By Caroline Farrow
This week sees the 50th anniversary of the passing of the 1967 Abortion Act and, on paper, things would appear to be very bleak.
Over the past 50 years, 8.8 million lives have been lost to abortion and countless women have endured unimaginable pain and trauma as what was supposed to be a choice for those in the most desperate of circumstances has morphed into an obligation or responsibility to seriously weigh up whether or not you want your unborn child to live.
Politicians have rejected the chance to specifically outlaw sex-selective abortion which, according to recent poll data, is legislation which would be welcomed by over 90 per cent of the population, while babies diagnosed with disabilities or severe illness are able to be aborted right up until the moment that they are born.
In addition, not content with the fact that in effect we have abortion on demand in the UK, the abortion lobby is pushing for more and more ground, demanding decriminalisation of abortion up until birth for any reason, lobbying for the removal of conscience rights for medical professionals who are currently exempted from being involved in abortion procedures and doing whatever they can to stifle the pro-life voice in public.
As I wrote last week, Ealing Council looks set to attempt to prohibit pro-life vigils which take place outside the Marie Stopes abortion facility, which is the only opportunity that pregnant women get to be exposed to alternative solutions for them other than termination. Other councils around the country look set to follow suit. Despite her professed Christianity, Theresa May doesn’t seem to have a particularly strong sense of responsibility to the unborn and is likely to cave in to demands from the Labour Party and others, who are looking to impose buffer zones outside clinics which would legally prohibit any kind of pro-life presence or witness.
As the reactions to Jacob Rees-Mogg demonstrated, any expression of opposition to abortion, either by a politician or celebrity, is likely to result in some kind of online lynching unless you qualify it by noting that it’s a difficult decision and ultimately a woman’s choice.
It all seems very bleak and depressing and certainly, from the time I have been involved in the pro-life movement, the lack of progress, especially on the sex selective abortion issue which was an open-goal, has been enormously frustrating.
That said, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to succumb to the sin of despondency, no matter how bleak the current situation may appear. There are several things that we as Catholics can do in terms of overcoming abortion, the most important of which is to pray. The Good Counsel Network is asking for as many people as possible to offer Mass intentions in reparation for the children lost to abortion and also for the conversion of hearts and minds, so this is definitely one practical step which can be taken. Another is to offer as much prayer as possible, whether that’s a decade or an entire Rosary every day, or perhaps to spend some time in Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.
One thing I have learned is that, more than anything, the battle for the unborn is as much a spiritual one as a practical one. Every time I am about to undertake an important or significant pro-life media appearance, a spanner in the works crops up, without fail. It’s almost as if there’s someone who is actively trying to prevent a convincing pro-life point of view being proposed to the wider public. As a result of the furore surrounding the Ealing clinic vigils, Clare McCullough from the Good Counsel Network has found herself under siege from the media, but nonetheless did a superb job of highlighting the work of the organisation on various programmes with absolutely no prior media training, something she modestly credits to the power of prayer.
For the first time ever, the BBC finally allowed a mother who had been helped by the Good Counsel Network to come on one of its programmes – it was BBC1’s Sunday Morning Live – and tell her story. This was no mean feat. After spending all week lining up the interview, the BBC then attempted to pull out and replace this mother at the last minute, but in a stunning and unprecedented show of solidarity every single UK pro-life and Catholic organisation refused to participate, unless she was reinstated and allowed to speak.
This left the BBC with no choice and they conceded, much to the disquiet of the abortion supporters. It’s very hard to tell the mother of a young child that the people who offered her help should be prevented from doing the same for other people. I don’t think it was coincidental that a determined attempt was made to silence this mother’s voice before she went on air, or that, at a time when she was being besieged by phone calls and was attempting to sort out the situation, Clare McCullough’s phone went on the blink! It really was as though dark forces were at work!
Set against this, however, the day before the Fatima centenary, the Good Counsel Network was privileged to be loaned some relics of Jacinta and Francisco, two of the seers, which they took to all of the abortion clinics in London. Just 24 hours later, the UK pro-life movement pulled together as never before and have now made a commitment to work together in a much more unified and productive fashion than previously.
At the same time as all of this is going on, yet another terrible scandal has come to light at Marie Stopes, with a CQC inspection revealing that staff were paid bonuses to pressurise their clients into going through with an abortion. Marie Stopes’ major competitor, BPAS, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, has immediately distanced itself and condemned the practice. It’s funny, just as pro-life groups are pulling together, a split appears to be happening in the previously tight-knit pro-choice camp.
While the media narrative surrounding the 50th anniversary of the Abortion Act appears to be very one-sided and nothing but a thinly veiled advert for the abortion industry, what is also emerging is that the notion of ‘choice’ for pregnant women is illusory. While many are unhappy at the idea of criminalisation of abortion with the false bogeyman of the botched backstreet practitioner looming large in public imagination, it’s becoming clear that 50 years of legal abortion has not equated to 50 years of safe abortion, and that the abortion industry in the UK is out of control.
So while we reflect and pray over the events of the past 50 years, there’s also room for hope and positivity. We should use the increased media coverage as an opportunity to talk sensibly about abortion to family and friends and highlight how the humanity of the unborn child is always a glaring omission in talk of women’s rights.
Another good practical thing to do would be to write to your local MP, highlighting the good work done by the pro-life organisations outside the abortion clinics and urge them not to support either buffer zones or further decriminalisation.
The devil always overplays his hand. Depressing as 50 years of liberal abortion may feel, there’s good reason for renewed optimism.
• Caroline Farrow is a Catholic journalist and broadcaster
Picture: Fighting back. Pictured is a 1975 pro-life march which saw thousands of anti-abortionists, some accompanied by children, parading silently through Whitehall after a march from Hyde Park. On the other side of the road and sealed off by police are a crowd of chanting pro-abortionists. Has the fight against abortion progressed at all in the 40 years since this demonstration?