Incorrect pre-natal diagnoses

Recently when the largely manufactured ‘scandal’ surrounding pro-life counselling and crisis pregnancy centres (CPCS) hit the headlines, some members of the pro-life movement were extremely keen to denounce un-scientific or allegedly un-ethical practice and disassociate themselves from such groups, in order that they would not be tarred with the same brush.

While this was understandable in many ways, I have come to the conclusion that harsh and over-the-top criticisms (of which I have been personally guilty myself) should be avoided where possible and any  public critique or correction should be done with charity. With that in mind, it is nonetheless important that if the pro-life movement wants to be afforded any credibility, that we do not seek to ignore or brush under the carpet any errors but rather confront the charges often laid at our door by pro-choicers and if they have any validity, publicly seek to address any shortcomings both in terms of attitudes, approaches and information given out to women.

It is in this spirit that I therefore wish to offer the following comment.

This morning, a story has appeared in the Daily Mail, regarding the case of a pregnant woman who was seconds away from taking pills to terminate her pregnancy following a diagnoses of pre-natal death. Fortunately the mother insisted upon a second scan when she returned to the hospital a few days later which demonstrated that her baby was in fact alive. The little girl has now been born, is making good progress despite being born with some congenital abnormalities, the NHS trust involved has come to an out of court settlement and most importantly changed their procedures to ensure that women are always given access to a second scan to confirm the original diagnoses before taking any action to end the pregnancy.

Admittedly I am extremely sensitive about this topic, not least because it is about now that I would have been giving birth to our baby Raphael, had he or she lived. Nonetheless, it was disappointing to see this story being picked up and spun by the normally responsible Life Charity, as follows:

I’m not denying that it is an important pro-life story and no doubt it will be picked by SPUC in their regular news round-up, however there is little point in highlighting a problem, without suggesting a viable solution. The point which is being missed, not only by the Daily Mail, but also by LIFE, is not that a woman should have multiple scans as screening is allegedly often wrong, rather that she should have access to a second independent expert opinion, as soon as possible after the original diagnosis.

In the case of Mrs Wiggins, the lady featured in the story, she should not have been sent home without a second opinion or confirmation as to the status of the baby. A second scan should not be offered days later, or immediately preceding a termination, but on the same day as the diagnosis. No woman beyond 10 weeks in pregnancy should be sent home with a provisional diagnosis that her baby has probably died but she needs to come back a few days later or in a week’s time to confirm.

If you are told that your baby has died, you should be in no doubt whatsoever, and, to be fair, cases like this are thankfully rare. Recently there has been a question mark over the diagnoses of early miscarriages, which means that organisations concerned with maternal health need to work together to ensure that existing guidelines are adhered to and the advice given to women should include advice to seek a second opinion as well as a wait and see approach before terminating a suspected silent miscarriage in the very early stages, where there is often a margin of error in terms of  dates and measurements.

I found the story distressing, as would any woman who had experienced a silent miscarriage, because like Mrs Wiggins I only had one scan and this therefore raises the horrifying possibility that I may have terminated a living child. In my case I am as confident as I can ever be that the baby had died, for a number of reasons. Firstly, the person carrying out the scan spent quite a long time examining the baby in silence before telling me that there was no heartbeat and I could see for myself that the baby was not moving. Secondly, the scan was not carried about by a midwife on a maternity ward, but a qualified  radiographer who specialised in ultrasound. Thirdly, her diagnosis was not only confirmed by her colleague recording the measurements, but a third party, whom she immediately telephoned and asked them to come to verify her findings. So while the scan  took place on a single occasion, it was confirmed by 3 different medical professionals.

This should be the model of care for all women in order to minimse distress and enable them to take the decision as to their next course of action. In my case what continued to cause distress, was due to the fact that this had occurred at the end of the first trimester, my body had not acknowledged that the baby had died and so was continuing to chuck out pregnancy hormones meaning that the foetal sac was still growing and I was still feeling pregnant and growing larger. As can be imagined I am acutely sensitive to any suggestion that I may have inadvertently killed a healthy baby, as would most women be who were in a similar situation. Casting doubt over whether or not the diagnoses were correct, is irresponsible unless you are going to offer supportive resources.

Which is why pro-life groups need to ensure that they don’t jump on sensational stories which could compound the hurt and distress of women, but offer a measured response, including reassurance that these cases are in the minority and that if there is room for any doubt, then women should not rush to terminate a suspected silent miscarriage. Better still join forces with miscarriage support groups to campaign for better treatment.

What doesn’t help is using this case to cast doubt upon the reliability of pre-natal screening. Recently there have been some notable mistakes with parents mistakenly told that their babies are disabled, but in the majority of cases, the diagnoses are correct and parents take the agonising decision to abort after several detailed scans at a later stage. While we must objectively state that such abortions cannot be condoned, neither should we do anything to compound the grief and trauma of the parents, including casting doubt on pre-natal screening and diagnoses.

Pre-natal screening is not in an of itself an evil – so long as it is used for therapeutic effect, to heal and cure babies and advance the cause of fetal and neo-natal medicine which should be curative. While we should be wary that there is scope for error, neither should we reject screening as unhelpful or out of hand. Personally if one of my children were to be born with a disability I would want to know in order that we could adequately prepare and be in a position to support our child and provide optimum care.

The right of disabled babies and children to life, should not be conflated with issues surrounding misdiagnosis and pre-natal screening not least because it runs the risk of implicitly condoning or justifying those cases where the diagnoses is correct.

Pointing out that sometimes mistakes in pre-natal screening can occur should always be accompanied by relevant advice and support in case you are affected by these issues. It’s always tempting to maximise the pro-life element of these stories and jump on the outrage bandwagon but not always the most responsible course of action.

Pro-life must always be pro-woman, it must remember that it has a duty of care to all women, which includes those of us who have experienced the pain of miscarriage and abortion. That must by necessity include telling the truth but neither must it install a sense of fear, panic or distress in those who are struggling in the aftermath of losing a child, but instead offer sensible advice, reassurance and accurate medical information and access to counselling and healing for women who may be affected.

Oxford pro-life witness: that’s how to do it!

Since 2007, a group of pro-lifers in Oxford have regularly met once a month to stand outside the entrance to the John Radcliffe hospital in order to silently bear witness to the sanctity of human life.

Their vigil takes place at the weekend, when no abortions take place, therefore they cannot be accused of harassing or distressing pregnant women and neither can they be accused of causing a breach of the peace – their witness is entirely peaceful.

Recently they have attracted the attention and ire of pro-choice activists, who have angrily tried to disrupt the witness, getting up close and personal, quite literally in the face of those standing in silent solidarity. This video footage is extremely telling – what strikes me are the tactics of intimidation attempted by the pro-choicers, who are without a doubt the aggressors here; attempting to close down a peaceful legal event, prevent freedom of expression and then quite unbelievably and perhaps predictably, claiming victim status.

Joseph Shaw has uploaded the photos of the event to his Flickr stream here.

This is exactly how pro-life witness should take place, quietly, peacefully, en masse and without making the pro-life movement vulnerable to spurious claims of harassment. It is patently obvious that no harassment or provocation by the part of the pro-lifers has taken place and yet the handful of protestors intent on disrupting the witness nevertheless audaciously attempt to claim otherwise.

The other interesting point to note here is that, to the best of my knowledge, this witness has not been organised by any of the major pro-life charities or lobby-groups, this is activism at its best, a group of like-minded people getting together to take some practical action. This kind of thing  reminds us that actually that in some situations we don’t need to be sheep, waiting to be herded and marshalled into action by someone else or an official group, complaining that ‘nothing ever gets done’. Provided we stay within the precepts of the law, then there is nothing to stop similar witnesses taking place up and down the country and this is precisely what vigils such as Forty Days for Life are attempting to achieve.

For those who mutter about whether or not vigils are the best tactic to win hearts and minds or are ‘effective’, once again I want to scream at you – ‘prayer is never wasted’.  Furthermore I’d also wonder whether or not succumbing to secular unease about prayer in the public square is advisable. Only one group of people stand to benefit from fewer public pro-life vigils and it isn’t the vulnerable pregnant women!

Finally, there has been a lot of chatter on social media over the past few weeks regarding attempts to disassociate the pro-life moment from overt displays of religiosity, in order to make it more ‘inclusive’. I would strongly agree that there needs to be more secular initiatives, a pro-life attitude does not require any recourse to theism as several atheist or even wiccan pro-life colleagues of mine would testify. I agree that pro-life sentiment needs to move beyond being perceived as being solely within the realms of ‘religious whackjobs’, which is why we have several official non-religious pro-life charities and lobby groups, which incidentally, does not make them immune from attack. The abortion ideologues will attack from whatever angle they can, they simply find the religious stereotype the easiest one to deal with.

What the above video demonstrates however, is the effectiveness of these witnesses  – how a group of people standing in silent solidarity or singing a simple timeless Latin chant can arouse such irrational anger. Obviously they are thought to be dangerous in terms of swaying public opinion  -why else would these handful of extremists go to such lengths to counter their message and issue empty threats?

What those within the pro-life movement need to remember is that while some may not been inclined towards overt displays of religiosity (although I know of several pagans who participate in 40 Days for Life), attempts to remove or conceal prayer, are misguided. Pro-life is never purely about the politics or PR, it will always for the Christian involve prayer and practical action.

Furthermore Catholics are the core constituents in the movement, the ones most likely to give of both their time and their money and as shown above, the ones most inclined to actually get off their backside and do something, whether that be attending a vigil, volunteering with or donating to a pro-life charity, or organising some sort of fund-raiser. It is never a matter of mere ideology. Efforts to be inclusive, should not write off or alienate the stalwarts such as the good people in this video in their well-intentioned aim to soften the sceptic and hardened neo-liberal hearts.

Congratulations to all those involved in Oxford – cages are obviously being rattled.

(Note the amount of young women taking part; quite a contrast from the middle-aged feminists and the man ludicrously holding the ‘my body, my choice’ banner).

Rejecting the frame

Since I wrote yesterday’s post regarding the brouhaha surrounding pro-life Crisis Pregnancy Counselling Centres, (CPCs) some valuable additional information has come to light.

Speaking with one of the groups involved yesterday, it appears that all is not quite as would seem in terms of this ‘damning’ video coverage. Firstly, the undercover reporter made 4 separate visits to the counselling centre and repeatedly pushed the issue with regards to breast cancer. Not having got what she wanted, they then went to find another centre who would indeed tell them what they wanted to hear, although it’s worth replaying the video recording or watching if you have not already done so. What was said, was not the most scientific, but neither was it the most outrageous lie.

With hindsight we can think of better ways that this information could be phrased and instead of  pro-life groups splitting into factions, actually we all ought to be supporting each other in terms of developing best practice. It’s not often that I agree with   SPUC, but in this instance, Paul Tully’s statement regarding groups who provide pro-life counselling for women, is bang on the money. They are truly heroic. Unlike the abortion clinics or sex education providers they receive absolutely no government money (which calls into question the whole issue as to whether or not they should be regulated) and they provide help and assistance to women on the very fringes of society, typically those in low socio-economic groups who do not qualify for any sort of government help. Pro-life counselling groups, do not just counsel but they provide very real support, such as money, housing, shelter, accommodation, employment and skills-based training, life-skills and in some cases literally put food on the table for starving pregnant women. Their support is wholly unconditional, if you are pregnant and going to suffer as a result of carrying your pregnancy to term, they will provide support for you for as long as you need it.

One has to ask how representative this video tape is of an ordinary undecided pregnant woman’s experience. If the groups are guilty of anything it is of naivety, although my understanding is that they regularly receive time-wasting visitors, whom they are able to see off at the first pass, who ask suspicious questions and repeatedly request to be shown graphic images. That is not the typical reaction of a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy and neither is an in-depth grilling on potential negative consequences of abortion.

That is not to defend the the poor phrasing or, misleading information but interestingly the Telegraph reports have not included any of the accompanying literature which does include some of the statistics.

We should also remember what counselling is – as Jack Scarisbrook of LIFE said a few years ago, it is not about imparting information, but allowing a safe space away from pressures for a woman to consider all of her options. A Catholic group may well take issue with the idea of non-directive counselling, because the counsellor must allow a woman to come to her own decision, even if that entails aborting her baby. However where counselling is provided by a group like LIFE for example, it is highly likely that a woman who has come to explore her options is undecided and therefore the counsellor will help her uncover the negative feelings about her pregnancy and decide whether or not they are valid, without actually advocating any course of action. It is undeniable that a woman who is feeling unsure about whether or not to abort, when given a safe opportunity to explore her feelings will more often than not choose a positive outcome for her baby.

In terms of Catholic counselling, the idea that women are pushed, cajoled, or pressurised is again a fallacious one. A counselling session will not force a woman who is unwilling to continue her pregnancy to term, to do so. The only  ‘damage’ which could be done, is that having had her conscience pricked and been exposed to a point of view which seeks to emphasise the humanity of the unborn, she could then be more prone to feelings of guilt, which begs the question as to whether or not the decision was indeed the right one for her. Guilt does not simply spring from someone pointing out an opposing ideological stance.

As to the medical data this is always supplementary information and incidental to the main decision which is always ‘can I cope with a pregnancy and young baby at this point in time’,  but so long as it is presented factually and accurately, then it would be doing a great disservice to women to deny that issues and complications can and do arise post-abortion. Cases of women who were persuaded against abortion purely because of health risks are rare, although Courtney Kardashian seems to have been swayed and has not as yet expressed any regrets. In fact she consulted her doctor to learn more about the risks who said this:

“My doctor told me there is nothing you will ever regret about having the baby, but he was like, ‘You may regret not having the baby.’ And I was like: That is so true. And it just hit me. I got so excited”

How very unscientific! How very ideological! How dare he give her such an opinion, instead of a neutral assessment of the data!

And this is the point. If the NHS was subject to secret filming of what was said to patients there would be a scandal on a daily basis. Medical staff are instructed to give you information in clear, plain and understandable English, instead of lapsing into scientific jargon. They are supposed to couch things in terms one can understand. Of course they shouldn’t come out with falsehoods or give you an opinion upon a best course of action, but they frequently do and often in very strong terms.

This is often at its most pronounced in terms of pregnancy – I have frequently been told in a very forceful manner what I ought to do both in terms of how I should deliver a child and contraceptive measures. In two pregnancies, I have been advised that I ought to consider abortion by members of the NHS on what constituted social grounds, namely the spacing of my children. Like many Catholic women we have received the obligatory hectoring post childbirth about our ‘irresponsible’ use of Fertility Awareness. Frankly that is infinitely worse than what we have seen in the pro-life counselling centres yet this happens on a daily basis on the NHS. Clinical judgement always brings an element of personal opinion into the equation. Telling a woman that she ought to have an abortion and then, as happened in my pregnancy in 2012, that she ought to go for counselling to consider it further when I refused, is in many ways worse as there is little choice when it comes to whether or not to use the NHS and staff judgement carries considerable authority.

All this worry and angst is solely driven by the pro-choice brigade – god forbid that a woman may feel anything less than wonderful following an abortion. No-one wants to see post-abortive women punished or made to go through unnecessary anxiety, but neither should pro-choice be allowed to dictate the framework here, which is one of medicalising an issue of moral judgement and closing down any viewpoint which seeks to persuade that abortion could in any way be wrong.

Two years ago, Telegraph columnist Tim Stanley wrote a fascinating piece about the success of the pro-life lobby in America, noting that they had borrowed the left’s language of health and safety and used regulation to good effect in terms of forcing clinics to ensure women’s safety. The reverse is happening over here. The liberal establishment are propping up the government-funded abortion and sex education industry to make morals a matter of medics. We are seeing this in campaigns for statutory sex education and best practice which seek to exclude parents who may not share the state agenda or curriculum in providing the correct ideology and now we see it in terms of the abortion industry and counselling which needs to be on the clinics’ terms.

Pro-lifers should not capitulate or hand-wring, counsellors need to ensure that they get their house in order, that women are given the facts and information that they need but neither should we forget that at least two lives are always at stake.

Crisis pregnancy centres ‘scandal’

Perhaps in an attempt to be ‘balanced’ following their excellent exposes of breaches of the law carried out by abortion clinics in 2012, the Daily Telegraph have decided to set their sights on the other side of the coin, and targeted pro-life crisis pregnancy centres as being their latest target of ire.

The formidable investigative journalism carried out by the Telegraph last year, never sat particularly well with their attempt to hitch their wagon to the online feminism zeitgeist. There was always some dissonance between their condemnation of gender-selective abortion and wholesale abuses of the law such as clinics having batches of forms pre-signed by doctors who would never actually have any contact with the patient, let alone examine them, and the timbre of articles carried in their new Wonder Women section, launched last year, which has been populated by predominantly pro-choice feminists.

Emma Barnett, editor of Telegraph Wonder-Women, has written 5 articles in the past 24 hours, busting ‘abortion myths’, reporting unscientific things said in two crisis pregnancy centres, outraging women by reporting on how people could be scarred for life or be manipulated into taking a certain decision, by non regulated pregnancy centres. There’s another op ed by deputy women’s editor, Lousia Peacock, breathily mouthing “since when did Britain become pro-life America?

Screenshot 2014-02-11 13.00.53

Perhaps having failed in their previous attempts to force discussion, the Telegraph are looking for an easy ‘win’ such as the crisis pregnancy centres, however despite their interactive map, showing the location of every single crisis pregnancy centre, they have only been able to find two, who gave out contentious information. How many other centres did they actually attend? Acres of bandwidth and ink will be spilt with post-abortive women justifying their decision, and saying how harmful it would have been if anyone told them it was wrong or how they felt guilty, however will anyone talk to those women who feel that they were bounced into abortion and not given comprehensive information by abortion clinics? And if a woman feels guilty following an abortion, blaming those who gave her an alternative point of view which pricked her conscience is dishonest. Autonomy means taking control and owning our decisions, no matter what someone else may think of them. So another woman may choose not to abort following a session at a CPC. What’s the biggie? Is it really such a worry if women decide not to abort because they are worried about the physical risks?

Before we go any further, let’s consider the accusations and their implications. Emma Barnett is concerned that women may be persuaded to keep their babies upon the basis of unsound scientific evidence. It’s not up there with aborting a baby because of their gender or not even bothering to examine a patient, or follow proper safeguards which could prevent a coerced or forced abortion. Only last week one organisation tweeted that they had spotted a woman being shouted at by a male  and hustled to get inside the clinic, when she appeared to be hesitating.

While women facing crises have a right to access reliable and factual information, the decision as to whether or not to have an abortion will always be based upon her own subjective ideology and interpretation of her circumstances. She will put her own interpretative lens on the science, whether that be with regards to the humanity of the fetus, or the weighing up of risks.

The accusation that having an abortion will make women child sex abusers is sensational and not what was actually said, which was as follows:

 “an increased statistical likelihood of child abuse” because women had to break “natural barriers that are around the child that you don’t cross” in order to terminate a pregnancy.

There is a link between abortion and mental health problems, including depression, substance abuse, violence, replacement pregnancies and difficulties in bonding with subsequent children. That is not to say that every single woman who has an abortion is going to experience such difficulties, but these are also factors which are linked to child abuse. Nowhere did the counsellor mention that the abuse would be of a sexual nature, emotional abuse can be every bit as damaging and neither did she say that this was a foregone conclusion or inevitability. There are individual clinical assessments linking post-abortion trauma with subsequent child abuse. (1)

While this might not be the wisest thing to say, neither is it as outrageous as the headlines would suggest. I would baulk at the suggestion that due to an abortion I am at risk of abusing my precious children, (the root of abuse is complex, abortion can be but one factor in the sequelae) but I would openly accept and acknowledge that the anti-natal depression I experienced in all of my pregnancies, especially the unplanned ones, have their root in the fact that I aborted my first baby. In any event, the counsellor in no way said that post-abortive women are likely to sexually abuse children.

In terms of the breast cancer link, an extremely recent meta-analysis of studies of Chinese women having induced abortions (as is common due to the one child policy) showed that just one abortion will increase the risk of breast cancer by 44%.  Two abortion will increase the risk by 76% and the risk will almost double following three abortions or more. The meta-analysis covered 36 studies, covering 14 provinces in China, comparing the risk of breast cancer amongst post-abortive women and those who had never had an abortion. This came following a similar study in Bangladesh indicating that women who had an abortion were 20% more at risk of developing breast cancer. The Chinese study was published in a prestigious medical journal Cancer Causes Control, confirmed the pioneering work of Dr Joel Brind and challenged the consensus held by professional bodies such as the Royal College of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians. There are now over 50 studies showing a positive link between breast cancer and abortion – these cannot be ignored.

One can argue over the statistical analysis, as indeed a leading  male pro-choicer frequently attempts to do, but the science is simple.

Induced abortion boosts breast cancer risk because it stops the normal physiological changes in the breast that occur during a full term pregnancy and that lower a mother’s breast cancer risk. A woman who has a full term pregnancy at 20 has a 90% lower risk of breast cancer than a woman who waits until age 30.

Breast tissue after puberty and before a term pregnancy is immature and cancer-vulnerable. Seventy five percent of this tissue is Type 1 lobules where ductal cancers start and 25 percent is Type 2 lobules where lobular cancers start. Ductal cancers account for 85% of all breast cancers while lobular cancers account for 12-15% of breast cancers.

As soon as a woman conceives, the embryo secretes human chorionic gonadotrophin or hCG, the hormone we check for in pregnancy tests.

HCG causes the mother’s ovaries to increase the levels of estrogen and progesterone in her body resulting in a doubling of the amount of breast tissue she has; in effect, she then has more Type 1 and 2 lobules where cancers start.

After mid pregnancy at 20 weeks, the fetus/placenta makes hPL, another hormone that starts maturing her breast tissue so that it can make milk. It is only after 32 weeks that she has made enough of the mature Type 4 lobules that are cancer resistant so that she lowers her risk of breast cancer.

Induced abortion before 32 weeks leaves the mother’s breast with more vulnerable tissue for cancer to start. It is also why any premature birth before 32 weeks, not just induced abortion, increases or doubles breast cancer risk.

By the end of her pregnancy, 85% of her breast tissue is cancer resistant. Each pregnancy thereafter decreases her risk a further 10%.

Spontaneous abortions in the first trimester on the other hand don’t increase breast cancer risk because there is something wrong with the embryo, so hCG levels are low. Another possibility is that something is wrong with the mother’s ovaries and the estrogen and progesterone levels are low. When those hormones are low, the mother’s breasts do not grow and change.

Pointing this out to women is not harmful or manipulative – if we are talking about making an informed decision, why should a woman not be made aware of the significant consensus of medical opinion that holds that abortion carries a breast cancer risk. Why should she be deemed incapable of interpreting the information for herself, even if she decides to ignore it, or comes to the conclusion that it is flawed?

The other ‘scandalous’ piece of advice is that abortion can increase the risk of infertility or carrying a future pregnancy to term. Clearly the stat of 25% is wrong, there is no need to make fallacious claims and to do so damages the pro-life cause, however it would be wrong to deny that abortion carries no medical risk, especially if it is surgical; there is always a risk of infection and scarring when introducing surgical instruments into bodily cavities. Anecdote is not the plural of data, but a friend of mine had difficult conceiving following the removal of a Fallopian tube due to an ectopic pregnancy. The ectopic pregnancy was caused by scarring – she had previously had three abortions. Someone else I know of reported cervical scarring requiring emergency surgery post an abortion. When she reported excruciating pain and bleeding immediately following the surgery, the clinic were disinterested. I was warned of the risk of uterine rupture when offered a surgical procedure following the death of our unborn baby – why would abortion be any different?

Furthermore any injuries, complications or infections post abortion are not counted in official statistics if they present or are reported once the woman has left the abortion clinic premises. If you go to the doctor or A&E with a post operative infection following an abortion, it will not be included in the clinic’s official figures.

Pointing out associated risks to abortion is no different to an anaesthetist being filmed pointing out the risks of surgery or anaesthetic or a pharmacist reading out the manufacturer’s leaflet that accompanies medication. Pro-lifers should not undermine their authority with incorrect information, there is no need to do so, we should condemn this practice, but it is irresponsible reporting to over sensationalise what was actually said.

Naturally the Telegraph’s report has caused a massive media sensation, with calls for these centres to be shut down and monitored because they do not provide ‘medically accurate’ information. Abortion is rarely simply a medical decision, there has not been a case in the UK of a woman needing to have an abortion to save her life, for many many years, it is always a moral judgement, which takes into account various clinical factors.

It is impossible to take a neutral stance upon abortion from a counselling perspective, even if you are supporting a woman to come to her own decision, regardless of what that decision is, that is in itself an ideological stance, taking the view that whatever a woman decides is right. We don’t apply such reasoning in other circumstances, it is not deemed acceptable to terminate a full term pregnancy on the grounds of gender for example, simply because a woman decides that it is not right for her.

Every single organisation that provides abortion counselling has an agenda of some sort or another. One cannot shut down organisations who are aiming to counsel women with crisis pregnancies simply because they are not providing what is deemed to be ‘acceptable’ medical interpretation. Where clinics are providing erroneous information then obviously they need to sharpen up their practice, but it’s likely that organisations such as these will soon establish a bad reputation locally. Ultimately no-one forces women to attend them, no-one forces women to listen to their advice and no-one forces a woman to continue an unwanted pregnancy, not even these allegedly reckless organisations.

It is also grossly unfair of the Telegraph to conflate independent local organisations with LIFE, who regardless of where one stands on their counselling provision, are accredited by BCAP and for good or ill provide non directive counselling.

If a woman wants an abortion, the Telegraph has demonstrated how easy it is for her to obtain one, no questions asked, paid for by the NHS up until 24 weeks.

Throwing in the old canards about being linked to religious organisations and throwing in the inevitable comparisons to the US (which allowed butchers such as Kermit Gosnell to operate) is an attempt to whip up fear, as is the mandatory reference to 40 days for life, who have successfully been conducting peaceful incident free vigils for the past four years in the UK. There has been no incidents of pro-life violence, nor are there any proposed bills limiting abortion in the offing, so the comparisons with the US are moot.

When I was pregnant with the baby I aborted, Marie Stopes gave me no medical information whatsoever, aside from what the procedure would entail, which they massively downplayed. I did not even know that I was receiving ‘counselling’. I told the counsellor why I wanted an abortion and she nodded grimly, adding that I had no choice and was not equipped to have a baby, it would be irresponsible. Impartial medical advice or ideological?

Why shouldn’t a religious organisation attempt to promote an alternative point of view which might persuade women that not only can they keep their babies but they are capable of being good mothers? Why can’t an organisation propose the point of view that a woman is at risk of harm from abortion?

This is an attempt to close down any point of view which might seek to persuade a pregnant woman that abortion is the wrong decision, using a contentious definition of ‘harm’. It is never harmful for a woman to decide not to kill her unborn baby, only a paternalism or totalitarianism would state otherwise. Who are we to decide that women shouldn’t be advised that abortion is not a good option, whether that be on ideological, moral or medical grounds?

The only real scandal here is that the failure to acknowledge compelling medical evidence linking breast cancer to abortion and the refusal to include post abortion complications presented after leaving the clinic in official statistics.

The scandal is trying to pretend that the decision to abort is solely a medical or clinical one and that arguments about the development or humanity of the foetus are irrelevant. The scandal is the attempt to deny that abortion can cause very real harm to women. The scandal is the attempt to close down debate on the harmful effects of abortion and deprive women of all the information they need. And if no organisation with any abortion activists should be allowed to give advice, as Nadine Dorries proposes, that would rule out abortion clinics too, who actively promote and market abortion. The head of BPAS is a frequent public abortion apologist.

The outrage being whipped up here is that a woman facing an unplanned or crisis pregnancy  might be told that abortion is not alright, is not the solution,  ends the life of an unborn child and could cause her long term harm. And that would never do.

(1) Benedict, et al., “Maternal Perinatal Risk Factors and Child Abuse,” Child Abuse and Neglect, 9:217-224 (1985); P.G. Ney, “Relationship between Abortion and Child Abuse,” Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 24:610-620, 1979; Reardon, Aborted Women – Silent No More (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1987), 129-30, describes a case of woman who beat her three year old son to death shortly after an abortion which triggered a “psychotic episode” of grief, guilt, and misplaced anger.

What’s changed since 1967?

women exploited by abortion
As true now as it was then

The abortion laws in this country are clearly in a mess. For the past eighteen months the media has confirmed what most people who have ever experienced an abortion know to be the case – namely that we have abortion on demand, with the provisions of the 1967 Abortion Act totally ignored.

Nothing better illustrates the ‘slippery slope’ argument than the story of the abortion narrative in the UK. Brought in under the auspices of compassion, in a misguided attempt to prevent the handful of tragic deaths resulting from illegal abortions in either unsanitary conditions and/or performed by unskilled amateurs, the Abortion Act nonetheless recognised the inherent right to life of the unborn child and prescribed a series of strict criteria under which abortion could be performed. Abortion was treated as such a serious matter that it required the signature of two separate doctors in order to prevent abuses and exploitation of vulnerable women. Two doctors were supposed to rigidly assess the medical facts presented before them and use their  judgement as qualified professionals as to the medical ethics of abortion in a particular given set of difficult circumstances.

The law that was brought in as a result of a determined pressure group, was designed to be strictly applied to a limited  number of women on the grounds of compassion, in circumstances where it was believed that there was little other choice, has mutated into an industry responsible for almost 200,000 abortions a year. Of the 97% funded by the NHS, 62% are subcontracted out to the private sector and a staggering £1 million a week is spent on repeat abortions. Even Lord Steel, one of the architects of the 1967 Abortion Act said that he “never envisaged that there would be so many abortions”. Speaking today, following the revelation that in only 46% of cases is there a record that a doctor has met the woman seeking an abortion to check that she is able to give fully formed consent, he described these figures as ‘regrettable’ and ‘against the Spirit of the 1967 Act’.

As the Daily Telegraph has repeatedly demonstrated with numerous exposes, the carefully-crafted rhetoric of abortion being purely a complex medical decision between a woman facing a seemingly impossible dilemma and her doctor, is a sham. In an investigation by the Care Quality Commission, clinics and hospitals were discovered operating illegal practices such as having batches of forms pre-signed by two doctors. In another investigation clinics were found to be offering to perform illegal later-stage gender selective abortions of baby girls.

This week the hypocrisy of the feminist movement has once again been laid bare, which keeps quiet over the abortion of baby girls, stating that women’s choice has to be paramount, the reason for terminating a pregnancy is irrelevant, what matters most is the woman’s decision itself, given that it is her who will be tasked with completing her pregnancy, giving birth to a child and presumably raising him or her. It begs the inevitable question as to whether or not they would still continue to insist that it is always a woman’s choice should a woman wish to abort her child on the equally unsavoury grounds that they would be of a certain race, or if an ante-natal test for sexuality were to be discovered. As the law currently stands, it is perfectly acceptable to terminate a baby up until the moment of their birth on the grounds of disability; in practice, if you discover that you are not having the longed-for gender, it is permissible to abort your baby for the lack or addition of a penis, up until the 24 week mark.

According to a story in the Independent, gender selective abortion in socially progressive Britain has reduced the population of women from ethnic minority groups by up to as many as 4,700.

The government’s response to such abuses of the law, is staggering, rather than to enforce and tighten up on the law as it currently stands, especially in relation to gender-selective abortions, their answer is to loosen it yet further and remove the requirement for a woman seeking an abortion to even seek a doctor. Furthermore a doctor will not need to give individual requests consideration before approving them.

So in effect a woman may, for whatever reason, decide that she wants to destroy her unborn child and she will therefore be given licence to do so, irrespective of the circumstances. Far from being an advancement in the cause of women’s rights, this is an abuser’s charter, giving green lights to statutory rapists in relationships with girls under the age of consent, as well as anyone else who seeks to force, coerce or pressurise a woman into an abortion.

The law was drafted precisely to protect vulnerable women, removing the requirement for this to be seen by two independent doctors, does nothing but harm the cause of women. I speak from a personal perspective of someone who had the experience of a rubber-stamped, no-questions- asked-abortion. No-one questioned me, however gently as to whether I was really aware of what I was doing, or informed me as to the potential future physical and emotional repercussions. Neither did they prepare me for the horrors of the procedure of itself and its immediate aftermath. I saw a GP just once, who referred the whole thing onto Marie Stopes.

It was assumed that I knew what I wanted and knew what I was doing. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I believe that had I been correctly counselled, with all options laid out in front of me, and possible future consequences, along with the ethical considerations, I would now be the proud mother of a seventeen year old young adult. In all of my subsequent pregnancies I have suffered from mild to severe crippling ante-natal depression. It doesn’t take Freud to work out why, nor can this been blamed on a religiously indoctrinated guilt complex – abortion was never discussed in religious terms at school but  couched in vague ethical terms. Prior to having an abortion I had never once seen graphic depictions, nor indeed been presented with an intelligent,  reasoned or scientific  pro-life case.

The statement “Nurses are often much better at dealing with the emotional and psychological needs of women”, from Tracey McNeill, director of Marie Stopes International, seems to pander to outdated paternalistic sexist claptrap in presuming that nurses are women. The midwife who delivered my second baby and latched her onto my breast was a male. He was more than capable of dealing with my emotional and psychological needs, as was my husband. This seems to buy into old-fashioned and unhelpful stereotypes about the gender and bedside manner of doctors. What’s needed is someone with excellent counselling skills together with bucketloads of empathy and compassion, regardless of their level of medical qualification or gender, though the thought of un-surgically experienced nurses carrying out surgical abortions, doesn’t seem to have moved us much further on from  pre-1967 practice. Mandy Rice-Davis’ infamous words come to mind: with a desperate shortage of doctors willing and able to become involved in the practice of abortion, clinics increasingly need nurse practitioners to fill the gap, hence “they would say that, wouldn’t they”?

It’s baloney. The female sonographer who roughly manhandled me and spoke in monosyllabic grunts when performing a pre-abortion ultrasound was hardly in tune with my emotional and psychological needs, neither was the ‘counsellor’, who again said so little to me, that I didn’t even realise that this was supposed to constitute an official counselling session, all she did was to nod and brusquely tell me that abortion was for the best and proceed to book in the abortion. Neither was the nurse who administered the abortion pills internally, only thinking to inform me afterwards that I would experience a ‘mini labour’ more in tune with my needs than any other medical practitioner, neither was the receptionist who shouted at me reducing me to tears and certainly not the ward nurse who expressed grim satisfied delight as I shook with fever and chills, poured with sweat and threw up, repeatedly attempting to physically force me back into bed and stop me from pacing around to alleviate my pain.

As for taking pills at home for the expulsion of the foetus, I’ve written about that before, however my experience of both medical abortion and a miscarriage is that this is a frightening and potentially dangerous procedure that requires medical supervision. A brief look at the miscarriage threads on a site such as Mumsnet, will throw up numerous stories of women panicking about the amount of pain and bloodloss experienced even when their loss is at an early stage, with a significant proportion requiring emergency treatment and in rare cases it fails. Giving women this treatment with no supervision, even if it is only for the initial stages, is reckless, prioritising the needs and capacity of the healthcare facility, before the physical health of the woman.

Ignoring the provisions  and protections of the Abortion Act caused me (and my unborn baby) irreparable harm as it has to countless women. Doubtless some women will find the requirement for two signatures an irritant, believing that they know their own mind and body, however this is about the protection of the many, including the unborn child. The question of whether it is ever ethical to terminate the life of an unborn child, to which the law says only in certain medically prescribed circumstances, is as relevant now as it was forty five years ago. Every single recent opinion poll in the UK demonstrates that women are overwhelmingly against any further liberalisation of the law.

If every case and every woman’s circumstances are different, then surely she is being let down by not having her case subject to the most stringent medical safeguards and close scrutiny by two doctors  in order to ensure that her best interests are really being served? Forty five years ago, the law decided that the unborn child merited protection, and should not be arbitrarily disposed of. What has changed to make that principle redundant?

Pope Francis’ words about the throwaway culture, even of people, embodied by abortion and euthanasia, seem more penetrating than ever.

Babies in the fridge

I’m in two minds over the effectiveness of online petitions, one the one hand they can be extremely useful in terms of raising public awareness of a particular issue, on the other, there is no guarantee of them getting to debate stage and even if they do, overwhelming public opinion seems to be ignored when MPs are voting on legislative issues. The petition against the redefinition of marriage serves as useful illustration; despite garnering over 668,000 signatures, an unprecedented number in contrast to the 66,203 signatures in favour of the redefinition, the measure comes into force on the 29th March, with my home city Brighton and Hove, likely to offer the very first ceremony, taking place in the Royal Pavillion at one minute past midnight, for a selected winner of a competition. (One of the comments on this is very telling, stating that same-sex couples have not previously had the opportunity to ‘try’ marriage).

Regardless of where one stands on the issue of same-sex marriage, democracy and public opinion do not seem to have been served well by online petitions which seem to be little more than a gimmick designed to present the illusion of democracy in action.

With that in mind, I have come across an extremely worthy online petition which due to its unsensational nature will probably receive very little support. It is unlikely that even 100,000 signatures will take this to debate stage, but it will nonetheless trigger a response and hopefully a legislative change.

The Mariposa Trust, who are responsible for the Saying GoodBye organisation who organise services of remembrance for those unborn babies lost to miscarriage in Cathedrals spread throughout the UK, are wishing to campaign to legislate for the treatment of women who are experiencing miscarriage.

Saying Goodbye offers Anglican Services, which unsurprisingly are often customised with secular elements, nonetheless their ministry is an important one, contributing to  and consolidating a pro-life ethos in the UK, because they recognise that parents lose a baby and grieve no matter what stage in pregnancy they were in. These services give parents a formal opportunity to mark and mourn the loss of their child, which is often denied to them, thanks to the way that miscarriage is dealt with by hospitals.

While it is not right to attempt to claim Saying Goodbye for the pro-life movement, I have no idea where the founders stand on the subject of abortion and would not wish their organisation to be leveraged, they exist purely to help bereaved parents and not to judge, nevertheless their very existence makes life uncomfortable for those who would promote early stage abortion. The issue of bereavement is a complex one, it is undoubtedly true that parents who experience miscarriage do suffer very profoundly. As do many women who have been through the process of abortion, even if it was what they believed to be the right option. This young woman describes how she cried and grieved for her baby after an early stage abortion – fortunately the medication did not work, her baby is due later this year and she bitterly regrets opting for an abortion in the first place.

Not every women who experiences an abortion will suffer from grief, however Saying Goodbye would not disbar post-abortive women from attending their services which are open to all and therefore it is highly likely that they could prove a source of comfort both to women and extended family alike. Their sensitively worded blurb, invites anyone who has experienced any type of infant loss to attend the services, no matter how historic, although they are not a specific ministry for post-abortive mothers.  We shouldn’t adopt a partisan attitude – an organisation that seeks to acknowledge and recognise the humanity inherent in the unborn child, by accepting and marking a loss, deserves our full support and makes a valuable contribution to the dignity and protection of the unborn.

Anyway, the petition itself wishes to end the practice of women being instructed by hospitals to keep the bodies of their miscarried babies in their fridge, until such time as the hospital is ready to accept the baby. This is common practice, especially at weekends and is particularly barbaric. When we lost Raphael a few months ago and were waiting to see if a miscarriage may occur spontaneously, this is what we were instructed to do and I was dreading the process of having to retrieve his or her tiny body. Woman are reporting being instructed to buy tupperware containers precisely for the purpose of storing the baby, indeed we had an ice cream tub at the ready.

The internet was a tremendous source of help and practical information which was not given to us by the hospital and upon reading various Mumsnet threads, I was horrified to discover that women are by and large expected to miscarry at home if they opt for a medical management of the procedure. I read numerous terrifying tales of women having to be blue-lighted into hospital due to excessive blood loss, as well as of incomplete procedures. Coincidentally a woman privately hooked up with me in the Brighton area who had also discovered that her baby had died. As her pregnancy was not as far as advanced as mine, she was not admitted into hospital, being given the medication to administer at home, which had not worked. She frantically messaged me to ask about bedspace and staff on the ward as she was desperate for medical attention, support and reassurance. Following repeated attempts to induce the miscarriage with medication, a process that involved several hospital trips and being what she felt was ‘fobbed off’, she ended up needing surgery six weeks later. As far as the stretched department at our local hospital was concerned, she was not in any immediate danger, her baby had died and while her distress was unfortunate, she was not a priority.

No petition is going to ease the pressure on the over-burdened NHS, however I was left with the impression that overall the standards of care for women who suffer a miscarriage are very patchy. We were fortunate to receive excellent and compassionate care, although there was a brief crisis due to a lack of available doctors and theatre at 2am, but judging by Mumsnet threads, I seem to be in the minority.

Woman are routinely encouraged not to request remains of a 13 week baby, standard procedure is that they are kept by the hospital and sent to the crematorium to be sensitively dealt with en masse with your baby’s name or details being added to a book of remembrance. Most mothers are in too much of a fug to want to think about ‘foetal remains’ as they are called and so this often seems like the easiest and most straightforward option, although from our perspective we felt a duty and responsibility to our baby to accompany them on their last journey and accord Christian burial rites and so we requested the remains.

The hospital were quite flummoxed, there were the inevitable paperwork snafus as this was an unusual request and upon leaving we were given a container with the foetus inside, they were unwilling and unable to store this for us until such time as we could arrange for burial.

And so it was that as I left the hospital in which I had given birth to three live children, leaving the floor and the lift forever associated with newborns in carseats and ante-natal appointments, clinging on to Robin feebly due to having lost almost 2 litres of blood, instead of the newborn in the carseat, Robin had the foetus in a jar in his oversized coat pocket.

We weren’t able to bury the baby for another 10 days, so for that time they remained in the fridge, which was tricky and distressing with four children in the house. It was only thanks to Robin’s contacts in the funeral industry that we knew that a tiny wicker casket could be sourced and again thanks to the support of our parish priest that we were able to lay Raphael to rest in the memorial garden/flowerbed of the church. It’s enormously comforting having a resting place.

(Trolls who suggested that I was faking or simulating my pregnancy ought to come and have a word with my husband. Likewise while you were hectoring me and writing letters in green ink to my employers because you were annoyed by some petty account for which I was not responsible and would not engage with or acknowledge, digital engagement was not a priority for me at this time, perhaps you ought to rethink that with our baby in the fridge we had other more pressing matters to think about). 

At time of writing I should be into my third trimester of pregnancy and Christmas was difficult at times – there will always be a missing stocking. The comfort of our religious faith has made this an easier time than for many, both in terms of accessing available support and the logistics of organising a burial.

No mother should be instructed to keep her baby in the fridge at any stage in gestation or for any period of time and neither should she be treated as inconvenience if she finds herself needing to access counselling services weeks later, for which there are often long NHS waiting lists. Which is why I believe that this petition is worth signing.

After Francis is it time for Pro-lifers to Pipe Down?

Taken from the Catholic Universe – 2 October 2013


The heart of pro-life work
Francis’ pro-life intentions in action

As someone whose writing has a predominantly pro-life focus, one of the questions that I have been continually asked since the papal interview is whether or not Catholic pro-lifers now need to focus their attention elsewhere instead of consistently discussing issues surrounding abortion, euthanasia and human sexuality.

Nothing better summarised the media’s confused attitude to Francis, than the reaction of the Associated Press, following his address to a group of gynecologists and obstetricians at the Vatican, in which he rejected the discarding of ‘defenceless‘ human persons through abortion. “Every unborn child, although unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of Jesus Christ, the Lord’s face,” said the pope, comparing the rejection of aborted children by the world, to the rejection of Christ and reminding doctors to ‘spread the Gospel of Life’.

The Associated Press subsequently reported the story as the Holy Father reneging on his word, a day after telling Catholics not to obsess about abortion, he allegedly did just that, by instructing doctors not to perform them. Francis’ speech was a deliberate reinforcement of his previous statement that he is a son of the church therefore doctrinal change is not on the agenda, but blindsided those who were hoping for a moratorium from the Catholic Church regarding abortion. Of course he was going to address the topic when talking to a gathering of medics whose specialism is pregnancy and childbirth, not to have done so would have been not only peculiar, but a gross dereliction of duty, it would have been the  enormous great metaphorical unspoken-of elephant in the room, what else would he have discussed – the potential for pelvic injuries sustained by the unsavoury activity of twerking?! The dangers of Miley Cyrus? It is absolutely nonsensical to think that abortion would not be top of the agenda in a gathering of Catholic medics.

 But there’s still a question as to whether or not those of us who would appear to be preoccupied with abortion, should now pipe down a little and shift our focus and efforts elsewhere, such as directly helping the poor or getting more involved with other aspects of Catholic Social Teaching? Should we put abortion or euthanasia on the back-burner, whilst we concentrate more upon direct evangelisation?

 The answer is wholly dependent upon discernment. St Paul informs us that there are a variety of gifts which can all be put to good use in service of Christ and so there is still a n important place within the Church for those who feel their vocation is defend the sanctity of life. In a country which is witness to 200,000 abortions a year and a rich and powerful celebrity-backed lobby group who are repeatedly attempting to get euthanasia on the statute books, it is imperative that the pro-life lobby continues to speak out to prevent and raise awareness as to these atrocities. We must not forget our duty of care to the most vulnerable in society and who could be more defenceless than the unborn and the elderly, terminally ill and dying?

The best method of evangelisation is not by proselytising alone, but by caritas in action and this is best demonstrated by unashamedly Catholic pro-life apostolates such as the Good Counsel Network in London and the Cardinal Winning project in Glasgow, who while not afraid to speak out about the injustice of abortion upon religious grounds, also provide vital necessities such as food, shelter, rent, help with finding work, baby equipment and emotional support for women facing crisis pregnancies. Furthermore it is Catholic organisations who provide non-judgemental support and healing ministries for women who have been hurt by abortion. Francis is not suggesting for one moment that organisations such as these need to close and if anything they are actually fulfilling the heart of his call for Gospel-based evangelisation.

What groups such as Good Counsel do, is wholly in tune with the Gospel as they address  and help each individual according to that individual’s physical and spiritual needs, whilst never once straying from the truth. Pro-life work is not just generically about dogma, but also about actually listening to people and attempting to address their needs and concerns, such as for example the post-abortive woman, instead of a mere insistence that ‘abortion is evil’ and a refusal to listen or acknowledge past wounds.

For pro-life writers and apologists such as myself, Francis’ words are challenging, although I am constantly aware that it is never enough to simply write about being open to life, one must also live this in our daily lives, which is often difficult. On one level it is simple enough to be pro-life, pro-family and to advocate this, although multiple pregnancies are no breeze, but actually pro-life writers must not forget that such a mindset includes being pro-poor and pro-immigrant. We must also ensure that we fight against less obvious political anti-life initiatives, such as the cutting of disability benefits and services, or the cuts  housing or other benefits that could adversely affect the vulnerable.

 What the pope has reminded Catholic pro-lifers is that we cannot be pro-life in isolation from our Catholicity. Just as Jesus commanded us that we must love God with all our heart and soul and from that a love for our neighbour will flow, we cannot lose sight of the fact that we are pro-life because it is part of the Gospel. Not because the pro-life cause is our sole Gospel.