Thursday, 29 March 2012

Our right, their wrong

Never the twain shall meet?
'Twas not my intention to blog just now - sat down at the computer to do something completely different! - but I came across an exchange between the Guardian newspaper and SPUC which I thought threw up some good points about the whole debate between pro-choicers and pro-lifers, so decided to post it up.

You can read the exchange for yourself at Revealed: what children are being told about abortion (no hint of melodrama there) and here on John Smeaton's blogsite (where he reports that the Guardian has published SPUC's response to its article).  Essentially it centres around a presentation given by a SPUC speaker at a secondary school in Comberton, which I assume we can take to be fairly typical of the school talks generally given by SPUC.  This particular talk was disclosed to the Guardian by a group of ladies known as Feminist Action Cambridge who were so shocked by its contents that they nearly had to resort to their smelling salts, with Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association, galloping up on his charger to proclaim that "It is deeply disturbing that anti-choice groups are so easily able to enter schools and present these damaging fictions... the government should be more pro-active in preventing groups that persistently make false claims of this nature from having access to vulnerable children, especially in schools."

Let those of us who are not regular Guardian readers, with due fear and trembling, find out what those nasty black-cloaked people at SPUC have been peddling to our innocent youngsters.

Now to be fair, a major concern of the Guardian seems to be that SPUC's talk made a clear link between abortion and an increased risk of breast cancer.  Whilst carrying a first pregnancy to full term does seem to confer a protective effect against breast cancer, the link between abortion and an increased risk is much debated with various studies reaching different conclusions (although the Guardian only quotes one study, which reaches the conclusion that suits it, i.e. a study co-ordinated by Cancer Research UK and published in the Lancet which concludes that abortion does not increase the risk).  In this I think there is a lesson to be learned by pro-lifers.  We must be careful about the statistics we use and the claims we make.  The link between abortion and breast cancer may or may not have been made as clearly in SPUC's talk as the Guardian claims, but at the least the topic seems to have been presented in a way that begs a particular interpretation, whether or not this was the speaker's intention.

Whilst pro-lifers will have a passion for truth and love of life that they long to put across, it is important not to get carried away but to do so with calm rationality.  Being sure of the strict accuracy of one's facts is vital so that, in all justice, we can give a fair hearing to the opposition's point of view without distortion. I can remember myself being put off pro-life work at one stage because it seemed to be gushing with "rivers of blood", riddled with "anti-life conspiracies" and the like... Thankfully the language used seems to have moderated these days.

Of course we may not ourselves be treated with the same justice.  Emma-Rose Cornwall from Feminist Action Cambridge retorts in the Guardian's article, "SPUC's supposed concern for zygotes is a poorly concealed desire to see women forced back into their 'god-given' roles as mothers and housewives, and simultaneously to punish what they perceive as promiscuous sexuality."  Eh??!!  Oh well, maybe Emma-Rose had taken too big a whiff of those smelling-salts.

The fact is that between those who are "pro-choice" and "pro-life" there lies such a huge gulf that the former see statements as appalling which the latter would regard as true and self-evident.  The Guardian quotes a few shockers from SPUC's talk as the denouement of its article:

The 1967 Abortion Act
"What the [abortion] act did was effectively make unborn children a class of non-person. In other words, they didn't have a right to life."
Abortion and disability
"This was an act that gave greater rights to protect people with disabilities... and this is a good thing. But we have a strange situation where on the one hand we do everything we can to help people with disabilities after they're born but it is legal within the Abortion Act to do abortion for disability right up until the birth of the baby."
Women's reproductive rights
"There are certain things as a society we decide are unacceptable, we don't have a right to do. So for example, if somebody were to beat up an old lady, we wouldn't say that's their right to do that. I would say... I would say without the right to life all the other rights become irrelevant."

And the Guardian's problem is...?

OK, again, to be fair, the allusion to beating up old ladies was I think a misjudgment, because it leaves the speaker open to the accusation that he/she is comparing women who have abortions to muggers of old ladies. But other than that, these are statements with which I would wholeheartedly agree.

The Guardian also objected to the fact that children were told abortion can be harmful to women, either physically or mentally.  We cannot brush under the carpet the fact that it can - more often the latter than the former perhaps.  There are countless testimonies given by women who have had abortions which support the claim that after abortion many women do indeed experience trauma, and ongoing, even lifelong regret.  Whether this can be accurately described in psychiatric terms as "a form of post-traumatic stress disorder" (which SPUC's speaker did) I don't know; but there is no justification to complain when children are warned that yes, regret and depression do happen.  The Guardian also seemed to find it shocking that it was suggested to the young people that giving birth to a baby after rape might be allowing "something positive" to come out of the experience.

Enough.  As Anthony McCarthy of SPUC said in his reply to the Guardian, "Supporters of abortion may not like to hear such things, but do they have a right to stop schoolchildren hearing them?"  This incident is indicative of the huge gulf between the pro-life and pro-choice perspectives: we each call the other's right, wrong; and the other's black, white.  It will take calm, dignity, integrity and much prayer to bridge that gulf.

(SPUC have a briefing note about "Abortion and Women's health" which you can download here.)

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