Vigil vigilance

Thinking about this whole vigil issue, I’ve just had a bit of crucial insight, courtesy of a friend who was also thinking out loud. Being so close, I just couldn’t see how a peaceful pro-life prayer vigil, especially one that helps women in desperate situations, could be perceived in a bad light by other pro-life groups, or how they undermine education.

The answer is all to do how with how they’ve been framed by a frantic pro-choice movement desperate to discredit and how this narrative has been picked up by a sensationalist media.

40 Days for Life are being portrayed as a weird fringe activity, dangerous Americans have been conflated with prayer vigils and then education has been chucked in, to make the whole pro-life movement appear as one threatening mess. Prayer vigils are the hinge that allow the pro-choice movement to discuss the importation of American methods and we all know that Americans kill people, American culture is innately evil and all traces of it must be stamped out lest it corrupts and ruins our society.

Groups such as Education for Choice, (who are owned by the Brook sexual health charity) are campaigning for pro-life groups such as SPUC, LIFE and the Right-to-Life trust to be kicked out of schools, claiming that children deserve to be taught about ‘individual choice in a safe environment’ and who promote ‘enabling easy non judgemental access to abortion’, have openly called for parents’ rights to remove children from sex-education lessons to be removed as they are ‘neo-Victorian’. Abortion eduction in schools needs to be vastly improved, in their considered and wholly unbiased position as consultants to abortion providers, opinion. It’s worth reading how they single out SPUC’s campaign against same-sex marriage here.

This passage from their toolkit for best practice, makes disturbing reading for anyone who may be concerned about women or young girls being coerced into abortion and should surely make anyone who would claim that abortion is a woman’s right to choose, bristle:

If a young man has or goes on to have experience of unplanned pregnancy with a partner, it is important that he knows who he can talk to and where he can go for help and support, as well as being able to signpost his partner to appropriate agencies. This is especially important when a couple are not agreed about what the outcome of a pregnancy should be, which can be a very difficult situation for a young man to face. Signposting to young men’s services is an important part of abortion education.

It’s worth looking at that toolkit in full – here’s another passage that stood out, warning schools about inviting in pro-life speakers and telling them to check the organisation’s website as an outside speaker can be lent weight and credibility by their invitation to speak:

For example, some websites promote abstinence as the only effective way of preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections; understate the efficacy of condoms and hormonal contraceptives; cite emergency contraception as a form of abortion; stigmatise homosexuality; and overstate the risks of abortion, in relation to physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Without stating the blindingly obvious here, we can see what pro-life groups are up against and how they could do without the bad press of prayer vigils.

I’ve unpicked the inherent racism and ill-conceived myths about America and the pro-life movement previously. In a country which has a wholly different political demographic, not to mention very liberal gun laws, atrocities will sadly occur, as they will all over the world. It is not the vigils themselves that incur and incite violence – it is a handful of unhinged individuals who take the law into their own hands. 8 individuals in the US abortion industry have been killed since Roe v Wade in 1972. That’s 8 too many, pro-lifers abhor violence of any sort and believe all life to be sacred, (the clue is in the name), but this isn’t a case of big scary gun-toting fundamentalists regularly shooting at folk. It’s actually those who are on the vigil who regularly put themselves in the line of fire, being shot at and fire-bombed in some cases, by those from within the abortion clinic. Just as the LGBT lobby distanced themselves from and condemned the individual who shot at a worker at the Family Research Centre last year, pro-lifers equally condemn any who defile their cause by the use of senseless violence.

That prayers and vigils are an important part of pro-life work goes without saying. They matter profoundly and we should not have a situation where one part of a cause undermines another – this should not be an either/or and one of the strengths of 40 days for life is that it has managed to unite many of the different sections within the pro-life movement and bring together Christians of all denominations.

I can well understand the antipathy, but we have to bear in mind, this is not purely a political or educational effort, there is a spiritual dimension and this highlights one of the downsides of a purely secular pro-life group, who wish to distance themselves from the publicly praying weirdos.

I think what those of us on vigils have to do and keep on doing, is what we’ve always done, just quietly and continually pray and know that our witness will eventually shine through. The lies and the conflations of the abortion industry can easily be disproved, BPAS or Marie Stopes have admitted that there is no need to provide clinic escorts, they know full well no harassment, let alone violence takes place, they have cameras constantly trained upon those on the vigils and there have been no arrests or requests to move on and neither do volunteers engage with or respond to any insults or abuse. Neither do they hold up any judgemental or inflammatory slogans or material – there is simply a verse from scripture and a sign which states ‘we are here to help’. If women entering clinics feel bad, it is because their own conscience has been pricked or because they cannot cope with a physical manifestation that not everyone is prepared to validate abortion, as opposed to anything that the volunteers may say or do.

If 40 days for Life are being portrayed as a bizarre fringe movement, the absence of Catholics only serves to reinforce the image and allows the pro-choice movement to dictate the frame. If however, they prove by their witness, actions and lives that they save, that the only threat vigils pose is to the abortion clinics’ balance sheet, the general public will begin to see behind the lies.

I understand the concern, the vigils are being used as a hook on which pro-choice groups are seeking to get pro-lifers out of education, as theirs is the only voice to be tolerated, but this attack upon freedom of religion and attempt at one-sided indoctrination in which abortion is presented as a preferable option in some situations and at worst as morally neutral, must be resisted on the strongest possible terms and shown up for its inherent and ironic illiberality. Prayer vigils should have nothing to do with whether or not children ought to be given a wholly one-sided and relativistic view of sexual morality and neither should they be banished from our streets due to a misconceived fear of US style ‘culture wars’. The UK is not the US and culture wars feed upon an atmosphere of intolerance. The UK is thankfully a largely tolerant country without the same divisions as exist in the US. The issue of abortion is not split so evenly along political lines and 40 Days for Life is not a political protest or one that seeks to denounce women or those with a pro-choice mentality.

The only ‘war’ here is the cultures of life versus death and we should not allow fear to drive prayer out of the public square. The battle for education goes way beyond the activities of those praying for an end to abortion outside a clinic.

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