A beautiful royal baby – now we need equality for every unborn child

Taken from the Catholic Universe – 28 July 2013

Prince George

The nation is this week celebrating the birth of a healthy baby son to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – congratulations to this lovely young couple who are undoubtedly going to make wonderful parents.

My heart went out to Kate Middleton, having suffered identical ailments in pregnancy, from severe morning to sickness, to enduring sweltering summer temperatures in the final weeks before delivery. Kate may have many advantages, but chances are she isn’t going to enjoy the opportunity that most of us get to slob around the house in our dressing gowns in the post-natal blissful haze known as the babymoon! Watching the media furore over the past few days was a compelling reason for her to consider having any future births at home.

What was however both telling and heartening was that not once, even in the very early stages of the Duchess’s pregnancy was her son referred to as anything other than what he is, namely a baby. The absence of the word ‘foetus’ which we hear so often in relation to pregnant women, especially in the time before the baby becomes viable, was noticeable. Not once did any reporter or journalist refer to the Royal Baby as ‘the products of conception’, ‘a bunch of cells’, a ‘future potential person’ but for the entire duration of the pregnancy, his humanity and future destiny was explicit. The pregnancy even prompted a rushed change to the succession laws to ensure that the baby would automatically succeed to the throne regardless of their gender.

How many other unborn children have the privilege of being deemed so important that they necessitate a change to the country’s legislation? That’s not in any way to begrudge the status of the newborn, but instead of fighting for an unattainable equality of birth, (far better to concentrate our minds on the equality of death) surely we should all be fighting for the equality for every unborn child to be deemed a baby and thus accorded the opportunity of life?

Whilst we were all quite rightly desperately excited for the royal couple, I wish that some of the excitement and magic of pregnancy could be transferred elsewhere, to the frightened pregnant teen, to the single mother living in a run-down tower block, to the homeless drug addict whose baby will most probably be born with an addiction. Whilst the world was watching and waiting in breathless anticipation, I wondered how many other mothers would be labouring, perhaps alone, without the huge amount of support and well-wishers or loving family unit that the Duchess is fortunate to possess and was reminded of the gross inequality regarding how their pregnancies are viewed by society. Whereas the world would have reacted with horror had the Duchess suddenly decided to abort, proving that the whole notion of choice is a misnomer, had the teen mum or drug addict had an abortion, it would have been seen as the morally correct course of action, that these children would have been better off not born, due to their status and potential health problems.

Every child is born of equal dignity and worth in the eyes of the creator and so in one sense every birth is that of a Royal baby! Kate and William’s baby was never just a cluster of cells, but always a human being in the eyes of everyone, even the most avowed pro-choice commentators, by virtue of the fact that he was wanted. Compare the worldwide interest and concern for this baby’s welfare with that shown for the tragic victims of Kermit Gosnell, the American late-term abortionist who killed newborn babies at full term by snipping their necks. The media was on the whole disinterested and only began to report the distressing details following a widespread campaign on social media.

It’s certainly worth not only noting the dual standards applied by the mainstream media towards the Cambridge baby but also applying it to all children, refusing to allow the frame of clinical euphemism that only serves to dehumanise the unborn. Abortion providers rely upon the power of language to couch the unpalatable truth in terms of medical terminology. We never congratulate pregnant women on their embryos, foetuses, pluripotent cells or products of conception and this is why pro-life counselling groups cause such consternation in that they too are always keen to refer to the baby in purely factual terms. Political language is deliberately used, as in the words of George Orwell it is ‘designed to make lies sound more truthful, murder respectable and give the appearance of solidity to pure wind’.

All babies are deserving of a welcome fit for a prince and every single pregnancy an occasion of great joy as well as an opportunity of service, whether that be from the expectant mother carefully sustaining and providing for her child’s needs, or from those around her who should seek to provide her with every means of support in gratitude for her physical sacrifice. We should be daring to work for a society in which the bunting is hung out for every single baby.

 In the meantime we should keep the Duke and Duchess and their new prince in our prayers and hope that they continue to model a strong vision of marriage and family life for the nation. It would be wonderful if they could be generous enough to break the mold and produce a large family of Catholic-sized proportions.

Even better that the baby was born on the feast day of St Mary Magdalene, the icon of a repentant sinner turning back to Christ. Perhaps there’s a portent for the UK in there somewhere? Let’s hope so.

Abortion statistics 2013 – the underlying narratives

My column from the Catholic Universe – 21 July 2013

The abortion statistics for women living in England and Wales were released this week, with the picture looking decidedly mixed. A total of 185, 122 lives were lost to abortion in 2012, a drop of 2.5% from 2011, with a marked drop in the number of abortions performed upon the under-18 age group, in line with the reduced teenage pregnancy figures in this age cohort.

There is little to celebrate however, though more lives were spared than in previous years, the number of overall annual abortions equates to 185,000 women who felt that they lacked the ability, resources or desire to have a child and instead chose to terminate their baby’s life. That so many women felt that they had no option other than abortion indicates that something is seriously wrong in our society where so little value is placed both on the life of the unborn and motherhood itself. Moreover the raw data shows little improvement, around 16.4 per thousand women had an abortion in 2012, the same number of women as in 1997. As an aside, it’s interesting to note that the number of abortions jumped and then rose steadily since the Labour government came to power in 1997, but has begun to decline since the Coalition took power in 2010. Austerity does not seem to be causing any spikes in the abortion rate which feels counter-intuitive; the UK fertility rate is now one of the highest in Europe, thanks to an increase in immigration and changes in the timing of childbearing, maternity units across the country are bursting at the seams.

Another upsetting narrative to emerge was the sharp increase in the number of pregnancies aborted due to fetal abnormality, which had risen by 17% last year. Our pro-life attitude only extends so far as being able to cheer on our paralympians in a fit of self-indulgent patriotic and patronising bonhomie. We’ll happily wave flags and give a pat on the head to those who manage to overcome the odds and perform almost superhuman feats of courage and endurance, but not actually get our hands dirty and be prepared to do the dirty work of looking after a child with physically demanding special needs. Perhaps I’m being unfair, I know of many such generous families and I also accept that for many the decision to abort a disabled child is a tortuous and heartbreaking process, but it’s a tragic irony that the year which did so much to raise the profile and potential and prospects of those with disabilities, also saw such a marked increase in disabled babies being denied the opportunity to live.

But what the abortion statistics do highlight, as does Ann Furedi, Head of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), is that contraception is not the failsafe panacea promoted by the various industries and agencies with vested interests. By far the largest group of women who presented for an abortion last year, were those in the 20-24 age bracket, of whom it cannot be argued do not know the birds and the bees! Either they are engaging in irresponsible sexual behaviour, or their contraception is failing and perhaps both.

If Ann Furedi is admitting that ‘abortion is a fact of life…women from all ages and all walks of life experience unplanned pregnancy’ then this should cause us to question whether women really do have the much vaunted sexual freedom and whether or not abortion, the taking the life of a child, should be seen as an inevitable and acceptable consequence of a sexually permissive society? Does sexual libertinism come at too high a price? Lord Steele, one of the original architects and proponents of the 1967 Abortion Act dramatically intervened prior to the publication of these figures, saying that ‘it was never the purpose’ that women would use abortion as a form of contraception.’ For all Ann Furedi’s denial that abortion is used for this purpose, her insistence that there is ‘no right number of abortions’ belies her stance. The rise in repeat abortion would also undermine that claim – 37% of all abortions carried our last year were repeat procedures. More than 4,500 women had had at least four.

No wonder Ireland’s pro-life movement which has just seen a bill passed allowing for termination of pregnancy right up until birth for women deemed to be suicidal, are looking at the UK with such dismay and horror. The bitter irony is that this will reverse the abortion traffic back across the Irish Sea as a UK woman unable to procure a late stage abortion here need only to jump on a ferry or plane and claim she is suicidal in order to access the procedure over there.

Meanwhile our cousins over the pond in Texas have had considerable success in passing a bill which bans abortion from 20 weeks onwards as well as having the effect of closing many state clinics who are unwilling and/or unable to meet tight medical and sanitary regulations to ensure the protection of women.

Reading the heated debates on the matter, my attention was drawn to a polemic written by an ernest young man, enjoining his brothers to fight for the abortion rights of his sisters and setting out the reasons why. Amongst them were these:

“This bill will force men into unplanned fatherhood…Your sex life is at stake…Don’t be surprised if casual sex outside relationships becomes far more difficult to come by.”

A great own goal for the pro-choice movement demonstrating that abortion encourages men to shirk responsibility, leaving women with little other choice.


I faked a Student Pregnancy

Pregnant student

Actually I didn’t, I experienced an unplanned pregnancy twice when embarking upon my degree. This girl did however and was horrified by the response.

The piece highlights precisely what I was talking about the other day, in terms of the stigma and prejudice that young and unmarried mothers have to face and why we should never exercise anything but charity, coupled with joy whenever we encounter a young mother who has chosen life against considerable odds. While the writer does not venture any opinion with regards to the morals of abortion, it’s excellent to see an acknowledgement in the mainstream media that the concept of consequence-free sex is nothing more than a myth.

Society, ably aided and abetted by the abortion industry is promulgating a chocolate-box, picture-perfect version of pregnancy, one that is all about designer maternity wear, high-maintenance grooming, top-of the range nursery goods and must be planned to occur at that perfect moment, whenever a woman feels emotionally and financially ready. Something I always say to teens who might be foolish enough to discuss their boyfriends or refer obliquely to their sex lives with me, is ‘do you feel ready to have a baby with this boy/man’. At which point they usually blush, start twisting their ankles awkwardly, look at the floor and hope it will swallow them up. The point being that unless you believe abortion to be an acceptable form of contraception, (and few women will actually admit to this), then you ought to be prepared to have a baby with your sexual partner.

The most amusing response is always ‘well we haven’t talked about babies yet, or what I’d do if I got pregnant, it’s far too early for that kind of thing’. Which strikes me as an illogical and emotionally incoherent response. So you are prepared to take your clothes off, get naked and intimate with this man, swap bodily fluids, but you are far too embarrassed to bring up the topic of what happens, if nature takes its course, what the backup plan might be. It demonstrates the falsehood of sexual freedom and empowerment. There is a an automatic expectation that any romantic relationship will swiftly progress to sexual intimacy but that on the whole women are too embarrassed to talk about what might happen if she gets pregnant, in case she deters her new partner from making any sort of long-term commitment to her and comes across as over-keen.

Ellie House (the writer) no doubt experienced negativity because men were frightened of what she represented and women saw her as a traitor, not only to her education, aspirations and the cause of womanhood but also because she might well put men off from having sex with them. It’s a strangely dissonant response.

The account resonated with me, because while not experiencing quite the same hostility, I was a married mature student in my thirties and thus others’ expectations were wholly different, but I did however have to sit through the stomach churning talk during Freshers’ Week where abortion was referred to in couched terms of how the University would help deal with ‘personal difficulties’ and students signposted to abortion services and counsellors and sexual health services in the numerous literature. It was emphasised that the University would be understanding to those with problems and allowances made and help given.

It was however a different story when I actually presented as pregnant. Extensions were grudgingly granted on provision of a doctor’s note certifying morning sickness, but very little in the way of actual support was given. One of the problems that I encountered was that the baby was due in the holidays shortly before the start of the new academic year. There was an on-site nursery, however they understandably would not admit children below the age of 5 months. If I were to be able to continue with my degree I would need to be able to bring the baby into lectures/seminars for the period of a few months. I did not see this as being much of a problem, it was after all my fourth baby, I was a confident breast-feeder, the plan was to have the baby quietly in a sling or car seat and of course I would have taken her out had she begun to cry or disrupt the class. I was informed that this was an unacceptable request, it would prove too distracting for other students, even if I sat at the back of the lecture theatre or was discreet in my feeding. A newborn baby simply wasn’t welcome.

The other issue was the on-site nursery which had been under threat of closure for quite some time, the university claiming that despite the rise in fees, it was not cost efficient. Fortunately there was a huge furore, the nursery was the reason that had attracted quite a few staff to the campus in some cases bringing with them millions of pounds worth of research grants. A solution was eventually found whereby the nursery was sold off to an outside provider in a tortuous process which involved lots of potential providers dropping out at the last minute and the nursery was saved, but it was clear that childcare provision was not a priority for the University of Sussex. Had the nursery closed then there would have been no facilities for either the students and staff of Sussex or of the neighbouring University of Brighton. While the student activists got terribly hot under the collar over the contracting out of all support services to outside providers, there was not a peep from them when the nursery was under threat and neither did they strike in support of the nursery workers, who had their contracts terminated and then renewed on far less favourable terms to a private provider.

Speaking from the perspective of a student who had two young children in the nursery and creche in order to study, the costs were extremely prohibitive, a child would need to be booked in for an entire session, ie. one couldn’t just drop the baby off for an hour’s lecture and on those few occasions where the nursery would ring mid-seminar to inform you that child had been sick or whatever and you needed to come and collect her, there was very little understanding from professors. The whole impression given by the academic staff was that student parents were a burden, I was being extremely foolish trying to juggle babies whilst studying and ought to reconsider. I came to the conclusion that it was simply unfeasible in my situation, obviously it was unusual in that I was juggling 3 children, a degree and pregnancy, but I can well imagine the barriers that a first-time pregnant young student might face. Abortion was implicitly mooted as the only sensible option. On one occasion I took one baby into the ‘child friendly’ cafe to feed and felt too self-conscious of all the bemused stares to continue. You stick out like a sore thumb with a baby on campus.

It was one of the reasons why I was so heartened to listen to Eve Farren, Director of the Alliance of Pro-Life Students (APS), at their London launch earlier in the year. She perfectly summarised my experience, i.e. of new students being given a leaflet with contacts details of abortion services but no information on the help available to students who choose life, and confirmed, as the article mentioned, that the secular pro-life group LIFE who are well placed to provide practical help support and advice are, in common with many pro-life groups, banned from campuses, in direct violation of principles of democracy and education.

One of the things that APS has sought to do is forge firm alliances with otherwise unlikely allies such as feminist groups, recognising that pregnant students are put in the position where the notion of ‘choice’ is but a pipe-dream given the lack of provision and support for student mothers and have together campaigned and fought for real improvements for pregnant women on campus. One way in which they can be supported is by signing up to donate £5 a month as part of their 500 give £5 giving scheme, £5 being the equivalent of one visit to a coffee shop, or a bottle of wine, to put it into perspective.

Without the Alliance of pro-life Students, life for women students who have been encouraged to lead lives full of emotionally unfulfilling short-term sexual relationships and find themselves caught out, shows no sign of improvement.

Every cloud has a silver lining, I now have 4 beautiful children and have taken the decision to pursue a more appropriate topic and method of study at Maryvale. Romans 8:28 and all that. But life is messy, best-laid plans go awry, there is never a perfect time to have a baby. That’s the message we should be passing on to the next generation and enabling them to continue with their education. Being a mother and being in receipt of a Higher Education – the two are not mutually exclusive.

Disability dilemmas – what should the Catholic Church/pro-life movement ‘do’?

Abortion of unborn children diagnosed with abnormalities is back on the agenda with the publication of the abortion statistics for 2012, which showed a sharp rise in the number of children aborted due to disabilities, up 17% on 2011 figures. As I explain in this week’s Universe, this demonstrates a gulf between the national attitudes on display during the Paralympics and those on an individual basis. We are all delighted to cheer on our athletes in the spirit of patriotism, but fewer of us are prepared to actually get our hands dirty when it comes to the more difficult task of caring for a disabled child. A parliamentary commission has pointed out that the way the abortion laws are being applied amounts to little more than eugenics, and is ‘unfit for a civilised society’. If the rules surrounding abortion for babies diagnosed with disabilities are to be reformed or tightened up, the Catholic Church and pro-life movement can expect scrutiny in terms of what they actually do to help the disabled in society.

One of the regular tropes trotted out by pro-choicers is that Catholics only really care about the unborn baby; once the baby is born or saved from abortion we then wash our hands and absolve ourselves of all responsibility. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the case of the Good Counsel Network for example, they offer support for as long the mother requires it. Over the past few weeks, a few Catholics have been agitating on social media that the Catholic Church and/or pro-life organisations should do more for the disabled, such as paying for respite care for the mothers or carers of disabled children and adults, if they are going to campaign for an end to abortion on the grounds of foetal abnormality.

This concept needs a little unpacking before uncritical acceptance.

In the case of the Catholic Church, it does do an awful lot for disabled children and adults, but on a local level according to the Catholic tenet of subsidiarity. Whether one is referring to either the Catholic Church or the pro-life movement, we should steer away from the socialist notion that everything should be centrally controlled, whether that be by the state, the ‘Church’ or a pro-life organisation. The Catholic Church has several voluntary societies such as the St Vincent de Paul Society, to name just one, which does exactly the work of supporting and providing practical help to the vulnerable in society, such as struggling families, the elderly and disabled of all ages. Catholic parishes have rostas for visiting the sick and pull together in an informal way to help those in their community who are vulnerable or in need of support in times of crisis. I can give numerous examples of acts of generosity and I don’t mean in purely financial terms, actually far more difficult is to give of one’s time and yet I’ve seen members of a parish help a struggling mother with ad hoc free childcare or picking up children from school, cooking meals for an elderly infirm neighbour, volunteering to look after a disabled child for a few hours on a regular basis or help out an elderly couple where one has Altzheimers and so on. The fact that this is not centrally organised or formally recognised, does not mean that it doesn’t happen. Of course there does need to be some formal organisation, but usually it’s done at a local level.

Outside of parish level, Catholic schools, both in the independent and state sector strongly encourage their pupils to participate in voluntary work and there are schemes which see pupils run and participate in activities such as Riding for the Disabled, Swimming and sports clubs, residential weeks for disabled and underprivileged children, in order to foster mutually enriching relationships and a sense of responsibility and community. Catholic Children’s societies do much work in terms of providing respite care and helping families as well as advocating for the rights of the disabled in society. Individual dioceses have pastoral teams exactly for this purpose, including helping people to receive the most out of the sacraments and general specialised support groups.

So it’s rather unfair to claim that the Catholic Church doesn’t actually do anything for those with disabilities, anyone who has ever been on any sort of organised diocesan pilgrimage to a place such as Lourdes, will see exactly the sort of attitude that the Catholic Church adopts towards the disabled, the Catholic Church not simply consisting of ‘The Vatican’ but the members of all the faithful around the globe. Incidentally it’s inside a Catholic church that one is most likely to frequently encounter a large gathering of those with various physical or learning disabilities. Here’s the little boy who took his First Holy Communion with my daughter.

The HCPT Lourdes Pilgrimage

As a rule I’m generally reluctant to validate by engaging with the notion that the Catholic Church doesn’t care about the disabled once they are born, because this accusation is usually thrown about by those who have little knowledge or experience of what does go on and even if they did, would still find something to criticise. It is the kind of thinking that dictates that the Church should spend all its time engaged in voluntary and practical work (for certain approved politically correct causes) mopping up social problems such as poverty but should have absolutely no voice in terms of formulating the policies whose side-effects they are expected to resolve.

In any event should the Church pay for respite care for disabled children and adults, outside of what it does already, if it is serious about ending abortion on the grounds of disability?

The first question we have to ask is whether or not the Church or any pro-life organisation would actually have sufficient funds to provide for this? I suspect the answer would be no. The annual income of all the UK major pro-life organisations combined would not begin to cover respite care for every single disabled child or adult. We also know that contrary to Dawkins’ assertions that the Church is not actually awash with cash and does not have that much liquidity, especially at parish level. But perhaps both pro-life organisations and churches ought to campaign for more donations on this basis?

Perhaps, but the fundamental question here, is whether or not the Church or pro-life organisations ought to be doing this work for the government? It’s true that in medieval times the Church was fundamental in terms of setting up schools, hospitals, communities to care for the sick, the needy, the poor and so on, but this was in the days before taxes. We live in an entirely different, allegedly more civilised society under which we are obliged to give a significant proportion of our income to the government to order our society and therefore surely it is entirely encumbant upon the government to make such provision for respite care and look after the most vulnerable unless it wants to lift all taxation.

Would it really help if various Catholic institutions were to replicate what happens already? Besides which levels of respite care and assistance are entirely dependent on the nature of the disability which is why best practice enables families to be given a certain budget and determine their care plan themselves according to their own specific circumstances and needs.

Would the promise of paid respite care actually tempt women into keeping their unborn babies? Most women who decide to abort a baby with a foetal abnormality do not so lightly or because their baby is less than perfect, but out of fear. What the recent parliamentary commission on abortions on the grounds of disability heard, was countless tales of how women felt that medical professionals bounced them into a decision; that they really felt that they had little other choice, and no other options were put to them. So part of the solution has to be a more empathetic and open to real choice medical profession, especially in the areas of foetal medicine and gynaecology. When diagnosing foetal abnormalities, the baby is measured against a standard of perfection, when in reality none of us are physically perfect. We often hear terrible cases of young men and women dropping down dead because of an undiagnosed heart defect that they have had since birth. Tragic whilst those cases are (and more preventative measures should be taken), the parents of those individuals never lament the birth of their child or wish they had never been born, instead they celebrate lifetimes of joy and achievement. Would they have taken a different decision had they been informed that their baby could drop down dead at any minute during the 20 week scan?

The problem with many of these diagnoses is that they are invariably worst case scenarios, when the reality is that no-one really knows with much certainty until the baby is born. Many readers will be able to give anecdotes of diagnoses of severe physical abnormality and dire prognoses only to go on to deliver a perfectly healthy baby. Only yesterday I heard yet another such tale myself. Here’s a little girl who was diagnosed with a condition incompatible with life . Even when the diagnoses are correct, they only tell a one-sided story that involves only heartbreak and suffering with never any mention of love, joy, fulfilment, laughter or contentment. This is behind the screening for Downs Syndrome – the condition is deemed to be so unutterably dreadful and makes life so miserable and difficult, that parents need to be give the choice to abort. The pro-choicers have gone beserk over the case of Father Vander Woude, who was inundated with responses to an appeal for prospective adoptive parents of an unborn baby with Downs Syndrome, claiming that abortion is the better or only option for those babies with Down Syndrome. A sentiment which Francis Philips, whose daughter has Downs, would vociferously refute.

In many many cases, it’s not necessarily money, but fear, especially of the unknown. Perhaps if there is something the church or pro-life organisations could do is organise support groups for those diagnosed with these conditions (some already exist) or help in assisting local groups for mothers and fathers of babies and young toddlers with various conditions. Parents faced with this situation are currently forced to rely for remote internet help and support, as due to abortion, babies diagnosed with difficulties are few and far between.

Even if organisations were able to offer a limitless supply of cash for respite, it would still make no difference to some mothers. The barrier is not purely financial, it’s about having the confidence in one’s ability to parent a child with disabilities, especially if you already have children. Parenting a child is hard and time consuming as well as immeasurably rewarding, it requires graft and self-sacrifice. Unfortunately words and concepts such as those tend to be alien and almost taboo in today’s society, self sacrifice, duty and responsibility have a negative rather than heroic and aspirational quality. Which is one of the reasons why mothers abort healthy children too. They fear they don’t have the capacity or ability to mother and the ideal of self-sacrifice is seen as the enemy of the dominant narrative or zeitgeist of self autonomy. It might be judgemental but sadly true in some cases. Some women neither believe in, nor want to be self-sacrificial, a child should fulfil them and on their terms, not understanding the fulfilment that can be found in sacrifice. Some women simply don’t want the work, effort or responsibility that comes with having a child, no matter what any pro-life organisation does, they cannot and should not seek to entirely remove the responsibility from the woman’s shoulders, but rather help her to bear it.

Which feeds into the final point about handing out cash willy-nilly to mothers or provision of free childcare or respite care to pregnant women. Help that is offered should never ever be in the form of a bribe, but instead to help a woman overcome the barriers to saving her child’s life. These barriers will differ from person to person, money is not always the overriding issue. A Catholic solution is holistic, it’s joined up, it’s helping the mother to reach her potential as a mother, rather than treating the child as a barrier to personal fulfilment or individual success. Part of this should involve a spiritual element. By saying to a woman, ‘okay we’ll pay for all your respite care and/or all your childcare’ it treats the child as an object or problem. No single mothers of young children (or indeed any mothers of young children) should be forced, coerced or encouraged to work. Children should not be placed full-time in nurseries, which often lead to poorer outcomes for children, if they are to flourish.

Throwing money at people to put their children in childcare or to provide respite care, buys into the narrative that children, whether able-bodied or not, are a burden to be overcome. Encouraging women of young children to go out to work consolidates the feminist Marxist agenda that is profoundly anti-women and seeks to force women and mothers in the workplace against their wishes and is an attack on the family. (Studies show that an overwhelming majority of mothers wish to stay at home with their children). Pro-life is about so much more than cash or consolidating a culture of dependency or entitlement. No amount of cash will mitigate the personal responsibility or additional work involved in child-raising unless one pays for a full time carer, 24/7.

A blanket offer of respite care consolidates the idea that disabled children are just so unbearably difficult and demanding that parents will need to be able to escape at every possible opportunity. Propagating this physically unattainable ideal also implicitly validates abortion of disabled children, stating that because insufficient respite care is available, the decision to abort is justifiable because the woman has no other option. The decision may be understandable, but never morally valid, no matter how hard that may be for many to read. We also need to be extremely careful not to feed the abortionist’s mantra that pro-life is about quality of life as opposed to sanctity, whilst at the same time assisting parents and children to maximise the former.

The Catholic Church or pro-life organisations should not let the government off the hook in terms of its responsibilities to the disabled. We should not seek to replicate existing provision but to complement. If there are gaps in provision we should look to identify and see what we can do to rectify and be inspired by the documents of the Second Vatican Council which implored the laity to take on more responsibility in terms of lay apostolates of this nature. I mentioned the Good Counsel Network earlier, they are an excellent example of this, in that having identified a need, they have set up a wholly Catholic apostolate. Surely this is what we are called to do as Catholics, to tailor a solution that is holistic, not simply financial or practical but one that addresses spiritual needs and has a strongly Catholic flavour. Otherwise we become little more than social workers.

Ultimately we shouldn’t sit in our armchairs, with a ‘somebody should do something’ attitude, pontificating what the Catholic Church or pro-life organisations should do, but actually be pro-active in setting up whichever initiatives we feel are necessary.

Much is done already by many in terms of caring for the vulnerable in society, no doubt more can be done. But the first job has to be doing whatever we can, which includes political action and highlighting the unjust and appalling attitudes towards those with disabilities simply because they are in utero. There’s no point campaigning for better respite care, better facilities, fairer legislation or railing against unfair benefit cuts for the disabled, if we turn a blind eye to the despicable prejudice that seeks to deny people the opportunity to life, the most basic human right of all.

God willing, abortion on the basis of disability may soon be a thing of the past. When all are accorded the equal right to life, it will then be the opportune moment to review what can be done better in terms of supporting those with disabilities, which will naturally include relationships with other agencies and charities. If we allow everyone to be born, the government will be forced to up its game and provision. But at the rate we are going we will soon have a raft of legislative measures, buildings with wheelchair ramps and so forth and yet no-one to use them.

Teen mothers are pro-life heroines

Taken from this week’s Catholic Universe – 14 July 2013


Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, is currently under pressure from MPs such as Diane Abbot and Caroline Lucas to introduce compulsory Sex and Relationship education into the curriculum reforms that are currently being formulated. One of the factors behind such calls is the claim that compulsory sex education would have an impact upon Britain’s level of teenage pregnancy which is amongst the highest in Western Europe.

There is no evidence to suggest that policy interventions, including compulsory sex education are having any effect whatsoever upon the rate of teenage pregnancy. In 1999, Tony Blair pumped £280 million into the creation of the Teenage Pregnancy Unit which aimed to reduce the number of teen pregnancies by an eventual 50%, five years later, instead of the hoped-for reduction, there was instead a rise of 0.6%, leading the then Chancellor, Ed Balls, to pledge an additional £20 million to the project.

Professor David Paton, chair of Industrial Economics at Nottingham University pointed out in August 2012 that researchers have been unable to find a correlation between Local Authorities judged to have best Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) policies and those with the biggest decreases in the teen pregnancy rate, which has remained static, give or take the odd blip, over the past forty years, which has only decreased by a small amount over the past few years. Whilst the decrease is welcome, it should be noted that there has been an explosion in the teen STD rate over the same period, indicating that while fewer teens may be falling pregnant, many more of them are contracting diseases which could lead to future infertility. This is due to the large uptake of long-acting-reversible contraceptives such as the hormonal implant which will protect against pregnancy but not against diseases. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that despite being armed with the knowledge on how to protect themselves against pregnancy, teenagers are still indulging in as much if not more risky sex, as ever before.

What is required is behaviour change, which conventional wisdom tries to advocate is neither achievable nor necessarily desirable, but countries which boast the lowest rates of teen pregnancies are those whose teenagers become sexually active at a much later age and have fewer partners.

Teenage pregnancy is for the most part undesirable because in the majority of cases it is unplanned, leads to abortion and presents significant barriers to human flourishing, in a society that is neither mentally, socially or economically equipped to deal with young unmarried mothers. Nonetheless we have to ask ourselves tough questions as Catholics as to whether or not we need to re-think some of our attitudes and stop demonising young pregnant teenagers as a measure of all that’s wrong with the world, if we want to re-build a culture of life.

What the teenage pregnancy statistics demonstrate is that young people are being duped into believing that there is such a concept of safe sex devoid of all consequences. According to statistics the contraceptive pill is the method of choice for teenage girls, which has a typical use failure rate of around 9%, a rate that is often higher in inexperienced or unreliable users who are not aware of the contraindications or the importance of taking it at precisely the same time every day. There is a staggering 18-21% failure rate per year when condoms are used as the main method to avoid pregnancy according to the  CDC – the American public health agency.

We therefore have to accept that a certain proportion of teenage girls will always fall pregnant in a society that promotes teenage sex as inevitable and morally neutral and whilst not encouraging teen pregnancy as being a status to which one should aspire, we should do whatever is in our power to nurture, support and protect those young girls who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant, while at the same time, working to change behavioural assumptions and expectations.

Obsessing over teen pregnancy statistics or the stigma of teen pregnancy does nothing to stem the tide of young girls knocking on the doors of the abortion clinic. To decide to continue with an unplanned pregnancy without a partner or spouse, without a reliable stable income and before one has finished one’s education is not reckless or irresponsible, but a brave act of heroism, of putting another’s life before yours in a culture that advocates abortion as being the only moral and acceptable solution for young girls. Being pregnant can be a terrifying and scary experience even when it is planned and is even more so for the fifteen or sixteen year old as she watches her life and her body spiral out of control.

Campaigns that aim to shame or stereotype young mothers such as the revolting ‘No Teen Pregnancy’ fronted by assorted teen American celebrities should have no place in any Christian institution or organisation. A child born to a young teenage mother is nothing more than a visible proof of a past sexual sin – something of which many of us are guilty of, only perhaps we have not been caught. I have been privileged to get to know many teen mums in the course of my life, all of whom have been an inspiration, not only in terms of how they have parented their child, the strong bond of mutual love has been a joy to witness, but who also went on to later success in terms of career and family lives. We should be supporting, thanking and asking what we can do to help these young women fulfill their potential as mothers, instead of pursing lips and writing them off.

Lest we forget, the mother of the greatest King of us all, was herself according to tradition, a young teenaged unmarried woman.

Being afraid of free speech – no thanks

Deacon Nick Donnelly has reported on a campaign conducted by a pro-marriage group which has been stopped due to vandalism, abuse and threats of violence. I can well believe it. The repercussions of my tweeting in support of traditional marriage in February 2012 still rumble on to this day – a horrific sexual threat was made against me, evidence of which is contained in a comment on this blog and of which the author is wholly unrepentant and still engages in sporadic bouts of social media bullying.

I am also very aware that I am a semi public figure who lives in an area noted for its tolerance (unless you are homeless) and no doubt it could be claimed that by posting in support of this campaign I am being reckless and putting my family at risk.

Surely this is the only bigotry at work here – people who are ideologically opposed to a traditional view of marriage are determined to impose their version of marriage and beliefs upon us, by fear and threats.

The government may be imposing this new definition of marriage upon us but they fail to understand that there are many who will not accept this and who will refuse to refer to gay relationships as marriage – certainly the definition is not anything that I had previously understood as marriage and not what I consented to when I got married. If any further proof were needed, we can see how the government has changed the understanding of the word and institution by its continued tortuous attempts at formulating the correct legal wording.

Numerous studies show that the best outcomes are achieved by children who are brought in a relationship where their birth parents are married. All other studies use marriage as a benchmark and attempt to prove that a same-sex relationship is as good. (The Iona Institute has much definitive research and evidence based peer-reviewed studies on this matter.)

Now one can deny evidence, or argue the toss over it as much as you like, but doesn’t democracy allow us to express our views, no matter how deluded and demented that others might think them. To attempt to prevent a campaign group from stating that they do not want a new vision of marriage imposed upon them is the only bigotry at work. Although of course bigot is becoming an impotent and redundant term.

It could be argued that posting this link is provocative and confrontational, but it perfectly expresses the views of this household. To refuse to post it accepts the climate of fear attempting to be imposed upon us. Time to batten down the hatches.


Three parent embryos – an unholy Trinity

A little late in posting this – taken from the Catholic Universe dated Sunday July 7


The news that the UK looks set to become the first country to allow the creation of babies using DNA from three people, has caused many of us to instinctively shudder with horror and not simply because of the obvious contravention to Catholic ethics.

The concerns about this new technology go way beyond the creation of human life in a laboratory, which infringes a child’s right to be ‘the fruit of the specific act of conjugal love of his parents’ (CC2378). The mooted technique aims to eliminate mitochondrial disease, an inherited genetic conditions that occurs due to mutations found in the mother’s DNA. Whereas most DNA is located inside the nucleus of a woman’s egg, mitochondria is found in the surrounding material, hence the therapy aims to transplant the healthy nucleus from the egg of a woman with mitochondrial abnormalities into that of a second woman who is unaffected, or alternatively transplant the nucleus of an already fertilised embryo, into another. In both cases, the existing nucleus will have been removed, but in the case of transplanting cells from fertilised embryos, it will entail the destruction of two human lives, in order to create a third.

This wholesale discarding of human life is an issue that is frequently overlooked when discussing IVF treatment. According to statistics released by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in December 2012, 3.5 million embryos have been created in the UK over the past 21 years of which only 6% have resulted in pregnancies. A staggering 1.7 million embryos have been thrown away – it is no wonder that Lord Alton, a crossbench peer, describes this as the creation and destruction of life as being in ‘industrial numbers’.

The commodification and destruction of life is not the only human issue at stake. A substantial number of human eggs will be required to be harvested for this therapy, a process that is often painful and risky, also occasioning potential future psychological effects. It is likely that it will be vulnerable and desperate women who are cash-strapped, perhaps students struggling under a mountain of debt as well as those already experiencing infertility who will be lured into egg donation in return for a free cycle of IVF treatment.

 And that’s before we get to the core of the issue as to whether or not it is ethically acceptable to be genetically engineering human life and altering the genetic code of future generations? What will be the long-term physical and psychological impact upon those conceived by three parents? Attempts at cloning using nucleus transfer have proven unsuccessful in humans and highly dangerous in animals with a high proportion of spontaneous abortions and offspring born with abnormalities and limited life spans. Any unpredicted genetic problems would then be passed on to future generations. A baby born with three sets of DNA is still a human being of equal dignity and worth and yet will be treated and regarded as an anomaly or human guinea pig requiring lifelong monitoring.

When focusing upon the potential benefits of this technique, the geneticists involved have been very swift to point out the devastating consequences for those affected with mitochondrial disease with a succession of women who have tragically suffered multiple miscarriages or lost babies in infancy, being paraded in the press, who would avail themselves of the procedure were it to be available. It would take a heart of stone not to feel for these women or those individuals who are living with the daily consequences of mitochondrial disease, but genetic engineering is of scant comfort to existing sufferers. It does nothing to cure these illness or alleviate their symptoms. Researching treatments and supporting families of sufferers would be a more appropriate use of funds. The possibility of three parents embryo won’t help new parents who have just received a devastating diagnosis.

Given that it is estimated that around ten couples a year would use the procedure, it raises questions as to whether or not there is some other agenda at work here, as scientific pioneers are dependent upon being able to promote their work to those funding them, the public and decision makers, in order to obtain the regulatory changes and grants to continue and extend their work. The heart-rending cases that we are presented with as a justification are thankfully rare, but even if they were not, we should not allow disability to act as a barrier to being born, especially when it comes with such a high human price tag.

 In common with other life issues, we are being sold a treacherous slippery slope, one that opens up the possibility of genetically modifying pre-born human beings on the grounds that this will affect a tiny proportion of people and as being necessary on the grounds of compassion. How long before other genetic traits are able to be identified and modified before birth? We are not yet in Brave New World territory, but legislation to approve 3 parent embryos takes us another step towards it.