Robert Colquhoun has organised the following event which looks certain to be a sell-out. I strongly recommend for anyone with an interest in promoting the pro-life cause in their local parish, the timings are designed to be convenient for both families and pastors and priests. The seminar is open to Christians of all denominations.
Breaking the silence in the Church
St Wilfrid’s Hall, Oratory House, Brompton Road, London, SW7 2RP
The talk is at 3pm on 28 January 2014 and is repeated at 7pm.
Helping Christians respond with humility, compassion and understanding
Robert Colquhoun and Jonathan Jeffes
The purpose of the seminar is to introduce you to a programme called Breaking the Silence. It is a teaching resource to help Christians navigate the sensitivities and raise the issue within their own Churches.
Over one third of all women in Britain will have an abortion at some point in their life. Despite its widespread acceptance in contemporary society, a powerful and uncomfortable silence has grown up around abortion in the Church.
What should Christians think and say about abortion?
This talk aims to help Christians to break the silence.
YOU will discover…
An overview of tradition Christian teaching and theology
Analysis of why there is an uncomfortable silence in the Church
A simple strategy for change to help Christians listen to others and respond to the issue with humility, compassion and understanding.
Practical advice including guidance on speaking about abortion with sensitivity in a Church setting, and on handling it compassionately as a pastoral issue.
Jonathan Jeffes is a crisis pregnancy counsellor and has led post-abortion recovery groups for women and men for over twenty years. It is from the perspective of those who have experienced abortion in the past that Jonathan writes and speaks from. He is a regular speaker in Churches and theological colleges in the UK and is the author of two books on the subject.
Robert Colquhoun is the UK campaign director and international outreach co-ordinator for 40 Days for Life.
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.
*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…
Here is a round-up of coverage from the 40daysforlife vigil in Bedford Square on Friday night. There seems to be some disparity about numbers. I blogged the numbers who attended, using the figures tweeted by Madeleine Teahan from the Catholic Herald, who live-tweeted from the event with the dispassionate eye one would expect from a professional journalist. Joseph Shaw has an entirely different perspective. Joanna Bogle wrote the most poignant and moving account of the vigil that I have read, professing her overwhelming sadness with regards to what she witnessed. She encapsulated what most of us feel.
What struck me from all the coverage that I have read, is the contrast between the two sides, not only in terms of overall attitude, for the most part it seems that those attending the vigil were attempting to peacefully pray in silence as opposed to those determined to make as much noise as possible with the aim of disrupting the vigil, but also the contrasting diversity in terms of participants on both sides. From what I can gather, there was a wide spread of people attending the 40daysforlife vigil, from the very young, even the unborn in the mother’s womb, to the old, people of difference race, gender and class. The pro-abort demonstration seemed to consist of predominantly middle class angry white young women and men.
The twitter feed of those on the pro-abortion protest seemed to indicate that the majority of protestors were men, but that reality certainly doesn’t seem born out by the photographs. This beautiful woman doesn’t look much like a “creepy old man” to me. I note, despite being very prominent at the front of the vigil and indeed prostrating herself in prayer, by all accounts for much of it, the pro-choice demonstrators didn’t see fit to make fun of her, unlike with the “horrid old men praying”. I wonder why that would be:
We should all be glad that the vigil went off peacefully, it would be disingenuous to state that all of the participants on the 40daysforlife vigil were faultless, there were two reported incidents where people were not threatening but were perhaps reckless, perhaps understandably in the face of such raucous, confrontation and provocative behaviour, one planting a placard containing a photo of the unborn child in the crowd of pro-abortionists, the other apparently using his rosary in a provocative fashion. Frankly the mind boggles, it sounds like something out of Monty Python, only not as dangerous as the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch and rather telling that people might be frightened of a rosary, but whatever happened it wasn’t the most sensible, given the explicit instructions that were given by the organisers of the vigil not to engage with the protestors in any way at all.
It’s obviously very difficult for the organisers of the vigil to physically remove somebody who isn’t abiding by the rules, the most that can be done is to ask them to desist and/or leave, keeping the peace is largely a matter for the police, who are not going to arrest someone for over-enthusiastic jangling of a rosary. That’s not to say that there is room for complacency, though 40daysforlife deserve our congratulations and thanks for their brave witness, as do the participants, it seems fair to comment that once Holy Week is over, there needs to be some sort of official debrief of the campaign if one has not been planned already. It would be helpful to review events, strategy, organisation in order to see what worked, what could be improved upon and to ensure that participants do stick to the rules in order that they are not left open to allegations of harassment. Having witnessed the vigil in Brighton on a couple of occasions now, without actually participating (it’s very difficult for me to arrange childcare for 3 children during the Easter holidays and my younger 2 are simply not up to sitting still in a buggy for an hour on a busy road) having sat in a car with the DVD player on and watched and prayed a rosary from a discreet distance, or played with the children in the park opposite, I have to say that it is my observation that no women are hassled or harangued whatsoever. At most 4 people stand under a banner with a sign saying, we are here to help. I have a copy of the newspaper that they offer out – it is devoid of graphic imagery and there is no incorrect or misleading scientific information. Passers-by are asked if they would like a copy of a newspaper – that is all. It seems to be members of the general public that approach those on the vigil rather than vice-versa. There’s been no cameras or videos that I have witnessed. The other day there was simply a solitary man stood there in the pouring rain, getting very wet as he prayed. I know several of the regular attendees of the Bedford Square vigil who are not in the business of hassling women. One man, who we all know very well, featured in several articles in the Daily Telegraph and Guardian. This man is so very frightening that on the occasion I attended the Michael Voris talk in London, he was thoughtful enough to realise that I would be bringing my young baby who I was breast-feeding, rang me on the train and asked if he could meet me to help with the buggy etc as he was worried I might be struggling. A young single man in his twenties, who spent much of the time cuddling my baby or little Miss Pidge as he called her. Not the vicious, intimidating thug insinuated by the glut of photographs, which made me giggle and indignant at the same time. Other friends of mine who attend are again, not the bullying type and would refuse to be associated with an event that included the haranguing of women. All of them categorically deny ever having witnessed any members of the vigils filming. Frankly I know who I am minded to believe.
There have been criticisms of the man who was apparently filming, but 40daysforlife have disassociated themselves from this and the person was asked to refrain from repeating his actions. 40daysforlife have come in for repeated criticism with regards to this incident and how they handled it. Whilst it is almost impossible to physically stop people from filming and leave a public area, if they are not breaking the law, perhaps the PR could have been handled more professionally.
What has utterly dismayed me however, is that some pro-lifers seem to be revelling in criticism of 40daysforlife and keen to denounce their every move. What has shocked and dismayed many, is the criticism levelled at 40daysforlife by people who simply were not there, either during the campaign itself or at Friday night’s vigil. Any of us can be a keyboard warrior and opine on the internet, but it takes guts, courage, determination and commitment to set up and run a campaign like 40daysforlife. What Robert Colquhoun has done deserves the utmost respect, admiration and praise. As I said previously, he is not a professional, he is not paid to run 40daysforlife, he has a day job and other commitments, but he does it because he committed to the concept of prayer and fasting to end abortion.
I don’t actually want to criticise Robert because I think he’s done an absolutely marvellous job. He is a saint who puts most of us to shame. We can all opine about 40daysforlife, who should run it, how it should be run, if it should exist at all but to me the man is a hero, because he got off his backside and actually did something. He has mobilised many many Catholics in this country to actually come together and pray for an end to abortion as well as unite various groups in order to offer support for women who may change their mind at the presence of those praying on the vigils. Catholics have been crying out for years in frustration and impotence in terms of actually being able to “do” anything to help save the unborn – 40daysforlife have harnessed and mobilised that desire.
There may be questions about whether this should be a diocesan controlled event, who should be in charge, how it should be run, strategy, whether or not it is a manifestation of deep fissures in the pro-life effort that need to be resolved, but at least it’s a start. There may be many problems and issues, but why not use 40daysforlife as a starting point – keep what’s good, tighten up on procedures, have the campaign more tightly organised and stewarded, but it’s been an excellent foundation, it’s raised awareness and certainly got the pro-aborts concerned. Babies have been saved and women have been helped, maybe not in the vast numbers that critics would like to see in order to keep them statistically satisfied, but there is no doubt that women and babies have been helped. Better some than none. There is one not very far from me, who had it not been for the presence of 40daysforlife would have aborted, feeling that she had no other choice and by her own admission, probably would have ended up committing suicide as a result. She desperately wants to keep her baby and people are doing their best to ensure that she is supported in that.
40daysforlife has always been a lay initiative. If it needs to be improved, consolidated and have slick professional full-time PR or employees such as groups like Abortion Rights, then that needs both time and money that are in short supply. Perhaps ways can be found to help them? But rather than publicly carp about perceived faults, why not celebrate and applaud in a spirit of charity all that 40daysforlife have managed to achieve? Why not try to work with Robert and his team, instead of public critique and handing out ammunition which has been eagerly seized upon by the pro-abort campaign? It was heartening to see so many foot-soldiers turn up on Friday, rather than wannabe generals.
Instead of criticising, carping, using this as an excuse to air deeply held grievances against “enemies” (and really no Catholic should be in the business of making enemies of anyone, let alone other Catholics) why not offer this expertise and knowledge to help improve the campaign and make it better? 40days sprang up to fill a definite void in pro-life action, it gives people an opportunity to be pro-active and “do” something. We can all disseminate and bemoan the reasons why the void existed in the first place, but how does that really help us going forward? What does that achieve other than negativity? Perhaps the CBCEW should get involved, or donate resources, but actually what we should all be doing is congratulating 40daysforlife for what they achieved to date, not with complacency, but with a genuine, honest eyes of charity and love and getting involved in whatever way we can, if we feel as passionate about pro-life as we claim.
When I look at Robert Colquhoun and what he has done and when I look at what I have done, I feel nothing but awe and a sense of shame that I’ve only really, thus far, been able to opine on the sidelines, although I have contributed in other ways. I have providentially been inspired, to find ways of helping out locally with those who were on the 40daysforlife vigil in Brighton. It is an exciting time for us locally. We have big plans afoot that don’t involve the perceived harassment of women but constructive, positive, practical support and help. The abundant graces that flow once one has made a decision to chose life are innumerable.
It is Holy Week, a time of reflection and preparation, how did Lent go for you, if you were pro-life what did you do? Join the vigils, or if you could not, did you pray at home, fast, give alms for an end to abortion? Did you get off your backside and actually do something positive and make an effort? Or did you just sit on the fence or alternatively carp, criticise and opine at one end of a keyboard?
The controversy about 40daysforLife continues to rumble on, following their appearance on the Today programme on Wednesday morning, which with an audience of over 4 million people, was a massive publicity coup for an ‘organisation’ which is run on a shoe-string.
The amateur nature of 40days is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing in as much as without access to any sort of slick PR machine, unlike the abortion clinics and their associated groups, 40daysforlife cannot be accused of back-door lobbying or underhand techniques. There is no flashy website or dedicated social media manager. They are very much what they say on the tin. An attempt to unite Christians and other faiths, in an invitation to attend vigils to peacefully pray for all those inside the abortion clinics. There can be no doubt with regards to the sincerity of the organisers or participants. Credit needs to be given to Robert Colquhoun who brought this campaign to the UK and who has mobilised the prayers of many people, both in front of the clinics and encouraged prayer, meditations and fasting for those at home.
That 40days have appeared on national media, following their appearance on Radio 4, they were then the subject of discussion on Matthew Wright’s show on Channel 5, is a testament to their success. They are certainly raising awareness. There can be no doubt that they have pro-abortion advocates rattled, with the emergence of counter-campaigns and lots of attempts to smear and discredit.
Which brings me on to the flip-side of their efforts. It needs to be remembered that this is a wholly amateur operation. Every single volunteer, from Robert Colquhoun downwards, is unpaid and gives up their free time. They all have day jobs. There simply is not the money to employ anyone. Which means that their social media account is not running in as professional a way as would be desirable. Getting the PR right is an essential part of activism, and social media plays a not inconsequential part. Understandably, 40days sees their main role as prayer and fasting, they are far more concerned with the spiritual than the temporal, which leaves them open to criticism.
More seriously, the amateur nature of the campaign also means that it leaves themselves open allegations of malpractice and harassment such as the filming and harassment of women. The filming of women both on the street and going in and out of the clinic is wholly unacceptable. 40daysforlife do not condone or encourage this is any way. The difficulty for them is, that despite the presence of at least one organiser at every vigil, it becomes very difficult to control the behaviour of other people. Participants do need to sign up to the statement of peace, which explicitly prohibits people from acting in a manner that may be harmful and asks participants to ensure that they reflect Christ’s compassion and love. The difficulty is that Christian compassion and love may be interpreted in a myriad of ways, however we can be reasonably confident that Christ would not condone the filming and invasion of privacy of vulnerable women. Once somebody does start to behave in a way that is unacceptable, they are immediately disassociated from the vigil, but as the participants are supposed to act in a peaceful way and are predominantly concerned with prayer, it becomes almost impossible to force someone to stop doing something unhelpful. Filming in public is not against the law and even Sunny Hundal was not averse to turning up to Bedford Square and filming, although he did not specifically film the faces of women. Unless any specific laws are broken or public order offences committed, though the organisers can politely request people to stop filming or behaving in a way that may be deleterious, they are powerless to act, other than call the police. The filming would appear to be a two way street, participants on the vigil have informed me of being very disconcerted that for the entire duration of their stay (usually an hour) there has been a member of the clinic with a video camera trained directly upon them.
On the Today programme Anne Furedi read a statement from a woman who said that she had been followed to the clinic and then made an allusion to women being pinned up against the wall. Obviously if this has happened it is despicable, however as BPAS are obviously filming the protest, surely if this had happened there would be evidence which should have been passed to the police. Personally speaking, if someone had done that to me whilst entering an establishment, I would have alerted the staff inside straight away, identified the assailant and called the police. There was another accusation of encirclement, followed by an admission that very often there will only be one protestor, which makes encirclement impossible. If one person follows another to the clinic door as alleged, unless they are some kind of super-hero with extraterrestrial powers, or able to bi-locate, encirclement seems highly unlikely.
Whilst loathe to accuse anyone of lying, it seems possible that some distortion has gone on here. The modus operandi of 40daysforlife is that most participants take part in prayer and witness and volunteers take turns to distribute leaflets. The following accusation, is not one of stalking, but of women being followed to the door of the clinic. If this does happen, the zeal is understandable, but it must stop. I have spoken to several participants of 40days vigils over the past few days and none of them recognise this type of behaviour. What usually happens is a leaflet is offered, if the person wants to accept or engage in conversation, discourse takes place, but following anyone down the street is not encouraged and would disassociate someone from the vigil.
40days recognise that women entering the abortion clinic are vulnerable. That’s why they have a big sign “we are here to help” and why they offer back-up support, which I will discuss in a later post. Abortion rights groups are so concerned by the impact of these vigils that they are using every tool in their arsenal to smear and discredit, that they are also targeting the Good Counsel Network, again another voluntary organisation, entirely reliant on charitable donations and who are more concerned with their daily work of actually getting on and providing real practical help, than mounting PR campaigns or properly defending themselves. Those on 40days must ensure that they do not leave themselves open, if a leaflet is offered and refused then that should be the end of it. An opportunity to engage and change hearts and minds has been put forward, pestering women who are in terrible situations is counter-productive. IF this happens, and I’m not convinced it does, but if it does, then organisers need to stamp on this. Though I am in no way vulnerable, I know just how annoying it is when someone attempting to advertise a product or hand out a leaflet won’t take no for an answer. It just puts one’s back up and causes defensiveness. On an everyday level, there is an incredibly pushy group of cosmetic salesmen in Brighton’s Churchill Centre, who seem to target me every time I have the children in the double-buggy. Despite the fact I am clearly preoccupied with manhandling a buggy, stopping child A from pulling child B’s hair or preventing child from clambering out of buggy or tantrums etc, a “no thanks” seems to have no effect, these boys continue to sidle up alongside you, repeatedly cajoling you to try their luscious products. Never mind the hand-cream, it’s Arnica they need if they don’t leave me alone. If unwanted hand cream samples give me the rage, it can only be imagined what a passionate pro-life supporter might do to a woman who is in a delicate emotional state. A leaflet offered is the most that should be attempted and a refusal met with good grace.
Ann Furedi and others have commented that the actions of 40daysforlife are un-Christian in their actions. Whilst I usually attempt to ensure that my pro-life arguments are predominantly secular, a pro-life viewpoint does not necessitate theism, I am not ashamed to admit that I am first and foremost a Christian, and for me, being pro-life follows holistically from my Christian faith. Prayer constitutes an enormous part of Christianity. I don’t talk about my prayer life as often as I should, but that is partly because for me, it is deeply intimate and personal. As personal to me as my intimate life with my husband. I worry that talking about it, somehow violates my relationship with the Lord, but prayer is a huge feature of my daily life. As Christians we should never under-estimate the power of prayer, which is part of the success of 40daysforlife. There have globally been thousands of babies saved.
Some, including Christians, have mooted that this prayer should be in the confines of our own homes. To me, that seems to be pandering to the modern secular agenda. It’s Okay to be a Christian, but we have to be nice mute ones, never causing any trouble. That isn’t what Christ was about, he was a radical, he hung about with the poor, the dispossessed, the outcast and the vulnerable. He drove money lenders out of the Temple and was non too concerned with what view the authorities may take of him. Would he have been outside an abortion clinic healing women before they went in? The answer is most definitely. However, though Christ always meets you where you are, He does not force Himself upon you. All of those who encountered Christ, saw Him and came to Him. He did not chase people, He invited them to follow Him. Which is of course the lesson for those outside clinics. An invitation must be issued, but not forced.
When it comes to the issue of Christians publicly manifesting their faith, we seem to have something of a crisis in the UK, which is feeding into a culture war. Politicians love to tell us that we are a tolerant and diverse society, but what that seems to entail in practice is smiling tolerantly and happily at women in their hijabs or saris or at Gary and Jamie holding hands whilst walking their Gucci-clad chiuaua down the street. Isn’t it wonderful, we tell ourselves, that people can now live their lives without harassment or fear. Whilst that is most definitely true, the same is not said of Christians who could be said to be serious in their faith. We are “fundy nutters” driven by religious fervour and hatred apparently. What is forgotten is that a key part of Christianity is not only prayer, but evangelisation. Spreading the Good News. Clearly this has to be done in an appropriate way, one that is not counter-productive, but in an allegedly tolerant and diverse society, it should be possible, to gently talk about your faith or your beliefs without living in fear of hate-speech or dismissal. If a work colleague wants to ask me my views on something, I should not be too frightened of the consequences to honestly engage.
Far from being un-Christian praying peacefully outside an abortion clinic is an act of witness and of faith, it is a living out of the Christian vocation and should not be eschewed out of fear or because it is thought impolitic. There seems something diabolic behind the notion that Christians should not be praying outside of Churches or their own homes, let alone in front of abortion clinics, where so much destruction of life is taking place. It comes to something when Catholics are suggesting that other Catholics should not be praying in public, for fear of other’s reactions or negative PR.
For those who suggest that their presence is un-Christian in that it potentially upsets women, I refer to my previous post; if abortion is upsetting and traumatic – why is that? This person appears to think that it is nothing of the sort – I love abortion she says. Women must be treated compassionately and sensitively, which must rule out harassment, invasion of privacy or anything that could amount to condemnation, however a presence which offers another choice or point of view, a way back from abortion, does not lack compassion. Abortion is the ending of the life of an unborn child, which hurts not only child, but the mother as well. A pastoral team in my diocese patrols Beachy Head, spotting potential jumpers and offering fellowship, comfort and support, a way back. No Christian would stand back and watch a person hurl themselves off a cliff, because it’s their body, their choice and they were scared of being intrusive. Offering a leaflet or saying a rosary in those circumstances would be a wholly inadequate approach. A pro-life presence signifies to people that they do not have to end the life of their unborn child.
What all Christians need to be aware is that pro-life should consist of the three Ps; politics, PR and prayer, which all have equal import. 40days need to ensure that their wonderful prayer efforts are not undermined by lack of PR or politics. “Professional” Catholic pro-life activists must not forget or deny the power of prayer and public witness.
Responding to Robert Colquhoun’s statement that those attending vigils were there out of a spirit of compassion and love, Anne Furedi requested that they should “take your love elsewhere”. It doesn’t take a genius to work out which of those statements is most in accord with Gospel values.
During yesterday’s vigil at Bedford Square, a member of the public arrived and covered the vigil in horse dung. They calmly ignored it, continuing to pray, clearing up the site when they left. That’s intimidation for you!
As I wrote both on the blog and in the Catholic Herald last week, pro-lifers are gaining momentum, the pro-choice lobby are on the back foot following the recent scandal of sex-selective abortion with the issue of post-birth abortion hot on its heels and they don’t like it one little bit, hence they are resorting to the oldest trick in the book and as I know to my cost, the staple of those in an ideological corner – attack, which is supposedly the best form of defence.
Today has seen a flurry of articles in the paper of pro-choice propaganda, commonly known as The Guardian, fretting about the activities of 40daysforlife, whose peaceful prayer vigils, expose the self-deceit at the heart of those who support a woman’s supposed “choice”. They claim that the very presence of peaceful protestors is somehow intimidating, that it is imposing views on vulnerable women facing a difficult decision, whilst denying the humanity of the unborn child. If this is not an unborn child, but simply a cluster of cells, or an unviable fetus that would be unable to survive outside the mother’s womb, then why is the presence of those on the vigil so troublesome and disturbing? If a woman is simply exercising a choice available to her, i.e. not to have a baby, then what on earth has she got to worry about? She should hold her head high, march straight on into the abortion clinic and get them to remove the products of conception forthwith and pay no attention to the religious nut jobs praying to their invisible sky fairy. If it is simply a choice, a meaningless decision, then 40daysforlife are nothing more than an advertising campaign for the alternative choice and if a woman has made her mind up she is unlikely to be swayed.
The problem for passionate advocates of abortion rights is that many of their own, such as Diane Abbott, accept that abortion is a tragedy, because it entails the destruction of life. Even if they prefer to term it the destruction of potential life, they are some way to recognising abortion for what it is. If abortion is a difficult and burdensome decision it is precisely because those faced with seemingly impossible situations who enter the abortion clinic with a heavy heart, recognise the gravity of their actions, yet feel that there is no other solution for them. For these women who are most definitely vulnerable, the presence of those praying for them, their unborn children and the staff in the abortion facility, is problematic, because it is a tangible reminder of the seriousness of their potential choice. It makes it more difficult for women to ignore the reality of the human life within them.
Pro-life protestors are problematic for the abortion clinics and supporters of abortion because they are either an advertisement for the opposing course of action or a physical reminder of the life of the unborn, not to mention the enormous elephant in the room, namely that human nature is to seek the approval or validation of others. This is precisely why every single abortion-rights group emphasise the “one in three women will need and abortion” slogan at every opportunity. This not only reinforces the idea that abortion is a basic necessity, every mother must be able to get rid of her unborn child, but also uses social validation, a known technique for helping those who are undecided, typically in the world of retail when contemplating what product to buy, we are influenced by the decisions of others. Protestors outside a clinic are a manifestation of people who are in disagreement and who, whilst enormously sympathetic to the plight of women facing horrendous circumstances, cannot and will not condone the killing of an unborn child. What is deemed unacceptable is that there is a group of people present who disagree with the choice that is being made. It is always difficult when people express disagreement with our own personal moral choices, but that is life. Those who care about us try to sensitively point out when we are making harmful decisions. That isn’t hatred or condemnation – it’s genuine care, concern and compassion.
What happens during these vigils?
Admittedly I am yet to attend one, however this will shortly change. The highly respected and well-renowned Catholic priest Fr Stephen Wang attended a 40 days vigil at the weekend, and it was his moving testimony that has motivated me to overcome my reticence. The only reason I have not previously attended is that last year I was heavily pregnant throughout the 40 days, indeed Felicity was born in the final days of the campaign, on Maundy Thursday last year, commuting to London heavily pregnant with a toddler in tow and negotiating the London Underground was too much of a chore. Similarly during the campaign of last Autumn, I would have needed to jostle toddler and newborn single-handedly around London and felt that though worthwhile, the exercise would have been too fraught with logistical difficulties.
As Fr Stephen states, these vigils are entirely peaceful. I imagine that the non-religious would find them interminably boring. It’s literally a small group of people praying underneath a non-graphic banner with a depiction of a Dove and a Bible verse. Hardly the most chilling or gruesome of images. Look away now.
As Fr Stephen notes:
People at the vigil are not there to judge, but to pray and to offer hope. And you feel the reality of this prayer and hope when you are there, even if it highlights the starkness of the choices many people are facing.
Ben Quinn wrote an uncharacteristically balanced piece, the tone of which sympathised with the staff of BPAS, but nonetheless conceded that often the protestors consist of
a solitary participant…reciting the rosary across the road from the clinic.
Sarah Ditum, on the other hand, was a lot more strident, her piece contained no direct evidence, but simply quotes from Clare Murphy of BPAS who claims that protestors “encircle” women on the doorstep. 40daysforLife is in its third year. If this alleged harassment is occurring, then why have the police not been alerted and why have BPAS not used a camera of their own in order to prove what is allegedly occurring?
Here is the statement of peace that every single attendee of the 40daysforlife vigil has to sign as a registered participant.
1. I will only pursue peaceful solutions to the violence of abortion when volunteering with the 40 Days for Life campaign
2. I will show compassion and reflect Christ’s love to all abortion facility employees, volunteers, and customers
3. I understand that acting in a violent or harmful manner immediately and completely disassociates me from the 40 Days for Life campaign
4. I am in no way associated with the abortion facility or its affiliates by way of employment, informant, volunteer, client, or otherwise
While standing in the city right of way in front of the abortion facility:
5. I will not obstruct the driveways or sidewalk while standing in the public right of way
6. I will not litter on the public right of way
7. I will closely attend to any children I bring to the prayer vigil
8. I will not threaten, physically contact, or verbally abuse the abortion facility, employees, volunteers, or customers
9. I will not vandalize private property
10. I will cooperate with local city authorities
It hardly tallies with tales and tactics of intimidation. Where the problem has arisen, is that it seems like some over-enthusiastic participant has been spotted videoing the entrance to the facility. This is unacceptable and 40daysforlife have disassociated themselves from and condemned this action. The facts are not entirely clear, but when I spoke to Robert Colquhoun this afternoon, he confirmed that participants often do take cameras, but any photography or videoing that takes place, is not of women, but of the participants themselves, often to guarantee their own safety.
As the indomitable and heroic Clare, testifies, having been to several vigils, it is actually the protestors themselves who find themselves threatened and harangued by passers-by. When she attended a vigil outside the Marie Stopes clinic in London, a passer-by thought it appropriate to take photographs of her children, telling her that he was going to send them to Social Services as she was clearly an unfit mother. Last week at the 40days vigil in Bedford Square, a local man approached her children, telling them that their mother was doing “devil’s work” and that he was going to call the police. He made good with his threat, the police duly appeared having been informed that there were children outside the clinic who should be in school, whereupon it was explained that the children were home-educated and the policeman said no further action was necessary.
On one occasion Clare was interviewed for the Catholic TV channel EWTN, therefore a camera crew were filming quite legitimately. Robert informed me that three years of prolonged threats and insults on the vigils had toughened him up considerably, therefore though he continued to find reports such as those in the Guardian irksome in that they were full of inaccuracies, falsehoods and innuendoes, they no longer bothered him. 40daysforlife is clearly proving effective, given that the Guardian have devoted two articles in the space of 24 hours to them and has now written over 4 articles, so concerned are they by a handful of religious protestors praying the rosary. If these articles generate more national coverage of the campaign, it could well have a positive effect of encouraging more Christians to participate, or to set up groups in their locality.
On the issue of filming, this is not an activity that is carried out by 40daysforlife, nor is photography. The campaign is run on an absolute shoestring, there is no money for this type of equipment and no desire to film women entering or leaving premises. The official marshals, themselves unpaid volunteers giving up a few hours of their free time like the participants, need to remind people not to film either deliberately or inadvertently any members of the public entering or leaving the facility and will disassociate themselves from anyone who does this and ask them to leave the vigil.
When interviewed by Sarah Ditum for the Guardian, Robert was issued with a set of demands and instructions as to what 40daysforlife “should” do. Understandably he feels it inappropriate to be dictated to in an aggressive fashion by a pro-choice columnist, the peace statement is comprehensive and any participants with video equipment or using their mobile phones will be reminded not to video either the entrance or those entering/leaving.
No-one is encircled, bullied, harangued or manipulated and there is no evidence to the contrary, otherwise the police would act. Passers-by are asked if they want a leaflet. Refusals are accepted gracefully. Participants are there primarily to pray. If pregnant women are spoken to, it is because they themselves approach or speak to the participants. Women who wish to engage with the protestors, often do so because they are experiencing doubts and/or they feel that they need to justify their situation. It is this engagement that produces turn-arounds.
Being able to engage with women facing crisis pregnancies takes a lot of skill and emotional intelligence. It requires an open-hearted, non-judgemental attitude, not haranguing a woman, or telling her that she is evil, but a willingness first and foremost to listen and let her speak. There is no manipulation, women are told that there are other options and people willing to help them. There is a big sign up saying “we are here to help you”, which often provides the impetus for women to approach those on the vigil. Whether she admits it or not, a woman who approaches pro-life supporters outside an abortion clinic that she is about to enter, is subconsciously crying out for help. Any turnarounds that occur, are not due to women being “repulsed” by the protestors, if a campaign repulses one, such as say the images used by anti-vivisectionists, the normal response is simply to put ones head down and walk past very swiftly. A banner with a dove and a handful of “bead-rattlers” is hardly likely to deter a woman who is determined to abort her baby.
The spectre of the American bogeyman
40daysforlife is what it says on the tin. It’s not a 24/7 campaign. Participants give up an hour of their free time. No-one is outside Bedford Square at 3am, similarly the clue is in the name. The campaign lasts 40 days and coincides with Lent. A further campaign is takes place in the Autumn. To put it in perspective, that’s 80 days out of 365, one fifth of the year. Not a prolonged onslaught.
Both Ben Quinn and Sarah Ditum are extremely keen to compare what is going on in the UK, to what happens in America, despite the fact that the demographics and politics of the two countries are entirely different as are the abortion laws and indeed the gun laws. There can be absolutely no justification for the killings of abortionists but these need to be put in perspective. Since abortion was legalised via Roe V Wade in 1972, there has been a grand total of 8 abortion doctors killed. That is 8 too many, but these occurrences are rare. Compare that to the 50 million terminations that have been carried out since then. The pro-life movement condemns and abhors these acts of violence which are in the minority, but that does not stop people from wishing to brand pro-lifers as violent lunatics. Every year in the US, 1.2 million unborn babies are killed, compared to two tenths of an abortionist. (LifeSite News)
It’s the old slippery slope argument, that is so often derided by the so-called liberals.
Note the emotive and suggestive language, “escalation of protests”. Note the attempt to link in the unrelated hacker who incidentally aligns himself with a group who this week hacked the Vatican and threatened to release confidential details of all the Vatican journalists. There will always be those who are unable to see the unacceptable nature of their actions. Many people felt equally strongly about vivisectionists. No calls were made to curtail the anti-vivisection protests on the basis of the illegal and shocking actions, terror and intimidation techniques of the crazed minority. These were dealt with by due process of the law. Legitimate, lawful protests are not banned on the basis that a loner may hijack the cause. Abortion protestors are no more imposing their views on anyone, than any social or political causes that you see out on the High Street or in town centres on a Saturday morning. In any event there is no history in the UK of pro-life violence, terror or intimidation techniques. The Catholic Church, whose involvement has been highlighted, condemns all acts of violence, but let’s count them in anyway to add to the perceived “lunatic fundamentalist” effect. I also noted the reference to the law requiring ultrasound in 2 US states, which has thankfully been amended in order to remove the possibility of enforced vaginal ultrasound. But let’s put that in there anyway, to scare people further, even though it’s not a reality and not even on the table in the UK.
There is a reason why BPAS are not going to go down the route of escorts for women entering abortion clinics. Firstly there is no threat and secondly, it would add to their overheads. There is a reason why BPAS are trying to fling mud at pro-life protestors – they are proving effective. Whilst the public may support access to abortion, 74% think it is too easy to obtain. There is widespread revulsion regarding late-stage abortions, gender selective abortions, abortions used in place of contraception and the 200,000 abortions that take place every year. There is a reason why people are suspicious of abortion clinics, they can see the financial motivations of these “not-for-profit” (a tax status only) organisations – the heads of both Marie Stopes and BPAS are paid in excess of £125,000 a year. There is a reason if the language of the Right-to-know campaign is being used, namely that it is true and the metaphor of the conveyer belt of the abortion facility is striking a chord with many women who have suffered abortion.
They don’t like it up ’em
There is a reason why a one-off event is being magnified out of all proportion. Opposition to abortion is growing. The 40daysforlife campaign is becoming increasingly successful, it’s managed to unite disparate sections of the pro-life lobby in a simple but effective campaign of gentle protest and prayer. The pro-choice lobby are backed in a corner like a cornered animal, hence their increasingly desperate attack.