Pro-choice in a pickle

As I wrote both on the blog and in the Catholic Herald last week, pro-lifers are gaining momentum, the pro-choice lobby are on the back foot following the recent scandal of sex-selective abortion with the issue of post-birth abortion hot on its heels and they don’t like it one little bit, hence they are resorting to the oldest trick in the book and as I know to my cost, the staple of those in an ideological corner – attack, which is supposedly the best form of defence.

Today has seen a flurry of articles in the paper of pro-choice propaganda, commonly known as The Guardian, fretting about the activities of 40daysforlife, whose peaceful prayer vigils, expose the self-deceit at the heart of those who support a woman’s supposed “choice”. They claim that the very presence of peaceful protestors is somehow intimidating, that it is imposing views on vulnerable women facing a difficult decision, whilst denying the humanity of the unborn child. If this is not an unborn child, but simply a cluster of cells, or an unviable fetus that would be unable to survive outside the mother’s womb, then why is the presence of those on the vigil so troublesome and disturbing? If a woman is simply exercising a choice available to her, i.e. not to have a baby, then what on earth has she got to worry about? She should hold her head high, march straight on into the abortion clinic and get them to remove the products of conception forthwith and pay no attention to the religious nut jobs praying to their invisible sky fairy. If it is simply a choice, a meaningless decision, then 40daysforlife are nothing more than an advertising campaign for the alternative choice and if a woman has made her mind up she is unlikely to be swayed.

Tragedy?

The problem for passionate advocates of abortion rights is that many of their own, such as Diane Abbott, accept that abortion is a tragedy, because it entails the destruction of life. Even if they prefer to term it the destruction of potential life, they are some way to recognising abortion for what it is. If abortion is a difficult and burdensome decision it is precisely because those faced with seemingly impossible situations who enter the abortion clinic with a heavy heart, recognise the gravity of their actions, yet feel that there is no other solution for them. For these women who are most definitely vulnerable, the presence of those praying for them, their unborn children and the staff in the abortion facility, is problematic, because it is a tangible reminder of the seriousness of their potential choice. It makes it more difficult for women to ignore the reality of the human life within them.

Pro-life protestors are problematic for the abortion clinics and supporters of abortion because they are either an advertisement for the opposing course of action or a physical reminder of the life of the unborn, not to mention the enormous elephant in the room, namely that human nature is to seek the approval or validation of others. This is precisely why every single abortion-rights group emphasise the “one in three women will need and abortion” slogan at every opportunity. This not only reinforces the idea that abortion is a basic necessity, every mother must be able to get rid of her unborn child, but also uses social validation, a known technique for helping those who are undecided, typically in the world of retail when contemplating what product to buy, we are influenced by the decisions of others. Protestors outside a clinic are a manifestation of people who are in disagreement and who, whilst enormously sympathetic to the plight of women facing horrendous circumstances, cannot and will not condone the killing of an unborn child. What is deemed unacceptable is that there is a group of people present who disagree with the choice that is being made. It is always difficult when people express disagreement with our own personal moral choices, but that is life. Those who care about us try to sensitively point out when we are making harmful decisions. That isn’t hatred or condemnation – it’s genuine care, concern and compassion.

What happens during these vigils?

Admittedly I am yet to attend one, however this will shortly change. The highly respected and well-renowned Catholic priest Fr Stephen Wang attended a 40 days vigil at the weekend, and it was his moving testimony that has motivated me to overcome my reticence. The only reason I have not previously attended is that last year I was heavily pregnant throughout the 40 days, indeed Felicity was born in the final days of the campaign, on Maundy Thursday last year, commuting to London heavily pregnant with a toddler in tow and negotiating the London Underground was too much of a chore. Similarly during the campaign of last Autumn, I would have needed to jostle toddler and newborn single-handedly around London and felt that though worthwhile, the exercise would have been too fraught with logistical difficulties.

As Fr Stephen states, these vigils are entirely peaceful. I imagine that the non-religious would find them interminably boring. It’s literally a small group of people praying underneath a non-graphic banner with a depiction of a Dove and a Bible verse. Hardly the most chilling or gruesome of images. Look away now.

Terrifying aren't they?

As Fr Stephen notes:

People at the vigil are not there to judge, but to pray and to offer hope. And you feel the reality of this prayer and hope when you are there, even if it highlights the starkness of the choices many people are facing.

Ben Quinn wrote an uncharacteristically balanced piece, the tone of which sympathised with the staff of BPAS, but nonetheless conceded that often the protestors consist of

a solitary participant…reciting the rosary across the road from the clinic.

Sarah Ditum, on the other hand, was a lot more strident, her piece contained no direct evidence, but simply quotes from Clare Murphy of BPAS who claims that protestors “encircle” women on the doorstep. 40daysforLife is in its third year. If this alleged harassment is occurring, then why have the police not been alerted and why have BPAS not used a camera of their own in order to prove what is allegedly occurring?

Here is the statement of peace that every single attendee of the 40daysforlife vigil has to sign as a registered participant.

1. I will only pursue peaceful solutions to the violence of abortion when volunteering with the 40 Days for Life campaign

2. I will show compassion and reflect Christ’s love to all abortion facility employees, volunteers, and customers

3. I understand that acting in a violent or harmful manner immediately and completely disassociates me from the 40 Days for Life campaign

4. I am in no way associated with the abortion facility or its affiliates by way of employment, informant, volunteer, client, or otherwise

While standing in the city right of way in front of the abortion facility:

5. I will not obstruct the driveways or sidewalk while standing in the public right of way

6. I will not litter on the public right of way

7. I will closely attend to any children I bring to the prayer vigil

8. I will not threaten, physically contact, or verbally abuse the abortion facility, employees, volunteers, or customers

9. I will not vandalize private property

10. I will cooperate with local city authorities

It hardly tallies with tales and tactics of intimidation. Where the problem has arisen, is that it seems like some over-enthusiastic participant has been spotted videoing the entrance to the facility. This is unacceptable and 40daysforlife have disassociated themselves from and condemned this action. The facts are not entirely clear, but when I spoke to Robert Colquhoun this afternoon, he confirmed that participants often do take cameras, but any photography or videoing that takes place, is not of women, but of the participants themselves, often to guarantee their own safety.

As the indomitable and heroic Clare, testifies, having been to several vigils, it is actually the protestors themselves who find themselves threatened and harangued by passers-by. When she attended a vigil outside the Marie Stopes clinic in London, a passer-by thought it appropriate to take photographs of her children, telling her that he was going to send them to Social Services as she was clearly an unfit mother. Last week at the 40days vigil in Bedford Square, a local man approached her children, telling them that their mother was doing “devil’s work” and that he was going to call the police. He made good with his threat, the police duly appeared having been informed that there were children outside the clinic who should be in school, whereupon it was explained that the children were home-educated and the policeman said no further action was necessary.

On one occasion Clare was interviewed for the Catholic TV channel EWTN, therefore a camera crew were filming quite legitimately. Robert informed me that three years of prolonged threats and insults on the vigils had toughened him up considerably, therefore though he continued to find reports such as those in the Guardian irksome in that they were full of inaccuracies, falsehoods and innuendoes, they no longer bothered him. 40daysforlife is clearly proving effective, given that the Guardian have devoted two articles in the space of 24 hours to them and has now written over 4 articles, so concerned are they by a handful of religious protestors praying the rosary. If these articles generate more national coverage of the campaign, it could well have a positive effect of encouraging more Christians to participate, or to set up groups in their locality.

On the issue of filming, this is not an activity that is carried out by 40daysforlife, nor is photography. The campaign is run on an absolute shoestring, there is no money for this type of equipment and no desire to film women entering or leaving premises. The official marshals, themselves unpaid volunteers giving up a few hours of their free time like the participants, need to remind people not to film either deliberately or inadvertently any members of the public entering or leaving the facility and will disassociate themselves from anyone who does this and ask them to leave the vigil.

When interviewed by Sarah Ditum for the Guardian, Robert was issued with a set of demands and instructions as to what 40daysforlife “should” do. Understandably he feels it inappropriate to be dictated to in an aggressive fashion by a pro-choice columnist, the peace statement is comprehensive and any participants with video equipment or using their mobile phones will be reminded not to video either the entrance or those entering/leaving.

No-one is encircled, bullied, harangued or manipulated and there is no evidence to the contrary, otherwise the police would act. Passers-by are asked if they want a leaflet. Refusals are accepted gracefully. Participants are there primarily to pray. If pregnant women are spoken to, it is because they themselves approach or speak to the participants. Women who wish to engage with the protestors, often do so because they are experiencing doubts and/or they feel that they need to justify their situation. It is this engagement that produces turn-arounds.

Being able to engage with women facing crisis pregnancies takes a lot of skill and emotional intelligence. It requires an open-hearted, non-judgemental attitude, not haranguing a woman, or telling her that she is evil, but a willingness first and foremost to listen and let her speak. There is no manipulation, women are told that there are other options and people willing to help them. There is a big sign up saying “we are here to help you”, which often provides the impetus for women to approach those on the vigil. Whether she admits it or not, a woman who approaches pro-life supporters outside an abortion clinic that she is about to enter, is subconsciously crying out for help. Any turnarounds that occur, are not due to women being “repulsed” by the protestors, if a campaign repulses one, such as say the images used by anti-vivisectionists, the normal response is simply to put ones head down and walk past very swiftly. A banner with a dove and a handful of “bead-rattlers” is hardly likely to deter a woman who is determined to abort her baby.

The spectre of the American bogeyman

40daysforlife is what it says on the tin. It’s not a 24/7 campaign. Participants give up an hour of their free time. No-one is outside Bedford Square at 3am, similarly the clue is in the name. The campaign lasts 40 days and coincides with Lent. A further campaign is takes place in the Autumn. To put it in perspective, that’s 80 days out of 365, one fifth of the year. Not a prolonged onslaught.

Both Ben Quinn and Sarah Ditum are extremely keen to compare what is going on in the UK, to what happens in America, despite the fact that the demographics and politics of the two countries are entirely different as are the abortion laws and indeed the gun laws. There can be absolutely no justification for the killings of abortionists but these need to be put in perspective. Since abortion was legalised via Roe V Wade in 1972, there has been a grand total of 8 abortion doctors killed. That is 8 too many, but these occurrences are rare. Compare that to the 50 million terminations that have been carried out since then. The pro-life movement condemns and abhors these acts of violence which are in the minority, but that does not stop people from wishing to brand pro-lifers as violent lunatics. Every year in the US, 1.2 million unborn babies are killed, compared to two tenths of an abortionist. (LifeSite News)

It’s the old slippery slope argument, that is so often derided by the so-called liberals.

Note the emotive and suggestive language, “escalation of protests”. Note the attempt to link in the unrelated hacker who incidentally aligns himself with a group who this week hacked the Vatican and threatened to release confidential details of all the Vatican journalists. There will always be those who are unable to see the unacceptable nature of their actions. Many people felt equally strongly about vivisectionists. No calls were made to curtail the anti-vivisection protests on the basis of the illegal and shocking actions, terror and intimidation techniques of the crazed minority. These were dealt with by due process of the law. Legitimate, lawful protests are not banned on the basis that a loner may hijack the cause. Abortion protestors are no more imposing their views on anyone, than any social or political causes that you see out on the High Street or in town centres on a Saturday morning. In any event there is no history in the UK of pro-life violence, terror or intimidation techniques. The Catholic Church, whose involvement has been highlighted, condemns all acts of violence, but let’s count them in anyway to add to the perceived “lunatic fundamentalist” effect. I also noted the reference to the law requiring ultrasound in 2 US states, which has thankfully been amended in order to remove the possibility of enforced vaginal ultrasound. But let’s put that in there anyway, to scare people further, even though it’s not a reality and not even on the table in the UK.

There is a reason why BPAS are not going to go down the route of escorts for women entering abortion clinics. Firstly there is no threat and secondly, it would add to their overheads. There is a reason why BPAS are trying to fling mud at pro-life protestors – they are proving effective. Whilst the public may support access to abortion, 74% think it is too easy to obtain. There is widespread revulsion regarding late-stage abortions, gender selective abortions, abortions used in place of contraception and the 200,000 abortions that take place every year. There is a reason why people are suspicious of abortion clinics, they can see the financial motivations of these “not-for-profit” (a tax status only) organisations – the heads of both Marie Stopes and BPAS are paid in excess of £125,000 a year. There is a reason if the language of the Right-to-know campaign is being used, namely that it is true and the metaphor of the conveyer belt of the abortion facility is striking a chord with many women who have suffered abortion.

They don’t like it up ’em

There is a reason why a one-off event is being magnified out of all proportion. Opposition to abortion is growing. The 40daysforlife campaign is becoming increasingly successful, it’s managed to unite disparate sections of the pro-life lobby in a simple but effective campaign of gentle protest and prayer. The pro-choice lobby are backed in a corner like a cornered animal, hence their increasingly desperate attack.

5 thoughts on “Pro-choice in a pickle

  1. Hi Caroline. The links to the US anti-abortion movement are real – 40 Days For Life originated in Texas, and I could have made a great deal more of that in my piece had my main focus not been the welfare and privacy of the women attending BPAS clinics. I’m pleased that Robert appears to have said that participants in the vigils/protests will be “reminded” not to film patients. It’s a shame he didn’t mention it during the interview, as I would have included it. However, he was clearly uncomfortable speaking to me, and despite me offering him several opportunities to dissociate the organisation from charges of using photographic equipment to harass patients, he declined to do so.

    1. Hi Sarah, thanks for commenting.

      Robert did tell me that he found it difficult to engage, but everyone I know from 40 days, including participants are furious if women have been filmed. This serves no purpose at all, but from what I understand, this was a one-off action by someone who overstepped the mark. It’s not clear whether he was filming women or whether he inadvertently filmed the entrance.

      With regards to 40days originating from America, I was going to mention this myself, I know it is an import. But why is this relevant? As I said, there is no history or tradition of pro-life violence in the UK: our demographics are entirely different. It’s the animal-rights lobby who have the reputation of violent zealots.

      It is the violence of abortion upon the mother and child to which we object and no Christian with any understanding of the Gospels would encourage or condone any harassment or intimidation.

      It is not fair to taint the peaceful majority with the actions of a tiny crazed minority.

  2. Thank you fro such a good article. I can’t go this Lent, but if you want a hand in the Autumn or next Lent, I would be happy to help with buggies etc on the train.

  3. great article. another change that you may not have noticed if you don’t live in London, is that both bpas and MSI have pulled all their Underground advertisements, which used to be common features of tube travel. Guess they just served to reinforce their slick marketing tactics and promotion of abortion.

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