or “Jubilate Have a Chapati” as loud as he possibly could, before cackling evilly adding “utter tripe” in a not-so-sotto voce.

When I started at the school, my sister and I were summoned to a meeting at the Rector’s house one Saturday morning. He made the point that given we were both baptised Catholics, yet we regularly attended his church, a decision really needed to be made as to what denomination we were going to be. I was happy to stay as a C of E, the music and weirdness of the nuns at my school frankly terrified me, I had absolutely no interest in being a Catholic whatsoever, but obviously a decision needed to be taken about confirmation. We came home rather confused, told our parents that we had been told to choose, whereupon my mother, who has an inbuilt terror of nuns and consequences of not doing what we were told, rushed off to Sister Mary Francis, who decreed that we absolutely must be Catholics and therefore attend Mass with the boarders every Sunday morning.

So that’s what happened and subsequently I became a boarder. I never had any catechesis or took First Holy Communion, I simply lined up and copied what everyone else did. Genuflecting was never explained, it was just something that we all did in rows upon leaving the school chapel, and it took me years to work out what ON EARTH was that funny thing people did at the start of the Gospel. Why did everyone scratch their nose, chin and neck. I copied doing a funny thing with my thumb without having any idea what it was I was supposed to be doing and hoping that no-one would ever notice. I don’t think that they did.

Despite being an ostensibly Catholic school, there was absolutely no catechesis whatsoever. We all had to take Religion as a compulsory GCSE, but no talk of sacramentals whatsoever. The nuns seemed to do their own thing, so long as everyone went to Mass every Sunday and on Feast days that was it really. I don’t really remember much teaching on Catholic ethics either. It did feature as part of the GCSE, we covered abortion and euthanasia, but that was about it. Contraception was certainly talked about and covered in great detail. We had several informative talks from the local FPA clinics, we all knew about the methods that were available then, about condoms, the pill and the signs and symptoms of STDS, but no-one ever told us not to go and have sex, or that sex was evil, dirty and wicked, contrary to common perceptions about Catholic schools.

The liturgies were chock full of Taise, Farrell and Christopher Walker. We weren’t averse to the odd bit of liturgical dance. Once, as a punishment, from what I recall, a group of us were recruited to join Mr Reece’s Morris dancing club, in which we had to learn to Morris dance in time for the Christmas Carol service. I can never again hear “O Little Town of Bethlehem” without chanting rhythmically “step – caper” at the end of each line. Yes, Clare P and I danced, complete with strap-on bells, jangley sticks and waving of handkerchiefs in the Sanctuary in front of the altar. As did the modern dance group during the Good Friday liturgy. Nobody knew any different.

I could relate various anecdotes for hours, one of these days there is an autobiography dying to be written, but needless to say it was guitars galore. At Easter, everyone, day-girls included, had to stay for the entire weekend, engaging in various Easter activities, from baking Easter chicks with the hard-pressed kitchen staff, to desert island discs in Poles’ common room. (Sarah Askew very daringly brought along Madonna’s Like a Prayer, radical rebel that she was, and I thought it was cool and hard to bring It’s a Sin, by the Pet Shop Boys). There was some bizarre bonfire type activity as part of the vigil, involving people dancing around it in a manic fashion, pretending to be drunk on mulled wine and singing “We are an Easter People and Alleluia is Our Song”. I cringed, wore a black spotty shirt from Kensington Market on top of a Cure t-shirt and pretended I was cooler than the rest of them to hide my embarrassment.

So, given all of that, the fact that I am now a practicing Catholic, is something of a surprise. This is not a post for conversion story, but amusing reflection and reminiscences aside, I actually feel really rather cheated. I appreciate all of the intellectual arguments around the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, but I find it really hard to “get into”, probably because a trendy Novus Ordo is all that I am used to. The demands of young children don’t make this any easier, it is hard enough to concentrate, focus and pray at ANY form of the Mass, when you have 3 children to be keeping an eye on, and because my eldest isn’t used to the extraordinary form either, she finds it terribly boring. I am normally too self conscious about noisy babies and toddlers ruining the silence for other people, to get into the habit of attending. It’s one of the things, I have promised myself I will seriously explore when the children are a little older.

Though I have largely outgrown the happy-clappiness and charismatic music of my schooldays, I prefer the commons all sung and preferably in Latin, this has been an acquired taste, as has plainsong, which has as much to do with my father’s own musical tastes, than any Catholic upbringing. There are many Catholics of my age and older who have experienced, if not as zany, a similar liturgical upbringing. The Novus Ordo is what we are used to, and the Extraordinary Form, just seems alien. Pope Benedict has done much in terms of liturgical reforms, however it isn’t all filtering down to Parishes. The sung vigil Mass on a Saturday night in my parish is an altogether different and more preferable experience to the Sunday morning service which is tailored to families and seems to feature the same four hymns.

It’s a very hard balance, “One more step along the way I go” may be a crowd pleaser, but the problem is, for people who are brought up solely on this stuff, they are missing an important part of our cultural heritage as Catholics. It is not for nothing that we are part of the Latin rite. I am fortunate, in that unlike many I did Latin GCSE at school and hail from a musical family, so the chants are not unfamiliar, my father is also an aficionado of plainsong and high church liturgical music which was passed down to us as children, but for many, “If I were a butterfly” seems a perfectly reasonable thing to be singing in Church.

At the moment there seems to be a rather unnecessary divide between those who would prefer the EF Mass and those who are terrified that it’s going to become compulsory and must be stopped at all costs. I’m not sure that I understand it. In my world it would be horses for courses, those who want the EF should be able to access it as they wish, equally the Novus Ordo should not be spurned for those of us who have grown up with it and can’t quite get to grips with priests facing away from us, a silent canon and lots of incomprehensible gestures. But what we do need to ensure, is that non of our culture, none of our rich liturgical heritage is done away with. Having the Mass in the vernacular is one thing. Holding hands around the altar whilst singing the Caribbean Our Father quite another.

Rather than polarise the two camps, it seems sensible to keep the EF, but also gradually reform the Novus Ordo in order to more properly reflect the changes of Vatican II and get rid of the liturgical abuses that sets everyone’s teeth on edge. In that way, the EF may become more accessible to many and seen as complement, not a threat. The Lord is equally present through the sacrament at both kinds, even though the Heavenly Host may not be singing Colours of Day.

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The controversy about 40daysforLife continues to rumble on, following their appearance on the Today programme on Wednesday morning, which with an audience of over 4 million people, was a massive publicity coup for an ‘organisation’ which is run on a shoe-string.

The amateur nature of 40days is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing in as much as without access to any sort of slick PR machine, unlike the abortion clinics and their associated groups, 40daysforlife cannot be accused of back-door lobbying or underhand techniques. There is no flashy website or dedicated social media manager. They are very much what they say on the tin. An attempt to unite Christians and other faiths, in an invitation to attend vigils to peacefully pray for all those inside the abortion clinics. There can be no doubt with regards to the sincerity of the organisers or participants. Credit needs to be given to Robert Colquhoun who brought this campaign to the UK and who has mobilised the prayers of many people, both in front of the clinics and encouraged prayer, meditations and fasting for those at home.

That 40days have appeared on national media, following their appearance on Radio 4, they were then the subject of discussion on Matthew Wright’s show on Channel 5, is a testament to their success. They are certainly raising awareness. There can be no doubt that they have pro-abortion advocates rattled, with the emergence of counter-campaigns and lots of attempts to smear and discredit.

Which brings me on to the flip-side of their efforts. It needs to be remembered that this is a wholly amateur operation. Every single volunteer, from Robert Colquhoun downwards, is unpaid and gives up their free time. They all have day jobs. There simply is not the money to employ anyone. Which means that their social media account is not running in as professional a way as would be desirable. Getting the PR right is an essential part of activism, and social media plays a not inconsequential part. Understandably, 40days sees their main role as prayer and fasting, they are far more concerned with the spiritual than the temporal, which leaves them open to criticism.

More seriously, the amateur nature of the campaign also means that it leaves themselves open allegations of malpractice and harassment such as the filming and harassment of women. The filming of women both on the street and going in and out of the clinic is wholly unacceptable. 40daysforlife do not condone or encourage this is any way. The difficulty for them is, that despite the presence of at least one organiser at every vigil, it becomes very difficult to control the behaviour of other people. Participants do need to sign up to the statement of peace, which explicitly prohibits people from acting in a manner that may be harmful and asks participants to ensure that they reflect Christ’s compassion and love. The difficulty is that Christian compassion and love may be interpreted in a myriad of ways, however we can be reasonably confident that Christ would not condone the filming and invasion of privacy of vulnerable women. Once somebody does start to behave in a way that is unacceptable, they are immediately disassociated from the vigil, but as the participants are supposed to act in a peaceful way and are predominantly concerned with prayer, it becomes almost impossible to force someone to stop doing something unhelpful. Filming in public is not against the law and even Sunny Hundal was not averse to turning up to Bedford Square and filming, although he did not specifically film the faces of women. Unless any specific laws are broken or public order offences committed, though the organisers can politely request people to stop filming or behaving in a way that may be deleterious, they are powerless to act, other than call the police. The filming would appear to be a two way street, participants on the vigil have informed me of being very disconcerted that for the entire duration of their stay (usually an hour) there has been a member of the clinic with a video camera trained directly upon them.

On the Today programme Anne Furedi read a statement from a woman who said that she had been followed to the clinic and then made an allusion to women being pinned up against the wall. Obviously if this has happened it is despicable, however as BPAS are obviously filming the protest, surely if this had happened there would be evidence which should have been passed to the police. Personally speaking, if someone had done that to me whilst entering an establishment, I would have alerted the staff inside straight away, identified the assailant and called the police. There was another accusation of encirclement, followed by an admission that very often there will only be one protestor, which makes encirclement impossible. If one person follows another to the clinic door as alleged, unless they are some kind of super-hero with extraterrestrial powers, or able to bi-locate, encirclement seems highly unlikely.

Whilst loathe to accuse anyone of lying, it seems possible that some distortion has gone on here. The modus operandi of 40daysforlife is that most participants take part in prayer and witness and volunteers take turns to distribute leaflets. The following accusation, is not one of stalking, but of women being followed to the door of the clinic. If this does happen, the zeal is understandable, but it must stop. I have spoken to several participants of 40days vigils over the past few days and none of them recognise this type of behaviour. What usually happens is a leaflet is offered, if the person wants to accept or engage in conversation, discourse takes place, but following anyone down the street is not encouraged and would disassociate someone from the vigil.

40days recognise that women entering the abortion clinic are vulnerable. That’s why they have a big sign “we are here to help” and why they offer back-up support, which I will discuss in a later post. Abortion rights groups are so concerned by the impact of these vigils that they are using every tool in their arsenal to smear and discredit, that they are also targeting the Good Counsel Network, again another voluntary organisation, entirely reliant on charitable donations and who are more concerned with their daily work of actually getting on and providing real practical help, than mounting PR campaigns or properly defending themselves. Those on 40days must ensure that they do not leave themselves open, if a leaflet is offered and refused then that should be the end of it. An opportunity to engage and change hearts and minds has been put forward, pestering women who are in terrible situations is counter-productive. IF this happens, and I’m not convinced it does, but if it does, then organisers need to stamp on this. Though I am in no way vulnerable, I know just how annoying it is when someone attempting to advertise a product or hand out a leaflet won’t take no for an answer. It just puts one’s back up and causes defensiveness. On an everyday level, there is an incredibly pushy group of cosmetic salesmen in Brighton’s Churchill Centre, who seem to target me every time I have the children in the double-buggy. Despite the fact I am clearly preoccupied with manhandling a buggy, stopping child A from pulling child B’s hair or preventing child from clambering out of buggy or tantrums etc, a “no thanks” seems to have no effect, these boys continue to sidle up alongside you, repeatedly cajoling you to try their luscious products. Never mind the hand-cream, it’s Arnica they need if they don’t leave me alone. If unwanted hand cream samples give me the rage, it can only be imagined what a passionate pro-life supporter might do to a woman who is in a delicate emotional state. A leaflet offered is the most that should be attempted and a refusal met with good grace.

Ann Furedi and others have commented that the actions of 40daysforlife are un-Christian in their actions. Whilst I usually attempt to ensure that my pro-life arguments are predominantly secular, a pro-life viewpoint does not necessitate theism, I am not ashamed to admit that I am first and foremost a Christian, and for me, being pro-life follows holistically from my Christian faith. Prayer constitutes an enormous part of Christianity. I don’t talk about my prayer life as often as I should, but that is partly because for me, it is deeply intimate and personal. As personal to me as my intimate life with my husband. I worry that talking about it, somehow violates my relationship with the Lord, but prayer is a huge feature of my daily life. As Christians we should never under-estimate the power of prayer, which is part of the success of 40daysforlife. There have globally been thousands of babies saved.

Some, including Christians, have mooted that this prayer should be in the confines of our own homes. To me, that seems to be pandering to the modern secular agenda. It’s Okay to be a Christian, but we have to be nice mute ones, never causing any trouble. That isn’t what Christ was about, he was a radical, he hung about with the poor, the dispossessed, the outcast and the vulnerable. He drove money lenders out of the Temple and was non too concerned with what view the authorities may take of him. Would he have been outside an abortion clinic healing women before they went in? The answer is most definitely. However, though Christ always meets you where you are, He does not force Himself upon you. All of those who encountered Christ, saw Him and came to Him. He did not chase people, He invited them to follow Him. Which is of course the lesson for those outside clinics. An invitation must be issued, but not forced.

When it comes to the issue of Christians publicly manifesting their faith, we seem to have something of a crisis in the UK, which is feeding into a culture war. Politicians love to tell us that we are a tolerant and diverse society, but what that seems to entail in practice is smiling tolerantly and happily at women in their hijabs or saris or at Gary and Jamie holding hands whilst walking their Gucci-clad chiuaua down the street. Isn’t it wonderful, we tell ourselves, that people can now live their lives without harassment or fear. Whilst that is most definitely true, the same is not said of Christians who could be said to be serious in their faith. We are “fundy nutters” driven by religious fervour and hatred apparently. What is forgotten is that a key part of Christianity is not only prayer, but evangelisation. Spreading the Good News. Clearly this has to be done in an appropriate way, one that is not counter-productive, but in an allegedly tolerant and diverse society, it should be possible, to gently talk about your faith or your beliefs without living in fear of hate-speech or dismissal. If a work colleague wants to ask me my views on something, I should not be too frightened of the consequences to honestly engage.

Far from being un-Christian praying peacefully outside an abortion clinic is an act of witness and of faith, it is a living out of the Christian vocation and should not be eschewed out of fear or because it is thought impolitic. There seems something diabolic behind the notion that Christians should not be praying outside of Churches or their own homes, let alone in front of abortion clinics, where so much destruction of life is taking place. It comes to something when Catholics are suggesting that other Catholics should not be praying in public, for fear of other’s reactions or negative PR.

For those who suggest that their presence is un-Christian in that it potentially upsets women, I refer to my previous post; if abortion is upsetting and traumatic – why is that? This person appears to think that it is nothing of the sort – I love abortion she says. Women must be treated compassionately and sensitively, which must rule out harassment, invasion of privacy or anything that could amount to condemnation, however a presence which offers another choice or point of view, a way back from abortion, does not lack compassion. Abortion is the ending of the life of an unborn child, which hurts not only child, but the mother as well. A pastoral team in my diocese patrols Beachy Head, spotting potential jumpers and offering fellowship, comfort and support, a way back. No Christian would stand back and watch a person hurl themselves off a cliff, because it’s their body, their choice and they were scared of being intrusive. Offering a leaflet or saying a rosary in those circumstances would be a wholly inadequate approach. A pro-life presence signifies to people that they do not have to end the life of their unborn child.

What all Christians need to be aware is that pro-life should consist of the three Ps; politics, PR and prayer, which all have equal import. 40days need to ensure that their wonderful prayer efforts are not undermined by lack of PR or politics. “Professional” Catholic pro-life activists must not forget or deny the power of prayer and public witness.

Responding to Robert Colquhoun’s statement that those attending vigils were there out of a spirit of compassion and love, Anne Furedi requested that they should “take your love elsewhere”. It doesn’t take a genius to work out which of those statements is most in accord with Gospel values.

Postscript

During yesterday’s vigil at Bedford Square, a member of the public arrived and covered the vigil in horse dung. They calmly ignored it, continuing to pray, clearing up the site when they left. That’s intimidation for you!

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