Friday, 3 August 2012

Responding to criticisms of 40 days For Life. Part One.

So here it is, as promised in my previous post, and slightly redacted here and there to remove personal details and irrelevant verbiage, my pro life apologia. Part one:

Dear A
I understand your concerns about the possible intimidation of women who are already in an enormously stressful situation. I would be horrified too if I thought that some of the reported accounts of what happens at 40 Days For Life were accurate. However I think it is a shame you didn't feel able to discuss this with me first, if only to give me an opportunity to explain a little more..

I think there is much about this issue and my involvement with it that you misunderstand. I try to keep in mind that people who hold contrary positions to my own usually do so out of the best of intentions. Often we want the same thing, but our vision for how to achieve that may differ considerably.

I too am greatly concerned about the rights of women, but I believe the rhetoric of choice, applied to abortion, is deeply misleading. Abortion hurts more women than it helps.

A woman doesn't 'choose' abortion like she chooses a home, a husband or a career. She chooses it like a trapped animal chooses to gnaw off its own leg to get away. This is the choice that confronts many women who choose abortion. For them, to choose abortion is to exercise a 'non choice'. They choose abortion precisely because they feel they have 'no choice'. Many of them are under enormous pressure from family, often a mother or a boyfriend to abort. They are told that unless they abort, they will get no support. Alone and abandoned they feel that they have no other option available to them.

For these women, an encounter with a pro lifer is often the first time they have encountered someone who has responded to their pregnancy as something other than an insuperable disaster. They are offered whatever help and support they feel they need, practical, financial and emotional. And that help is ongoing for as long as they feel they need it. Sometimes this will be many years. This is something that BPAS and Marie Stopes cannot offer. The only "help" on offer from such places is an abortion.

The decision to seek an abortion is not a straightforward one of choice. Many of the women helped by pro lifers are those who fall through the cracks of society. Some of these women are illegals, working in the black economy, with no access to benefits of any kind. Some are foreign students who have invested everything in the opportunity to study here and are without family or friend support of any kind. They can get an abortion free on the NHS but must pay for any obstetric care they receive. Where is the "choice" for women like these? For them, the idea of 'choice' is mere empty rhetoric, because they simply have none. There are many women such as these, who have been supported to keep their babies who would otherwise have aborted because they felt that they had no other choice.

A couple of months ago, one Sunday during an aggressive pro choice 'counter protest' outside the clinic, a middle aged woman got out of a car and approached a friend of mine wanting to know what was going on. When my friend explained about the vigil she became very emotional. She said that March was a very difficult time of year for her. More than 20 years previously, she had had an abortion and was still carrying the pain of that experience. She tearfully hugged my friend and said " I wish you had been there for me all those years ago, because no one was there for me then. I was all alone" This is a story we hear many, many times.

Many of the people involved in pro life work are themselves post abortive and have found healing in helping other women in crisis pregnancies, and also in helping other post abortive women who are struggling to come to terms with their experiences. Shattered by the pain of abortion, many of these women have become the most eloquent and impassioned defenders of everyone's right to life.

Having experienced a pregnancy full of panic, depression and feelings of being unable to cope, and having been helped through that by the unending kindness and patience of people like your sister D, whose goodness to me I will never forget, my heart is torn to pieces when i think about those women who find themselves alone, unsupported and afraid. And having subsequently lost one of the babies I so noisily complained about, I quail to imagine the depths of anguish that such women feel when their immediate crisis passes and they look back on what they have lost. This is how my pro life consciousness became activated. I suddenly saw that this was an issue of NON choice for many women. And that many, many women are silently carrying the unspeakable pain of abortion.

At least a woman who has had a stillbirth or a miscarriage feels that sympathy for her loss may be legitimately sought and received. The woman who has ended her own pregnancy is often left carrying the can for "her choice". This makes her suffering all the more ferocious.

The media has massively twisted what happens at 40 Days For Life. They have tried to present it as an American style 'protest' which it isn't at all. At all vigils there is a sign displayed prominently saying "we are here to help". And the help that is on offer is real, as many women will attest. No-one is judging, condemning or bullying but trying to offer a lifeline.

It is grotesquely wrong and unfair to conflate peaceful pro life outreach with the murder of abortionists. All pro lifers are appalled by violence, because we believe that all human life is worthy of our respect and protection. A few lone crazies do not represent any organisation or movement. It would be equally wrong to tar all peaceful Muslims with the 9/11 brush, or all atheists with the murderous purges of Stalin, Pol Pot or the French Revolution.

I don't want to see a return to "back street abortions", I am far more ambitious than that. I want a society where no woman ever feels she has "no choice" but to abort her unborn child. I want to promote a new way of looking at life. Abortion hurts women.

Despite the euphemistic language that surrounds it, everyone knows that abortion involves the ending of a human life, and that is why you quite rightly say that the decision to abort is "one of the most difficult and heartbreaking" that anyone is ever likely to face. 
It is always wrong, in my opinion, to kill a living human being. That is not to deny that some women face the most horrendous circumstances. They do. And there are no tidy solutions to some of life's grimmest problems. But far harder I think, to walk with a woman in difficult circumstances, and try to share some of her burden.

I don't feel the shame that you say is rightfully mine. I dont feel ashamed because I am so convinced of the inestimable value of every human life, and of our obligation to defend the weakest and most vulnerable members of our human society. This is a matter of conscience for me and although I am sad to lose your good opinion of me, it would be sadder by far for me to silence my conscience in this, or any other respect, in order to secure the esteem of friends.

All this said, I know that you are a wonderful person and that you see this issue in a very different light. I may not be able to convince you of my own good intentions, and I almost certainly will not be able to convince you to see things from my vantage point, but I hope that you will be able to find a way to accommodate, if not exactly celebrate, my 'diversity' in this respect.


  1. Clare,
    Do you remember me? It's been a long time! I always read your posts & I enjoy them very much. I'm a lurker but I had to comment on this. This is so beautifully written. I absolutely love your heart for this issue. Thank you for sharing this!

    P.S. How is your sweet baby girl? She's probably not a baby anymore? I remember praying for her before she was knit together in your womb.

  2. Beautifully said. I am so sorry your Book Club folded and friendships imploded over this. I just don't get the bigotry that says "I disagree with you, therefore I will have nothing to do with you". Crazy.

  3. This is a fantastic post and worthy of wide readership. Many of our critics are post abortive and we must reach out to them with the love of Christ which can transform their hearts and bring hope and healing.

    But as St Thomas Aquinas says.. the first reaction to truth is anger!

  4. Hey Kaira! So nice to hear from you!
    And of COURSE I remember you! And I well remember you praying for my girl. How could I forget. And your kindness was so especially generous given your own story, which I later learned.
    Yes, she's no longer a baby. Her and Honor are great pals and as I type they are playing mummies and daddies, or doggies and owners, or pussycats or something, lol!
    Where does the time go?
    Thanks so much for visiting xx
    (PS. althoough I can moderate comments on the iPad, I can't seem to actually post a comment. Had to wait till I was on the laptop for that. Odd!)

  5. Bookworm
    Thanks for dropping by. I don't get it either. It is a form of liberal totalitarianism I think. The whole point of 'tolerance' is that we have to work at it. It doesn't come easily. If it did we wouldn't have to keep exhorting people to it would we?

    Thanks for your helpful comments.

  6. Well thought and constructed. No matter how certain quarters want to consistently sow seed of division, I employ that we all should consistently seek to act in the manner articulated above; at all times, steadfastly, charitably, in and out of season. It will not be easy, it might take a very long time, we might face setbacks capable of discouaring us but hope tells me we will get to that point where we shall start to see irreversible change of perception, heart and attitude through grace.
    Bless You

  7. "It is a form of liberal totalitarianism I think."

    I totally agree.


  8. What an excellent response. I'm so sorry you had to go through this! That must have been so difficult. I'll say a prayer for all involved.

  9. Clare, your words are well reasoned, articulate, and thought-provoking. Thank you for being faithful in "speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves" ... even when it isn't easy. I'm proud of you!

    David Bereit
    National Director
    40 Days for Life

  10. Jen and David, thank you both so much for visiting and for your kind, encouraging words!

  11. Clare - I just found this post today and it's simply brilliant: compassionate, logical and truthful in the literal sense. I think it should have a wider readership: what about rejigging it a little and sending it to the Herald in the run up to 40 Days for Life? The literary conceit of the letter works well whether or not the "Dear A" is real. In these few paragraphs you've managed to articulate exactly not only why many of us are pro-life, but also why we attend vigils outside abortuaries. Actually - what about trying to get one of the mainstream papers to publish it as a companion to the BPAS lawsuit story? The Telegraph or The Times might be interested in a counter-view. Just a thought. xx

  12. Hi Clare,
    Just found your blog and read your excellent article - I work for 'Silent No More Awareness Campaign' and what you say about why women feel they have to get abortions is SO TRUE. I read hundreds of stories of post-abortive women and one thing they almost always have in common is that they feel they have NO choice. No one to help them. If only one person would stand up for them and say 'you can do this, I'll help you' they would usually not choose the abortion. Keep up your good work!
    -Suzanne in Pennslyvania

  13. Clare,

    This is absolutely amazing. I am going through a similar and painful conflict with some longtime friends of mine, and I only wish I had your eloquence! If they ever reach out to me again and want to know more, I am sending them here. You've said it far better than I could have.

    God bless you!