Thursday, 9 February 2012

The responsibilities of pro lifers

Today I popped over to Bump Babies Beyond, where Londonistar (who commented on Amanda’s excellent post about the 12-week scan) blogs (she can also be found at TowerTales).  Imminently expecting a baby, she describes herself as “Conservative in political outlook struggling and aspiring Catholic in faith. Welcome to a parenting journey from these perspectives.”  Do go over and have a look.  I’ll refer to her, with apologies, as “L” because I don’t know her real name.

My first stop was at the post L herself recommended us to read, The Politics of Personal.  In this she talks more about the experience of abortion following a 12-week scan, and her journey afterwards, that she related in her comment.  It’s a moving post that gives plenty of food for thought, but I’d just like to mention a couple of themes that particularly struck me.

After the scan (which was not straightforward) she and her partner had a big decision to make and she writes, “At that time of our lives we were horribly caught up in the abortion debate raging across the internet again and frankly I wondered whether people ever stop to think about the effect this has on the people caught up in it who are being fought over so bitterly…”  She continues this theme in a striking paragraph,

            “The internet is a ghastly place at times. Deep in among the anti abortion propaganda I was made to feel fearful and guilty. Guilty of what I wondered? Getting pregnant and facing this decision? We didn’t choose this lot in life.  Abortion is so casually debated that there is no distinction made between the women, or couples, who enter and exit those clinics. No allowances made. The bitter angry or prayerful judgment from people with little or no experience of the pain and heartache of it all or an understanding of who we are as people. This is a deeply personal situation. And it is not one I battled emotionally alone as a woman either. There are two broken hearts in this story.”

Finally she writes, “I am rather fed up with this sensitive issue being kicked around in such an ugly polarised debate. There seems little depth to the abortion debate other than placard proselytizing. Caught in the crossfire for so many months of that year in so many ways, I certainly feel it’s about time the debate matured.”

L concludes her post with a wish list that surely most pro-lifers will agree with: better guidance and support for parents in her situation so that a truly informed choice can be made, the greater promotion of adoption as an option, encouragement given to young people to think hard about what they are doing and about their responsibilities when they consider entering into a sexual relationship.  She emphasises that parents who have been through the abortion process (and she describes vividly the hurt it did her and the attitude of the Marie Stopes clinic she visited) should have their voices heard, as well as women and couples who are not in step with the pro-choice movement.  Perhaps more challengingly for some, she also writes,  “I want to see practical solutions for women and couples to avoid abortion not clinic protests”.  I’m not sure personally quite where I stand on clinic protests – I would happily say the Rosary outside an abortion clinic but I don't think I would stand there holding a photo of a dismembered foetus – but have a recurring sense of guilt about how much I do, or rather don’t do, to practically support those facing crisis pregnancies.

The reason I have quoted her post at such length (there’s more – do read it) is that I feel challenged by it.  Do I lump all those who have abortions into the same category, when in fact they will be from widely differing backgrounds and circumstances and possess motivations and attitudes that are as far from each other as chalk from cheese?  [Daft digression: who decided to compare those two particular substances in the first place...?!  And why??]  If I do, that is neither compassionate nor constructive.  Am I debating the ethics of abortion as though they were philosophical abstractions and forgetting the impact my words may have on those who are struggling with very real down-to-earth crises?  Am I more focused on trumping the other side (maybe using accusative language like “conspiracy of death” and describing “rivers of blood”) than on considering those I am trying to help?  And of course, those I am trying to help (in fact, on many levels, to save) includes not just the babies, but the mums and dads.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1)  It is also worth remembering (to get a bit technical) that whilst the Catholic Church clearly says, “There are concrete acts which it is always wrong to choose” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1761) because they are objectively wrong, it also says that the circumstances surrounding a human act, whilst not changing whether it is objectively right or wrong, can diminish the act’s moral evil or the responsibility of the person carrying it out (see CCC 1754). 

It is definitely not a question of compromising the truth to make people feel better.  The “don’t beat yourself up about it” or “abortion is sometimes so understandable that it’s actually really OK” approaches are unhelpful because you’re essentially just encouraging people to bury the demons of pain and guilt which will, sure as day is day and cheese isn’t chalk, claw and chew their way back up to the surface sooner or later.  It is, however, very much a question of speaking that truth compassionately and remembering the humanity and individuality of those you are addressing.  Especially as pro-lifers who believe in the intrinsic dignity and worth of every human person, we must never let the sensitivities and needs of those most concerned – those actually facing unintended pregnancies or receiving bad news at 12-week scans – get lost in the debate.

I’ve been thinking quite a lot recently not only about how to deliver an essentially simple moral message in a complicated world but also about how to discern the best course of action when picking one’s way through an ethical minefield.  For me this dilemma focuses on the area of medical research and potential treatments for my daughter’s Friedreich’s Ataxia.  But I think I’ve maundered on long enough, so that can wait for another post!

Best wishes to L from all our group and thank you for sharing your story in order to help others.   (Oh – and L’s site today features an interview with Nadine Dorries, whose proposals to bring in compulsory counselling before abortions caused controversy in both pro-choice and pro-life camps.)


  1. Thank you for this thoughtful post. The response under the Q&A post with nadine depresses me as we need to move beyond this now. I have very vivid memories of the women in the clinic I saw that day. One was stood against a wall tears streaming down her face, inconsolable, texting and calling someone endlessly. I asked her if she was ok since Marie Stopes took no interest in her tears at all. Her reply was that she wanted the baby but her boyfriend said he would leave her if she didnt abort. She was beside herself in confusion and really I didn't know who to point her towards for help. Another woman was in the same position as me, judging from her and her partner. Another woman was dressed in a niqab. I didnt get to speak to her until after the procedure. I asked her why she wore the niqab as it looked liked hard work to me. I guess I just wanted to talk to someone as my husband was refused entry and we were all in pain. She said it was because she was terrified her family might see her go into MS. She didnt usually wear it. The father of the baby was not a muslim. How would anyone be able to help her I wonder.

    The complexity of the situations women face is why I really believe this debate has to move beyond placard politics and into the realms of practical ways to help women and couples avoid abortion.

    It also depresses me that feminists have skewed this debate into one of a womens concern when clearly men are very much at the heart of the reasons aswell as the responses to abortion.

    Thanks again for this post.

  2. Thanks Londonistar. Your stories show what a great need there is for good post-abortion counselling as well as practical help for those facing crisis pregnancies. Unfortunately it is often not acknowledged that such counselling is needed and the psychological effects of abortion on parents is brushed under the carpet or outright denied.

    Yes, practical help and education for women and couples is vital but it's not always easy to know how to reach people, especially when the pro-choice lobby is screaming so loudly (in answer to the commenter on your Nadine Dorries post, I think it's a case of the pot calling the kettle black when she describes "fanatical pro-lifers"!). It's especially difficult to get any messages/information over when the issue of abortion has got conflated with so many other issues such as politics and a narrow, exclusive definition of women's rights. The recent Planned Parenthood/Komen funding incident in the US illustrated this well. Unfortunately it is also illustrated in the suffering of the women you describe above (and, I know, your own suffering). Heart-breaking stuff...