Some Thoughts on Abortion and the Pro-Life Movement

On Tuesday I attended a pro-life vigil outside Wiston's Clinic. The vigil passed off peacefully. The police had been alerted by the organiser of the display and came to see us, telling us that it was all okay and above board and that they wouldn't be bothering us.

It is the first time I have ever stood outside an abortion clinic bearing witness to the victims of abortion. As the day progressed, it became more and more obvious that the victims of abortion included the women who entered in those clinic doors.

I must say that the pro-life movement has a fine line to tread. We held a large banner showing what an abortion at 8 weeks actually looks like, and obviously, it looks as horrific as it is. It is the terrible truth about abortion shown in its true graphic light. I couldn't help thinking, though, that although the image itself is powerful, thought-provoking and hard-hitting, that it would serve better to be displayed on the other side of the building, where cars lined the streets at the traffic lights on the Dyke Road intersection.

A man early on in the day approached us and said, "Why are you here with that image? My girlfriend is making a difficult decision here today? She's had to enter by another access point to avoid you." I replied that it was not a 'difficult' decision but a terrible one and as he went past us asked whether he would like to talk about it. Of course, he didn't. While I did not have much sympathy for his cause, it became more obvious as the day progressed that bearing an image of the truth about abortion at the entrance to an abortion gate does not make the pro-life vigil approachable. People already believe that the pro-life lobby is 'militant' and such imagery conjures up the kind of anger within people that 'anti-vivisectionist' people inspire because all they care about is animals.

In other words, the image may be true, but, if someone really had doubts about whether they wanted to go ahead with an abortion, would they really want to talk about it with you, if you are standing there holding that image? It has, according to the group, turned away some people in the past, but my overall feeling is that the pro-life movement needs to be open hearted and open to those who are going in to the clinic. They have already made up their minds. If there is any way their minds will change, you have to be accessible and approachable.

The image is helpful in itself in raising awareness more generally, say on the other side of the road, so that the passing general public can see the horror and, presumably, either agree or be very offended by it. It serves to shame the abortion clinic and all the so called 'doctors' and nurses who work there and cuts through the lies they tell, their deceit as they try to deny the humanity of the unborn child.

Later on in the day, the man came out of the clinic with his girlfriend. They sat near the door, the woman too scared or ashamed, I guess, to come out the entrance where the pro-life vigil were stood. There they sat, the woman, clearly terribly traumatised by what had taken place within those walls, realising what she had allowed them to do, realising the full gravity of what had taken place, and wept into her boyfriends arms. God alone knows what was going on in their lives. It was clear that what had taken place there on Tuesday would remain with her for the rest of her life.

I also saw another young woman, on her own, walk out of the clinic in tears. Abortion is murder, yes, but these women are consistently lied to by the British Pregnancy Advice Service about what abortion is, about its safety and its effects. The effects of abortion are devastating. Perhaps the most shocking thing I saw was a 15/16 year old girl being frog-marched into the clinic by her own mother. Horrendous.

The best pro-life vigil would be one in which those who are standing outside are largely women. Secondly, those who know best about the tragedy of abortion are those women who have had abortions and regretted it deeply. This is, I know, an issue that affects most closely the unborn child whose life is destroyed, but it is a women's issue. If women are going to be persuaded by anyone that the unborn child is a human life, is a baby, a baby they will regret having 'terminated', then it is by other women who now mourn the life that was once within them. These are the ones who have the experience of abortion at first hand. Their witness will convince people.

The other great weakness of the pro-life movement, or at least the one I encountered on Tuesday is a presentation of alternatives to abortion. Just saying, "This is terrible!" does not offer women an alternative to abortion. Where are the leaflets providing information to charities and organisations who can help women, like the Good Counsel Network and the Life UK charity, who provide practical assistance to those in distress?

Overall, however, a visible presence, however poorly equipped to deal with those coming in, are, at least, a Christian witness to the rights of the unborn on whose behalf few are fighting.  Women during an abortion procedure, are unable to see the 'contents of the womb', the unborn baby, the foetus, the human being who dies at the hands of the 'doctor'. The doctors and nurses see it! They don't wear blindfolds. The doctors and nurses know that this is a life. They know that this is a human being. They know that this is a baby and they should not kill it. The doctors do not allow the 'patients' to see what has taken place, because it is a 'surgical procedure'. These doctors continue to murder callously, every day, the babies of vulnerable women in crisis. This song, that I wrote a couple of years ago, is for those doctors. To procure an abortion is a terrible sin, as we know, but the guilt of the doctors who destroy the lives of innocent human beings and their mothers, is far, far greater. Murderers!


Kate said…
I have tagged you for a prayer meme.
Shepherd said…
A very sound and telling statement about the stance taken by Pro Life.
Maybe they would be better off (as you say) focusing on the efects that abortion has on women viz., "X% of women suffer severe psychologicasl problems after having an abortion"
Maybe, also, they should pray the Rosary outside the clinics; I have done this with the Oxford group and it is a very profound experience.
Roger said…
Yeah but surely there is going to be a problem of determining cause and effect here: if you bombard people with the message that X induces guilt, then it will increase the chances of it doing so. The subjective experience of having done something immoral is presumably fairly contingent upon what people reinforce as morality - in Imperial Japan a woman who refused to fall on her husband's sword following his death would have experienced a terrible sense of guilt for having done something improper.

I suppose my point is, "X% of women suffer psychological problems", but what fraction of that X% was due to seeing pictures of bloodied foetuses/being called a 'child killer'/being harrassed on the streets on the way to a clinic? Surely you're best bet is to target parliament. After all, if it's not illegal, targeting women who are not breaking the law is only making you look worse. If you want it banning, lobby the people who can have it banned, not people who are using a free and legal service
georgem said…
When I think of that poor weeping girl it seems to me that the prime mover in the abortion may well have been the boyfriend.
If the girl had really wanted an abortion would she have reacted so strongly? To that extent their relationship is doomed and I don't think she'd need telling of the psychological trauma, since she was already experiencing it.
I firmly believe that a woman's "right" to choose has, in reality, morphed into the man's right to choose and many of them choose no. After all, it's not their bodies and psyches being messed around. It's only a procedure (there's a weasel word), isn't it?
I also believe that what this tells us in these days of universally available contraception is that the majority of women who conceive want, consciously or unconsciously, to bear a child.
It's the partner who doesn't want his carefree life brought to an abrupt end.
A friend of mine confessed many years later that when she came round from the abortion she had as a very young womsn the first thing she cried out was: "My baby, my baby." Why didn't she go to term, then? Because as soon as he knew she was pregnant the father, her boyfriend, showed a clean pair of heels.
I've known a number of women who've had abortions. Only one had no regrets and no thoughts about what kind of son or daughter she might have had.
Until we acknowledge that the thought processes of men and women work differently on this subject the slaughter will continue. There are too many men who cannot see why they should share responsibility for their actions, beyond shelling out for a quickie termination which is in their own self-interest.
And there will be millions more damaged women who will never forgive themselves.
Roger said…
Hi Georgem, yes I quite agree with all of that - but I still think it's difficult to get a clear picture based on your own view. For instance, you say:

"I've known a number of women who've had abortions. Only one had no regrets and no thoughts about what kind of son or daughter she might have had."

I have to admit, I find it difficult to know (without knowing you) how un-biased this view will be. Not that you are actively biasing it, but it strikes me as highly unlikely, prima facie, that you will have put open and unloaded questions to these women, or that you just happened to bump into them randomly (not the type of thing you ask a stranger is it). So if you have this information on the basis of someone approaching a religious group, or an anti-abortion group, then I think it is somewhat unfair to cite it as compelling evidence.

Also, this account is at odds with itself - most anti-aborttion websites (pretty much all in fact) draw attention to the 'repeat abortion' cycle - women tend to have more than one abortion, even within a single year. I find it very hard to believe there is a genuine and widespread sense of having committed murder associated with an action that is repeated throughout one's life
georgem said…
Hi Roger, Fair question. It certainly is a biased view. I was quite open-minded, uninterested even, about abortion until I started to hear of these women’s experiences. They are all known to me, either friends or acquaintances, and their negative reactions were revealed on different occasions under the influence (of drink, not religion) when subjects tend to range far and wide and information encompassing relationships volunteered, not sought. So it’s the personal testimony of a few made some years after the event, not a scientific study of the many. Do note, however, that I prefaced some of my remarks with “I believe” (and still do).

But even scientific and statistical studies are at variance, as you are aware. Most appear to be biased one way or the other. It is a subject that many women who have had abortions tend not want to talk about in the cold light of day and the research quite frequently has the coda that a number of women in the sample simply dropped out.

I do not know how much comprehensive research has been done on the onset of emotional/psychological trauma years after an abortion.

Here are a couple of links giving statistics on emotional and psychological trauma, though I warn you that the organisation is pro-life. Your question as to why women have multiple abortions may find a reasonable answer here and is, in fact, supported by other research.

Here is another link to an academic study on post-abortion trauma research which reports that all research reaches the general consensus that 10% of women experience long-term psychological problems. That’s long-term only. Given the number of abortions, one might extrapolate from this that post-abortion trauma of some duration and at some point in their lives does, indeed, affect millions of women. You may not agree.

Hope this explains where I am coming from, if not convinces . . . . . .

Apologies to Bones and all that this post goes on a bit.
Roger said…
Great, thanks Georgem - I will print out some of the studies while my boss is away and read them this evening. I'm sure those links will be of interest to others too!
Pilgrim said…
Laurence, I think you're being a softy now. Yes, it is true that women are lied to about abortion. However, these days it is so easy to get information on virtually anything. Women could research pregnancy and abortion easily and be informed about what they are about to do. But for some reason too many educated people choose not to be educated about life in the womb and accept the ideology behind abortion without question. I was asked so many stupid questions when I was pregnant by people who consider themselves to be intelligent and educated. For example when I was 25 weeks gestation, if 'it' already turned from a fetus to a 'proper' baby. I emailed this person links with photos of babies that age. He was shocked. Apparently it never occured to him to look the pictures and info up on the internet, although he used the internet for many things. The same goes for several of my female friends, who were equally surprised by those images.

Basically what I'm trying to say is that people choose not to know the truth about abortion. I don't feel sorry for those women who claim they didn't know and that they were lied to.

Would you attend a pro-life vigil outside a 'clinic'?

If so, what would you do, say?

Would you use any props?

Just interested?
Pilgrim said…
I've never been involved in a pro-life movement but have been thinking about doing something lately.

To be very honest, I don't know what the best way to do it would be. Images of aborted babies are not pleasant and I can imagine that you get some very strong reactions. But they definitely make an impression on people (they did on me and turned me pro-life some years back).

I think that prayer is a very powerful thing and that's what I would do if I were standing outside. It is also probably less threatening to those going in.

Are there flyers being distributed about other options and help available to mothers?

Again, I have no experience so my ideas are probably not that new and you've heard it all before. I very much admire you for being involved in this and trying to help.
Roger said…
Georgem: Interesting reading - more interesting is that if you search for the papers they reference (e.g. Ashton, 1980) the top 10 hits are not the medical journals these papers are published in, but the Elliot Institute's own litany of pages publicising them. Furthermore, ALL the articles reference the same small pool of studies that tilt in their favour, while overlooking evidence to the contrary. I admit, this is medical evidence, or at any rate it is evidence produced by psychiatrists (since when did people start taking them seriously though eh?), but the fact that the RCO consistently and overwhelmingly votes in favour of abortion suggests these few papers are marginal.

I do not know whether their findings are a) statistically significant, b) representative of consensus, or c) have been subsequently refuted. The Elliot Institute is not a medical council and of course are only interested in telling one side of the story. That means I have little to go on here other than a few very similar small-scale qualitative studies.

Further, one of the papers reports that around 10% of women experience post0abortion sequelae but that 'few of these' require in-patient care. There is no further explanation, though presumably this is a salient fact. If these women do in fact have psychological problems resulting from abortion, but do not require psychiatric care, then these problems need to be clarified. If I'm told 10% of smokers 'get ill' but 'few require hospital treatment' then I want to know more before I accept this as a persuasive case for banning smoking
Roger said…
Secondly, most of these studies seem to discuss lack of 'community support' as a factor in women's trauma. If this is the case (i.e. it is a feeling of having been ostracised, that one ought not to talk about it, that one has done wrong int he eyes of society etc) then the argument becomes circular. The psychological problems are on account of the negative social attitude to abortion - appealing to these problems as a reason for holding negative attitudes to abortion is fallacious.

Basically, the Elliot Institute wouldn't give a toss if medical studies showed most women do not experience trauma. They don't cite any studies that depart from their own party line. They are as bad as MS - I wouldn't believe MS propaganda and I won't believe this.
Roger said…
Finally, on their 'Politics' page, they issue a call under the heading 'kinder and gentler' advising pro-life Republicans to preach a 'pro-women' message (i.e. dodge the real issue they are fighting for) in order to sell votes. This is not a website to be taken seriously, it is a political vehicle for Republicanism
georgem said…
Well, Roger, I hear you. You can’t say I didn’t warn you that the first set of links I gave would take you to a website with an agenda. However, it doesn’t necessarily negate the argument, unless one wants it to.

Taking the empirical stance is all very well, but the thing is there really doesn’t seem to be any deep or prolonged research on this subject by either pro or anti, including the RCO. And so the majority view of the RCO may be as flawed as you state the opposing side to be.

I can’t help but detect a bit of sophistry in your argument, with the intention of knocking down rather than truly engaging. I may be wrong

For instance, if post-abortion trauma is, as you appear to intimate, quite probably due to negative reactions by society and, therefore, to be dismissed then are you not marching with “there is no such thing as society” brigade? Somehow, I don’t think this was your intention and I may have misunderstood.

If there is a stigma attached to abortion by society as a whole - and we have no evidence that this is so - we would then have to talk about how individuals constitute and relate to the whole (no man is an island, etc. etc.) and why this attitude might prevail if, indeed, it does.

I have a feeling we are not just on different sides of a coin but on different coins entirely and these coins will keep on spinning in opposite directions.

But there you go.

*By the way, Bones, if I were to protest outside a clinic which, I have to say, is highly unlikely, (I’ve already had friendly exchanges with my MP on abortion, euthanasia, Mental Capacity Act), then I would tend to ditch the banners and just have enlarged pix of embryo and foetus, say six in all, with helpful arrows pointing to each stage of development eg beating heart, so the concentration is on life, not death.
Roger said…
Hi Georgem,

Afternoon. Well everyone has an agenda so it's not just the EI, but I do have a general problem with these institutions (and I hasten to add, this goes for MS as well) using whatever evidence they can find through a websearch, often out of context and without offering details as to the significance of it. I mean, of all the doctors in the world, it is a statistical certainty that some will say things you like and some will say things you don't. But there is nonetheless a medical consense, and I am curious to read about that, not just the few studies, pro or contra, that the website chooses to supply. It's frustrating more than anything because it couldn't possibly convince anyone who has not already made their minds up, so it just leads to entrenchment and schism rather than really seeking the truth on a hugely important issue. I'm sure we agree on that anyway.

However, I guess you are right and there is little empirical work on this. I suppose the 'research object' - a subjective experience of trauma - is not ideal for mass-data collection/statistical analysis.

Sorry if it seems like there was some sophistry - I certainly wasn't pulling a Thatcher. I will try a different approach - a scummy Express/Daily Mail reader might say "imigrants shouldn't come here, they will only experience psychological trauma when I turn up at the airport and shout 'scum' in their face." Are you convinced? Me neither.

The problem is that this is not a result of negative reaction by society as a whole (hence I am not with the “there is no such thing as society” brigade), it is a reaction to a small and particularly vicious element of society that will stop at nothing to shame people into compliance. I reckon you could, if so inclined, make people feel bad about anything by doing this. Less people buy fur now than 30 years ago because animal activists have created a sense of shame. People don't eat veal, or buy batter-farmed eggs. I'm not trivialising the issue, I am saying that it is difficult to know whether shame is caused by having done an ethically repugnant deed, or having been told that you have done so by a small section of the public. When we consider that a lot of girls entering an abortion clinic are young, terrified, and probably have psycho-Catholci dads who will never let them forget the shame they brought on the family, I can see that such a person is in a mentally fragile state and is doubting herself. Shouting 'killer' at her (or showing her a picture of a baby) does not touch upon the rights or wrongs of conduct, it just tries to tip a fragile mental balance in your favour. This does not mean abortion is not wrong. But the rightness or wrongness is not, or at least should not, be based on the fact that you can intimidate vulnerable people. Religious cults hand fliers out at crisis centres, why? They know who is easy meat. That's my point. Possibly we are on different coins, but I don't think so
georgem said…
Roger, I am relieved you are on the side of sanity on the society question.
You mention the difficulty of amassing statistics because of the subjective experience of post-abortion trauma. But this might well apply to any mental health problem (as against medical).
I must say I am a little confused by what appears to be a switchback argument. First, for you to take a view, hard statistics are required to prove or disprove the trauma and these are hard to come by for the reasons previously stated.
Then, in a most surprising - well, you had me surprised - turn you go down the somewhat emotional, gut reaction route. I am not saying that this isn’t a perfectly valid point of view, but it seems to me that is precisely what you have criticised others for.
It so happens that I do believe that on certain issues it is often difficult to divorce the simple, human gut reaction from the intellectual.
I wonder in this context whether “shame” is the right word, but I’ll come back to that. However, I do take you to task for this phrase: “psycho-Catholic dads“. Really, Roger? What century are we talking about? How about psycho-Protestant dads, or psycho-Islamic dads, psycho-Atheist dads? This won‘t do.
Surely the dad in the frame is the dad of the embryo/foetus; the one who disappears or pressures the woman to get rid of it. Yes, we are talking about frightened, vulnerable women. No more vulnerable than the embryo/foetus, unless one takes the view that it is an invasion of a woman’s body.
How very brave, then, of a woman who is frightened, vulnerable and abandoned to go ahead with the pregnancy.
I see no good purpose in yelling “killer” outside a clinic but since I have never been with such a group I don’t know whether or not this happens. If it does it is reprehensible.
I come back to the word “shame”. As I said before, I see no evidence that society places a stigma on abortion so isn’t shame a bit of a misnomer?
How about another word - “mourn”?
Roger said…
Hi Georgem,

"You mention the difficulty of amassing statistics because of the subjective experience of post-abortion trauma. But this might well apply to any mental health problem (as against medical)."

Agreed - I was just acknowledging your point. There is a difficulty inherent to surveys based on psychological responses, so the data is always difficult to interpret. I wasn't arguing!

"psycho-Catholic dads“. Really, Roger? What century are we talking about? How about psycho-Protestant dads, or psycho-Islamic dads, psycho-Atheist dads? This won‘t do."

Yes and no. I come from a large Catholic family and have my own very psychopathic Catholic old man. I have no notion of how a Protestant dad behaves in respect to his children, I would imagine it's faily similar though. I wasn't implying there is anything 'worse' about Catholic attitudes to sex and society, but I do know that even for a male growing up in this situation (i.e. myself), I was often inclined to bend the truth and be secretive. The alternative (a 30 minute bollocking for the mildest indiscretion) was too much to bear after a while! I can't imagine what a young girl who falls pregnant in this type of family goes through, and I wouldn't want to make her lot any worse. It aint Christian as far as I can see

I think 'shame' covers my understanding of sex in the Catholic community. To this day, at 35 years of age, I blush like a schoolgirl when anything mildly sexual is mentioned or comes on TV. I am torn - on the one hand I can see the case for moral restraint and temperance, on the other I recognise this as an 'unwanted' habit I have simply had drummed into me that is, in its own way, quite perverse!

I didn't mean to be so bombastic - but I can't see why my subjective experience of, quite frankly, being a prude is evidence of anything other than my family teaching me to be that way. Similarly, I can't see why a 16 year old girl's feeling of having committed a terrible crime is any evidence that she in fact has, hence I don't think this type of pressure really settles the question one way or another.
georgem said…
Hello Roger,
Your honesty humbles me.