Just another member of the patriarchy

A few weeks ago my friend posted a status update on Facebook highlighting a plea for help from a forum mainly populated by men. A poster’s girlfriend had found herself unexpectedly pregnant and the young man simply didn’t know what to do.

Without going too much into the specifics of the situation, he was a mature student, his girlfriend was slightly older than him, had a well-paid secure job and a child from a previous marriage. On discovering she was pregnant, her initial reaction was one of delight she assumed that they would be having the baby and set about telling all her friends and family.

Though the young man shared some of his girlfriend’s excitment, he was at the same time, daunted and understandably so. Although he loved his girlfriend, he took the responsibilities of fatherhood seriously and wasn’t sure whether or not now was the right time to take their relationship to the next level. The news that she was expecting sent the woman into what seems to be a frenzy of nesting. Immediately she made a series of demands upon him which involved him making a series of unnecessary and excessive sacrifices. He would need to abandon his plans for a PhD in a specialist scientific discipline, take up extra shifts on his minimum wage job and move in with her. He’d also not be allowed to take any of his pets into her home and neither would he be allowed any space of his own to study. He’d have to make do with the family’s kitchen table. Furthermore the baby’s arrival date was causing him some concern, it was due to coincide with his finals. He’d therefore had a major panic, feeling trapped, that she was bouncing him into a baby that he wasn’t ready for and while he wasn’t averse to the idea of a baby, he just couldn’t see how things were going to work out.

The replies to his request for advice made for uncomfortable and depressing reading. They ranged from the uncharitable to the downright misogynist. The general consensus was that nobody with any ounce of intelligence ever became accidentally pregnant. His girlfriend had obviously done it deliberately to trap him and he’d be best off getting rid of the pair of them. The mother of the baby was put on trial, her contraceptive arrangements were analysed in minute detail with all the blame for the mishap laid at her door.

Which is where I came in. Under the use of the pseudonym for obvious reasons, I weighed in with some friendly impartial advice. I pointed out that his girlfriend would likely be feeling physically dreadful as well as emotionally vulnerable. The effects of progesterone, in particular, should not be underestimated. It was only understandable that she might want to go into a ‘everything needs to be instantaneously perfect’ tailspin, but that she also needed to understand that while everything would be fine in due course, not to fret or sweat the small stuff right now. The issues about the kitchen table, workspace and so on could all be sorted in due course. Likewise, while she would need his support when the baby was born, the University should be able to be flexible in terms of timings of exams and that actually, a newborn baby is not perhaps as time-consuming as he may be imagining. While he’d need to be on hand, that would be more to help his girlfriend, rather than be responsible for all of the care of the baby. Newborns tend to sleep for the first few weeks or months of their lives and most men don’t tend to take huge amounts of maternity leave. Being there for his girlfriend didn’t mean that he wouldn’t be able to have a few hours to himself every day to catch up on study or revise for exams. The woman’s daughter would be at school, so he might have to help with school runs etc, but it wouldn’t be an unmitigated logistical nightmare. All relationships involve an element of compromise and sacrifice.

I also pointed out to the assembled posters, that contraception can and does fail. We shouldn’t automatically assume the worst of people, especially when BPAS are quoting that over 60% of those presenting for an abortion claim to have been using some form of birth control. Some of the posters had been suggesting BPAS counselling – I pointed out in a matter of fact way that I hadn’t found abortion clinic counsellors either impartial or helpful and that there was the tiny matter of vested financial interests.

So, anyway, having given him some food for thought, without proselytising, but just helping him to see that it could be logistically possible, he countered that having given himself some time to think about it, actually he really did want to have the baby.

But by then it was too late. Thanks to his wobble, his girlfriend had decided that he was too immature and too unstable to be a father and booked in for an abortion. He then began to message me and then text me privately to ask what he should do. His girlfriend claimed that any normal man would have been overjoyed at her news and gone straight round her house with a bunch of flowers to celebrate.

The guy doesn’t deny he messed up, his prevarication had cost him dearly. She was terrified at the prospect of becoming a single mother of two children, she believed that all the work would fall on her shoulders and was unprepared to take the risk. What could he do, he begged me, to convince her how serious he was about her?

Err, get married, I suggested tentatively. Funnily enough, he said, he had planned to propose to her early next year when it was their anniversary and they had a country hotel booked for a friends wedding. He had even asked one of her female friends to scope out a ring. Tell her that, I urged. He did. It was not enough. Start making concrete plans to show how serious you are, was the next suggestion. He did. He already had a savings account set up which he had designated for the baby. Just keep talking to her was my advice, tell her not to rush things.

But no, she repeatedly told him that she needed to be ‘realistic’, she couldn’t trust him and that she would only bring him down. He was going out of his mind with anxiety, texting me to tell me that he thought she might have mental health issues because since deciding to abort she had gone sick from work and was hiding away from the world.

He spoke to her parents, who already knew and they were in agreement with him, feeling that she had been unreasonable and unrealistic in her demands, but understanding that following the collapse of her previous relationship she was feeling vulnerable. They also did not want her to abort the baby.

The young man was worried about the effect of abortion on his girlfriend’s physical and mental health as well. He didn’t identify as ‘pro life’ but he could not see a good reason for her to abort the baby. He desperately wanted to be a father to his little boy or girl. He sent her a series of impassioned and harrowing texts begging her not to take the life of his baby, telling her what a great mother she was, how he wanted to be a proper family with her and her child, how the child would love a sibling. Please, he said, talk to me, cancel the appointment, please don’t kill our innocent baby, please give them a chance. He said that he would take custody of the child, if she was so adamant that she did not want him or her.

I informed a Facebook pro-life group who, together with a monastic community, were storming heaven. The guy had no idea where the abortion was going to take place, or at what time. His girlfriend had shut him down. She wasn’t responding to his texts, apart from to say ‘if you love me then you’ll support and respect my decision’. To which all he could say was that loving someone doesn’t mean validating their destructive actions.

All day my phone was pinging. He hadn’t heard from her, perhaps, he said, our baby is being killed right now. I kept trying to hold out hope for him that she may have had a change of heart, although counselling him that he had done all he could. If she was dead set on the idea, then there was very little he could do to stop her. She didn’t deny it was a baby, but this was all about doing what she believed was right for her. Her last text to him was ‘you need to stop this’.

Anyway, at about 6pm he discovered that she had gone ahead and had the abortion this morning. She had spent most of the day groggy in hospital, but he was angry, because she had appeared to spent much of the afternoon on Facebook instead of telling him. I have told him not to be angry – she is obviously feeling defensive and wanting distraction.

The point of all this? Anecdote is not the plural of data, but here is the story of one baby who has lost their life to abortion this year. A baby who was much wanted by their father and grandparents and initally by their mother. Sharing stories and personal experiences help us to make sense of the world. I want to write this down and share it, by way of memorial to just one of the unborn children who will have lost their lives today. Rest in peace little one. Know that many of us prayed for you. We have the consolation of knowing that you have gone to the Lord.

My thoughts are pretty simple. This is just another demonstration for me of what a wicked and insidious development abortion-on-demand is. There is no happy ending here. A baby has lost their live and a man is at home beside himself with grief. He says he hasn’t been able to sleep or eat properly for weeks or concentrate on work. A formerly loving relationship is in tatters, with both parties harbouring feelings of anger and resentment. A mother has to deal with the repercussions of her decision while at the same time, caring for her child.

Not once in his man’s decision was there an element of patriarchy, wanting to control her uterus or chain her to the kitchen sink. This guy realised that he loved his unborn baby and wanted them to live. The reality of abortion means that every single pregnancy becomes a lifestyle choice and children are given a specious right – to be meticulously planned and born into ‘perfect’ circumstances which supercedes their basic right to life. Had abortion not been an option, he wouldn’t have had his damaging wobble and would have stepped up to the plate sooner. But we are all now conditioned to think not of new life, not of a baby, but of choice.

The abortion clinic who carried this out have neglected their duty of care and potentially broken the law. If there were mental health issues necessitating abortion then these needed to be further investigated and treated. Though they only appeared to manifest once the decision had been taken. But if the mother gave the reason as being that she had trust issues with her boyfriend, this case wouldn’t seem to neatly fall within section C of the act.

There’s also a lesson in there somewhere about the wisdom of believing that committing to have a baby with someone is a different thing from enjoying a long term sexual relationship with them. The greatest commitment one can give to another is to be open to the possibility of having a baby with them. Stripping sex of a procreative element, inherently strips it of an element of commitment. But that’s for another time. I think the guy has been foolish, but I don’t blame him for it, he’s no different to most men in contemporary society. The feminists who would shout their abortions would no doubt lynch both him and me for being manipulative, but I see no winners, no victory, no progress and certainly no joy in this woman having exercised her ‘reproductive right.’.

A different choice

Fr Ray Blake said something that gave me pause for thought the other day.

We should recognise most women have abortions because of economic reasons, that controlling the size of families through contraception for most people is an economic decision.
We need to promote an authentic feminism (and masculinism) that is based on relationships, we need to promote the real rights of women to be parents, simply to be able to have children without the constant anxiety to find childcare and to be able to afford it.

I wouldn’t disagree with any of the above, but I think it’s worth unpacking and exploring a little further. Most women do have abortions for economic reasons, the increasing numbers of abortions performed on women who already have at least one child, as capitalised upon by BPAS in their recent advertisements for abortion claiming that 50% of women who abort are already mothers, indicates that for many this is an economic decision. Most women who have already given birth are well aware of the various stages of foetal development and the reality that this is an unborn child whose life they are choosing to terminate, but feel that they have little other choice.

Few women who abort their pregnancies take the attitude of Caitlin Moran who claims (and I would posit that she’s in serious denial) that she gave the matter less thought than choosing her kitchen worktops. Most women would not choose to abort if they genuinely believed that they were killing a living human being, which is why so much sophistry is employed by the pro-choice advocates as well as attempting to involve irrelevant scientific arguments about sentience. Either life begins at conception or it does not. If the latter, at what particular point in its development is a foetus deemed ‘alive’, at which point science is invoked to justify philosophy. The biology is simple. A new independent human being is formed at conception, with separate DNA and capability to develop itself to the mature stage of a human organism given the right environment.

It is precisely because the human conscience is pricked on the issue of abortion that women become quite so aggressive and defensive on the matter. If abortion is not the destructive of unborn life, then why do women get quite so angry about it and why are they bothered by the peaceful prayer vigils? If abortion is a difficult choice that isn’t undertaken without much soul-searching, why is that and why are they so bothered by the presence of people praying for them or trying to offer an alternative? Even the most well-meaning of pro-choicers will claim that abortion is an economic decision, women genuinely don’t have a choice and so abortion must be available for the most pragmatic and compassionate of reasons. The old “I wouldn’t have one myself but I wouldn’t deny it to those who need it” adage.

But undoubtedly there are a few women who abort, not solely for economic reasons but simply because a baby will not fit into their current plans. That’s not to condemn or cast judgement, society has to bear as much responsibility in that it implicitly encourages and coerces women into abortion, with babies being little more than a lifestyle choice, who aren’t fully alive until such moment as becomes convenient in the mind of the individual.

But regardless of whether babies are aborted because of lifestyle choice, economic necessity or even thoughtless recklessness in those rare cases where we see young women having undergone as many as 8 abortions, (I really don’t believe that many women have abortions because they can or because they are inherently cold-hearted or even evil) there is one factor in common and that is that a baby is seen as a burden or difficulty and never a blessing.

Whilst pro-lifers have to be careful not to overdo the sentimental saccharin schmaltz when it comes to the indisputable beauty of a newborn child, we have to ensure that we don’t fall into the opposite trap of over-emphasisng the gritty reality of child-rearing in an attempt to make our society equipped for unplanned pregnancies. The truth of babies is that they encompass both extremes. Having a baby does entail a lot of hard graft and often economic difficulty but it also brings with it an outpouring of joy, blessings and love to which no language can do adequate justice and which compensates for the difficulties. There isn’t a mother I know, not even mothers of severely disabled or terminally ill children, who wishes that her child had never been born, or that she hadn’t experienced the love of her child. Even mothers in the most challenging of circumstances wouldn’t wish away their children, but instead wish that their lives could be easier.

What pro-lifers need to do, is work for ways to make life tenable for women with unplanned pregnancies, whether that is the mother of 3, expecting her fourth child, the pregnant teenage mother, or the young woman with a career that seems to be going places.

Pro-lifers often focus upon the idea of free or cheap state childcare in order to incentivise a woman not to abort her baby and to help her back into the workplace. I’m not so sure that this is the right answer, admirable though it may seem. The problem is that for the overwhelming majority of women, having a baby will have an enormous financial impact upon them if they are already in full-time work. Although women can now, quite rightly, enjoy up to a year’s paid maternity leave, most do not look forward to the idea of returning full-time. And who can blame them? You give birth to a beautiful child, you spend at least six months giving them your full attention, nurturing them, feeding them, helping them roll, sit, manage solid food, you know them, you can recognise the signs when they are tired, hungry, you know how they like to be settled or held, which is their favourite cuddly, they haven’t been out of your care for more than a few hours at a time, maybe 24 hours at granny’s at a push, then all of a sudden you have to hand them over to a stranger for at least 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. It’s no wonder that most women do not want to return to full-time work, but feel that they have little other choice. In addition it tends to be just as your baby is getting interesting, beginning to walk, talk and most mothers are devastated that they will miss their baby’s first steps or key milestones.

Perhaps because the state is becoming ever more intrusive or presumptive, but there is additionally, something a little sinister about having to hand one’s child over to state-approved childcare for the majority of the working day. For me the approach is summed up in our attitude towards single mothers who are expected to go out to work, as soon as is feasible after having a baby. The attitude of the former government was equally disturbing with Tessa Jowell trying to formulate policies to encourage mothers to go out to work and Patricia Hewitt describing mothers who stay at home with children under two, as being a ‘real problem.

Again we see how modern feminism has failed women, who are expected to be on equal terms with men in the workplace, to be able to work full-time, or work at all, as well as bring up children. I’ve been a working single mother and it was horrific. I had little other economic choice at the time, but on average I saw my daughter less than an hour and half a day, Monday to Friday, having to drop her off early in the morning before work and then having precious little time to spend with her in the evening, to ensure that she got a good night’s sleep. Quality time consisted of bathtime, stories and bed and I put myself through agonies of guilt. It meant that I had the worst of all worlds in that work saw me as not fully committed and I felt that I was selling everybody short. It is only now that society is realising that unless you are a wealthy fund-manager with a bevvy of nannies and housekeepers, that the idea of ‘having it all’ is nothing more than a myth.

So, what’s the answer, especially from a pro-life perspective? The problem with childcare, is that not only is it expensive and puts pressure on a woman to go out an earn her keep, but it also treats women as if they are only valuable if they contributing to society in a purely economic sense. I think if we are going to promote an authentic version of feminism, then we have to promote the innate value and worth of motherhood on its own. That’s not to denigrate women who do go out to work, but actually women need to be supported by economic policy to stay at home with their children, until such time that their children are of school-age, particularly if they are single mothers. Whilst this may seem counter-intuitive and contrary to normal feminist principles an authentic feminism recognises the value women have as mothers and how the opportunity to spend as much time as one can with one’s children, is actually of benefit to society.

It’s a difficult balance to strike, because clearly the state is not a bottomless pit and clearly one can’t have policies in place, be they encouraging mothers to stay at home, or work, which will encourage state dependence, but I think to a certain extent society has to bite the bullet and accept that a single mother is facing more difficult odds than a two parent family and so enable a mother with children under school-age (say 5) to stay at home, regardless of her marital situation whilst implementing policies such as, for example, forcing employers to be more flexible and creative in terms of the working hours that they can offer to mothers and phasing women back into employment when their children are of school age. It is a difficult balance and most of us know of families who do not work, simply because with the cost of childcare it is not in their interests to do so and who are as a result, reliant on the state.

This is not to attack mothers who do want to work, often women say that they need the stimulation of a work environment, that they lack the patience to stay home and several women are trapped in the situation where they need to work for economic survival, but I wonder, if we began to value motherhood more, if we began to give examples of how intelligent, educated women can be stay-at-home mothers, or work part-time and still be happy and fulfilled would it transform society? I think so. I often think that women who state that they don’t have the patience or wherewithal to full-time parent their offspring, under-estimate themselves and with the right examples and in the right environment, would surprise themselves. I can think of at least ten of my friends who have Oxbridge degrees but who have eschewed the work environment to be full-time mothers and who have never been happier.

One of the reasons that families are financially struggling is not only due to rise of consumerism and the idea that it is only through material goods that we can find fulfilment, but more importantly because the expectation that women will automatically work, regardless of whether or not they have children, means that two income families entailed bigger mortgages which fuelled the rise in property prices. Every family should be able to afford or live in a decent home with access to a small garden. Affordable housing alongside the removal of the expectation that a woman should and must earn her keep would be another small part of the strategy. If we have more mothers at home, then our communities which have been so fractured will begin to heal. It was traditionally women who were at home with the children, who provided a mutual support network, who passed on valuable skills and knowledge in terms of child rearing and helped each other in times of trouble, with babysitting etc instead of having to pay a stranger. It was also the same women who helped to look after the elderly, who had them either living at home, or who would drop in and help their neighbours, enabling them to be supported at home, instead of reliant on a government for care and assistance. I’m not saying that women should be expected to do this kind of work, but it is a natural by-product of what happens when we have communities and besides there is nothing demeaning about caring for other people.

True feminism should allow women to have the choice as to whether or not to enter the workplace (something I’m hugely in favour of, if women want to work then they should and on equal terms) but equally, a real authentic feminism values motherhood as a vocation in and of itself.

We need to stop looking at motherhood as being demeaning, inadequate or beneath a woman’s dignity and celebrate it as a worthy vocation, one that benefits her, her children and society as a whole. We need to re-gear society to remove the current expectation upon women to work, unless and until men have the ability to bear children in their wombs! There is nothing innately sexist in stating that as women give birth to and nuture their infants, then they are best placed to provide the primary care. By all means allow women to work on equal terms, introduce legislation that gives women watertight protections to allow flexible working, allow women to reach the top of their profession, but by no means force a woman to work or define success in purely professional terms. Staying at home to help one’s children reach their potential, is not demeaning by any means.

A pro-life society does not buy into the notion that a child is a burden or economic problem that needs to be overcome, but celebrates motherhood and enables women to have real choice as to how best to raise their children, instead of expecting them to be handed over to someone else from an early age. And if this puts more responsibility on men to work and provide for their offspring – sorry but them’s the breaks. No wonder so many men identify themselves as “feminists”. Authentic feminism recognises motherhood as an innate good and children as a gift, flowing from the consequences and blessings of being part of the feminine sex. It recognises our ability and responsibilities as bearers of life, given to us from the Creator himself.

A victory for feminism?

Tomorrow a “pro-choice” rally takes place in central London, in response to the Dorries/Field right-to-know campaign, which aims to make independent counselling a mandatory part of the abortion process. The well-rehearsed slogans and soundbites regarding a woman’s autonomy over her own body and her right to access safe healthcare are being shrieked across the ether with increasing ferocity.

Tomorrow’s rally is perplexing in that a woman’s right to choose is not under contention. Abortion “rights” are not being eroded, the right to procure an abortion is not under threat, the only threat is to those clinics with vested financial interests.

In its submission to the Charity Commission in January 2011, BPAS states “our main priority in the coming year is to ‘grow’ our business by utilising and expanding our capacity to treat clients and extending our collaboration with the NHS”. A collaboration which proves extremely profitable. According to their accounts, the provision of abortion services accounted for £23 million of their income in 2010, but these services cost them £22 million thus they only made a profit of £1 million. When outlining the overall financial health of the ‘charity’, BPAS state that they are now in a better position than previously because “it has relieved itself of the burden of a previously underfunded pension scheme to improve its overall position”. BPAS’s charitable feelings obviously don’t extend to their employees. In terms of its aims for the forthcoming year BPAS says that it wants “to increase the number and value of contracts with NHS commissioners” as well as “extend services nationally to meet the needs of a greater number of clients”. As the organisers of the rally note, “they are professionals, not volunteers”, these extra abortions are not going to be carried out free of charge out of the goodness of their hearts. Just so they don’t feel left out, Marie Stopes, mention in their annual accounts that in 2008 they received £59.9 million in governmental fees and reimbursement for providing sexual and reproductive services globally. In 2009 this figure had risen to £71.4 million.

It’s worth bearing the above in mind amid all the slogans. If abortion is the ‘healthcare’ that women have a right to, then in common with every other medical procedure women should accept that the final decision lies in the hands of the medical practitioner. A doctor is always a moral arbiter to a certain extent, in that they recommend the appropriate course of treatment for the patient, one that may not always accord with the patient’s wishes. A patient cannot simply demand a particular course of medical treatment solely based upon their gender or their feelings in any other situation. A pregnant woman seeking a caesarian section needs to satisfy the consultant that she has strong grounds for what is major abdominal surgery, that she understands the risks and that the alternatives are unworkable in her situation. She cannot just see her GP and be instantly booked in for surgery.

Safe healthcare is a right that everyone should have access to, which is one of the reasons why BPAS lost their bid to permit women to take the RU486 without medical supervision. Safe healthcare needs to be appropriate to the needs of the patient. Pregnancy does not, for an overwhelming majority of women, require medical intervention in order to save the life of the mother. In 2010 98% of abortions in the UK were carried out for social reasons under category C of the Abortion Act provisions. If a woman feels that she is psychologically at risk from continuing a pregnancy, then counselling needs to be an important part of the decision-making process, as it is with any other medical procedure, one in which the potential risks are clearly outlined. Only then may her ‘choice ‘ such as it is, be said to be truly informed, consensual and ‘safe’.

The irony is that by removing counselling from those who may profit from a certain outcome, Dorries and Field are actually reinforcing women’s choices, rights and health. What are the vehement pro-choicers so scared of? That a woman might not have an abortion? That abortion rates might go down? Or that she might be “manipulated” into keeping a child by an organisation which doesn’t worship the god or ideology of “evidence based practice”, subscribed to by abortion clinics, who hold that abortion is a good or at worst, morally neutral. That an organisation might give her the idea that killing an unborn child is wrong and give her practical, emotional and financial support, advice and encouragement throughout her pregnancy?

What could be more of a victory for feminism than women empowered to overcome social, cultural, financial and emotional constraints to pregnancy? If enough of them do it, society really will be transformed in terms of gender equality. A woman’s ability and right to bear children at any time in her fertile years being taken as a given and factored into employment and benefits legislation and filtering into attitudes. But whilst abortion continues to be debated in terms of an indefatigable right and inherent gender-privileged choice, regardless of circumstance, then the debate about support for women with childcare needs will never be advanced as motherhood will always be seen as a “lifestyle choice” and the demand for widespread abortion will increase, making the cause so much harder for those very few genuinely tragic and hard cases for whom the 1967 Abortion Act was designed.