Vigil vigilance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming from America

Predictably enough, the pro-choice lobby has moved up a gear in response to 40daysforlife, despite the fact that no actual changes in the law are being mooted or lobbied for, with a glut of the usual rhetoric appearing on a daily basis on the internet, therefore this blog will take on even more of a pro-life bent until the end of the campaign, as much misinformation abounds.

A rather slick new website that appears to be supported by and it would seem, an initiative of the “charity” Education for Choice has sprung up. * (see note). It’s worth noting that Education for Choice masquerades as that Holy Grail of “evidenced based” information, whereas it is obvious from their website, that they are in fact all about promoting abortion. Given that they’ve managed to totally misrepresent the Roman Catholic position on abortion, falsely claiming that the Church used to accept abortion until quickening – it doesn’t inspire much confidence as to the impartial nature of the rest of their information. In any event, Education for Choice, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Brook Advisory, the “charity”, concerned with providing with sexual health advice and services. It can’t be any surprise that they are opposing anything that might present a challenge to the status quo on abortion, but it makes their false claims of 40DaysforLife being a professional political organisation, awash with cash, rather hypocritical.

The professional writer, journalist and pro-choice advocate, Sarah Ditum launches the site, with this post, riddled with inaccuracies. Ditum starts off by describing 40 Days for Life’s American roots, the standard trope de jour when talking about this issue. The point being that abortion is much more of a political hot potato in the US, than it is in the UK. This has nothing to do with clinic vigils and everything to do with the political and religious demographics of the US. Abortion should be an apolitical issue, one doesn’t need to have a tribal allegiance to either left or right wing parties to believe that the taking of an unborn human life is wrong. The pro-choicers who bemoan this, were the very ones who politicised the issue in 1967 and 1973 when campaigning for its legalisation. Those who point to America as being some sort of big bad bogeyman in terms of the abortion issue would presumably reject any of the tactics used by their pro-choice lobby, such as the setting up of a research institute funded by their biggest abortion provider?

The association with the US is repeated time and time again, to draw false analogies between the American bible-belt and the UK population. It’s a not-so subtle form of racism and superiority. Anyone who supports clinic vigils must be some kind of bible-thumping irrational redneck, is the implication. Not to mention the deliberate attempt to install fear, because in the last 40 years, eight abortion clinic workers have been killed in American since Roe v Wade, equating to two tenths of a person per year. That’s not to downplay the abortion related violence that has taken place, but the overwhelming majority of pro-life absolutely abhor all violence and killing, which is precisely the sentiment that motivates the vigils. Eight murders is 8 too many, but in a vastly populated country which has the right to bear arms enshrined in its constitution, it is likely that there will be unbalanced individuals who will take matters into their own hands, regardless of the cause. It does not automatically follow that this is likely to happen in the UK.

As anyone who attended the 40 days for Life kick-off rally on Tuesday night will attest, actually the fanatical aggression came from those on the pro-choice side, who spent a full hour ranting, chanting insults, blasphemy and screaming vile obscenities when faced with a group of people praying the rosary. The more they were ignored, the most venomous and offensive they became, the priest being a particular target of their hatred. A pro-life pagan gives her account of what happened here. As this report states, fanatical extremist violence seems to feature far more heavily from the pro-choice brigade; in America a loaded gun was pointed at the 40 days for life volunteers by an abortionist, at another location an abortion supporter tossed a homemade firebomb at them and recently we saw the attempted murder and mass shooting, averted by the bravery of a security guard at the Family Research centre in Washington DC. If American style tactics are taking place, then it would seem that it is actually the pro-lifers who are bravely putting themselves on the line in defence of the unborn.

A UK “pro-lifer” has added fuel to the fire by giving Ditum the “benefit” of their wisdom. Referring to a one-off incident where it is alleged that a volunteer filmed women entering the clinic, (he was supposedly filming for a documentary) something that 40 Days for Life does not condone and behaviour which will result in the volunteer being immediately asked to leave the vigil, said pro-lifer opined “what starts with a camera could end with a gun”. I cannot begin to dissect the motivation of someone who seeks to paint their alleged brethren in Christ who stand in silent prayerful solidarity with the unborn as crazed loonies with the potential to kill people, it’s not the kind of actions one might associate with Elizabeth Anscombe, Edith Stein or even Phyllis Bowman, but it goes without saying, that regrettable though that alleged incident was, it is not indicative of a desire to kill or even intimidate anyone and neither is it representative of the volunteers. Just as one cannot castigate the political LGBT lobby groups for the actions of an isolated gunman, anyone with a modicum of common sense can tell the difference between an over-enthusiastic cameraman and a gunman. Or are we saying that quiet prayer vigils should not occur in public places because no-one may be trusted to behave appropriately? Whilst we are on the subject of cameras however, what have BPAS got to say about the camera that they have constantly trained on the volunteers from the confines of their upstairs window? Could that end up as a gun also?

Ditum continues with her theme of intimidation and harassment despite the fact that no-one from 40 days for Life in the UK has been arrested, charged or even asked to move on by the police. Surely if women were being followed, encircled and generally harassed, there would be some evidence of this made public as well as criminal charges? A quick google maps search will throw up the location of the vigils – over the road on a public square, a good 50 yards from the clinic door. Women entering the clinic do not need to even walk ok the same side of the road as the vigil or past it. I don’t doubt for one moment that BPAS would not hesitate to call the police, press charges and display any incriminating video footage should this exist.

Other blaring inaccuracies include the statement that 40 Days for Life began in the UK in the Spring of this year – nope that’s incorrect, they commenced in the Autumn of 2010. She alludes to an email sent to her by Robert Colquhoun in which she claims that 40 days for Life house post-abortive women in the same building as women whom they are helping to keep their pregnancies – proof she says, that 40 days for Life have scant regard for women’s welfare. I’ve seen the email concerned and the most charitable interpretation is that there has been some misunderstanding on Sarah’s part. 40 Days for Life do not house post-abortive women in the same building as pregnant women – Robert was in this email attempting to set up an interview with Sarah and another journalist with 2 pregnant women who have been helped, along with the perspective of another, post-abortive woman, on the counselling and help from 40 days for life. Quite where she got the impression that they were all living together is not clear, but then again, despite the funds available to Education for Choice, she probably wasn’t paid for the piece and thus did not do the usual fact-checking.

It throws into doubt her central claim that 40 days for life don’t care for women’s wellbeing, given it’s based on this misinformation, the evidence of harassment or encirclement is absent and the US conclusions rather spurious at best. Presumably she wouldn’t have too much of a problem with the HSS bill or Obama-care – that’s one American import that’s definitely alright. Neither is there evidence that abortion clinics have shut down due to bullying. The industry is made of sterner stuff than that. Where clinics have shut down it has been due to withdrawn funding and/or losing licences to practice having been discovered being in breach of state laws governing safe practice, not due to the a group of people praying outside. Abortion clinic workers have quit the industry having had their eyes opened as to their unseemly grisly trade, not because 40 days for life have bullied or threatened them. Again evidence for this claim is missing. Of course, as Sarah rightly points out we will celebrate these conversions of hearts and minds and the closure of abortion facilities. That’s fairly obvious! And there’s the entire nub of their opposition. The US pro-life lobby has gained great momentum and had some incredible successes. No wonder 40 Days for Life is described as a noxious import – it actually works.

For an organisation that likes to tout it’s information as evidence-based, it seems clear that Education for Choice/40 Days of Choice etc opinion is firmly subjective, based on misinformation and bias. Still, all we can do is keep praying, whilst they keep desperately spinning. In the meantime, God Bless the USA – Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, where clinic vigils are lawful, successful and require courage.

Some scary American volunteers

*Brook Advisory is almost entirely funded by the UK government, proving that the word charity denotes tax status only. Still it’s good to know where tax revenue is being spent. Personally I can’t see why Brook Advisory can’t be incorporated back into the NHS and am rather concerned that it seems to be seeking to lobby to change government policy, in terms of its new campaign for more funding for sexual health in the light of government cuts. So let me get this straight, the government is funding an organisation that seeks to lobby itself for more cash. Rightyho…