Pesky pro-lifers, you’re doing something right!

Let’s face it: it’s not been a fun few weeks for those in the ‘actively pro-life’ camp. Many have likely heard about the bloodhounding of Christian SNP candidate Kate Forbes for various views that some consider to be abhorrent; her stance on abortion being one.

You may have heard of the recent arrest of Isabel Vaughan-Spruce and of Fr Sean Gough for silent prayer outside an abortion facility. Here I must also give an honorary mention to my friend Christian Hacking, who was also arrested a few years ago for praying aloud outside Ealing abortion clinic, which has introduced a ‘buffer zone’. Christian, who is a wheelchair user, was picked up and (somewhat comically, sorry Christian!) carried off into a police van (whilst still praying aloud).

All three of the above have since been vindicated (indeed the evidence for silent prayer must be scant at best!) A victory for free speech in the end, but a worrying and sinister sign of the encroaching thought-police.

But perhaps the largest news item in all this is the hit piece the BBC put out on crisis pregnancy centres this week. BBC’s Panorama conducted a mystery client investigation into various centres in an attempt to discredit their work and accuse them of ‘misleading’ women. 

In all this, I wonder if pro-lifers could accurately be described as (excuse my language), ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’. For it seems that no matter what they do or how they do it, they just keep finding themselves under fire. 

Of course, they don’t need me to defend them (as Isabel Vaughan-Spruce has so clearly demonstrated in this article in Spiked). But many of those who have been in ‘trouble’ lately are my friends, friends I have previously worked alongside, and so I feel compelled to weigh in on this. 

This Guardian piece writes that Pregnancy Crisis Helpline has been found to be using Google Ads to direct pregnant women looking for help to their website. As a former trustee for this helpline, I can confirm that this is true. The PCH website (and indeed the advert) clearly states it does not refer for abortions, yet those interviewed in the Guardian have gotten their knickers in a twist complaining that PCH is ‘immoral’ and ‘misleading’. What the article neglects to mention is the many women who have been helped by the helpline over the past few years; women who have been grateful they found it. The use of Google Ads is saving and helping lives.

Meanwhile, the BBC article published ahead of the Panorama airing also complains of women being misled, and ‘manipulated’ by crisis pregnancy centres (CPCs). Yet when I read through the allegations made, I cannot spot where any heinous crime has been committed. It found women were warned about possible mental health consequences of abortion, and physical ones such as an increased risk of infertility and even breast cancer. These are not bald lies but rather based on study-based research. Somewhere, I have the links, but in the interest of time I hope you will take my word for it. 

Here’s Dr Calum Miller’s scathing review:

What’s worst of all in the eyes of the BBC seems to be that CPC advisers told women they were a mother, and that abortion means she would lose her baby. Information like this might make women ‘feel guilty’. Generally, in the world of counselling, this is seen as a no-no. I know this because I myself am studying to be a counsellor. And whilst I do accept that the purpose of counselling is generally to provide a non-judgmental space, I also have to recognise the crucial moral component when it comes to the question of abortion. Guilt is a natural reaction to a pricked conscience. A negative emotion though it might be, it is an important one, given to us to help us make sound decisions. I’m not talking about false guilt. I’m talking about the feelings of guilt that arise out of real wrong-doing, or from the entertaining of wrong-doing. 

Protecting women from feelings of guilt is not necessarily a helpful thing to do, nor do I believe it should it be our primary aim. This goes for women sitting in a crisis pregnancy centre or women who are about to enter an abortion clinic. Neither are fair game to harass, intimidate or condemn. Women need care and compassion. But it is not loving to withhold the truth. It is not loving to present all pregnancy options as equally valid and to fail to suggest a better way. It is not loving to the woman and it is not loving to her child. 

This is the true clincher – why there will likely always be negative press surrounding crisis pregnancy centres and why there seems to be no neutral ground: Abortion is either morally right, or morally wrong. Perhaps some would like to live in a world where we can all remain impartial; where every option is valid. But that would be to deny reality. Yes, it is true that crisis pregnancy centres are often operated by those who believe abortion is morally wrong. But that ‘bias’ motivates them to offer women another choice, one that seeks a good outcome for both mother and child. CPCs offer a range of help, from merely a listening ear and factual information, to providing ultrasounds, baby goods and even housing. This help is offered free of charge. Abortion providers, on the other hand, provide abortions (and they make a lot of money from it). There is very little offered in the way of counselling or aftercare.

In response to the article published by the Guardian, my friend and former colleague Regan Blanton King writes: “I will continue to advocate for both women and children, giving an ear to those in crisis and beset by a range of vulnerabilities including abuse and coercion and presenting positive alternatives to negative and damaging choices. 

You won’t catch me doing anything else.”

Good for him. 

As I suspected, it turned out the Panorama documentary did not mention the many women who have actually been helped by CPCs. 

The documentary also failed to draw attention to the other side of the coin: That abortion providers have plenty of failings of their own. In 2020, a mystery client investigation was conducted into the UK major abortion providers. The government, in the midst of the pandemic, had recently approved the use of ‘pills by post’ abortions where a woman could ring up the provider and request a medical abortion. After a short telephone consultation with a midwife, the abortion pills would be sent to her address. The investigation found that basic checks were not performed in any of the cases, raising serious concerns about the safety of this no-contact approach. 

To this date, ‘pills by post’ has not been retracted. Will Panorama scrutinise the abortion industry as closely as it has tried to scrutinise those offering alternatives? Given that the programme interviewed Jonathan Lord, medical director of abortion giant MSI Reproductive Choices, I’d imagine not. Dr Lord is currently facing a series of professional misconduct concerns including pressurising a vulnerable woman experiencing a crisis pregnancy. There’s nothing like picking at the specks in others’ eyes to detract from the massive log in your own, is there?

This brings me to another somewhat related point, and one that has been niggling and troubling me in recent weeks. It’s that nitpicking and finger-pointing can just as easily come from our own ‘side’. I’ve seen all too often how quick we can be to criticise those in pro-life work for the way in which they operate. Maybe it’s that we just accept whatever the secular media tells us about pro-lifers without asking ourselves whether such allegations are true. Or maybe things aren’t said or done exactly as we’d like them to; She shouldn’t have stood there, he shouldn’t have said that that way, this presentation was hurtful to me, I don’t like how that group over there does things…. over the course of the years, I’ve heard it all. I must point out that such criticisms often come from those who are not active in pro-life work themselves. That, of course, does not prevent one from observing valid points of feedback and offering constructive criticism where it is really warranted. But, I have to speak honestly and from the heart here, I sometimes wonder if it will ever really be enough. To my Christian friends especially I have to posit the question: Are our criticisms coming from the right place? Are they firstly rooted in Scripture, i.e. can we find a biblical basis for why we disagree with what x person is doing? Have we asked ourselves first what God’s priorities are?

Or is it possible that sometimes, our gripes are coming from our own emotions and preferences? Abortion is indeed a sensitive subject and must be handled carefully, but are we more concerned with how something makes us feel than with the literal killing of human beings? Are we expecting an impossible standard of perfection from the imperfect ones who are, likely, trying to do the best job they can? I offer this question as gently as possible, and I ask it to myself as much as to anyone else. 

Perhaps it is helpful to be reminded that those who fought against injustices of the past faced plenty of criticism of their own. The methods of Martin Luther King Jr, for example, were widely disapproved of even by the Church, but blessed hindsight allows us to see the bigger picture. Who today would argue that MLK should not have engaged in civil disobedience?

I am not attempting to blindly defend all pro-lifers everywhere. I have not yet watched the Panorama documentary and so I cannot tell you if they actually found instances of bad practice. Any such instances should be addressed appropriately by the centres involved. Not only are we accountable to our leaders, we are accountable to God for what we have said and done.

But being involved in this type of ministry is hard. I look at my friends who have devoted themselves to this cause and I see how lonely, how tiring it must sometimes be. It is inevitable they will face opposition, for even to be pro-life at all is a position many find deeply offensive. They will never be congratulated by the BBC for playing nice. Let’s, then, be quick to encourage, ready to pray and offer support before we point out failings. 

And to my friends who fight on in this difficult fight, be encouraged that your work is not in vain, mischaracterised and misunderstood though it may be. One day, I believe, we will win.

I’ll leave you with this timely encouragement from Dave Brennan of Brephos.

God bless. 


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