Tuam Revisited

grotto-tuam
A makeshift grotto on the former site of the home at Tuam, erected over 30 years ago after bodies were first discovered.
In 2014 following the headlines which read that the bodies of almost 800 babies and children had been cast into a septic tank in a mother and baby home run by the Bon Secours sister in Tuam, Ireland, I wrote a series of blogposts.

https://carolinefarrow.com/2014/06/04/tuam-childrens-home-salting-the-earth/

https://carolinefarrow.com/2014/06/07/tuam-breaking-800-babies-were-not-dumped/

https://carolinefarrow.com/2014/06/13/lessons-from-tuam-an-essay/

My aim was not to spin the facts or deny any allegations of abuse, but simply to forensically attempt to uncover the true story of what had happened. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe that nuns could behave in such an appalling fashion, clearly they were capable of all sorts of heinous acts of cruelty and abuse, it’s just that the narrative of them wilfully starving, abusing or neglecting babies and children to death before cruelly dumping their bodies in a septic tank did not ring true. Gradually, a more nuanced and historically accurate picture began to emerge, though still undeniably tragic.

A story of young girls in poverty abandoned by society, in poor health, giving birth to sickly babies unable to withstand the rigours and deprivation of institutional life. A story of a children’s home in a poor state of repair, served by Tuam’s oldest doctor, desperately short of cash and resources, with the council and local population unwilling to put their hands in their pockets. A story of children subject to epidemics of measles, influenza and gastroenteritis in crowded conditions, a time before antibiotics as well as poor diet and perennial low temperatures. An analysis of the death certificates indicates that the causes of death were rarely from one single determining factor – a lot of the children had had underlying ill-health or conditions since birth and some had been born with abnormalities.

Gradually media outlets began to amend, correct and withdraw their stories, rowing back on some of the claims, and Spiked online (which is in no way a right-wing or Catholic publication) published this powerful analysis

Today, the Commission on Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland, has released a statement saying that following some trial excavations of the site, significant numbers of human remains have been found.

“Test trenches were dug revealing two large structures. One structure appears to be a large sewage containment system or septic tank that had been decommissioned and filled with rubble and debris and then covered with top soil. The second structure is a long structure which is divided into 20 chambers.”

It has not been ascertained what the purpose of this structure is, it appears to be for the containment and treatment of sewage and water but it’s not been determined whether or not it was ever used for this purpose. 17 out of the 20 chambers appear to contain human remains, some of which were recovered for forensic tests. The remains are those of children aged between 35 weeks gestation and 2-3 years of age.

The commission is shocked and saddened and the remains will now be interred respectfully and appropriately, assuming that they were not in the first place.

As my blog posts garnered over 100,000 hits, I have taken a lot of flak, as it is perceived that I was one of the deniers. A second wave of hysteria and outrage about the babies at Tuam now appears to be sweeping Ireland, with many claiming vindication, which is a baffling sentiment. There ought to be nothing to celebrate over the discovery of several deceased infants.

I am prepared to stand by my original posts, because I did not deny the existence of remains on the property, nor that children had died of natural causes, I simply questioned the narrative of babies being deliberately and callously tossed like rubbish into a septic tank.

Interestingly in one post, I quoted a letter from Dr Finbar McCormick from the school of Geography, Archeology and Palaeoecology at Queen’s University, Belfast. Dr McCormick posited that the children could actually have been buried in a purpose-built burial shaft which were common, as was the practice of burying stillborn children or those who died shortly after birth, in a communal unmarked area inside the maternity hospital. The practice of returning infants back to the family for burial is a very recent tradition.

Anecdotally I know of a number of similar cases whereby children were put in the coffins of unrelated adults by funeral directors (which apparently was commonplace in some UK funeral directors until the ‘60s and in Ireland until the 1980’s), I’ve been talking to several women about miscarriage and stillbirth recently who have told heartbreaking stories of their stillborn children being removed from them straightaway and buried in an unknown place, and even in my own family, my father discovered only last year that he had an older brother who died at the age of two, who is buried in an unknown grave somewhere.  There are mass children’s burial grounds throughout Ireland and plenty of mass graves from non-Catholic institutions, such as workhouses, in the UK.

So, the outrage about the unmarked mass grave, while understandable may be misplaced. They are not a historical anomaly and were at various points, the norm.  It is not proof of an uncaring or un-Christian attitude and we do not know that the deceased were accorded absolutely no rites or respect.

Secondly, while the commission has noted that the structure containing the remains appeared to be a septic tank, it might not ever actually have been used as one, and they are not clear as to its purpose. I’m no engineer, but 20 chambers seems rather a large amount. Dr McCormick’s suggestion that the septic tank could be a burial vault and should be treated as such until proved otherwise, still seems to hold true. The commission have only said what the structure appears to be, but aren’t entirely sure, neither do they know if it was ever used.

In his blogpost which appears to row back from some of his original claims, journalist Philip Boucher-Hayes, quotes an eyewitness called Julia Devaney who was firstly a resident of the Tuam home and later an employee. She recalled assisting the sisters in carrying the bodies of deceased babies through a tunnel which led to a burial vault. A vault accessed by a tunnel, as Boucher-Hayes notes, could not be a septic tank. This vault was in the same place (Plot A) as another witness, Mary Moriarty had fallen into while playing, when the ground subsided. Moriarty says that she and her neighbours investigated further  and discovered a large underground vault with shelves from floor to ceiling neatly  stacked with about 100 swaddled infant bodies.

So as yet we have two structures found. One a septic tank with no human remains which was clearly decommissioned. The second consists of 20 chambers, at least 17 of which contain human remains, many of which are children under 2, dating from the ‘50s. Which tallies with the eyewitness account of a vault with shelves from walls to ceiling containing deceased infants, and could well be the vault which was accessible from a tunnel, which another witness recalls being in use in the 1950’s.

There is nothing then as yet to suggest that the remains of these children were maltreated or buried without the due accord and respect. It may not have been the way that we would wish for them to be buried today, but neither is this indicative of anything sinister.

Just as it is perfectly possible that these poor children were simply tossed into a septic tank (though I note that critics are now beginning to concede that the tank was disused and claim that it doesn’t matter whether or not it was filled with sewage), it’s also more than feasible that the vault was styled in a similar way to the catacombs. Placing bodies on shelves in a vault hardly seems like egregious disregard. Archive evidence demonstrates that the home did put in a tender for coffins, therefore it may only have been the infants who were buried tightly wrapped in swaddling. Again, not what we might wish for a child, but not necessarily indicative of anything nasty. And neither do we know whether or not some or all of the vault was consecrated, because it would surely need to be if older babies and children were interred there.

As the commission has noted, the news is not any great surprise – they had been excavating a known burial site.

Historian Catherine Corless deserves respect and vindication because her main aim has not been to propagate a sensationalist anti-Catholic narrative, but because she has always believed that bodies were buried on this site and that they ought to be properly accounted for and given the respect and memorial they deserve, not least because as she recollects from her own time at school with children of the home, they were often treated with contempt and disdain.

There may well be 798 bodies underneath the site, a fact that nobody has ever sought to deny, including the locals. Though this is far from established fact. There was a septic tank in use for the first 12 years of the home, during which period 206 children died. Where were their bodies placed if the second structure was in use servicing the first? Or was the second structure used right from the outset! How many is a ‘significant number’?

Is this definitive proof of evil-doing by a group of nuns who are unable to defend themselves or explain what their burial practices were? Justice is not best served by supposition and assumption and neither should these deceased children be politicised. Particularly not when those weaponising them, are using this to whip up hatred of the Catholic Church to use in the forthcoming referendum on Abortion. I wonder what many of those proudly displaying their ‘Repeal the Eighth’ avatar while venting their fury over the babies in the septic tank, would make of the incineration of aborted babies’ remains in hospital incinerators for energy?

Bathroom bigotry

humpty-dumpty

Donald Trump’s decision to lift the guidelines issued by the Obama government allowing transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice, has caused much consternation and wailing about the rights of transgender students.

However, when you look at the impact of lifting this guidance, it’s hard to see what there was for people to get quite so het up about. Firstly, the original guidelines had absolutely no legal force whatsoever therefore as ever, the decision seems to be indicative of Trump’s usual style; it’s enough to please his supporters and establish his conservative credentials but doesn’t change a lot in practical terms.

For example, when the original guidance from Obama was issued the state of Texas put a temporary hold on it after 13 states sued. What the lifting of the guidance has done, is introduce a sensible level of subsidiarity noting that this is an issue best dealt with at a local level.

Tellingly for concerned Catholics, the American Bishops’ Conference, the USCCB has applauded and welcomed Trump’s decision on this issue, expressing their gratitude. They note that it’s an extremely sensitive situation, best dealt with care and compassion at a local level, respecting the privacy and safety concerns of all students.

Father James Martin SJ doesn’t appear to agree with them and in response issued a series of tweets, implying that to deny transgender students the rights to choose whichever bathroom or changing room they choose is not Christ-like, it further marginalises people, infringes on their basic dignity and asking ‘where’s the harm’?

Along with a number of other Catholic women, I responded to him in pretty gentle terms as a mother of 5. We asked where is the care and compassion for the dignity of vulnerable women and girls who don’t actually want to share their intimate spaces with non-biological females?

As a result, my Twitter-feed has been filled up with an eye-watering amount of expletive-ridden abuse and invective. I am a terrible person, a bad mother, evil, lacking in all compassion, who needs to educate herself, ugly, my genitals are deformed from having 5 children, I must die in a fire, commit suicide, hopefully my family will hate  me and so on and so forth. The sheer level and bombardment of hate, is dizzying. I’ve been at the end of Twitter storms before, but this takes it to a whole new level.

It’s not only the violent abuse itself which is so frightening, but the level of delusion that it’s based upon.

The insults are all variations on a theme so I’m just going to offer a response to each one.

Adopting a realistic attitude

Nobody with any common sense or compassion minds an adult who has fully transitioned, using a public loo designated for women, provided that they do so in the same way as any other woman, i.e. unobtrusively and not drawing attention to their trans status in a way that makes other women around them feel uncomfortable. Most trans women I know, already do this.

Most women don’t actually take much note of who else is going into their toilets, which in many ways makes them more vulnerable, because we don’t expect to see men in there. If you can pass as a woman on first glance, chances are nobody will really object.

However, what women are objecting to, and rightly so, is the idea that anyone who decides to state that they identify as a woman for whatever reason, regardless of their manner of attire, can use women’s facilities. It’s not acceptable for someone who is so clearly obviously male, to think that their feelings entitle them to intrude upon women’s spaces. Plus, there is the issue of whether or not sexual predators might take advantage of relaxed laws, as has happened on past occasions. Part of the reason for enforcing legislation is to ensure that people feel safe and to discourage criminal activity.

Years ago, in the era before mobile phones, I was once followed home after getting off the bus and the only way to shake off the man, was to go into a public ladies’ and raise the alarm. The threat of being accosted by someone for entering a woman-only space proved enough of a deterrent.

What happens in ladies’ loos

It’s typically a place where women can feel safe, away from the male-gaze. On my Twitter stream, women have told me about having to rinse through clothing or underwear in the sink, following an unexpected menstrual leak. Women feel safe asking the person in the cubicle next door to pass them some paper for example, or perhaps asking a kindly stranger if they can help out with sanitary products in an emergency.  Some women may also be dealing with an unexpected miscarriage, the physical aftermath of one, or other difficult gynaecological issues.

Few women want to deal with personal and intimate matters such as these, in front of male prying eyes. I remember once, as a student, men routing through my bag, finding my sanitary products, covering them in poultry blood and draping them all over my car windscreen and putting them back in my bag, as a prank. On the whole, women  tend to adopt a far more sympathetic, sensitive and pragmatic approach to the indignities of the menstrual cycle than men.

Another thing that frequently happens in public conveniences, is that locks on the doors are often loose or faulty thanks to repeated use. Elderly people sometimes have difficulty in securing them shut. I’ve been burst in upon or accidentally opened the door on others, a number of times. Any mother who has taken a small child into the cubicle with them, has likely had the experience of the child opening the door prematurely, while still attending to herself. I’ve also had children who have been fearful about closing or locking the toilet doors and have sat there innocently on the loo with their pants down. Nobody wants men in that situation either. It’s the whole male gaze issue again. Women are far less likely to stare at, sexually objectivise, or mock someone who inadvertently exposes themselves, but most likely will act with camaraderie and support. Men are more often than not  too embarrassed to tell you if you have your skirt tucked into your knickers or are trailing a bit of toilet paper and women are less likely to experience mortification when informed discreetly by another woman.

Inadvertent indecent exposure is not a myth, but an unfortunate fairly regular occurrence. Those who claim that people aren’t going round deliberately exposing themselves, willfully miss the point.

The situation in schools

We aren’t just talking about toilet cubicles, although many critics seem to lack an understanding that going to the loo in public, isn’t always just a mishap-free straightforward walk in, walk out of the stall, affair. Neither do all cubicles afford total privacy.

In schools, you have a different situation of often anxious and very self-conscious girls changing in front of each other, which could well involve stripping naked and showers.

Teen girls

I’m going to talk about my daughter briefly, given that I raised her dignity as a concern and everybody thinks I have taught her to be fearful of men.

Here’s the deal – until yesterday, she hadn’t even heard of transgenderism. But at the age of 12, she has gone from a child who happily ran about naked in the house without a care in the world, to, over the last few years, establishing her own boundaries and needs. Bathroom and bedroom doors are shut and locked, if she is caught unawares, she will instantly cover herself, which has not stemmed from any kind of adult prompting. It happens to most children.

Likewise whereas previously, she wouldn’t mind chancing upon male adult family members in the bathroom, now she is embarrassed. It’s all pretty normal textbook stuff.

Teen girls are often made anxious about the onset of puberty and various bodily changes. The role of the parent is to reassure, to soothe, to offer frequent support and comfort that all of this seems daunting but is perfectly natural. And also to assist and guide when it comes to personal and sanitary care. Above all to act as gatekeeper for a child to protect them at sensitive moments from tactless or curious siblings.

So when you’ve got a child who doesn’t actually want to see male genitals and is made uncomfortable by them, it’s not unreasonable to want to keep them out of female changing rooms at school. Why do we have to desensitise vulnerable young girls to looking at male private parts? Similarly why do we have to accustom young girls to their bodies being scrutinised by curious men (who are normally thought of in terms of having a penis).

A teen ‘trans girl’ isn’t biologically a girl and may not have decided whether or not to fully transition, so no matter feminine the hair and face, they will have the body of a male.

It’s not a case of educating oneself, it’s more a case that here is someone with different body parts which may make teenage girls uncomfortable. Again, it’s an instinctual awareness of the male gaze – because one thing that teen girls do tend to do, is sneak surreptitious glances at each other, mainly to compare your own development with your peers. The one question on the mind of every teenage girl, is ‘am I normal?’ I remember feeling reassured when I noticed that other girls were doing the same thing physically as myself and things like bras and pubic hair and later on periods, ceased to be such a big deal.

A trans girl is going to have more curiosity than most and also, there’s the issue that their appearance may trigger body anxiety in other girls, because men tend to have an entirely different look, owing to a different skeleton and physiognomy. Girls attempting to emulate the adrongynous look of their trans peers or normalising their shape as a glamorous ideal, is never going to end well.

Incidentally all local government authorities have a standard policy that mixed sex siblings shouldn’t be sharing bedrooms over the age of 10.

My experience of being a mother to a teen girl

So yesterday, when I was Skype-ing my daughter (who’s away skiing on half term at the moment), I said to her that I had been talking about her. Mainly what a great time she appears to be having.

I asked her how she’d feel if she had to share changing rooms and loos with boys. She laughed and said that would never happen because she’s at a girls’ school. OK, I said but what about the previous school you went to which was co-ed. “I wouldn’t like it” she said. “Why not, out of interest”, I asked. “I don’t know, I just wouldn’t, it wouldn’t feel right, I don’t want to have to see boys and I don’t want them seeing me”.

OK fine, I said, but what if you had a boy who felt he was born in the wrong body wanting to share your changing rooms and loos. Her face was an absolute picture. “What do you mean” she asked. “How can you be born in the wrong body”. Some people believe they are, I said. “But how does that happen, she said, I don’t understand, it doesn’t make any sense”.

I then went onto explain about how girls are supposed to like pink and clothes and make-up etc, which again my daughter found bizarre, not being into any typical girls’ pursuits. How some girls liked to play cricket and football and some boys liked to play with dolls and that made them feel like they were the opposite sex, because they identified better with them. Fortunately my daughter is level-headed and sensible enough not to think that because she isn’t into all the stereotypical feminine stuff, that perhaps she might be a boy, or genderqueer but you can certainly see how the idea can be suggested to children.

We then went into how people manage to actually become the other sex and hormone therapy. Which then prompted a question about whether or not pills changed private parts. No, they don’t, people have surgery. “That’s just gross” she said, “I can’t think about that, it’s really disgusting, can we change the subject now, I’m really freaked out”.

Sure, I said, but say you had a boy, who really felt that he was girl, who didn’t want to use the boys in case he was picked on and physically bullied, would you be happy to have them in your changing room? No, not really she said, I’d feel sorry for them, but I’d still be uncomfortable with it if I’m honest. Couldn’t they use a staff room or something?

Thinking about it later, I reflected, how am I supposed to de-sensitise a child to feel happy and comfortable and nonplussed about seeing male genitals and surely such a thing is abusive? I have no rational scientific explanation for the phenomenon of people being born in the wrong bodies, it seems evident that gender dysphoria is a mental condition which current medical thinking treats by radically altering the body.

Later on, after people implored that I cared not one iota for the safety of trans children who couldn’t use the bathroom of their choice, I reflected that there’s an interesting piece of sexism going on here. People assume that trans girls won’t be safe in boys’ bathrooms, but they seem to forget that girls are more than capable of ganging up on and bullying, even to the point of physical violence, those whom they deem other, or outside of the in social crowd.

Issues of safety

As Matt Walsh points out, despite the statistics which demonstrates assaults do happen, women’s concerns shouldn’t be dismissed as inconsequential or irrational whinging.

What about those women who have been raped, or victims of sexual assualt, don’t they have a right to safety and privacy?

What about the older generation, most of whom are deeply uncomfortable about allowing any man who identifies as a woman into public loos. Are their fears irrelevant mainly on account of their age?It’s often elderly women who struggle to lock doors with arthritic fumbling fingers and who are deeply self-conscious of various bodily functions that don’t work as well as they used to.

Where is the empathy for the needs of vulnerable women in all of this? Not least those of our elderly sisters?

Balancing of needs and rights

Nobody is saying that transgender people don’t have specific needs or aren’t vulnerable, but why are their needs deemed to be more important than those of women? Why does this have to be some sort of victim top-trumps, why can’t appropriate, unisex provision be made, if necessary designating or building unisex facilities for those who want them.

A fad?

Friends in teaching are telling me of an explosion of teens, identifying as the opposite sex, including one report of 4 girls in the same form who all came out as trans in the same week. Another GP friend of mine who works in teen mental health, said that they couldn’t believe the volume of cases presenting, 99% of which were not believed to be genuine.

There’s plenty of resources, in terms of how children get sucked into this culture, and a wealth of information, a google on ‘gender critical’ will throw up all kinds of resources. 4thwavenow and Gender critical dad are two such excellent sites. In particular, this is a compelling story of a girl who believed she was a boy, and then reconciled herself with her identity, from the point of view of her mother. There are also some interesting stats out there about the percentages of those identified with gender dysphoria who don’t end up transitioning.

Finally

What was telling about the amount of abuse I received was the sheer violence and aggression, not to mention the machismo, one person bet me $10,000 to see whether or not my IQ was larger than theirs. Which was a frankly bizarre and very male-orientated competitive response.

The vast majority of abuse was either from transwomen or men. That’s right, men, telling me, why I had to accept men in female intimate spaces and mocking the idea that people feel vulnerable in loos, that exposure can inadvertently take place and generally failing to understand the whole concept of the male gaze and the nitty-gritty of what often goes on in public bathrooms, along with the unspoken bonds which unite women.

That people want to sexualise my children or accuse them of voyeurism or sex crimes if they are accidental victims of indecent exposure, or if they accidentally expose themselves, speaks volumes. As does their need to instantly cast any objectors into the role of sexual pervert and hold them up for public ridicule.

As ever, these people scream hatred and bigot, and yet the biggest irony is, that they want to force people to uncritically accept their unscientific ideology that if you feel like the opposite sex, then you definitely are that sex. Regardless of whether or not you have corrective surgery or take hormones.

Here’s the thing though. Just as I cannot control or force these people who claim that I am physically ugly, or unintelligent or whatever, to think otherwise, neither can they control how others think of them. Trying to force someone how to think, trying to impose your ideology on them, either by legislation or social shaming, making them too frightened to express their views for fear of abuse, well, that’s bigotry!

Take a look at my mentions on Twitter. They are quite the education. At one point they were coming one per second. I tried to bat them off with a witty response, I mean, suggesting that a troublesome woman should be burnt is hardly original is it? The hate was very one-sided and you have to feel nothing but pity for people who are so troubled that they want to do inflict physical, verbal or emotional damage on you, taking time to craft the most spiteful sentiments designed to wound.

To date I have muted over 237 people. Which was actually an interesting exercise in perspective. These activists may shout loudly and ensure their voices are the loudest to be heard, but lets be clear, even if I had blocked even double that number – say 500, then that’s hardly staggering proportion of people, or indicative of majority views on this. It’s nothing more than a noisy self-sustaining bubble, designed to drown out the mainstream.

Unbelievable though isn’t it? That in 2017, women are still having to fight to the right for separate public conveniences, free of men. Or that denying that born males are actually females, or vice versa and that due to some unexplained metaphysical and evolutionary miracle, which transcends scientific explanation, people can be born in the wrong bodies, releases such outrage. Even more extraordinary and some might say scandalous, that such abuse can be given succour by the words of a Catholic priest, because without a doubt, every single vile and vicious tweet many of which stemmed from California, where Father James Martin resides, supported his position. Some of them even copied him in.

Here we go again

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A number of mainstream media outlets are reporting on the tragic case of a Sicilian woman, Valentina Milluzzo who became pregnant with twins following IVF treatment and then died after miscarrying them.

Scant detail has been reported, but according to reports, Mrs Milluzzo was admitted to the Cannizzaro hospital in Catania, Sicily, after falling ill and going into labour at just 19 weeks in pregnancy, on September 29 where she remained in a stable condition for a couple of weeks.

On October 15 her condition worsened and one baby was then stillborn, Mrs Milluzzo’s condition then rapidly deteriorated, her family then asked for the other baby to be aborted, doctors refused supposedly on the grounds of conscientious objection, then it appears that the other baby was miscarried, shortly after which poor Valentina Miluzzo died too.

The various media reports seem muddled. In the Daily Mail the family’s lawyer allegedly reported that one of the unborn twins was suffering from from a ‘breathing complication’. This doesn’t stack up because a baby in utero does not actually breathe through their nose and mouth, but rather exchanges oxygen and carbon dioxide with the mother through the placenta and umbilical cord. Clearly there was some kind of complication causing foetal distress which may have led to the miscarriage, but ‘breathing difficulty’ seems to be an overly-simplistic term. That said, this could simply be a translation error. But in any event the account in the Daily Mail, has the doctor refusing to abort both babies.

The BBC has a similar account, namely the doctor apparently refused to intervene to abort both babies after one got into difficulty, but the Guardian claims that having given birth to one stillborn baby, poor Valentina was in agony for 12 hours with the doctors refusing to intervene on the grounds that the other baby was still alive. The family begged for the doctors to abort the other child to save her life, the doctors refused and shortly afterwards the baby was born dead and Mrs Milluzzo died of septic shock.

The Guardian of course carries a photograph of pro-life nuns, just in case you hadn’t got with the programme about these evil Catholic types. It also runs a load of irrelevant copy with implied supposition about the recent decline in abortions in Italy being due to a shortage of doctors willing to perform them and whether or not Italy actually has enough people to carry out abortions because, shock horror, there’s a high rate of conscientious objectors. A decline in abortions, can never be seen as positive news now can it, and what this unsubtle inference fails to mention is Italy’s catastrophically declining birth rate. Maybe, just maybe, fewer women are getting pregnant and those who do actually want to keep their babies?!

First off, nobody should be blamed or jump to conclusions because the fact is that we do not know what happened. Of course the family would have been enormously distressed by the way events unfolded and one cannot blame them for wishing medics to take whatever action necessary to save the life of their beloved wife and daughter.

But in this situation, when we have the very sketchiest of facts, it is a revolting political opportunism that wishes to capitalise on a terrible tragedy of a woman, who is not yet buried, to claim, as the profiteers at International Planned Parenthood Federation (who  make money from abortion) have done, that the right of medics to conscientiously object to abortion, puts women at risk and must be removed. Medics are not disrespecting the law, they are acting in accordance with it. Italian law in common with other European laws, allows for abortion in certain specific prescribed circumstances, and also allows doctors who feel that their remit is to save lives not end them, to opt out. Freedom of conscience ought to take primacy. Nobody should be coerced by the law into carrying out acts which they find to be morally abhorrent.

In the case of a woman who has achieved a much-wanted pregnancy via IVF, one can well understand the reticence of doctors to abort the child, if there was a chance that they might survive. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, in the case of miscarriage, the best clinical approach is to conservatively manage a miscarriage, which negates the risks and complications of surgery. It’s not clear how aborting the surviving twin would actually have saved her life – an unborn baby is not some kind of toxin, poisoning a woman’s system from within.

There seem to be several terrible parallels with the case of Savita Halappanavar going on here. Both women would appear to have died of septic shock. The HSE inquiry ruled that Mrs Halapannaver died of sepsis which went undiagnosed for too long. An abortion would not have saved her life, but prompt administration of antibiotics could well have done, though sepsis does require extremely swift diagnosis and intervention.

Dr Sam Coulter-Smith, master of the Rotunda hospital in Dublin commented that Ireland’s pro-life laws had little to do with Mrs Hlappanavar’s death and echoed the view of most gynaecologists saying

 “I think most of us who work in obstetrics and gynaecology, there may be individual differences, but the majority would be of the view that if the health is such a risk that there is a risk of death and we are dealing with a foetus that is not viable, there is only one answer to that question, we bring the pregnancy to an end.”

Here are the known facts. At 22 weeks, Mrs Milluzzo’s much-wanted child was viable and potentially had a chance of life. Abortion is not on the protocols of treatment for pregnant women with sepsis. Patients and family wishes must of course be taken into account, but the fact that they may have been understandably begging for a course of treatment which they believed was the best chance of saving this woman’s life, does not mean that aborting the baby was the correct medical solution. Wishing to save both the life of the baby and the mother, if at all possible, does not mean that the doctors were negligent, uncaring or adopting a rigourist approach.

The hospital is strongly disputing the family’s account. They have said the following:

“There was no conscientious objection on behalf of the doctor that intervened in this case because there was no voluntary termination of the pregnancy, but (the miscarriage) was forced by the grave circumstances…I rule out that a doctor could have told the family what they say he told them.”

Italian law forbids doctors to withhold life-saving treatment when a mother’s life is at risk. This has been reiterated by a national association of Catholic doctors who said that when a mother’s life is at risk, doctors must do whatever is necessary to save it.

Regardless of what may or may have been said to the family by the doctor (and I think we also have to allow for misunderstandings, especially in such a traumatic situation) there is nothing as yet, which demonstrates that doctors wilfully refused to save the life of a dying pregnant woman and sacrificed her for the sake of her unborn child. We do not have enough evidence and we should not speculate or seek to vilify the doctors, who were the ones actually dealing with the situation and who had the medical knowledge to ascertain the best course of action. Presumably when Mrs Milluzzo went into hospital she was hoping that the doctors would do everything possible to save her children. The request for an abortion was a response to ease suffering and save her life when her condition deteriorated, but chances are that by this stage it was already too late.

There are always two sides to every story, what happened to innocent until proven guilty?

But sadly, that won’t stop the pro-choice bandwagon from using this story as further proof of the uncaring pro-lifers forcing women to die for the sake of their unborn children and trying to remove the conscience rights of doctors, even though tragic cases such as these are very few and far between. With an absence of backstreet butchery upon which to hang the need for compassion, any maternal death with any possible tenuous link to abortion must be milked to ensure every drop of righteous indignation and anger is directed at those who wish to protect the lives of the unborn, who must be portrayed as uncaring misogynists. Especially if they happen to be doctors.

Valentina Milluzzo was a beautiful woman with everything to look forward to. May she and her babies rest in peace.

The Catholic Case for Remain

If you follow my Twitter feed, you’ll know that my personal view is that Britain ought to vote to leave the EU in Thursday’s referendum. The most compelling case, from a Catholic perspective is presented here, by Tim Stanley. There is also another highly persuasive video from Toby Young of the Spectator.

However, a friend of mine, Dr Rupert Beale, is passionately in favour of remaining in the EU and has asked me to host a guest blog proposing an alternate view. In the interests of impartiality I am delighted to do so.

Wherever you stand on Britain’s membership of the EU, I would urge voters to exercise their democratic right to participate in Thursday’s referendum, remembering the millions of servicemen and woman who have given their lives in order for you to enjoy this privilege. We cannot complain about the result, unless we have taken part.

Over to Dr Beale:

Our earthly rulers falter, our people drift and die;

The walls of gold entomb us, the swords of scorn divide.

I had intended this to be a riposte to the various arguments with a Catholic flavour in favour of the UK leaving the EU, but the words of G.K. Chesterton’s hymn have been swirling round my brain of late. I fear that what I might have written would have been scornful. There’s been quite enough of that.

What I ask of all people of good conscience who believe that the EU is not a good thing is this: please do not vote for us to leave.

Many people were upset by the death of Jo Cox despite never having met her. I cannot imagine the shock and anguish that her husband must be feeling. Somehow he found the strength to issue a very dignified and fitting tribute to his wife. One poignant sentence stands out for me: “She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her.”

It is love for one another that defines us as Christians. A love that imitates Christ’s universal and self-sacrificial love. That is why we defend all human lives, and why we do not try to make different categories of worth between persons – all are infinitely loved by an infinite God. Value to us is the dignity and flourishing of persons; it is not a number of pounds in a bank, even if it’s the Bank of England.  People to us are equal: born or unborn, young and vigorous or old and dying. They are not different in value for being British or French, Romanian or Bangladeshi.

We can have a debate about the European Union. It’s a human political institution, with all the usual faults. I have argued that Britain benefits from membership (it certainly does in narrow monetary terms). I have also argued that British political influence has been a good thing in the EU as regards an area that’s personally important to me: scientific research. This scientific excellence fostered by the EU promotes economic growth, as well as the health and wellbeing of Britons, Europeans and all humanity. These, we should agree, are good things. Furthermore, it’s very hard to see how the UK could get a better deal outside the EU.

The EU is not an unalloyed ode to joy. There is a point of view that the loss of sovereignty entailed by (for example) allowing an international court primacy over a British court is intolerable. Some believe that the EU is remote and less accountable than it should be. The original noble ideals of the predecessor to the EU – which were couched in rather specifically Christian terms – have to some extent been betrayed.

Personally, I do not see that voluntary submission to the judgements of international courts (not confined to the EU of course) is a regrettable loss of sovereignty, but I think you can have a reasonable debate about it.  There is also a very uncomfortable argument that it is in fact Britain that’s bad for the EU (our influence is by no means always for the best).

The EU is a collection of 28 separate nation states, one of which is our own decidedly imperfect one. I agree that the EU has done and continues to do things which go against the high ideals of its founders – but imperfection is to be expected, whatever mechanisms are in place to help smooth relationships between our different countries.

Whatever you think about the EU, it cannot be emphasised enough that the merits or otherwise of the EU are not on the ballot paper. What’s on the ballot paper is leaving the EU. The wider context of this vote is not the impassioned but usually polite discourse between committed Christians. The context is fear of immigrants, lies about money, distrust of foreigners, distrust of economists, distrust of politicians, distrust of journalists, distrust of ‘experts’ – distrust of everybody.

The context is also a national political debate in which we have the love of money played off against the fear of immigrants. Across continental Europe, the context is many national parties that wish their particular country to break off from the EU (and most of those parties make our own Far Right seem pretty tame).

The context is also the recent horrible killing of an MP doing her job. The suspect has given his name in court as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain”. Inevitably, the motives and state of mind of the suspect have been subject to speculation, and that speculation has varied depending on the particular views of the speculator.

It’s illustrative of the poverty of the national debate that this terrible tragedy is being used to score points. It’s Jo Cox’s husband’s words that we should take to heart, and not give way to hatred. That means no hatred of foreigners, and it means no hatred of politicians either – even if they are guilty of rabble-rousing and xenophobia (as some most assuredly are).

The secular debate around the EU referendum has been conducted in terms which are too often bound by entombing walls of gold and the love of money. They are also being conducted in a way that suggests people – some people at any rate – can be cast adrift.

From all that terror teaches, from lies of tongue and pen,

From all the easy speeches that comfort cruel men;

From sale and profanation of honour and the sword;

From sleep and from damnation, deliver us, good Lord!

In a sea of lies and half-truths there is one particular depth of mendacity that I wish to plunge into: the claim that £350m a week can be spent on the NHS if we leave. It is worse than a deliberate lie. It is specially designed to be a lie, because the Leave camp’s spin-doctors have realised that if they lie about it, it will be talked about a lot.

The counter-argument is that the real figure is lower: £136m. This is great for the Leave camp: it still sounds like a large number, and cements the broader untruth that the EU costs us money in the minds of voters. The demographic they are especially targeting – older Labour voters – is tickled by the promise to spend all that money on the NHS. They have told us a small lie to make us believe a bigger one – what clever fellows those spin-doctors are!

Mendacity is not the special vice of the Leave campaign. It has long ago infected our whole political discourse. If all truth is relative, a lie can surely be a legitimate tool used in pursuit of a political goal. In those circumstances, where to tell a lie is neither considered wicked nor shameful – and is in fact admired for its ability to shift public opinion – it is little wonder that people have lost trust.

Truth and truth-telling are essential to Christian values. Of course, there is nowadays little or no reference to Christianity in public life. But truth-telling is important to secular humanists and people of other faiths too. Can we not replace Christian values with ‘Enlightenment’ values? I don’t see much evidence of that happening.

The secular debate – even if conducted in terms that don’t abandon the concept of truth altogether – is dominated by narrow self-interest. Will Britain be better off? Will I be better off? Will we be able to keep the foreigners out? It’s not exactly the universal brotherhood of man. The Enlightenment owes far more of a debt to Christianity than is generally admitted. The philosopher that atheists don’t much like to talk about is Nietzsche. Right now, it’s his abyss that’s staring into us.

I could see myself voting for Brexit under certain circumstances. For example, if it became a condition of our continued membership that we join the Euro (this would by law be subject to a referendum). The procedure there would be for an elected government to carefully build global alliances and put us in a position to negotiate an orderly withdrawal (we have no such alliance in place, and all our trading partners, allies and EU neighbours are against us leaving). We would need to ensure that any exit did not produce a severe economic shock.

At present, we have no credible scenario to achieve a successful negotiated settlement, and a substantial economic shock is certain if we leave. (I accept that some economists believe we could recover in a decade or so, while others don’t – but that there will be an initial shock is agreed by all.) A severe economic shock to Britain and to the EU at this time would give rise to the perfect conditions for bigotry and hatred to flourish. This we must not allow.

If you, like me, believe on balance that Britain is good for the EU and the EU is good for Britain I expect you will vote to remain. If we do vote to leave, we give succour to the very worst elements of our national politics and the national politics of the other EU members, and we must endure the national humiliation that will follow as best we can.

Take not thy thunder from us, but take away our pride.

 

 

Tina Beattie’s letter to the Polish bishops: an obstetric misrepresentation

ihaveagreatLife

As reported in the Catholic Herald, academic Catholic theologian Tina Beattie has signed a letter to the Polish Bishops’ Conference supporting ‘early, safe and legal’ abortion.

Joseph Shaw has demolished her ethical and theological arguments on his philosophy blog here – Mrs Beattie’s position is an indefensible one from a Catholic point of view.

But there is an another important element to Tina Beattie’s letter which is so far being overlooked. She says that in” those situations where abortion is deemed necessary – such as those currently permitted under Polish law, we believe that access to early, safe and legal abortion is necessary”.

Dr Shaw reminds us of the conclusions of the 2012 Dublin Declaration on Maternal health, which was signed by over one thousand medical practitioners, which explicitly stated that ‘the purposeful destruction of the unborn child – is not medically necessary to save the life of the woman.’

On those rare occasions that medical treatment needs to be carried out to preserve the life of the mother which could endanger the baby’s life,  the timing is only important in as much as the treatment is performed at a stage when it is going to be efficacious. Sometimes life threatening complications do not occur until a later stage in pregnancy, at which point it is often possible to treat them, while at the same time preserving the life of the infant.

Tina Beattie seems to be propagating the point of view that the earlier an abortion is carried out, the easier and safer it is for the woman. This confirms the sales propaganda of the abortion clinics, who use this to pressure women to make swift decisions, ones which they may later regret.

I speak from bitter experience here as I bought the very same line, opting to take the swift ‘medical abortion’ route under pressure and thus avoid the need for surgery. If, as the letter suggests, women very often face an agonising decision in terms of what to do about their pregnancies, then suggesting that they need to make the decision as quickly as possible in order maximise health outcomes, only puts further pressure on them. The question is whether or not we ought to be ending the lives of unwanted unborn babies, not at what stage this ought to be carried out. The idea of swift early safe abortion for disabled children, is a red herring to justify the lie of abortion being the only compassionate and responsible option in certain circumstances.

The UK abortion industry justify their existence by noting that the majority of abortions performed in the UK are done so in the first trimester. For the last year that statistics are available (2014) the number of medical abortions performed, accounted for 51% of the total and 92% of all abortions were in the first trimester. Of the 184, 571 abortions carried out in this year, 2%, (3099 babies) were aborted on the grounds of foetal disability.

Mrs Beattie’s push for early, safe and legal abortion for situations of disability, rape and danger to the mother’s life as well as being morally and ethically unsound is based on a dodgy grasp of the physical reality and one that could potentially mislead women into making an irreversible decision, on mistaken health grounds.

The idea of an early, safe abortion for babies with disabilities is dangerous myth. The first screening test for abnormalities occurs at the end of the first trimester. Most women going for a 12 week scan will have already made the decision that they are keeping their baby. Women are now able to discover that they are pregnant even a few days before their period is due. The nuchal fold combined screening test, which is a specific test for chromosomal abnormalities such as Downs Syndrome, is performed somewhere between the 11th and 14th week of pregnancy. The results of an ultrasound are combined with the results of a blood test in order to give women a result which tells them the probability that their baby has Downs Syndrome or another chromosomal disorder. If the result is higher than a 1 in 150 chance, then you will be offered counselling and a further diagnostic test, either an amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling which will confirm any diagnosis. Sometimes, a nuchal fold screening may not be able to be performed, if for example the baby is in the wrong position, in which case a quadruple serum test would be carried out after 14 weeks, but like the nuchal fold test, this will only give you a probability score.

The earliest that one is therefore likely to receive a confirmed diagnosis, will be around the 14 week mark, taking into account the timing of lab result tests and appointments. Should you decide that you want to have an abortion, then it would not be performed for at least another 24-48 hours.

Realistically, an abortion for a chromosomal abnormality will take place at around 15 weeks at the earliest, at which point the procedure is already more risky due to the rapidly growing foetus. The option of a medical abortion will be long gone and the suction method to evacuate the baby from the womb, is no longer possible either. You are already looking at a more complicated D&E procedure, which carries more risks. At 15 weeks many women will be experiencing foetal movements.

That’s not to promote any method of abortion as being the more desirable, but if Tina Beattie is going to cite medical facts, then she needs to be aware that swift, early stage abortion, is off the table for women who find that their babies have a physical abnormality. And there are many other non-chromosomal disorders which are not discovered until the 20 week scan, which if the mother decided that she didn’t want to keep the baby, would necessitate a  traumatic late-stage abortion.

It’s therefore deeply problematic to cite or advocate early stage abortion as a solution for disabled children, not just on the eugenic or moral grounds, but because it is not a physical reality. A brief look at the current ante-natal support threads on Mumsnet, will tell stories of mothers being given false diagnoses of disability, along with women really agonising over what to do and not wanting to take the decision to abort their baby, until they really do have every last piece of information regarding their condition and have sought second opinions, advice, counselling and so on. Nobody is rushing to abort, even though many report feeling under pressure from the medics.

It’s a disservice to women who find themselves in this heartbreaking situation, to present them with an option of early abortion, that they do not actually have. It displays a profoundly disturbing obstetric ignorance from someone who ought to have done more basic research. It is disingenuous in the extreme to use disability as a justification for early-stage abortion.

If I were to claim to be a card-carrying member of the Labour party and yet propagate Tory views, claiming them as legtimate Labour views and actually use my membership to gain myself a platform and employment as a representative of the Labour party, then they would be well within their rights to have my membership withdrawn and to be clear that I did not represent the party’s political views.

This isn’t about the Polish Church attempting to impose theological views on the rest of the country, but merely making their doctrinal position clear, as they are entitled to do so. Poland is a functioning democracy; any measures to protect the right to life of the unborn child are in full accordance with Article 3 of the UN Charter for Human Rights which specifically lays out the right to life, are being enacted by an elected and accountable government.

The attempt to tell the Polish bishops they are wrong seems to be about imposing a feminist agenda onto Catholicism, more than a little presumptious as well as ethically, theologically and morally incorrect, as Father Alexander Lucie-Smith has also made clear.  Hence the resulting outrage.This is not the Catholic position; to present it as such could cause confusion and worst still, cost lives.

Update 11th February 2017

Tina Beattie has asked me to point out that she does not support pre-natal testing for Downs Syndrome and therefore my photograph should not mislead anyone as to her position. A few days after I published this post, which was supposed to be about the physical risks of later termination, after physical anomalies have been discovered, Tina published a blogpost outlining her view on abortion, which I am happy to reproduce here. http://tina-beattie.blogspot.co.uk/2016/05/my-position-on-abortion-setting-record.html

Getting desperate

By all accounts the couple involved in the injuncted PJS really doesn’t want you to know who they are and in true Pravda style, are frantically submitting requests to Google to remove any links which name them. They really want this story to disappear into thin air.

Which begs several more questions. Judge Jackson notes that the spouse of PJS accepts that theirs is not a mutually exclusive sexual relationship. PJS has permission to engage in sexual encounters outside of the relationship.

Many people in open relationships are keen to vaunt and advocate for their situations, believing that there should be no taboo. Why not PJS?

Could it be that there is too much at stake commercially in the image of a happily married faithful stable family man? That if the public knew the dynamics of the relationship it could reflect negatively on revenue, sales and media opportunities?

Could it be that if this is made public it will upset the interests of several wealthy and influential commercial lobby groups? Could the doings of this couple who espouse a cause celebre, irrevocably damage an entire movement?

Could it be that the self-worth of said celebrity is so tied up with his public image that it would be incredibly damaging  for a narcissistic psyche, for his image to be shattered in this way?

Or could it, just could it possibly be that the attempt at cover-up is an acknowledgement and acceptance that such behaviour is not commensurate with the raising of happy and healthy children?

Aren’t we in a progressive society where your sex life doesn’t matter so long as it’s between consenting adults and feels right for them? Obviously not.

But remember folks, Judge Jackson has decided that none of these issues are in the public interest. The general public can continue to be fooled by the false public image presented by the couple and must continue to promote and fund them, oblivious to a rather unsavoury truth which may cause them to close their wallets. There is no public interest in discussing the nature of marital relationships and child welfare.

Don’t you worry your silly little heads about sexual debauchery and motherless young children. Repeat after me: “less orthodox relationships and family structures of the rich and famous must never be questioned.”

Politicisation of a personal tragedy in Paraguay

Screenshot 2015-05-01 18.56.16

Ask me what comes to mind when I think of a ten year old girl and I immediately picture my own, recently-turned-eleven, daughter. Her school has just transitioned into summer uniform and so I imagine her in her striking and smart tartan dress with puffed sleeves and a white collar, a red wool blazer and fetching straw boater with school badge and red ribbons. I image her spindly legs in white ankle socks, think of the tangle of hair that she’s not very adept at brushing, the knots I have to tease out for her and I think of her mannerisms and personality. Sometimes desperately childlike, mad on chocolate, overuses the word ‘adorable’ (especially when referring to dogs and babies), sometimes socially awkward, shy and introverted, sometimes the polar opposite, photo-bombing at every opportunity, sometimes the stroppy, lazy adolescent that she potentially will be in a few years time and sometimes an incredibly mature, thoughtful and considerate young lady. One who will pro-actively shepherd her younger siblings up to bed, into their pyjamas, brush their teeth and read them a story at bedtime, in an attempt to help, as she sometimes did when she spotted that mummy was exhausted in the latter stages of pregnancy.

What doesn’t come to mind when you ask me about a ten year old girl is the image of a pregnant woman. Such a thing is just too dreadful to contemplate, not simply because of the loss of innocence, but because for such a thing to have happened would mean that my little girl had been through a brutal, violent and phsyically agonising ordeal which her little body is not ready to take and which no child should ever have to endure. A pregnant ten year old is the victim of child sex abuse and what mother or father ever wants to envisage their child in that situation? As for were she to be pregnant – I’d be terrified that her little body would snap and break under the ordeal.

Naturally then, this case of a pregnant ten year old in Paraguy, raped and pregnant by her step-father fills the world with horror and repugnance, not only at what the poor child has been through, but at what lies in front of her, be that a late-stage abortion or childbirth. When we think of ten year olds, we don’t think of women but of underdeveloped girls, most of whom bear no outward signs of womanhood and who have not undergone puberty. I’ve only recently been through pregnancy again myself; the relentless sickness, the crippling tiredness and the embarrassing intimate problems. It’s nine months of discomfort, of confusing symptoms, complete abandonment of control and of tremendous emotional and physical upheaval. For the most part in today’s society the experience is rendered more acceptable because  it’s a freely undertaken choice with a desired outcome. An adult means to an adult end. Not an ordeal inflicted upon an ill-equipped, vulnerable young child.

But then how much of this is projection? While most Western 10 year old girls have not yet reached puberty, evidence suggests that not only is puberty beginning earlier, hence the drive for sex education at an ever-younger age, but also that different ethnic groups, such as African and Hispanics, may start puberty at around the age of 8. The idea of a pregnant child ought to continue to horrify us, but put very crudely, if a 10 year-old is actually able to conceive a child, presumably her body ought to be sufficiently developed to bear it? I can think of a few children within my daughter’s peer group who unbelievably already tower above me height wise, who have begun puberty and who most definitely look older than their years. It might be that this poor abused 10 year old is actually physically capable of delivering her child.

For the avoidance of doubt, that a child is able to conceive, is not an argument to suggest that they should conceive or even deliver a child of their own – the late stages of pregnancy and childbirth exact an enormous toll on even a fully-developed adult woman, but there isn’t evidence to suggest that pregnancy for every single, pre-teen is life-threatening. In this particular dreadful instance, nobody save the clinicians knows the medical specifics and so all the talk about it being life-threatening is a mixture of understandable projection and hyperbole. We imagine ourselves or children we know and love, being pregnant at the age of ten and are horrified. Currently the UK’s youngest mother was a 12 year old, who conceived at the age of 11 and a quick Wikki search demonstrates that there have been some mothers as young as 9 and 10.

What we do know, is that this pregnancy was discovered when the child was 22 weeks pregnant. The short-term future is none too pleasant either way. The fetus, if we going to pander to the popular de-humanising euphemism, is already a fully formed human being, discernably a real person with a face, eyelashes, hair, arms, legs, fingers, toes who will be kicking, swallowing, smiling, sucking their thumb and whatever. There’s no ‘easy’ way to abort at that stage. There’s no pill to pop to bring about an early miscarriage and no quick suction procedure. We’re talking about a 10 year old being asked to deliver a deceased 22 week baby, or a difficult, gruesome, potentially dangerous surgical procedure. Afterwards the child can expect to experience her milk coming in and will have the trauma of a lost baby to deal with, as if she didn’t already have enough to cope with.

The other option is for her to give birth. Again, not something that one would wish to inflict upon a 10 year old. But given the stage in her pregnancy, taking at face value the assertions that her life is at risk (which don’t seem to be evidenced anywhere) surely the kindest, most compassionate thing to do would be to continue to strictly monitor the child and then deliver her baby via cesarian section, under general anesthetic, as soon as it becomes necessary.

In terms of whether or not the girl ought to raise the baby, that surely ought to be a matter for her. What isn’t being reported is what her feelings are on the matter, all we know is that the mother has requested an abortion for her daughter, although the mother has also been arrested for breaching duty of care and being an accomplice to child abuse. According to Fox News Latino, she reported that her daughter was being sexually abused last January and yet continued to live with the perpetrator. She has also provided a number of false clues as to his whereabouts.  We do not know and we cannot speculate on the mother’s motives, however it’s interesting to note that the mother’s wishes are being given weight or seen as taking precedence whereas in other cases in the UK of a pre-teen requesting abortion or contraception, provided the child is deemed to meet Gillick competence, the parents’ wishes would be overruled or they would not even be informed.

But it’s difficult to see how abortion could serve to make the issue any better in this unimaginably awful situation. Even had she been immediately granted a 22 week abortion, it would have been no walk in the park, however surely even a 10 year old, while she might lack the emotional maturity to cope with pregnancy, childbirth and a young baby, surely ought to be given the time to come to terms with the situation and have some input into the decision. Why would instantly whipping the baby out in a late-stage abortion have been the right thing to do, it would only have served to inflict more violence upon an already abused and hurting child and removed yet more autonomy from her.

And the elephant in the room is of course the unborn child, who is deemed to be of no consequence with no right to exist; their very presence being synonymous with atrocity. Why would it be so unfeasible for the child to be adopted and raised by a loving couple, or for the child herself to keep her baby, presuming this was what she wanted? Why is abortion being touted as the only solution in this instance?

I’m not denying that the pregnancy can not sometimes be high risk for adolescents, one of the factors being lack of prenatal care, I’m not advocating that ten year olds ought be having babies, I’m not assuming that a ten year old giving birth is like shelling peas, however what I am questioning is why it is being reported that the child’s life is at risk if she does not have an abortion. What health condition would the proposed abortion treat? As she is under the care of the authorities, then surely her pre-natal care will be better than for many others in her situation?

The other pressing question is why on earth Amnesty International have seen fit to get involved, what has this case got to do with someone being detained or imprisoned for their political beliefs? It is claimed that the girl is being forced to continue with an unwanted pregnancy, which is tantamount to torture and indeed no-one would want to inflict an unwanted pregnancy or child upon a child, however we are only being told that the mother requested the abortion for her daughter, not what the daughter’s thoughts are. Since when did Amnesty become an organisation about promoting pro-choice, abortion ideology instead of being about basic human rights, of which the right-to-life should be paramount? The word Amnesty is derived from the Greek, meaning ‘forgetfulness’, clearly the organisation has forgotten the Catholicism of their founder and there is to be no amnesty for the unborn children deemed burdensome due to potential maternal poverty.

Just as various groups exploited and politicised the tragedy of Savita Halapannaver to lobby for liberal abortion in Ireland, the same thing seems set to be happening in Paraguy.

What has happened is revolting and indefensible. It really is one of those compassionate hard cases for whom the Abortion Act in 1967 was devised. But it’s not clear how a latej-stage abortion performed upon a 10 year old girl by request of her mother, who happens to be married to her abuser, would go any way towards helping the girl on her long journey of healing.

Easy to say when it’s not my daughter, especially as I hear the strains of her earnestly practicing the piano floating up through the floorboards, bashing out Beethoven without a care in the world. But then I think of her cradling her baby brother, or tenderly helping her younger sisters and know that however terrible the ordeal she had been through, coaxing her to get rid of her own baby, even if it was with her best interests at heart, would not necessarily be the right answer. Please God, it’s something with which few mothers will ever be faced.

Francis, Catholic families and Rabbit-gate

The wheels of the papal flight have barely touched down and already both liberals and conservatives are rushing to misinterpret Pope Francis’ latest press conference, referring in particular to his words regarding birth control.

The National Catholic Reporter mistakenly attempts to claim that Francis is promulgating that Catholics have a moral obligation to limit their family size and Damian Thompson says much the same thing, yet allegedly from a more conservative perspective (although he too implies that he disagrees with the Church’s teaching on contraception).

But perhaps the esteemed Dr Thompson might actually want to stop and think twice before attacking the Pope for saying things which could be misconstrued by the media and remember the media drubbing that Benedict XVI took for his Regensburg address, which is now proving to be more salient than ever, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacres. Also he might want to cast his mind back to how he rushed to reinterpret the former pontiff’s interview with Peter Seewald as being an indication that condoms were actually permissible in certain circumstances – an interpretation which respected Catholic scholars Jimmy Akin and Janet Smith were at pains to correct and which Damian himself later clarified, could have perhaps been hasty. And let’s not forgot the classic “Catholic teaching on homosexuality can, and I think will, evolve”. Given that evolution can never entail an 180 degree turn or contradict previous teachings, it’s difficult to see what it meant and arguably an irresponsible assertion from someone who would like to claim pole position as the UK’s leading Catholic journalist, in a newspaper which enjoyed an enormous national circulation.

The irony here is that Damian Thompson himself is guilty of the very thing which he claims that the press has a tendency to do – namely misinterpret papal utterings, to suit a particular agenda. In this case he runs with the hare and the hounds rather well, condemning Francis’ tendency to come out with what he calls “streams of consciousness” and stating that his remarks could be deemed to be insulting to Catholics with larger families, all of which will appease those who believe that Francis is the worst possible thing that could ever have happened to the Church since Pope Alexander VI. At the same time, he also throws a bone to the liberals with his implied disagreement with the Church’s ban on contraception and the alleged comparison of gender theory with the Hitler Youth. “He said what??”

Actually, it’s worth reading what Pope Francis had to say in full here, before chasing easy headlines. He talked about a number of worthwhile issues, including exploitation of the Third World and the poor and so perhaps we ought to be playing those up a bit more instead of buying into the boring obsession that the secular and media world has about Catholic teaching on contraception. We don’t permit it and are not likely to. Get over it.

But to address the great elephant in the room, there is absolutely nothing that Pope Francis said which could be deemed either to be in opposition to Church teaching and neither did he state that Catholics have a moral responsibility to limit the number of children they had.

I’ve wtritten about Catholics and family size before, here and here, and Francis re-affirmed the teaching of Humane Vitae, the prophetic vision of Blessed Paul VI and condemned what he called Neo-Malthusian population theories. Francis doesn’t have  a photographic memory or all the facts and figures to hand, so he referred in general terms to the collapsed birth rates in Italy and Spain and the predicted demographic crisis which will see an increased elderly population combined with a dramatically reduced younger generation who will be unable to afford to support them.

What we saw on the flight was a straighforward defence of Catholic teaching on the family, which has always urged responsible parenthood, with the decision as to how many children a couple ought to have being a matter for personal discernment. The Catholic Church has never taught that Catholics ought to ‘breed like rabbits’, or that every single sexual encounter must result in a baby, simply that no sexual encounter ought to deliberately seek to exclude the possibility. The term ‘responsible parenthood’ is not new to Catholicism, Gaudium et Spes 50, outlines the various considerations involved:

“takes into consideration their own good and the good of their children already born or yet to come, an ability to read the signs of the times and of their own situation on the material and spiritual level, and finally, an estimation of the good of the family, of society, and of the Church.

Francis specifically mentioned that couples ought to seek the guidance of the Church who has experts, marriage groups, and not least priests if they have any doubts about family size, because the decision is a purely personal one based on a number of individual factors. The Church does not have any generic policy on family size, because she understands that we are all different. Couples are urged to be generous, but also advised to prayerfully discern what is right for their family, seeking spiritual counsel where necessary. Furthermore the decision not to have further children needs to be kept under regular review.

Perhaps not the best Western Catholic cultural stereotype.
Perhaps not the best Western Catholic cultural stereotype.

Admittedly ‘breeding like rabbits’, the phrase that many Catholics may have taken umbrage at is unhelpful. Francis likes to deal in colourful idioms and coming from a South American perspective, he likely does not appreciate the Western ostracism and prejudice which exists towards those who have larger families. Not only have I been subject to some deeply unpleasant and uncharitable trolling about my own family size (which isn’t what many Catholics would consider large) but I’ve also had to put up with some thoughtless and unkind remarks in real life. People genuinely believe that how many children you have is somehow their business and that they have a right to comment. It’s not helped by the popular media narratives about ‘scrounging’ large families on benefits, government plans to cap child benefit beyond 2 children, or politicians such as Caroline Lucas and Evan  Harris  who condemn those with large families as being selfish, due to the an imaginary impact on the planet and resources. The Pope doesn’t come from a culture where being an orthodox Catholic or having a large family  means one is held up for ridicule on a daily basis.

There will be those who misinterpret his remarks, but then Catholics ought to be used to widespread misreporting and misunderstanding of the faith.  It’s disappointing if the Pope seems to be giving succour to our enemies, but then again, even ignorant (even if well-meaning) comments can be an opportunity to explain and evangelise.

Every bit as ignorant and irritating is when other Catholics try to make out that by only having 5 children, you aren’t being quite Catholic enough and mention great-aunt Cecelia who had twenty-two and was perfectly fine! Family size is a deeply personal matter and not for anyone else to pass comment upon – Catholic or not. In this day and age these enormous family sizes are simply not feasible for the vast majority of people. Speaking as someone who has a number of pregnancies over the past 6 years, I can verify to the enormous strain that these can place upon your physical, emotional, spiritual and material resources. Women are not expected to physically compromise themselves and their families by consecutive pregnancies.

Pope Francis was not saying that large families are ‘bad’ but advocating responsible, thoughtful and considered parenthood. You know as Catholics we ought to be aware that anything said or written down can be interpreted every and which way to suit a particular agenda –  which is precisely why we have the Magisterium.

Yes we can berate him for being a little insensitive, but then again, to focus unduly on one specific comment, which in context was affirming Church teaching, is to ignore all the good stuff that he did say and in which he confirmed that he most certainly is a Catholic.

There are several natural and licit methods of avoiding pregnancy – this did not refer to artificial birth control. Likewise he was not advocating the woman with 7 previous cesarian sections should abort her baby, but stating that the decision to conceive again could reasonably be construed as irresponsible- who is he to judge?

Actually, he has a point. I had to see my consultant last week to plan the forthcoming birth of our child, my fourth section. The risks to my life and health posed by a future pregnancy were explained in no uncertain terms. I was strongly advised to have a sterilisation at the same time as having a c-section. I declined, hardly being in a position to claim ignorance of the Church’s teachings and the reasons behind them, but I guess this is the kind of situation to which the Pope was referring when he asked for mercy. It would be irresponsible for me to attempt a future pregnancy and risk leaving my 5 children as orphans or putting myself in a position where I could end up severely physically incapacitated.

Modern methods of NFA are highly effective but a woman who is told that she potentially risks her life by a future pregnancy, ought to be treated sensitively and compassionately by the Church, hence confessors need to tread a fine line between both pointing out the error of ocntraception while at the same time, understanding the difficult position in which a woman finds herself.

Once again Francis was speaking in the context of Catholic teaching and addressing the uncatechised who mistakenly do believe that Catholics have an absolute duty to keep on having children, even though to do so puts them under intolerable strain. Ever since my blog began I have been stating that this is absolutely not the case, my choice of phrase being even less delicate than his. “You don’t have to keep on having children until your uterus falls out”.

The dismay of larger families is understandable, ‘breeding like rabbits’ does little to bust the false stereotype and perhaps dehumanises those with big families, but he was referring to the act of unthinking reproduction, those who have huge numbers of children, not with any sense of joy, delight or wonderment but out of a sense of duty or because they feel they have no other option. What he said was decidedly female-friendly and as Fr Ed Tomlinson points out, Francis has a tendency to say one thing for the Catholic faithful, while at the same time understanding that secular liberal non-Catholics need an entirely different message.

But you know what we’re not ultra-montainists. An impromptu press gathering is not official Church teaching. Faithful Catholics know what the Church teaches and will continue to practice and propagate it. Given some of the post-synodal commentary we ought to be grateful that the Church’s teachings are being so publicly re-confirmed, and indeed to Francis himself for making sure that this topic of Catholics and contraception remains firmly in public consciousness. And as for speaking out strongly on gender theory – good on him! The way this is being imposed on students as irrefutable fact in universities and schools with those who dare to question the liberal consensus being penalised and closed-down, is totalitarian in nature.

I suspect most of those critiquing the pope for the rabbits comment would strongly agree and furthermore they’d find that if their large families were ever to meet Papa Francisco, they too would be greeted and welcomed with warmth, generosity along with heartfelt thanks for their generosity. If, as a heavily pregnant woman with 4 young children, I can accept these comments with grace and without taking gratuitious or vicarious offence, or use them as grounds to claim that families size should be limited, so should everyone else.

Official comment on Oxford Students for Life debate

I have been asked by several outlets to given an official comment about the Tim Stanley/Brendan O’Neill debate from my perspective of having participated in a previous debate there and being a post-abortive woman. I suspect that the main reason I was not shut down is because I am not a major name. The only slightly sour note from my experience was that Kate Smurthwaite felt unable to accept any hospitality from the ‘anti-choicers’ or even shake hands because to do so would, in her opinion, signify acceptance of those who want to ‘deny women their basic rights.’ I understand the visceral anger, I experience the same thing whenever men attempt to tell me, a pregnant woman and mother of four girls that a mother’s care is irrelevant to the wellbeing of a baby, in order to justify commercial surrogacy and their understandable craving for a family of their own. A dream which once seemed impossible. Just as abortion rights advocates feel that their right to access abortion should not be under discussion, I feel similarly strongly about a mother and baby’s rights to stay together. No-one ought to be debating whether or not it’s acceptable to take a baby away from their mother for the sake of cash or fulfilling a deeply-held desire.

Like abortion advocates I feel this debate threatens female flourishing and indeed my own identity. The difference is however, is that I understand that this is a debate which must take place and have nothing to fear having science, truth and righteousness on my side.

Anyway, here’s the official comment.

“To my knowledge, this is the first time that Oxford Students for Life have hosted a debate surrounding the abortion issue which featured men. Previous debates have featured two high profile adovcates for abortion namely Ann Furedi head of BPAS and comedian and activist Kate Smuthwaite, therefore it is something of a nonsense to claim that a woman’s point of view is not being represented, especially when on both occasions the pro-life side was represented by women.

Moreover this debate had nothing to do with whether or not women ought to be banned from accessing abortion but was focussed on the wider ramifications and affects upon society of abortion on demand; an issue that affects men as well as women. A culture of abortion on demand enables the destruction of children on the grounds of gender and disability and to exclude men is to deny them any opinion as to the potential fate of their own unborn offspring. Furthermore by claiming abortion as being solely about the right of women to choose what to do with their bodies, not only denies the existence of an independent life but it also allows men to abrogate all responsibility for any children they may inadvertently have fathered.

My own experience of debating for OSFL against a vociferous opponent was a pleasant and safe one where both sides were adequately able to expound their points of view and field challenging questions from the floor. There was no antagonism or threat posed from supporters of either side and I felt relieved that this debate was able to be held without the usual culture wars which often follow this issue around. Indeed OSFL are extremely generous in terms of how they extend hospitality to all participants and cordially invite all of the audience to continue discussions in the pub. This is a society who are acting within the democratic traditions that one might expect from the University of Oxford and are not seeking to threaten, intimidate or close down the opposition. It is is sad the same could not be said of those objecting to the debate.

Speaking from the perspective of a woman who has experienced the personal tragedy of abortion, while I have some sympathy with the idea that a man should not tell a woman how she ought to feel about this deeply sensitive issue, I find the idea that my safety may have been compromised, both absurd and patronising. The Student Union’s women campaign seem to be unaware of the irony that they are behaving in an extremely paternalistic fashion. I had been eagerly anticipating attending the debate and am extremely concerned as well as horrified by such authoritarian censorship. Universities need to take urgent steps to nip this serious threat to freedom of speech, in the bud.”

Why Stephen Fry is wrong about sexual consent

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The celebrity witch-hunt following the revelations about Jimmy Savile has cause something of a problematic backlash.

Establishment liberal luvvie Stephen Fry, who couldn’t resist leaking some outrageous tidbits from yet another set of memoirs he’s flogging, said on BBC’s Newsnight, that 14-year-old children who had sex with rock stars were not victims, because even with the benefit of adult hindsight now they are in their ‘50s, they would not categorise themselves as such.

The thing is with sexual abuse is that by its very nature it involves an element of coercion, and therefore even the 14 year olds who thought that they wanted sex with the gorgeous rock star whose poster had adorned their bedroom wall, in all probability probably didn’t.

14 year olds tend to have rather vague fantasies towards their objects of affection, or at least they did back in the day when 24 hour internet porn was not available and they were not programmed into believing that self-worth was tied up with sexual attractiveness and ability to perform the sophisticated tricks of a Parisian courtesan.

That’s not wishful thinking. it wasn’t so long since I was 14 and certainly at that stage I had not been party to hardcore porn, the most we did was a bit of teenage giggling over illicit copies of Jilly Cooper. Some of us did get coerced by older boys into doing things which we later regretted (perils of sex being a complete taboo topic at home and school and no-one ever attempting to have any sort of sensible conversation about you with boys and sex) but it’s interesting to note that it was the Lower and Upper Sixth who were conducting relationships with the Fourth Year. In today’s money that’s Year 12 and 13 eyeing up the Year 10’s. In some ways that’s not a new thing, most 14 year olds will believe themselves more grown-up and cool with the attention and flattery of an older boyfriend, especially when one considers that boys tend to physically develop later than girls.

But even when I was a teen in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, there simply wasn’t the expectation that going out with someone meant that you were having sex with them or having sexual contact, which is perhaps why nobody talked about it. Funnily enough I was having a conversation with someone in their ‘70s the other day who told me that when she was in her teens and twenties she had loads of boyfriends. ‘I couldn’t say that now’  she told me, ‘because everyone will think that I slept with them all because that’s what having a boyfriend means these days. When I was young having a boyfriend meant that you went out with them a few times, let them buy you a drink or go to a dance with them and then when you got bored you’d move on! There was always someone who might try to get fresh with you, but you’d tell them to get lost and warn all your friends about them!’ There may have been stigma about previous sexual partners, but not boyfriends or dating.

Of course teenagers have always been having sex as well as being seen as rife for sexual abuse, but surely in a progressive society, one that recognises that an adult psyche is not fully formed in adolescence we ought to be preventing this? A 14 year old girl or boy is one who is still in the process of maturing both physically and emotionally, and the presence of sexual characteristics does not indicate a psyche to match. An 11 year old who has begun her periods is technically ready to bear children, but no-one in their right minds would suggest she is capable of consenting to a sexual relationship.

An adult is always in a position of power over a teenager and never more so when they are the subject of teenage crush. Even if a 14 year old believes that she wants to sleep with a rock star, in the vast majority of cases she is unable to match him in terms of emotional maturity – there is a world of difference between a 20 year old and 15 year old, let alone a 30 or 40 year old. The older party will have learnt various techniques of emotional manipulation and flattery, the younger party being putty in their hands and very suggestible. The damage which can be inflicted by premature sexual contact ought not to be underestimated.

Bill Wyman aside (whose ex-wife admits that she had sex with him at 14 and bitterly regrets it, accepting that she was still a child), most older men are not interested in a long term relationship with teenage girls, or not a healthy one at any rate. It is a predatory adult psyche that wishes to conduct a sexual relationship with a child or teen who is unable to form a sexual relationships on adult terms. Adults are attracted to teens thanks to a combination of their physical appearance and psychological malleability.

This inequality is why boundaries exist between pupils and teachers or any adults with a level of pastoral responsibility towards children. Abuse is defined as ‘the improper usage or treatment of an entity, often to unfairly gain benefit’. While people are not entities, teenage girls and boys will have their sexuality and psyche harmed by those who violate their boundaries and refuse to respect  and accept their vulnerability.

It’s tempting to give Stephen Fry a free pass because he patently has no interest in teenage girls in the rock star/groupie scenario he would appear to be describing, but the same applies to 14 year old teenage boys such as those tempted into seedy rent boy type scenarios such as those which allegedly occurred at the now notorious Elm Guest House, and who are equally capable of being used as sexual objects by those with specific proclivities. Arguably a boy is even less capable of giving his consent than a girl if he is still coming to terms with his developing sexuality, but both sexes have not really got to grips with sexual maturity at the age of 14 and sex involves the projection and imposition of an adult fantasy on to them.

It’s also rather unseemly and crass to be attempting to grade levels of sexual assault. Regardless of what is done to the child or teen, inappropriate sexual behaviour is being forced upon them, which needs to be treated with the utmost gravity. How this is dealt with in terms of sentencing, is in the hands of the judge taking into account all the circumstances of a particular case that comes before them.

Fry is obviously correct to warn against the presumption of guilt in celebrity abuse accusations before the case has even gone to trial, and blogger Anna Raccoon is worth reading in order to give a balanced account of how some of these cases have been overblown. One suspects that in some cases, money is a motivating factor for people to come forward. Justice demands that all the evidence is properly examined rather than an accusation being enough to secure prosecution and subsequent conviction.

There’s also a delicate balance between ensuring that on the one hand historic sex abuse does not go unpunished and on the other, not punishing people who did not believe that they were doing anything illegal or immoral and were acting according to the sexual mores of their day.

There is something ironic that in these days of unfettered sexual liberalism, social boundaries seem to reverting (and rightly so) to those of a previous era, whereby sexual touching of someone you are not in a relationship with, is a taboo. The ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s seem to have been a time when people were still getting to grips with the sexual revolution, all boundaries were swept aside and literally anything went – everyone was seen as a target or potential sexual partner. Far from being liberated, women were turned into sex objects in a way that had never been so previously overt.

The pendulum is swinging back the other way – society is undergoing a correction. The problem with this is however that we appear to wanting to regulate every single element of a sexual relationship to conform with societal norms, namely frequent partners, but clinicalised, sterilised, devoid of life-giving potential and potential infection.

Fry’s almer mater has already introduced compulsory sexual consent workshops for students. Which begs the question – if 18 year olds are considered unable to fully understand what sexual consent is all about, then why are 14 year olds, regardless of whether their sexual partner is a famous rock star or someone their own age?