Whose Choice Anyway? The Right to Life
Letters and commentary on David Alton's Bill to limit late abortions
David Alton MP With Alison Holmes
Acknowledgements Thanks to Christopher Graffius, David Campanale, Ellen Wilkie, Pauline Connor, Bill Hampson, Peter McGrath, Lizzie Bell, Tim Arnheim, Godfrey Bradman, and the dedicated staff of CARE, LIFE and SPUC for all their encouragement and support. 'If the promotion of this Bill succeeds in changing one person's mind, and if just one life is saved, it would make it completely worthwhile.' David Alton at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, January 1988
INTRODUCTION Whose Choice Anyway?
'It's my right to choose. What right does a man have, and a single one at that, to impose his views on women? It's my body, my choice. Not the Church, not the State; a woman should decide her fate. Abortion rights are an essential part of our liberation....'
The arguments are not new ones. And like all arguments there is some substance behind the angry slogans. The purpose of this book is to get behind the slogans and to examine the consequences of 'abortionism' for all involved. The letters which are published here are just a few of the 20,000 letters which I received during the 8 months that elapsed as my Private Member's Bill to stop late abortions was being debated in Parliament. About 2,000 of those letters were hostile to my Bill. The other 18,000 were strongly in support. Thousands of the letters of encouragement came from women, some of whom had had abortions and grieve to this day. Others came from doctors and nurses sickened by procedures which have turned them into destroyers rather than defenders of life. Perhaps most moving of all are the letters from the parents of disabled children, and from disabled people themselves. Abortions on the grounds of disability are known as eugenic abortions - surely the ultimate refuge of a country intoxicated by consumerism and the selfishness that makes no room for those who cannot survive the rigours of the market-place. Over twenty years ago, during the passage of the 1967 Abortion Act, I helped organise a petition to Parliament. As Chairman of a local Young Liberal branch I organised a debate about the ethics of abortion. I even wrote to the mover of the Bill, Mr David Steel. I was told that mine was a hopelessly idealistic view of life: that it took no account of the 'real world'. When the vote was taken in Parliament it seemed that very few shared my idiosyncratic outlook. Out of 635 MPs just 29 voted against the Steel Bill at its Third Reading. Yet, looking back over the intervening period, can we really say that 3 million abortions represent progress? That the violence, degradation and destruction of abortion is something about which we should cheer? Are we so besotted with selfishness that we really believe that it is our right to do whatever we like regardless of the consequences - even our right to take someone else's life?
When, in October 1987, I introduced my Bill to stop late abortions I said that the objective was to do two things. First, to challenge the climate of the times by initiating a nationwide debate about the desirability of abortion. Second, to try and steer through a modest reform to the Abortion Act. That Bill, at its Second Reading on January 22nd 1988, received 296 votes from the 650 MPs who now comprise Parliament - the biggest pro-life vote ever. This book looks at the issues raised during that debate and at the approach pro-lifers must now pursue to obtain legislative change. We did not anticipate easy victories in either of our principal objectives. Two hundred years ago William Wilberforce and the Christians in Parliament who worked and prayed to end slavery committed themselves to a weary 40 years of harrying and campaigning. They were not popular in their day. They challenged vested interest; deeply ingrained prejudice; ethics that were based on the principle of 'the lesser of two evils' and the dubious idea that 'if we don't do it somebody else will'. It took them 40 years - the pro-life movement is just 20 years in to a fight of equal magnitude. Underpinning the practice of abortion are utilitarian values - the same values that justify unrestricted free market economics. Abortionism is sheer defeatism. It destroys the child and enslaves those who promote the abortion. In an abortion we kill both the child and the conscience of those who condone and encourage abortion. Abortion thrives in a society which sees human beings as expendable raw material - not as unique, worthwhile, special and irreplaceable. In another 20 years a Wilberforce may be raised up who will see abortionism wither on the vine. Until then we must bear in mind his encouraging words that 'the bravest of all are not those who win but those who take the first steps'.
A hard row to hoe
At the end of another noisy meeting - this time in Manchester - a young man became particularly abusive and angry. He was wearing all the right badges and was clearly an embracer of causes. 'If your Bill was law,' he told me angrily, 'I would have been a victim.' How was that? 'My girl friend was pregnant and kept it from me. I found out very late. Your Bill would have prevented her from getting an abortion.' This incident seemed to sum up how far society had come. Never mind the feelings of the woman involved - the possible physical and psychological consequences; and certainly never mind the child who had been destroyed. In his mind he, and he alone, would have been the victim of a law which sought to protect a developing child in the later stages of pregnancy.
I knew when I decided to introduce my Abortion (Amendment) Bill that it would provoke a furious reaction. It is better to go nowhere near this issue unless you are prepared to withstand a great deal of anger and abuse. Locked into the ethical issues that abortion raises are personal feelings of bitterness, hatred and guilt some of the most powerful emotions. No wonder my political mentor and one of my oldest friends, Sir Trevor Jones, warned me about avoiding issues 'below the navel'. What was the process that culminated in my introducing this particular Bill? The annual ballot for Private Members' Bills usually takes place in October, when the House returns from its summer recess. In 1987 the State Opening, the Queen's Speech and the Private Members' Ballot were brought forward to late June and early July, in the immediate aftermath of Mrs Thatcher's General Election victory. One issue which never seems to feature in a Government's legislative programme is abortion. This is traditionally a Private Members' issue - and certainly until the 1970s was regarded as a question left to individual Members of Parliament to determine on the basis of their conscience. The 1987 Queen's Speech was true to form - plenty of Bills promised on everything from Poll Tax to the abolition of the Inner London Education Authority but nothing on the protection of the embryo from experimentation and nothing on abortion. Thatcherism is justifiably seen as selfish and consumerist and abortionism fits happily into that approach to life. Three weeks after the General Election the ballot took place. This is literally a public lottery - government by raffle. MPs who draw any of the first half dozen places have a good chance of getting enough time to see their chosen Bill debated. That is, unless it is controversial. Then it is likely to be filibustered or wrecked by any number of procedural devices. So the advice from the Whips is to choose something with which everyone will agree - especially something with which the Government agrees. Then your Bill may become an Act. Four MPs willing to introduce pro-life Bills came up in the first 20 in 1987. However, my three colleagues, Ken Hind, Edward Leigh and Nicholas Winterton, were too far down to have any realistic prospect of getting a Second Reading or obtaining a Committee Stage. But the impact of introducing so many pro-life initiatives was not lost on the House of Commons, and helped to build up support around my own Bill. It was Richard Evans, a journalist with The Times, who burst into my room, then the Liberal Whip's Office, to tell me the news that I had been drawn number three in the ballot. I cannot pretend that I felt especially pleased at this news because the implications were immediately only too clear. He asked me what kind of Bill I would introduce. As he reported the following day, it was likely to be a pro-life Bill - along the lines of my 1980 Ten Minute Rule Bill which had tried to end late
abortions. But I would be making no final decisions until after the summer and would consider other options too. By the time the House rose for the summer recess at the end of July I had enough Private Members' Bills to fill a filing cabinet - or to form a Queen's Speech should the need ever arise. They were on every subject under the sun but I made it clear that the areas I would examine in detail were a Shelter Bill on empty properties, a Bill to protect AIDS victims from discrimination, and a pro-life Bill. I came under no undue pressure from anyone and I made it clear that such pressure would be counter- productive. Before leaving for the summer break I took soundings among activists of three prolife organisations: The Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC), primarily a lobbying organisation that has been active since the introduction of the 1967 legislation; LIFE, which focuses on services such as counselling and housing for pregnant women who come under pressure; and Christian Action, Research and Education (CARE), a relatively young organisation that involves itself in various projects dealing with ethical concerns of the day. While these organisations have been in business for varying lengths of time and have different 'specialities', they are all active on the pro-life front. There had also unfortunately been longstanding disagreements on their various approaches. For this reason I felt I had to make it clear that, for success, our differences had to be minimised and we had to have agreement and unity around a single issue Bill, a goal which we achieved. Three meetings were crucial in arriving at my decision. The first was with Sir Bernard Braine - Conservative MP for Castle Point in Essex. Sir Bernard was elected to Parliament in 1950, the year before I was born. Since he is the longest serving Member, he is the 'father of the House', an indomitable campaigner for human rights, and a genuinely decent man. Sir Bernard is Chairman of the all-party Pro-Life group of MPs, of which I had been a supporter since my election as the youngest MP or 'baby' of the House, in 1979. Sir Bernard was unequivocal in offering his complete support and backing if I decided to introduce a pro-life Bill. When I ultimately wrote to advise him of my decision I reminded him of this commitment and told him that I would rely heavily on his advice and support. Never once in the months that followed did Sir Bernard falter - giving formidable and doughty support and encouragement throughout. It was no secret that SPUC and LIFE disagreed about whether a Bill should deal with 'grounds' or 'weeks'. Certainly, the original intentions of the 1967 Act are being abused daily and Parliament must ultimately address the issue of 'grounds'. Is it, for instance, right that a little girl can be aborted purely on the grounds of her sex? Precisely what are the 'social grounds' that are cited in 96% of abortions? Is
cleft palate, club foot, or for that matter Down's Syndrome, a legitimate ground for abortion, as it currently is under the 1967 Act's disability clause? I strongly believed that the most gruesome form of abortion is the late one; that addressing 'weeks' would enable us to open up the debate on 'grounds'; and that given the rigours of the parliamentary obstacle race a Bill would have to be very specific if it were to have any chance of success. This was a view shared by Professor Jack Scarisbrick, the Chairman of LIFE, who came to Westminster and spent an hour or so rehearsing the arguments in favour of a 'weeks' Bill. Far from trying to place pressure on me he warned that if I undertook such a Bill it would be a costly business politically and personally: 'It's a hard row to hoe' was his memorable phrase. The third of these crucial meetings was with my own staff and Parliamentary colleagues. I spoke to most of them individually. Opinion was sharply divided. My Secretary, Jackie Winter, had been a friend since our Young Liberal days, working with me since my by-election victory. We had always disagreed about abortion and in seven years in the House I had never expected her to deal with abortion correspondence. Although this arrangement could have continued, she told me that she would be deeply unhappy if I brought in this Bill and would wish to consider her position. We agreed to part on good terms, continuing to respect each other's views. My former Research Assistant, John Fothergill, urged me to be cautious and said that a pro-life Bill would probably finish me in the Party. Christopher Graffius, who was my Office Manager in the Liberal Whip's Office, put a different view. He felt strongly that the abortion legislation should be challenged from the progressive side of politics and promised one hundred per cent support if I pursued a pro-life Bill. We agreed that it would not be possible or practical to continue as Whip while promoting such a Bill. After my resignation, Chris also resigned and devoted himself full-time to the Bill. He and his wife, Jan, have never wavered in that support. They were strongly influenced by a personal experience. When Jan became pregnant, the first question doctors asked her was 'Do you want an abortion?' Their baby, Charles, was 18 weeks gestation during the week I announced my intention to promote the Bill. David Campanale, a young Social Democrat who had worked with me on a number of human rights cases and who had been assisting in my office since graduating from Oxford, also believed that we needed to counter the myth that being pro-life was incompatible with holding other progressive positions. Shortly after the Bill had been announced, Alison Holmes rang me. She had worked with me as a volunteer in the Whip's office and was willing to work on both my spokesmanship on Irish Affairs and the Bill. Her woman's perspective and commitment to women's issues - to say nothing of her capacity to cope with
endless enquiries and projects - helped forge a brilliant young back-up team. Alison has done much of the work in collecting letters and editing this book. Apart from Sir Bernard Braine, my key supporters in the House have been MPs: Ken Hargreaves, Ann Widdecombe, Dale Campbell-Savours, Alan Amos, David Amess, Dame Jill Knight, Elizabeth Peacock, Nicholas Bennett, Patrick McLoughlin and Ann Winterton. Ken Hargreaves has been a staunch ally and friend, giving generously of his time. Among my own parliamentary colleagues, opinion was divided. Alan Beith and Cyril Smith promised me their backing. When the vote came at Second Reading they were joined in the pro-life lobby by several other Liberal Democrat MPs: Simon Hughes, Alex Carlile, Ronnie Fearn and Charles Kennedy. Among colleagues, the greatest hostility came from Richard Livsey and Matthew Taylor. Livsey appeared at a press conference where I was likened to Goebbels, the Nazi war criminal; and Taylor's office actively organised the Party's opposing group. Of course, the most predictable and formidable opposition came from David Steel, then Party leader, and author of the 1967 Abortion Act. During the summer months I had several conversations with David Steel and spent a few days with him and his wife, Judy, at their home in Ettrick Bridge. At no time did he try to use our friendship to try and dissuade me or to unfairly pressurise me; and although I regret one or two incidents in which he was involved in the later stages of the Bill, I am glad that we remain friends. In 1967 I had profoundly disagreed with his Bill. When he stood for the leadership election in 1976 I voted for John Pardoe, and one of the reasons was David Steel's abortion legislation. After my own election to Parliament in 1979 we had many private arguments about the effects of his Act. In 1967 he had stressed that it was not the 'intention of the Bill to leave a wider door open for abortion on request'. He has always adamantly insisted that the 1967 Act does not allow for 'abortion on demand'. Even to this day he insists that there is not 'abortion on demand' in Britain. It is hard to square that with the facts: 172,000 abortions a year - 600 every working day - and, at 28 weeks, the highest upper time limit for abortions in Western Europe. In 1967 they said abortion would decrease illegitimacy; today it is 15% and rising. In 1967 they said abortion would end child abuse. That has a hollow ring today. People have often asked me how it was possible for us to work so closely in the same Party. It is important to understand that the Liberal Party always regarded this as a conscience issue - and indeed many of us would have been forced to leave if it had been otherwise. David himself was one of the strongest voices in opposing those who, from time to time, tried to write abortion on demand into Party policy. By contrast the Labour Party's avowal of abortion on demand as official policy and their refusal to allow individual MPs the right to vote according to their conscience
is symptomatic of the new Left's intolerance and its subservience to special interest groups. This movement away from conscience and the constant threat of votes of censure and deselection which pro-life Labour MPs face has alienated many voters. If Labour is to continue with an enshrined abortionist policy, pro-lifers may have to commit other political parties to definite pro-life positions. David Steel had drawn third place in the Private Members' ballot some twenty years before, so he understood better than anyone the dilemmas which faced me. He urged me not to resign as his Whip - but I insisted that it would not be possible to discharge duties which often involved working as peacemaker while actively promoting a Bill that would inevitably pit me against some colleagues and groups within the Party. I also believed that my resignation would take some of the heat out of the internal opposition. It would underline the importance which I attach to this life and death issue - and leave no one in any doubt about where I believe that political priorities should lie. We agreed that I would do nothing until after we had completed our annual Party Assembly, which was held at Harrogate. It was an especially difficult conference, with delegates being asked to agree the principle of winding up the Liberal Party in order to facilitate a merger with the SDP. On the Wednesday evening at our nightly Parliamentary Party meeting I told colleagues that, on my return to my Liverpool constituency, I would announce my resignation as Whip and my intention to introduce a pro-life Bill.
Taming the savageness of man
Our objective, I told my Liverpool audience, was nothing less than the fulfilment of the dream of Aeschylus - that we should 'tame the savageness of man', and make gentle the life of the world. When the least protected citizen is the most vulnerable, epithets like 'savage' hardly do justice to the violence which we allow. Members of SPUC had come to Liverpool for their annual conference. The date had been set a year before, and the location which SPUC had chosen was the University campus at Mossley Hill, in my constituency. Such prescience is exactly what I have come to expect of SPUC's director, the redoubtable Phyllis Bowman. When historians look at the years after 1967 they may well ask pointed questions about how people could have been so silent. Why did more people not object? Phyllis Bowman will emerge as an Emily Pankhurst figure. She has persevered when others would have given up. Her Jewish background, her later interest in humanism and her conversion to Christianity give her a great depth and faith. As
Emily Pankhurst once championed the cause of women's emancipation, so Phyllis Bowman has championed the cause of the unborn. Twenty years ago her opponents in the Abortion Law Reform Association believed that with the passage of the Steel Act the fight was over. As abortion technology has spread many presumed that the pro-life groups would become the haunt of a few cranks and eccentrics. Thanks to SPUC, LIFE and CARE the pro-life movement has remained remarkably robust, even if separate, and continues to grow. I used my Mossley Hill speech to set out the current position on late abortions. No country in Western Europe allows abortions as late as we do. No account is taken of the sentience and humanity of the child. Why should we accept the notion that disability should be a disqualification from life? Abortion created as many problems as it solved. This is what I said:
'Earlier in the summer a ballot was held for the 1987 Private Members' legislation. Three or four hundred Members of Parliament usually enter this annual parliamentary lottery and the first half dozen have a realistic chance of seeing their bill debated and, occasionally, enacted. For each of the last eight years I have dutifully entered my name in the raffle book and have usually come in the bottom one hundred. This year I drew third prize. 'Over the summer I have carefully considered the many bills which I have been urged to introduce. Should the need ever arise, I probably now have enough bills for an entire Queen's Speech. The three front-runners were a bill to tackle empty housing; a bill to combat discrimination against AIDS victims; and a bill to limit late abortions. 'Shelter's empty housing bill had much to commend it, but in my judgement the government would defeat its clauses dealing with the private sector; while the scandal of empty housing in the public sector can be challenged at local authority level without legislation. 'The Terrence Higgins Trust made a powerful case to stop employment discrimination against patients diagnosed as HIV antibody positive. In the future there may well be a need for such legislation. However, the Trust were unable to produce present moment examples of such discrimination, and I am not at all convinced that precipitate legislation might not simply put ideas into employers' heads. In 1980 I introduced a Ten Minute Rule Bill to prevent late abortions. This is the issue to which I have decided to return and on which I intend to introduce legislation. As this decision has a number of implications, Liberal colleagues have a right to know how and why I have reached this decision.
'October 27th 1987 - the day before I present my bill to the Parliament - is the twentieth anniversary of Royal Assent being given to David Steel's Private Member's Abortion Bill. Twenty years ago David also drew third place in the ballot and he used his opportunity to tackle the obscenity of back-street abortions. Since then nearly 3 million abortions have been undertaken and with over 170,000 abortions last year the trend is moving inexorably upwards. The back street has moved to the shop window and we have lost sight of the main objective: a sustained reduction in the total level of abortions - legal or illegal. Abortions are not lightly undertaken and I refuse to believe that the vast majority of the proabortion lobby actually believe abortion is of itself desirable. 'It is now almost twenty years since I joined the Liberal Party. It was a violent time. America was in Vietnam; the Soviet Union had invaded Czechoslovakia. In August 1968 protest marches were held in Derry. Martin Luther King had been shot dead; Robert Kennedy's assassination quickly followed. War and famine raged in Biafra and students were rioting in Europe. Just as I would challenge the assumption of the ever escalating arms race, I would also challenge the general levels of violence in our society today, ranging from the elderly lady beaten up and robbed in her own home to the violence of abortion. I have always seen abortion as violent and negative and without the assurance that this was a clear matter of conscience - and not a question of party policy - I could not have joined the Liberal Party. That remains my position to this day. 'The 1960s were a time of radical change. Liberals were properly in the vanguard of the movement which sought to enhance the rights of the individual and to challenge racist and minority restrictions. Yet not every change was for the good. Look for example at the ugly, faceless, concrete monstrosities which litter so many of our cities. Built in the name of 1960s progress, they are all too often rejected by the people of the 1980s, products of an era where fashion and fad swept all before it and where rights but never responsibilities were the stuff of politics. In the throwaway, waste disposal society, we should today question the many assumptions which have turned Britain into a country where the value and quality of life receive only passing consideration. 'I do not come to the abortion issue from the moralistic position of the far Right; their lack of interest in justice and their espousal of self-centred economics hold no appeal for me. Fundamentalism and judgementalism in its various intolerant guises is sweeping the world and it poses a considerable threat to liberal values. No, my starting point is with J.S. Mill. Mill struck a proper balance between a person's rights and their responsibilities when he asserted that liberalism is about the exercise of freedom by the individual, save that in its exercise that freedom may not impinge on the rights of others. 'Almost a century later, in 1948, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights insisted that 'Everyone has the right to life.'
'If you believe, as I do, that post conception a child has begun its development as a unique new individual then this overriding right to life must always take precedence over any other claimed rights. The woman and her child are equally precious because both are human beings. What is illiberal about that? 'Even if you do not accept this argument I hope that you will at least examine the position of late abortions - the one technical issue which my bill will seek to address. 'In no other Western European country are late abortions so easily available until as late as 28 weeks. Twelve to fourteen weeks is the norm elsewhere. This is one of the reasons why 42% undertaken between 19 and 20 weeks and 56% of those undertaken between 21 and 24 weeks are on foreign women prevented from obtaining abortions in their own country. 88% of all abortions performed after 18 weeks are in private clinics, mainly in London, where the later the abortions the more expensive they become. This is a multi-million pound business and the private clinics will be a powerful lobby against my bill. 'It is also worth remembering that by 20 weeks, five months after conception, the baby weighs about a pound, its heart is pumping fifty pints of blood daily, it has all its organs functioning, it has a complete skeleton and reflexes and much more besides. In Britain we allow the destruction of the baby up until seven months after conception. Let us be clear in our own minds exactly what it is that we allow the law to do on our behalf. Abortion is not about planning a family, or preventing a birth through control; nor are we exercising our powerful sexual instincts in or outside marriage. We are deliberately allowing a destructive act to be undertaken with the state's approval. 'Watching a doctor or nurse struggle to save a premature baby fighting for its life is deeply inspiring. A baby can be saved at 23 weeks (and viability comes ever earlier with new technology and medical advances); yet what a cruel paradox that another baby can be aborted at 28 weeks. 'Late abortions are also notoriously more dangerous to the woman concerned and repugnant to the doctors and nurses involved. Far too little work has been done on the traumatic psychological implications and subsequent anxiety and guilt felt by many women encouraged to have abortions. My Bill is intended to spur the NHS into providing better facilities and earlier tests and it aims to challenge the assumption that abortion is a prudent or desirable operation. Specifically it will make illegal any abortions undertaken after 18 weeks. 'One other assumption needs to be challenged. Techniques now exist for detecting abnormality at a very early stage - few handicaps cannot be screened until twenty weeks. For six years, before entering Parliament, I taught handicapped and disabled children. Some were terminally ill. It would have been a brave man or
woman who would have announced them unfit to live. Let us not be too pious in passing resolutions about "life chances" and disabled people's rights when the unsaid reality is that many would simply prefer that humankind was not burdened with deformity or handicap. Ask the next handicapped person you meet whether they are glad to be alive. 'To the feminists who chose to attack me at our Party Conference at Harrogate and I am sad that before doing so they did not first come to talk to me to discuss my views - I would say this. Unborn children are more often than not going to be women, and they have rights too. Many feminists are today questioning the desirability of, and the violence that accompanies abortion. There are women like Mary Kenny, a leading feminist campaigner for David Steel's Bill, who has now changed her view. They see the fight as one for equality of opportunity, for personal dignity and self respect; and I share those objectives. Furthermore, I utterly reject the absurd notion that as a single man I have no right to feel, care or speak about abortion. I do not need to be black to hate racism; disabled to feel compassion for disabled people; or starving to be angry about a child dying of famine. 'Arising out of my decision to introduce this Bill I recognise that there are bound to be conflicts with friends and colleagues. People I respect have warned me that it will be impossible to undertake my duties as Whip, which obviously require me to work for Party unity and cohesion. David Steel is entitled to have the undivided and wholehearted loyalty of his Chief Whip. Clearly I will not be in a position to discharge my duties effectively. David will continue to have my total support in his attempts to provide coherent and farsighted leadership to our Party and to the country. Neither he nor my parliamentary colleagues have placed undue pressure upon me, but they understand my desire to act without constraint. No doubt it would have been possible to invent some ingenious casuistry; but it is better that I proceed as an individual Member of Parliament and not as an office bearer of the Parliamentary Party. My Bill may well founder along with other attempts to reform the 1967 Act but I would see little point in staying in Parliament were I not even to try.'
Before making this speech, one thing had been troubling me. How would it be possible to explain in simple terms what a child is like at 18 weeks, the time limit which I was proposing? The standing limit of 28 weeks was established 59 years before in the 1929 Infant Life Preservation Act, not in the 1967 legislation as is widely believed. This problem was partly solved in a motorway service station. On their way to the Liverpool conference, Chris, Jan, David and Lizzie Bell (who runs the Liberals for Life group), had stopped at a service station. David bought a copy of the October
edition of Photography magazine. It contained a sensitive and beautiful photograph by Lennart Nilsson, a Swede, who had photographed a baby miscarried at 18 weeks. This was the photograph which, on the following Monday, I used in a television broadcast on BBC's Breakfast Time programme. The photograph was worth a thousand words. Taken some 20 years before, it had been used in medical text books but was not widely known. The abortion lobby hates the sight of the Nilsson photograph. It shows what they would rather people did not see: the clear and unmistakable humanity of the child. For years the abortionists had been sanitising language and using every available euphemism to disguise the child's humanity. Words like 'zygote', 'embryo' and 'foetus'; expressions like 'pre-embryo' and 'products of conception' are used to minimise the reality of what it is that we do in an abortion. How much easier it is if people think of it less as a baby or a child than as a 'clump of tissue' or a 'blob of jelly'. As one Liverpudlian put it to me, he had never heard a woman say she was going into hospital to have a foetus. Nor are we encouraged to think of going to the abortionist to kill a baby. By 18 weeks the child has sentience and it can feel pain. Shine a torch at a mother's womb and the child will shield its eyes. It reacts to light and to sound. By 18 weeks it is about a foot in length; its brain tissue can be used in a transplant to give life to another. What does that say about its humanity? What is it we allow to happen to this child? In a late abortion the child is too big, and its bones are nearly calcified; therefore the suction method or dilatation and curettage (D & C) cannot be used as with earlier abortions. The principal method used in late abortion is known as D & E or dilatation and evacuation. The doctors must crush the child's skull and break its spine in order to facilitate its extrication. Its body is removed piece by piece. No anaesthetic is used on the child throughout this procedure. Dr Peter McCullagh, the eminent immunologist, says that a baby is writhing in agony during an abortion - its nervous system having developed from about the sixth to eighth week. And a report, Human Procreation: Ethical Aspects of the New Techniques, published by the Council for Science and Society (certainly not a body supporting my view), also states that pain is experienced 'after the foetus has developed a nervous system, six weeks after pregnancy being the earliest'. The alternative method for these late abortions is known as a prostaglandin, and involves the 'birth' of the child being induced early. Usually urea, a poison, is injected before this procedure to ensure the child will be 'born' dead. However, this does not always happen. In the case of the 21-week-old baby aborted at Carlisle General Hospital in the summer of 1987, the child struggled for life for three hours before dying. It was then placed in a sack and incinerated.
We call ourselves civilised. We dress up our laws in the dubious disguise of rights. Such barbarism, such inhumanity, such violence should have no place in an ordered and civilised society. In my address to that Liverpool meeting I made it clear that I would use my Bill to challenge this savageness and to inform our fellow citizens of what exactly is happening in their midst and of what is done in their name - all under the protection of British law. In that objective I believe that we have succeeded.
I The Players A Woman ... The opponents of the Bill, or those in favour of choice on the issue of abortion, have long-standing organisations set up to fight and lobby for their arguments, and against every bill that may come along, such as the Abortion (Amendment) Bill. They are 'status quo' groups who believe that the 1967 legislation has become the be-all and end-all of women's rights and abortion rights. This camp divides itself into many subdivisions, but NACRO (National Abortion Campaign Rights Organisation), the National Abortion Campaign, the Labour Women's Committee, Tories for Choice, Liberals for Choice, the Abortion Law Reform Association and the Women's Reproductive Rights Association all agree that the main thrust of their stance should be that the women have the predominant claim to rights in this issue. The Fight the Alton Bill campaign (FAB) is a group organised against the Bill entirely from these older organisations and trade unions. It is not surprising then that they came out with the well-worn arguments of a woman's body, free choice, control of fertility, back-street abortion, etc. These were the arguments of abortion in general, not late abortion in particular. They obviously dug out their used materials and leaflets and tried to put a new face on tired propaganda. A new generation of women have grown up within the parameters of the 1967 legislation and have developed their attitudes flowing from that logic. When the 'anti' lobby began in earnest to oppose any event that was prolife, a national newspaper headline aptly read 'Stuck in the same old groove'. The FAB campaign operated from fear and the misguided idea that the Alton Bill was a threat to their rights. They responded to that, and only to that, idea. It is easy to see, in that context, why the arguments became heated and emotional as they felt they were arguing for women's rights in general and for equality. The problems began when others, not always directly involved with the organisations, involved themselves. 'Rent-a-mob' began to follow the rallies around the country. Faces became more and more familiar as the same people turned out to destroy any and every meeting. But to tar every opponent with this same brush would be to ignore the fears and legitimate concerns of a section of the public that were against the Bill and what it stood for.
The primary concern of the opposing camp was the 'hard cases'. They felt that no one likes abortion but there were cases in which abortion was warranted, beginning with the mother's health and including issues such as rape, incest, older women and younger women who may not, for understandable reasons, know that they are pregnant. The health of the child was also considered a difficult case, as in incidents of severe congenital defects in which the child is bound to die within a short time of being born, for example inoperable heart defects. These women were concerned, rightly, for the mental health of a woman and her entire family in cases such as these and they felt they must stand as advocates for these difficult cases. However, this does not explain why they too cannot see the need for reform. Even if they argued that the sole criterion was 'viability', surely they saw that 28 weeks was far too late, that human rights are involved and that they too must be addressed? What precedent is being set by their line of thinking? It is that one group, if they complain loudly enough, can have the collective power to push aside another group's rights in order to suit their own interests. When the humanity of a child is established, surely rights must be accorded to that person? And is there any more important right than the right to life? One small faction in our opponents' camp argued for abortion on demand up to birth. In their view another's right should be excluded to 'enable' women to have the life-style they want irrespective of any other consideration. This is selfish and dangerous, and seemed to be a clear motive of the leadership of these groups. Instead of truthfully telling their supporters these were the objectives, they preferred scaremongering with blatantly untrue stories of back-street abortion. They knew that these had not and could not take place after 18 weeks because of the nature of this major operation. But they intentionally ignored the truth. It is also a supreme irony that these libertarians have become the staunchest defenders of profiteering and racketeering of the worst kind in the private sector. The FAB campaign seemed to have a difficult time getting started. This may have been because many of those women who were on the lines in 1967 had gone on to have careers and children and had less time to picket. But that was the crucial period when the press covered the arguments and the only representatives that the opposing side put up were the hard-liners. Perhaps they did not truly represent the majority of those who might have been among the opposition. But once the groups got themselves organised, they were a frightening force. They orchestrated pickets of surgeries and rallies and marches through London and other cities. They broke up prayer vigils, threatened elderly women and women with small children who were trying to come to our meetings. They ignored the rights of others to freedom of speech so that they could have their own say - again. They displayed only too clearly that their rights were to be valued above all others, in every sense and aspect. Anyone who was at the meeting in Leeds Town Hall would
have seen an intolerance normally associated with fascism. This seems to be the tendency among the 'New Left'. The most unfortunate aspect of these tactics was the way frantic women were manipulated by their leaders who had their own reasons and objectives. They were used and exploited in the same way that women are frightened and threatened into abortion. Many of these women had perhaps had abortions and now needed to reaffirm their decision as being the 'right' one; being stuck in the same old groove, they refused to think for themselves and to see that the arguments had moved on; that their rights of equality were not threatened by the abortion issue, especially late abortion. Few seemed to be prepared to accept that there were others in the equation who also had rights, and that those rights also needed protection. The tram lines remained throughout the course of the debate, and while there were many women who realised the need for reform and sensitive rethinking, the old leadership refused to let that kind of thinking enter the debate. They hijacked the Women's Movement for their own purposes and pulled the strings behind the scenes. That was not the face of feminism speaking; it was the face of a small number of influential women exploiting their positions, their power and their followers for their own ends. These women on the front lines, we decided, were a group whose arguments were not to be feared. We felt genuinely sad for those women who were being led by people they trusted, by the women they respected and felt they could look to for leadership. They were handed half-truth and untruth and sent out as pawns in someone else's fight. They were doing themselves and the Women's Movement a grave disservice by not valuing themselves enough to think through the issues from perhaps a new perspective rather than blindly accepting what the old guard had to say.
Another face of feminism
Fortunately not all women fell into rank with FAB. Some feminists began their own organisations and put forward another face of feminism. This is the face not only of equal rights, but of equal concern - for all people, not just their own lobby groups and issues. These women know that without defending the rights of all people there will be abuses of the system and exploitation for personal gain. Abortion does not liberate women; it is a part of the oppression of women. We must create a society which encourages and cares for all its citizens; until women can make their decisions freely without emotional and economic blackmail, we have work to do. That is why a prime objective of the Women's Movement must be
an insistence that women can survive economically without the necessity of a wage-earning man to keep her and her children out of poverty. Thankfully, there are people who have come forward to help the women who are too often pushed into the hands of the abortionist. They are proving that being actively pro-life is not about being merely anti-abortion. Pro-life counsellors, 'safe houses' and advice centres provide a real option, not an ultimatum. In Life Houses pressurised women can obtain counselling before, and if necessary after, an abortion. The Life House offers a home to a woman who may have been thrown out by her family or husband or whatever the circumstances. It basically offers hope and encourages the woman not to dread or fear her child, especially in the case of a potentially disabled child. Without life what chance does a child have to offer what it might to the world? The important difference between pro-life counselling and many of the private counselling agencies is that Life Houses and offices are run by volunteer women. In the private sector many of the counselling agencies are owned by people who run abortion clinics, and the later the abortion, the more money they make. This financial link should be outlawed and all counselling centres required to spell out all the options. One crucial basic change that must be made is in defining what exactly constitutes 'informed counsel'. So many women are left physically or psychologically damaged, feeling that 'if they had only known the risk' the whole situation would have been different. Women must be told what will happen, and perhaps more importantly what might happen, as a consequence of abortion. One solution might be a standard consent form accompanied by a required interview prior to the abortion; and time to read the document which would explain various options rather than just asking for consent. Adoption is one option in the event of an unwanted pregnancy. As many said in the letters we received, adoption is painful, and tinged with regret. But it is not full of the guilt of denying a child the opportunity of life with parents who would offer love and care. During the passage of the Bill I stayed with friends in Northern Ireland. They have five adopted children - all products of 'the troubles'. One of the lads, a 12-year-old, told me that he had watched a programme about the Bill. He was opposed to abortion, he said, because it would have been 'curtains' for him otherwise. Children often put a point more clearly than any adult could manage. We must be radical in our ideas and our approach. We need to offer real options to women. Society has forced them to the abortionist for too long by not supporting better facilities for single mothers, better child care, better financial support, better housing for mother and child. That is why women find it easier to go to the clinic
than give their child life. Abortion is not a light decision for the majority of women who undertake it. But a society that blackmails its mothers, exploits them and takes advantage of their desperation because of the poor attention and care they are given is an indictment of us all. Yes, life may begin at conception but it does not end at birth. The mother and child are both entitled to our love, care - and practical support. During the course of the campaign many of those women who believe fiercely in women's rights but also acknowledge the need for change in the abortion legislation joined the campaign. One of these women is Pauline M. Connor. She is one of the founders of Feminists Opposed to Eugenic practices. She spoke at many of the rallies. She devotes much of her time to speaking around the country on this and many issues concerning women. The rest of this chapter was written by her specifically for this book.
Killing our way to liberation? - the feminist case against abortion
In 1966 on the second reading of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill, David Steel stated, '... it is not the intention of the promoters of the Bill to leave a wider door open for abortion on request'.l The Bill became law and under its terms 54,819 women had abortions in 1969. In 1986, 172,286 women had abortions in England and Wales.2 In the same parliamentary debate Dame Jill Knight stated, 'If we are to change the law it should be done by a society fully informed of the facts.'3 Our society did not give informed consent to the Abortion Act. Twenty years after its passage we - as a society - remain ignorant of the consequences. In spite of our ignorance, abortion provides an area of vigorous public debate constructed on the basis of myths, untruths and anecdotal tales of woe. It is an ideological wolf dressed in sheep's clothing. Abortion, we are told, is about choice, freedom and liberty. In fact, it is a bureaucratic means of killing which damages women. One of the most scandalous facts about the abortion business is that women are not told about the immediate health complications and post-operative risks they may face. The risks to women include sepsis4, haemorrhage5, perforation of the uterus6 and bowel7, pelvic infection8, iatrogenically induced infertility9, shock10,
collapse11, death12. Women are not told that they may suffer cervical incompetence13, subsequent miscarriage14, psychological trauma or mental illness15. The substantive evidence is ignored or twisted by propagandists. The battle cry 'Keep it legal, keep it safe!' bears no relation to the truth, but is more easily available than the volumes of medical evidence which cast doubt on the safety of abortion. The health of women and children's lives are too valuable to allow this situation to continue. The fixed ideological barricades have stood for nearly a quarter of a century. They dehumanise each of us. Feminists Opposed to Eugenic practices was founded in 1985 by a group of radical women who refuse to accept the terms of the abortion 'debate'. We object to rightto-life beliefs being caricatured as right-wing and pro-family, and we agree with Robyn Rowland's observation, 'To win the abortion issue the right to life must maintain its humanist position which the New Right may threaten.'16 We are women with feminist convictions who oppose any element of social policy or law which discriminates against people on the basis of age, creed, sex, race, sexual orientation or disability. We are concerned about eugenic policies which interfere with the fertility and reproductive health of women. We are particularly anxious about the exploitation of all women by the pornography industry. We are committed to upholding the basic human rights of all human beings - in which we include the right of women to be emancipated and the right of children to live. We seek the practical application of a theory of sexual politics based on justice, the recognition of individual dignity and the right to live. Central to our philosophy is the conviction that the inherent value and inalienable rights of individuals cannot be violated legitimately. We contend that abortion is an illegitimate, subversive, barbaric and fundamentally mysogynistic practice. It is illegitimate - irrespective of the letter of the law because it violates the integrity of the woman it purports to serve. It requires the surgical invasion of a living healthy woman whose physical and psychological health may be endangered without her prior knowledge or informed consent. It is illegitimate because it exploits human weakness, selfishness and fear in the name of 'choice' so that policies of demographic engineering17 and eugenics18 can be practised without check. It is illegitimate because it kills people. The subversiveness of abortion can only be fully understood by reference to its history. Its defenders include the Marquis de Sade - the notorious advocate and practitioner of the sexual torture and murder of women and children.19 An expansionist policy was implemented by the Nazis contrary to the impression given by contemporary abortion advocates.20 Gloria Steinem states that 'Nazi doctrine was unequivocally opposed to ... abortion.'21 But on October 19th 1941
abortion on demand was introduced as official Nazi policy in Poland and extended to all Nazi occupied territories in the East.22 The question must be asked, how can a repugnant practice which destroys millions of human beings, and has amongst its defenders the Marquis de Sade and the Third Reich, be promoted by liberal democracies as progressive and humanitarian? The answer is simple. The propagandists have lied and employed the semantics of freedom to render the unacceptable acceptable.23 The truism that the first casualty of war is truth applies to the abortion battle. In 1980 the former founder of the National Abortion Rights Action League, Dr Bernard Nathanson, stated, 'We fed a line of deceit, dishonesty, of fabrication of statistics and figures. We coddled and caressed and stroked the press. We, in one short year, succeeded in striking down the abortion laws in New York State.'24 In 1963 Planned Parenthood of New York made the following statement in a leaflet about birth control: 'Is it an abortion? Definitely not. An abortion kills the life of the baby after it has begun.'25 This statement remains true twenty-five years later but public perceptions have changed. As a result of widespread abortionism the unborn child has been transformed into the 'foetus', a 'blob of cells', a non-person. In 1980 Dr Martti Kekomaki stated, 'An aborted baby is just garbage and that's where it ends up.... You must see it like this: these foetuses are just refuse.'26 Abortion is subversive because its defenders have deliberately employed lies and distortions, not only to promote laws which deny protection to unborn children, but to insist that a class of people are non-persons. It is subversive because its promotion has led to the destruction of Hippocratic medicine, giving doctors the power to kill their patients. It is subversive because - without the consent of the people - it has transformed the course of history. It is subversive because it violates fundamental principles of justice in the name of liberation. It is subversive because it has rendered the killing of the innocent, mundane. And is it not barbaric to cut people up or poison them to death precisely because they were judged too small and insignificant to be counted as people? This is what happens in abortion for it allows the unborn child to be used as an experimental object.27 It also inflicts pain on the child. Can an act which is barbaric in practice, subversive in intent and illegitimate be feminist? We think not. Feminists Opposed to Eugenic practices believe that abortion (as practised in the front streets) has defined the social rights of women as contingent rights - dependent on the objectives of government. Abortion was made legal in the name of women's freedom but women have not become free. In 1988 we remain the largest class of old, poorly paid, abandoned, medically neglected and sexually abused people in our society and yet we are expected to believe that there has been a renaissance in women's lives and opportunities as a result of
abortion. This is not so. In fact abortion, whether free-market or back-street, has become the easy 'solution' to many forms of discrimination against women. If a woman is poor and pregnant the state does not seek to provide her with economic emancipation - instead, its agents encourage abortion.29 If a prematurely born child is disabled the mother is judged anti-social if she refuses to destroy her child. When we are violated by male violence the state does not impose suitable penalties on the aggressor; it has not amended sexual offences legislation to make marital rape a crime; there is no curfew of men. The state prefers to say that the only destructive consequence of rape or incest is pregnancy. It is not. Abortion cannot solve the problems of violence against women because it is part of the problem of violence against women. Abortion legislation has not taken our bodies outside state control; it has simply placed our bodies, and our children's lives, at the disposal of a eugenic medical profession. We contend that abortion is a violent, destructive procedure which is about the quality control of reproduction and the evaluation of women as genetic packages. Abortionism has transformed women and children into objects. This is nowhere better illustrated than in Linda Byrd-Francke's book, The Ambivalence of Abortion. She writes about an American abortion team whose working slogan is: 'You rape them, we scrape them, no fetus can beat us.'30 Feminism is about attaining justice and consequently has nothing to do with killing. Women have not, and we cannot, kill our way to liberation. The very notion is anathema to justice. The most recent opportunity to fight the subversiveness of abortion was offered by the Alton Bill. Feminists Opposed to Eugenic practices supported this Bill to restrict legal abortion to eighteen weeks gestation because we think it would have been an effective challenge to the status quo. This Bill - if it had been enacted would have saved the lives of thousands of children and helped women avoid the traumas the state pretends do not exist. We supported the Alton Bill - and will support any other similar measure - because we wish to see the practice of abortion undermined. We believe this Bill was the first to challenge the eugenicists - those people who think that disabled people have no right to live - the same people who use the eugenic clause of the Abortion Act to justify late abortions. This clause is supposed to be a benevolent rationale for destroying people because they are different from the Western model of 'perfect'
humanity. We have reached the stage when we - as a society - use Lombrosian ideas about defenceless children, destroy them and call it scientific progress. Alton's opponents pretend that his Bill would have brought a return to back-street methods. Those concerned about back-street methods should have supported this Bill for it would have put a stop to this country acting as Europe's back-street abortionist on non-resident women. We abort at a stage in pregnancy when abortion is illegal in their own countries. These women are offered no pre-abortion or post-abortion counselling. They arrive here, have their abortion, pay for the damage and are dismissed. What happens to them? The 'service' private clinics offer to non-resident women begins and ends with abortion and accepting the cash. The Alton Bill would have put an end to this cynical exploitation of women. We believe that everyone whose true aim is dignity and justice for all should support David Alton in his quest for parity with Europe, the legal recognition of the rights of disabled people and a search for consensus. Feminists Opposed to Eugenics are not alone in the commitment to the rights of women and premature babies. There is a growing movement of pro-life radicals who - inspired by the Alton Bill - will take the pro-life fight into its second stage. In this country we have Women Exploited by Abortion, Liberals for Life, Prolifers for Peace and the Labour Life Group. These people defy the definitions of propagandists. We believe that humanity must be ruled either by the law of mutual respect or by the rule of power. The history of justice is a struggle between the two. Until the law of mutual respect is the foundation of our society the Pro- life Feminist fight will continue.
1 David Steel Bill 22 July 1966, HC Debates Vol. 732 col. 1075. 2 Office of Population Census & Surveys, Abortion statistics. Series AB No. 13, HMSO 1986, Table 14, p. 12. 3 As 1 above, col. 1105. 4 As 2 above, Table 17, p. 27. 5 Report from John Hopkins University. Journal of Fertility and Sterility, January 1986, p. 27.
6 Castadot, R.G., 'Pregnancy Termination: Techniques, Risks and Complications and their Management.' Journal of Fertility and Sterility 1986, Vol. 45, No. 1, pp. 5-16. 7 As 2 above. 8 Tietze, C., Induced Abortion: A World Review. New York, The Population Council, 1983, p. 83. 9 Chamberlain, G. and Winston, R., Tubal Infertility: Diagnosis and Treatment. Oxford, Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1982. 10 Stubblefield, P.G., 'Surgical Techniques of Uterine Evacuations in the First and Second Trimester Abortion Clinics.' Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Vol. 13 (1986), p. 60. 11 Baird, N.J. et al., 'Sudden collapse after inter-amniotic prostaglandin Ez injection', The Lancet, 2 (1984), pp. 1046-47. 12 Kafrissen, M.F. et al., 'Cluster of Abortion Deaths at a single faculty at 8-18 weeks gestation', Obstetrics and Gynaecology 68 (1986), p. 387. Also Mulder, J.I., 'Amniotic Fluid embolism: An overview and Case Report', American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 4 (1985), pp. 431-5. 13 Kotanja, P., 'Radiographic findings in cervix uteri', Acta Obstet. Gynecol. Scand., 2 (1983), pp. 253-6. 14 Ratten and Beischen, 'The effect of Termination of Pregnancy on Maturity of Subsequent Pregnancy.' Medical Journal of Australia, June 1979, Vol. I, pp. 47980. 15 David, Dr H.P., 'Post Abortion and Post Partum Psychiatric Hospitalization', in Abortion: Medical Progress and Social Implication, Pittman Press, 1985, pp. 150-67. See also Dr David's CIBA Symposium article of the same title (1985): the findings of a Danish study among women who obtained abortions showed that 63.8 per 10,000 women were admitted to psychiatric hospitals post-abortion, as compared with 16.9 per 10,000 post-partum. For comprehensive details of health risks to women see Induced Abortion: Hazards to Health and Future Motherhood, available from the Medical Education Trust, 79 St Mary's Road, Huyton, Liverpool L36 5SR. 16 Robyn Rowland, Women Who Do and Women Who Don't Join the Women's Movement. London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984, p. 21. 17 Royal Medico-Psychological Association, 'Memorandum on Therapeutic Abortion', British Journal of Psychiatry, June 1966, Vol. 12, pp. 1071-3.
18 See the eugenic clause in the Abortion Act 1967, Section I B. 19 Noonan, J.T. jr., The Morality of Abortion, Harvard University Press, 1971, p. 37. 20 Potts, Malcolm, 'Abortion in Europe', Newsweek (January 28th 1980). Ellen Willis, 'Abortion Rights: Overruling Neo-Fascists', Village Voice (February 4th 1980). Sims, Madeline, 'Late Thoughts on Anti- Abortionists', NAC News 5 (Spring 1988). 21 Steinem, Gloria, 'The Nazi Connection: If Hitler were Alive, Whose Side would he be on?' MS (October 1980), p. 89. 22 Brennan, W., The Abortion Holocaust, Landmark Press, 1983. 23 Why our society has been receptive to anti-life propaganda is a more complicated question to answer, deserving detailed study which is not possible here. 24 Speech at National Right to Life Convention, California, June 26th 1980. For further details see Nathanson, B. and Ostling, R., Aborting America, New York, Doubleday, 1979. 25 Plan Your Children for Health and Happiness, New York, Planned Parenthood - World Population, 1963. 26 Wade, Naomi, 'Aborted Babies Kept Alive for Bizarre Experiments', National Examiner (August 19th 1980), pp. 20-21. 27 The Peel Report. HMSO, 1972, para. 35. 28 For evidence of sentience in the unborn see McCullagh, Peter, The Foetus as Transplant Donor, Wiley Medical, 1987, chapter 9. 29 HC Debates 1966, 22 July. Vol. 732 col. 1067-1166. 30 Byrd-Francke, Linda, The Ambivalence of Abortion, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1980.
I The Players (continued) ... And Her Doctor Abortion has been offered to women as a universal remedy. It actually solves no problems: just ends lives. We have all been deceived by smooth talking medics who have willingly prescribed abortions and played down the consequences. One pro-abortion gynaecologist actually said in a Sunday newspaper that an abortion is just like having a dose of penicillin. It is quite remarkable how much medical ethics have changed in the past 20 years. The Hippocratic Oath and its commitment to defend life seems to mean little to many doctors today. The hierarchy of the British Medical Association - fierce opponents of David Steel's Bill - are twenty years later the stoutest defenders of abortion. I suppose that to be otherwise would be an admission of some degree of responsibility for what has happened. To be otherwise would be an admission of the profession's abject failure to protect both of the patients involved in an abortion. During 1987 an unmarried woman consulted her doctor. After confirming her pregnancy, the doctor offered her an abortion on social grounds. The woman declined. The pregnancy continued well but it was discovered that the father of the child was affected by a rare genetic condition. The mother was referred to a consultant at the nearby Carlisle General Hospital. He told her that the child would be born severely handicapped. What he did not tell her was that the condition, Ehlers Danlos syndrome, is, in reality, so minor that many affected are not even aware of it. In fact, it is impossible to tell whether or not the unborn baby suffers from the condition. There is a 50% chance that the child will be affected, and the 1967 Act allows abortion on the suspicion of disability. The consultant advised an abortion and late in the pregnancy at an estimated 21 weeks, the abortion was begun. This was a National Health Service Hospital and therefore the emphasis, unlike the situation in a private clinic, was not on production-line speed. This partly affects the choice of method used for the abortion. Instead of dilatation and evacuation (D & E), the woman was aborted using prostaglandins. Such drugs are usually used in conjunction with a poison such as urea, but in this case the poison was not used
because the baby was not expected to survive beyond the birth. 21 weeks is alleged to be too young for the lungs to function unaided. When unpoisoned, the young child is usually battered to death by the severity of the contractions and the chances of survival are slim. The mother endures a more painful labour than normal because her cervix does not gradually dilate as in a normal birth. She does give birth, but to a dead baby. The operation, however distressing for mother and staff, was routine. The registrar induced the birth and then left the hospital for the night. The consultant was not at the hospital. The woman was left in the care of the nurses and a junior doctor. All should have proceeded normally. The mother gave birth during the night. The nurses placed the baby's body in a kidney dish and covered it with a cloth. The doctor was called from his sleep and checked that the mother was in good health. No one checked the baby. This is usual procedure. The doctor returned to his bed. He was called about forty-five minutes later by the nurses. They were extremely distressed. The baby, a little girl, was gasping for breath and struggling for life. Could he come to the ward urgently? On arrival, the doctor examined the baby. Breathing was slow, spasmodic, and gasping, but her pulse and heart beat were unusually high. If he was going to treat her she would need artificial help to breathe, but would she survive? The gestation was assumed to have been 21 weeks, but that might be wrong. She had survived birth for forty minutes, but the respiratory equipment was in another building, it would take time to carry her there; she might already be starved of oxygen, she might be brain damaged; was it worth it? No one can criticise the doctor for his decision. With hindsight we can all say that more should have been done. It is impossible to imagine the pressure he must have been under. He might have been on duty for hours and had been roused from his sleep. Perhaps at the back of his mind was the thought that the baby was an abortion, not meant to survive. He decided to do nothing. The baby was left and he returned to bed. He was called back by the nurses about an hour later. The baby was still alive and he had to do something. He examined her again. The option of phoning the consultant was considered and rejected. The doctor again decided to do nothing, and so after three hours, without aid of any kind, the baby girl gave up her struggle for life. The body was bundled into a sack and incinerated - usual procedure for an abortion. It was decided that the mother should not be told what had happened. The birth was never registered, the death never certified. When the case became public knowledge, Douglas Hogg MP, a minister in the Home Office and a hostile opponent of my Bill, refused the local coroner's request that an inquest be held. For
all intents and purposes the baby girl never existed except as a figure in the abortion statistics. Her birth was not acknowledged, her death was unrecorded. The story of the Carlisle baby graphically illustrates the horrors of abortion for medical staff who approve and conduct them and for their patients. When a woman goes to her family doctor to confirm her pregnancy she is usually excited at the prospect. However, in the present climate, many women feel pressure from the moment of this announcement. They are expected to decide if they 'really' want a child, and if not, their doctor may arrange a social abortion. Anyway, there are always the tests to see if the child is disabled and then the disability clause would enable her to abort the child. Amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling are increasingly used as the first part of a search and destroy mission. Mothers who refuse these tests are looked at askance; some doctors have even suggested that women who refuse tests and give birth to a disabled child should not be eligible for State aid. If mothers agree to tests, for whatever reason, it is assumed that they will also agree to the abortion. Some hospitals, it is said, even refuse the tests unless the parents agree beforehand to the abortion should the test be positive. The current attitude of the medical profession seems to be less one of interest in how the mother feels about the pregnancy than one of imposing quality or perfection controls on life. In Britain we are brought up to trust doctors as professionals to be respected. We believe that a doctor will always have our best interests at heart. When a pregnant woman goes to her doctor she also assumes that the best of care will be available for her. Rarely will a woman realise that in the mind of her doctor, care may include killing. It used to be a medical axiom that a pregnant woman presented the doctor with two patients. It was believed that all the care and support that could be given by medical science should be granted to both patients. Since the Abortion Act this has ceased to be the situation. What does a pro-abortion doctor see before him? One patient and one product of conception. The pro-abortion lobby within the medical profession has taken great pains to deny the existence of the baby as an individual human being. They have used medical terms and phrases to mislead the lay public. When the technology of photography enabled that same public to see the human form of the unborn, it was not the form that was questioned but the humanity. The child was accused of not being able to survive unaided, of being unable to feel pain, of being subhuman, less important. It could be disposed of without recrimination or guilt. But now modern science can record the pain felt by an unborn child, and viability is a poor test of humanity. How do pro-abortion doctors justify abortion? They propose two justifications: sub-humanity or utility. If viability is a prerequisite for according human rights then the non-viable can be disposed of without many qualms. Or the doctor can plead utility, the putting of another's possible happiness or convenience above the
subhuman's life. An American, Dr Nathanson, who is featured in the film The Eclipse of Reason which has now been seen by over a million people, wrote that it was impossible to deny the existence of a separate human life when you felt its movements 'like electricity' down the forceps, both before and during dismemberment. After bearing ultimate responsibility for 75,000 abortions, Nathanson gave up his practice. For those who continue, they must ignore the part of their mind that tells them that abortion is obscene by replying that it is necessary. Those specialists who can perform more than one thousand abortions in a year become inured to it. Can a pregnant woman know the value her gynaecologist places on the life of her baby? Only if she knows his attitude to abortion. As one professor of gynaecology said to me: 'When I treat a pregnant woman, I am concerned with the best interests of my patient, the woman.' It was not always so. The Hippocratic Oath included a promise not to procure an abortion. The act itself had, for centuries, been regarded with horror and disgust to the extent that the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act prescribes life imprisonment as the penalty for procuring an abortion. It was in Nazi Germany that abortion became common for the first time in a modern nation. Under the remorseless logic that demanded the 'perfect' human race, the same principles were extended to euthanasia of the incurably ill, the unwanted or unnecessary of society, and eventually led to the final obscenity of 'socially useful experiments' on these unwanted people. In the aftermath of the trials of medical war crimes, the World Medical Association drew up the declaration of medical ethics, the Geneva Declaration. It included the undertaking, 'I will have the utmost respect for human life from the moment of conception.' It was in the spirit of that declaration that so many doctors opposed the introduction of the 1967 Act. That opposition to abortion remained the norm in medical establishments well into the seventies. In 1967 every medical college except the College of Psychiatrists opposed the Abortion Act. In 1988 every medical college has changed its view and supported the 1967 Act and opposed life saving reforms. What has changed over those twenty years? Firstly, the personnel. After 1967, pro-abortion doctors went out of their way to gain office in, and control of, the medical establishment. In this plan they were aided and abetted by the government of the day. Under the Act, doctors have the right to refuse to participate in abortions on the grounds of conscience. The Yellowlees Letter from the Chief Medical Officer to the Area Health Authorities set out to thwart that protection by informing authorities that they should not employ pro-life doctors in gynaecological positions if there was a demand for abortion in their area. Effectively the instruction ruled out promotion and a career for any doctor specialising in gynaecology who pleaded the conscience clause. A
whole generation of doctors was lost to the speciality. Meanwhile, pro-abortion doctors were given the important posts and consultancies. This about-face of the medical profession also has a rather more sordid side to it. Under the 1967 Act, abortions are allowed to take place in 'a place approved by the Secretary of State'. This led to the establishment in the seventies of private clinics specialising in abortions. For many, this was a licence to print money. Proprietors could, and still do, operate both a counselling service, advising pregnant women, and a clinic where they could be aborted. Since this practice began, various committees in the House have recommended that this financial link be broken. It still exists. For doctors, the clinics opened a profitable source of private practice. In 1986 eleven doctors specialising in abortion performed 60% of late abortions grossing at least £2 million. The profit motive seems to be clearly in play more than the Hippocratic Oath. The more abortions they performed, the more profit. Throughout the private abortion business about £12 million changed hands last year. The emphasis in these clinics has become 'day care' abortions. The method used is D & E. An experienced doctor can perform a D & E in minutes. One private practitioner has developed a system of cutting the umbilical cord in the womb in advance of the operation. He discovered that this procedure made the baby's body more pliable and so it could be extracted in larger pieces. The victims of this particular end of the trade are predominantly non-resident women. One article in the Sunday Mirror called 'The Charter of Tears' explains what happens to women who come from overseas to have an abortion in London:
A young girl walks into a travel agency to book a cut-price package tour. She seems anxious and afraid. The trip includes a jet flight and a stay in a tourist hotel but this is no carefree holiday in the sun. Instead, the girl is embarking on a lonely charter flight to heartache. She travels from Madrid ... she is driven to a hotel in central London. Later, she takes a forty-minute car ride to an elegant Victorian house in a smart suburban street. The house is an abortion clinic - or in the words of its critics, an abortion factory.... An abortion at Parkview costs between £130 and £385 - the more advanced the pregnancy the higher the charge. The clinic is run by London Nursing Home Ltd, which last year had a £2 million turnover. Most of the girls are from Spain or France, though some travel from Algeria. Many are past the 22-week pregnancy phase regarded as late abortions but not past 28 weeks. The 30-bed clinic was at the centre of a Department of Health investigation in 1985 after one of its clients, a 21-year-old Spanish student, bled to death when her abortion went wrong.... One girl said, 'I had my operation at 11 am and I was out by 2 pm.'
Because Britain allows abortion later than any other Western European country, there has always been a stream of women arriving from abroad willing to pay for an abortion. The impartiality of the counselling they receive is dubious, even if the clinics could provide an interpreter for every nationality. It is doubtful whether any medical notes are seen. Late abortion carries a complication rate as high as 10%. We are exporting women who are uninformed, and at risk, every day from the abortion clinics. Private clinics carried out nearly 88% of all late abortions in 1986. And of the 8,276 abortions in 1986, 45% were on non-resident women. By performing these abortions, which would be illegal in the women's country of origin, we have truly become the back-street abortionists of Europe. At the time of writing, no national study of post-abortion disorders has been completed in Britain, but we can establish something of the scope of the psychiatric turmoil abortionism has fostered by looking at the studies done elsewhere. David, Rasmussen and Hoist tracked all admissions to psychiatric hospitals in Denmark for a three-year period after delivery or abortion. Their findings make depressing reading. There was a 50% increase in the percentage of women admitted to such hospitals following an abortion, compared with those completing pregnancy. Even more disturbing were the results for those women who did not have the support of a stable relationship. The numbers admitted to psychiatric hospitals nearly quadrupled compared to the numbers who completed pregnancy. It is likely that the percentages would be even higher the later the abortion, for from the moment a woman feels her baby move, at about 18 weeks, bonding has begun. In a poll done by Horack and Associates on 22 January 1988, published in the Independent, 79% of women and men said they would feel guilt if they aborted their child after quickening had occurred. As an American doctor put it, 'You can scrape the baby out of the mother, but you can never scrape the baby out of the mother's mind.' The conclusions of the Danish study state that 'at all parities the women who obtained abortions are at a higher risk for admission to psychiatric hospitals than women who deliver', and yet during the campaign opponents of the Bill said that post-abortion stress disorders were an invention of the pro-life movement and quoted Denmark's abortion on request system as a suitable model for British abortion law. The symptoms of post-abortion stress are all too common, and all too obvious in some of the letters on the following pages: tears and an overwhelming sense of guilt, the feeling of betrayal of the child and betrayal by a partner and family, or that the woman is not worthy of her partner. Finally there is the constant memory. What would the baby have been like? But post-abortion stress doesn't stop at the woman who has the abortion. Her partner or parents can also be affected, as can the existing children. McAll and Wilson, in Ritual Mourning for Unresolved Grief After Abortion (Southern Medical Journal, Vol. 80, no. 7, July 1987), gave case reports on such sequelae from the United States. They recommended ritual mourning as a means of dealing with what they described as 'unresolved grief', 'a
frequent sequel to induced abortion', and point to religious devotions as an important element. The purely physical complications, already discussed in the previous chapter, are not surprising in the light of the doctor's perspective on the techniques of abortion. How many women would want to be operated on by the doctor who said: 'I thought I was an expert, but by the time I had done 5,000 (abortions) I realised I was learning a lot. At this point having done around 12,000 procedures I am beginning to think I am reasonably competent.' Our opponents were quick to emphasise delay as a major reason for late abortions and continually misquoted the findings of a RCOG survey (Late Abortions in England and Wales, 1987) by claiming that one in five women aborted after twenty weeks had been referred eight weeks before, but had been subjected to medical delays which they claimed were either the fault of an increasingly underfunded Health Service or of secretly pro-life doctors imposing a delay to make it more difficult for the woman concerned. The evidence indicates an entirely different interpretation. The figure quoted above is taken, not from the whole sample of the RCOG study, but from a small subgroup. The same study recorded that 'Failure by a doctor to refer the patient to the NHS was given as a reason for difficulty in access in less than 2% overall.' Or again: 'Difficulty of access due to the presence of a waiting-list for out-patient appointments was reported very rarely, in less than 3% for any of the gestational age groups.' In fact the report listed the main reasons for delay and late presentation as denial, apprehension, indecision, financial difficulty and relationship change. One of the most distressing features of late abortions is those performed on very young girls. They carry greater risks of medical complication. But how does a twelve-, thirteen- or fourteen-year-old decide to have an abortion? The truth is that others decide for her, particularly parents. The wishes of parents, however wellintentioned, is nowhere mentioned in the Abortion Act and the sad fact is that many late abortions are performed on young girls and women who disguised and hid their pregnancies in the knowledge that when others discovered them they would be pressurised into abortion. We are at an important cross-roads for the medical professions. We know more about the nature of the unborn child, its remarkable development, its ability to sense, hear and feel pain. 90% of the current body of medical knowledge has been learned over the last twenty-five years. Ethical practices have not kept pace with technological advances. Our medical techniques allow us to operate inside the womb on the unborn baby after fifteen weeks' gestation. In film and photography we have the confirmation of what doctors have always known, that the unborn child is alive and has undoubted humanity. There is massive pressure, both
political and social, for the medical professions to use criteria of utility and expediency in the way in which we deal with human life. By allowing decisions of life and death to be based on such criteria the medical professions have retreated from an ethical, principled view of their work and skills. If we as a society allow this to continue we can only have less and less confidence in doctors as people with the best interests of the individual patient at heart. Much has been made of the 'slippery slope' but we can at least note that the MPs who voted for the Abortion Act never realised exactly what they had unleashed. They were told that the Act would end back-street abortion and even child abuse. The first report of the Select Committee on Violence in the Family paints a bleak picture of the ever rising number of cases of cruelty to children. Child abuse is no longer a question of isolated incidents but part of a pattern of gathering violence in the home. It is the fifth most frequent cause of death among children. The violence begun with abortion now extends beyond the womb on a scale commensurate with the inexorable increase in the number of abortions. In recent years we have also seen calls for experimentation on human embryos, for legalised euthanasia and the development of 'nursing care only' for newborn disabled babies. From opposing the Abortion Act the medical profession has tacitly accepted and condoned it. If Parliament and the public are not able and not allowed to do so, it is time that the profession set its own house in order.
I The Players (continued) Men Those who maintain that abortion is purely a 'woman's issue' do women no service. It allows men to evade their responsibilities; and without changes in male attitudes women will not be truly liberated. Men are often the problem. It is frequently men who put the pressure on women to have an abortion. After her bruising experience Sara Keays wrote: 'Is it not interesting that you never hear of unmarried fathers, only unmarried mothers; or of men having illegitimate children, only women; that you do not hear of fallen men, only fallen women?' There is no male equivalent to a slag. Our critical language and attitudes are based on double standards. Without an appreciation of the role of men, power, and domination, the feminist critique can become a caricature of the unthinking analysis put forward by many men. The macho 'masculine ethic' is as wrong-headed as the concept of abortion as purely a 'woman's issue'. By maintaining that it is purely a 'woman's issue', women marginalise an issue that affects everyone, and allow men off the hook. Furthermore, by opposing the rights of another oppressed group - disabled people pro-abortion women line themselves up with the powerful and replace a 'masculine ethic' which discriminates against women with a 'normality ethic' which aborts the disabled. Men are an essential part of the problem and must be part of the solution. The incident which was described earlier of the man in the Manchester meeting who said that he would have been the 'victim' of the Bill illustrates what is meant. His concern was that he would not have been able to 'persuade' his girlfriend to have a late abortion if the Abortion (Amendment) Bill had been in effect. What does that say about that man's attitudes? Quite a lot. Did he care for her feelings, or the life they had conceived? Was he really so selfish that only his convenience mattered?
It is bizarre that women insist on defending the status quo - one which permits men to blackmail women into a potentially dangerous operation in the name of women's rights. A man is allowed, even encouraged, by the attitudes that prevail to insist and demand that his lover, wife or one-night stand should have the abortion. Women allow men in this situation to get away with all the things that the women's rights movement is supposed to oppose. Men must come to this issue with profound humility. Biologists agree that reproduction is a case of female selection. The female invests a great deal of energy in carrying the developing offspring. Evolution has assured that in humans, as in the rest of the animal kingdom, it is the female that controls reproduction. The male is a necessary accessory, but the female does most of the work. So men can only respect the mystery of the developing child. To a pregnant woman the mystery is not as great. She can physically feel the child growing within her. The man is watching from a distance. When he moves he must tread carefully. The argument has been used over and over again that men cannot know this mystery and therefore those in power should not decide on a matter that so intimately concerns 'women alone' - a decision that irrevocably changes a woman's life. Half this argument is correct. There is no denying that men do not have babies and therefore cannot know what a woman goes through during pregnancy. But this is totally illogical. Even though men do not understand pregnancy, to say that they have no right to be concerned about the fate of an unborn child is both wrong and dangerous. If sexist stereotyping is wrong, then surely it is wrong for both sexes. For example, how can a woman know the agony a man goes through being helpless, watching his child being born? Or destroyed. An unusual example from the other side of the debate is the now famous Oxford student case. The man was willing and insistent that he should be given rights over what is half his. The woman was equally determined that it was her right to destroy what they created together. She won the civil action, but gave birth to the child and gave it to the father. What have we said? On the face of it, it was a victory for those chanting for control of their fertility, but the humanity of the child triumphed. The father kept the child that the mother didn't want. Attitudes of the men in this country are, unfortunately, more and more like those of the man in Manchester rather than that of that father in Oxford. The claim that abortion is entirely a woman's issue and a man in a male-dominated House is not fit to legislate on abortion is without foundation. Certainly, I agree that women are under-represented in the House of Commons, but because of this the House cannot be barred from legislating on a crucial moral issue. There were even more men in the 1960s Parliament. The sponsor of the 1967 Act was a man.
Half of the sponsors of the Abortion (Amendment) Bill were women MPs. This does not make the one bad and the other good. Abortion is acceptable in the selfish 80s. Many would deny that there is abortion on demand, but it is well known that many abortions are for convenience. A few British women have now had over five legal abortions. If men used their sexuality in a more responsible way, and were more prepared to live with the consequences of a sexual relationship, it would be a start in tempering the current grip of abortionism where infant life counts for nothing. Tougher laws to make a man face his financial responsibilities, if he impregnates and leaves a woman, are now possible. The genetic fingerprint test can establish fatherhood beyond doubt. The court could then compel the father to give financial support for the child's welfare; but not even the highest court in the land could sentence a man to be a good father. So the problem for men approaching the subject of abortion is this: the woman carries the child, and while she may be pressurised, she ultimately takes the decision whether or not to abort, alone. The physical and psychological factors may affect her, and she may suffer guilt and post-abortion trauma. The man is very much on the sidelines here although we have heard from men who have still not come to terms with their own actions in pressing for, or even acquiescing in, a woman's abortion. But a person, whether male or female, has a right to speak out for an innocent and oppressed minority. This cannot be a 'look, don't touch' question for men. To say it's not a man's issue is to try and deny our feelings, or suggest they are contrived or valueless. That is as totalitarian as suggesting that the unborn have no right to be born. No one asked to be conceived but, that having happened, they deserve a chance. That is a question for both sexes, and all that is required to come to this debate is humanity.
I The Players (continued) Media Talking the abortion language
Attitudes about abortion have certainly changed in the last twenty years. It has become a part of the fabric of society and often goes unchallenged. Once something has been made legal people in Britain assume that this makes it right. Our opponents seemed at their most angry when complaining that we had reopened this debate. What they have only just come to realise is that an issue which is literally life and death for some has become, for others, a blasĂŠ, everyday experience of life. It is important that future generations have the benefit of knowing what was said on both sides of the debate - something to which they can point when they try to understand this generation's attitudes towards life and death and towards each other as human beings. Our society has become very high tech in the last few years. While this trend, in most cases, is for the benefit of us all, it has tended to distance us from the realities of life. We can insulate ourselves from the pain and suffering that our world neighbours, indeed our literal neighbours, suffer. The medical world is on the frontiers of this high tech world. We have come to expect more and more for less and less from our doctors and medical professionals. Medical miracles have become so common that when they are not possible we feel hard done by. Childbirth is an area that has benefited greatly from the recent medical advances. Now children that once would never have survived live long and healthy lives. Babies born earlier and earlier are now living. Children with more and more severe diseases or disabilities are able to recover and are able to take a more active part in the world around them. The recent case of the Birmingham baby - whose brain tissue was transplanted to save the life of a man with Parkinson's disease - speaks volumes about the humanity of the child. You and I may both carry donor cards. That really is our choice. But what choice did the child have? Would we expect someone to give up an organ they still needed?
But let's not kid ourselves about the other side of the coin that comes with all this heady success in modern science. Responsibility is a word that has gone out of fashion. What used to be a familial duty has been taken over by a machine, or the private sector, or is no longer considered necessary. Children are a prime example of this. We get children with the minimum of pain, we send them to school for most of the day, then some send them away to school and then away for more education. The National Health Service is supposed to take care of their colds and childhood injuries, the educational system teaches them 'what they need to know' and what schools don't tell them is filled in by the television, radio, stereo, video and the multitude of other things that entertain our population. This high tech world has made us all passive, demanding consumers. If it doesn't work we demand our rights as parents, students, or whatever category we fall into. The problem is that the rights seem to have multiplied while the responsibilities have dwindled. The definition of the word 'rights' today has been expanded so that anything can become a right. If a group wants something badly enough they call it a right and then demand it in the name of their rights. Abortionism is a product of that lack of responsibility and society develops a language in which it can discuss the issue without needing to recognise the responsibility, or the rights of a voiceless group. It makes us feel easier to talk about the foetus or embryo. At the Leeds Town Hall meeting, every time I talked about the baby or child, protestors stamped their feet and chanted 'foetus'. It is a Latin word that means 'offspring'. 'Embryo' comes from the Greek and the Oxford Dictionary defines it as an 'unborn offspring'. Instead of 'baby' or 'child' we now even have a 'pre-embryo' or 'product of conception'. The truly hard line supporters of choice call it a 'clump' or 'mass of cells'. And it is the pregnancy that is 'terminated' not the child and certainly not its life. We distance ourselves from the reality of the situation and try to unburden ourselves of the guilt. We talk of 'handicapped' babies or 'abnormalities' as things we must get rid of in our society, as if killing the person rids the society of the disease. True we must try to eradicate diseases if we can, but that does not give us the right to destroy the people suffering from them as well. Because we would all like a cure to cancer, that debilitating, traumatic disease, does not mean that killing all cancer sufferers is the answer. It only addresses a symptom not a cause. The most destructive language is that which implies that abortion is the easy solution, the cheap, fast, way out of a bad situation. Like getting a tooth out: no consequence, no cost, no problem. What have we done to a generation of women who, faced with a difficult situation, were in need of support? We answered them with the 'get out quick' scheme and told them it would save them. We pretended to lend support when we only had a push to give. The consequences are beginning to catch up and, 20 years on, the fastest growing counselling area for women is post-abortion trauma. Our actions always have
consequences. No action, once done, can be undone. The findings of the studies overwhelmingly indicate that women who have abortions are the most likely to suffer later in life from mental duress. They are also more likely to suffer further physical problems. We have disguised a serious operation frequently with dire after effects as a simple process. We have led women into the operating theatre with promises of no complications and the misinformation that it is a minor procedure, only for them to find both long- and short-term problems affecting their lives. Many of these have been discussed in a previous chapter. The easy solution has proved more than once to be a mistake that cost a woman her life. Let's not dress up what we allow. We have sanitised, purified and sterilised this operation into a fairy-tale land of no troubles. We have all been a part of the conspiracy of silence and have all used the language of the magicians who have turned an industry which trades in the currency of misery and desperation into polite dinner conversation. We must now provide an effective challenge to these times and its language.
The media and responsibility
Responsibility for the language and tone of the debate about abortion lies primarily with the media. Rarely has any Private Member's Bill which has come before Parliament caused such media comment and at times hysteria as the Abortion (Amendment) Bill. Obviously a principal objective was to initiate a widespread debate on an issue which has been relegated to the obscure edges of most newspapers and journals. The media would inevitably be central in provoking the debate but it would have been na誰ve not to realise that one side effect would be the personal vilification, innuendo and attempts to set me at odds with David Steel. One problem that anyone faces in promoting a contentious issue in Parliament is that people's perception of the arguments, reasoning and personalities involved are formed through the media. Opinions formed over the course of this campaign were shaped, therefore, through newspaper, TV and radio coverage. TV and radio are bound by charters of impartiality, but the newspapers are not, and this showed in some of the press that the Bill received. When a reporter writes a story for a newspaper the reporter's opinion and style and the paper's line on that story affects how it finally reads. It can range from sympathetic through neutral to hostile. But when a pro-abortion journalist is not prepared to even try and write in a balanced and accurate way, the results can be
very damaging, and a national newspaper does not readily admit it is wrong or biased. When I announced my Private Member's Bill to reduce the upper limit for abortion, the media could only react. They certainly could not inform the public about abortion because over the preceding 20 years they had been part of the conspiracy of silence surrounding late abortion. Since 1967 there have been 3,000,000 abortions. It has become one of the most frequent operations performed in the NHS. Women have died because of poor abortions, aborted babies have lived, a thriving private trade in abortions has grown and women have come from abroad to have late abortions. None of this was newsworthy? We soon learned how unscrupulous the media could be. Extracts from the speech launching the Bill were sent to the press and embargoed until 5.45 p.m. on Saturday 26 September. I intended to make my announcement in the constituency to my constituents. I felt that they should be the first to know that I was about to resign as Liberal Whip to enable me to challenge the abortion laws. The Daily Express broke the embargo and published the story as a front page lead on the Saturday morning. ITN behaved no better, also breaking the embargo. Very quickly, the people running the campaign realised that if we were going to receive any fair treatment we would have to find journalists who would behave professionally and not allow their personal prejudice or hang-ups to determine the content of their stories. Despite a torrent of calls, often from people only interested in doing a hatchet job, their inquiries were dealt with assiduously and meticulously. At times the office was almost paralysed. I believe we ultimately forced a debate on the serious issues by maintaining this professional approach and not reacting to the shoddy and subjective writing and reporting which came from some quarters. Whether for or against the Bill the political or lobby correspondents that work in Parliament reported to a consistently high standard. But it soon became clear that many journalists did not understand the intricacies of Parliamentary procedure involved in piloting a Private Member's Bill through the reefs of the House of Commons. During the Committee Stage of the Bill the hard news was the tactical manoeuvres during the 30 hours of intense, hard-fought debate. Most of these were missed or dismissed by the majority of journalists covering the Committee. Instead the press focused rather on the personality issues and clashes that occurred during the Committee debate. Perhaps they were trying to inflame personal animosity between members of the Committee. That would have made better copy.
The lobby journalists had the job of reporting the Parliamentary news and analysing what it meant for the Bill. Where much of the initial problem with the media coverage of the Abortion (Amendment) Bill lay was in the comment and features of journalists who had the time and the indulgence to say what they wished. There were two notable examples of this. The outstanding one was Polly Toynbee's 'With Men and God on His Side' feature in the Guardian (1 October 1987). This was based on an interview with me. Mistakenly, I supposed that the Guardian would be objective and professional in accepting that there was at least an argument to be had. The polemic that appeared says more about the writer's motives than mine. In justification of some of the questions she asked which had nothing to do with the Bill - she said it was as well that I answered her as no doubt some 'gutter' Fleet Street Sunday paper would be delving into my private life. It seemed an odd approach from a supposedly reputable newspaper. The Guardian published a letter from me regretting the tone of the article and gave space on the 'Agenda' page, allowing me to set out my arguments for the Bill. It was the first and only time the Guardian has allowed an article setting out a prolife position to be published. They have, however, published letters favourable to the Bill. After this experience I take some of their strictures about intellectual freedom and press censorship less seriously. At the opposite end of the newspaper market the Sun weighed in with some interesting journalism. The 'Fiona on Friday' column (29 January 1988) considered it 'obscene that a very, very, confirmed bachelor' should dare to try to tell a woman what her feelings on abortion should be. I was, in fact, trying to amend the 1967 Abortion Act. The article called me a liar and an insensitive fool and said that I claimed that the picture used in the campaign was a foetus alive and safe in its mother's womb. At no point did I make that claim; I made it quite plain that the picture showed a foetus at 18 weeks gestation. Over 4,000,000 copies of the Sun sold that day, so more than 10,000,000 people might have got the wrong idea of what the Bill intended to do. Indeed the terms of the Bill were not referred to anywhere in the article. But gradually, articles began to appear that reflected pro-life concerns. Two pieces by Times journalist Ronald Butt exemplified this. In an article entitled 'Being Precise About Alton' (14 January 1988) he said: 'In this explicit age uncompromising abortionists think it indelicate to mention the nuts and bolts of abortion, but they are at the crux of the matter.' And in that he exposed one of the media's biggest responsibilities in the campaign: they tried to clean up the issue for public consumption. In doing so they abdicated much of their responsibility to inform their readers of exactly what a late abortion entailed. Mr Butt continued:
The central question, however, is the inhumanity of late abortions. How, then, dare Mr Larry Whitty, the general secretary of the Labour Party, send round what amounts to a whip to all Labour MPs telling them that it is 'party policy' to support the 1967 Act and giving reasons why they should vote against the Alton Bill? ... Labour's official sentiments are not far short of those of the leftist Campaign Group whose minutes of October 27 say of the Alton Bill, 'Labour policy is now quite clear and does not allow for a conscience vote, asking for a three-line whip.'
In his article 'A Licence to Block' a month later (11 February), Mr Butt commented: 'To try to kill the Alton Bill not in its own Committee but by frivolous time-wasting in talking on another subject is an abuse of Parliament which must not be allowed to succeed'. Although a well-respected political journalist made this statement, and predicted that Parliament risked being abused by procedural muggers, the rest of the media did not pick this up, or deliberately ignored it as being inconsequential. Before the Bill went into Committee Mr Butt predicted (in this same article of 11 February): 'Yet in their ruthless determination to destroy the Bill, its foes will stop at nothing to frustrate the will of the Commons by filibuster and unscrupulous procedural tactics.' His analysis was a prophecy, as subsequent events showed. For accurate political reporting Times journalist Martin Fletcher and Colin Hughes of the Independent deserve a mention. Whether the substance of the article was in our favour or not, Mr Fletcher's grasp of the issues and his political insight never wavered. Similarly Mr Hughes was fair and unbiased throughout. In the later stages of the Bill the Guardian's Patrick Wintour turned out some fair and objective accounts, yet the Guardian was almost hysterically hostile throughout, and the truth became almost irrelevant. Our strongest supporter was the Today newspaper. News and comment in other papers varied with the writers concerned. For instance theIndependent's Anne Spackman was largely hostile while Michael Toner of the Sunday Express was thorough and fair. The Independent's Peter Jenkins (Polly Toynbee's husband) published two articles, largely identical to his wife's, which were timed to coincide with Second and Third Readings. The media were vital to the Bill's progress and profile. There were so many other pressures that it became impossible to place all the explanatory articles that were needed and to challenge all the errors that were inevitably made and published. Every politician is in the public eye. Press and politicians feed off one another. Being shot at by the press is an occupational hazard. What they don't know they will often make up. Suddenly instead of being described as a Liberal or a Liverpool MP, I was David Alton the Roman Catholic MP, David Alton the bachelor, the
confirmed bachelor, the single man, even the potential priest. The Guardian even managed to publish correspondence on whether readers thought early ordination to the priesthood might be in everybody's interests! I was sorry to disappoint them, but I had no intention of taking Trappist vows! Why suddenly the 'Roman Catholic' label as though I had made a secret of it before? As I later asked one journalist, why not say Mrs Thatcher the Methodist Prime Minister or Nigel Lawson the Jewish Chancellor? They are forever in the news and yet their religion is never mentioned. Why suddenly the single man? Did that mean I could not have a view on late abortions? It was pretty obvious that we would have to bypass the national media if we were to raise up an army of supporters and helpers. This meant going to the regional and local papers. We wanted MPs put under pressure by their own constituents reading and hearing stories about the Bill, or better still seeing reports of pro-life rallies in their area. When the campaign started the local papers and radio stations were given the prolife arguments immediately - a prepared article was sent to the local and provincial press and a tape of LIFE's national official, Nuala Scarisbrick, talking about the Bill went out to radio stations. During my appearances at meetings all over the country I made a special effort to be available to journalists from the local and provincial media. Britain's provincial and local press are the last bastions of independent reporting and comment. The first morning paper to come out in our favour was the Huddersfield Examiner and the Liverpool Echo was the first evening daily. The quality of provincial press reporting, comment and leading articles on the Bill was very refreshing, after some of the coverage in national newspapers. As the debate blossomed in the country the national media began to take note. A Times leader said:
Abortion itself is a deliberate injury, temporary to the mother, fatal to the foetus. The philosophical question that arises is whether it is legitimate ever to weigh the wrong of an abortion against other wrongs, choosing the lesser, or whether it is of such a nature that it overrides all other considerations.
Throughout the whole of the campaign the Today newspaper pulled no punches. First it printed Lennart Nilsson's stunning photograph of a foetus at 18 weeks gestation in a colour full front page with a headline 'The Message'. One of its
leaders concluded: 'Revising the law will not be easy. But Parliament must not shirk seeking an answer just because one will be difficult to find.' As this book went to press that is exactly what Parliament has done. A 'The Sun Says' editorial stated: 'No issue raises more agonies of doubt and conscience than abortion. On the one side, there is the natural revulsion at destroying life. On the other side, the tragedy of desperate women.' It later made a point that was greatly neglected by the media during the campaign: 'There are endless occasions when terribly handicapped men and women have overcome all obstacles and enjoyed rich and fulfilled lives.' That editorial left the reader to make up his or her own mind. The Observer observed that 'Mr Alton fails to solve the abortion dilemma', quite ignoring the fact that this was never a claim that I made for my Bill. So much for the independent press. There was also a lot written by papers and journals that had or presumed an interest. Perhaps the most bizarre was a call in the Engineering Gazette to 'Fight the Alton Bill!' Left-wing papers and journals were unanimously against the Bill; these included the Revolutionary Communist Party's weekly paper The Next Step's headline (27 November 1987): 'Women need the right to free abortion on demand ... AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE AS LATE AS NECESSARY' before further extending it by saying that it should be free, on demand and without referral by a doctor. Marxism Today had a four and a half page discussion with pro-abortion MPs Teresa Gorman and Jo Richardson, gynaecologist Wendy Savage, a co-ordinator of the Fight Alton's Bill campaign and an abortion counsellor. The issue was examined in a less than objective way. The New Statesman was also obviously hostile to the Bill. One of the common threads running through the articles in the left-wing press was the overriding concern for the woman's rights to an abortion and to control her own body/fertility. None of the articles mentioned anywhere that an unborn child might have rights; meanwhile there will be a great concern for human rights, workers' rights and animal rights while elsewhere in the paper the most vulnerable, the rights of the innocent and defenceless child, are cruelly ignored. Medical journals were broadly against any change. As examples, both the British Medical Journal and the Lancet published lengthy pieces calling for 'no change' despite the Gallup opinion poll which showed widespread feeling amongst practising gynaecologists and obstetricians that a reduction in the upper time limit was needed. Yet despite clinging to the status quo, the British Medical Journal called the 28-week limit an anachronism. The Christian press was firmly united and quite euphoric that someone was challenging the abortion laws. Their support was a great help. Liverpool's Catholic Pictorial told its readers quite clearly: 'Ten days to the Bill that could save 7000 lives a year and Alton pleads ... AGAINST ABORTION? SAY SO!' The Catholic Herald called the Bill 'Historic'. The Christian World 'News Review' asked: 'Can Alton Turn the Tide?' TheMethodist Recorder published an article by my colleague Alan Beith MP in support of the Bill, where he said:
As Methodists, with our strong tradition of social action, justice and the preaching of the gospel, we bear no small responsibility in the urgent task in upholding the sanctity of all human life, however small and weak, and declaring our opposition to the abortion mentality which pervades the thinking of our time. We stand on the sure foundation of scripture in this task. Human life is 'made in the image of God' which we are expressly commanded not to kill in the Ten Commandments. The psalmist writes of him being 'knit together in my mother's womb' (Psalm 139). The prophets see their calling as 'from the womb' (Jeremiah 1). The incarnation confirms the Biblical teaching of the unborn child with Christ being conceived as the incarnate son of God which was undoubtedly the beginning of His earthly existence. It was the unborn John the Baptist who, by leaping for joy in the womb of his mother Elizabeth, first heralded the coming into the world of the Messiah even though the infant Jesus cannot have been more than a tiny embryo. Coupled with the Biblical teaching on the sanctity of human life is the strong scriptural injunction to 'love your neighbour' and to be 'salt and light', that prompts Christians into action on the great social problems of the day. It is the same abhorrence at the denial of justice and equality I see for the coloured people of South Africa that urges me to speak out for the right to life and equal opportunity for the unborn child. The Christian Community has before it a tremendous responsibility and a great opportunity with David Alton's Bill to halt late abortions. I hope that Methodists will play their part by writing to and lobbying their MPs at the House of Commons ... to vote in favour of the Bill ... It's a chance that we cannot afford to miss.
The initial problems with newspapers reappeared on the television channels. At the beginning of the campaign the TV panel programmes were little more than a calculated set-up. After appearing several times with a pro-abortion doctor or a member of a pro-abortion organisation it was clear that there would be little chance of constructive debate. Subsequently we offered pro-life doctors against proabortion doctors and I concentrated on one-to-one interviews where the issues could be properly explored. The idea of an interview simply degenerating into a slanging match, or providing myself as a punch-bag for interviewers anxious to exorcise their own hang-ups or hurts does not appeal to me. My TVAM interview with Ann Diamond was perhaps the most unpleasant, but judging by the viewer reactions her rudeness did her more damage than it did me. The key was never to let them provoke you into over-reaction. In attacking the man rather than the argument they lost their case. The BBC was no better in covering up the grisly facts surrounding late abortion. I repeatedly asked the BBC to show our video The Eclipse of Reason. It shows
exactly what happens in a dilatation and evacuation abortion as practised in British private clinics. The Managing Director, Michael Checkland, refused, saying that the film was 'distasteful' and would not be educative. Yet that could be said of many of the medical procedures shown on TV and of many of the day-to-day programmes they screen. Abortion is the second most frequent operation performed in this country and in some Area Health Authorities it is the most frequent. It is taking a life; should the public not know what is involved? One of the most extraordinary incidents involving the BBC concerned the Today programme. Not content with inviting David Steel to come and give an 'important' view on the day of the Bill's Report Stage (with no opposing view to balance the piece), they even tried to tell a contributor to the 'Thought for the Day' slot, who is a supporter of the Bill, what she was allowed to say. The days of the Lord Chamberlain and censorship are clearly not over. The public, like the journalists and politicians, also wanted their say and the papers were inundated with 'pro' and 'anti' letters. Some of them made fascinating reading. After the Bill was talked out on May 6 one gentleman wrote: 'The mother of Parliaments has become the harlot of Europe' such was his outrage at the 'skulduggery'. He went on: 'We have the spectacle of Cabinet ministers speaking out against the inhumanity of the IRA's terrorism, but the blatant hypocritical selectivity of their condemnation makes a sickening display.' That is one of the great things about a letters page - letter writers can and do say things that public figures would never dare to, and that a journalist with a career and peer pressure to consider would not write. Did the media discharge their obligations to the British people during this campaign? By persevering with the Bill the debate was opened at every level and ultimately there were some examples of reporting, analysis, comment and insight at its very best, but in the opening stages they were depressingly few and far between. The media work under the constant pressure of deadlines, restricted time to broadcast or space to print in, and there is the ever present circulation war between the newspapers and ratings battle between the TV and radio companies. A good report can be totally altered by mediocre or biased sub-editing, and a fair report can be twisted to suit the paper's editorial line. Although these factors are inevitable in the media and all news goes through a similar process, an emotive and personal issue like amending the 1967 Abortion Act is going to get different treatment. This was summed up by an article in the Daily Mirror roundly abusing the Bill - written by a journalist who admitted that she had aborted a Down's Syndrome baby a year or two earlier. How can anyone be impartial, unbiased or unaffected with the deep hurt that must involve? And why no right to reply? Instances like this make you despair of our media. Perhaps, as Ann Clywd MP has suggested, there should be legislation for a right of reply. The success of newspapers like the Independent and Today shows that the public want to be more fairly informed. Ultimately we get the press we deserve, the one we pay for.
II Thousands Speak Thousands Speak Authentic voices were making themselves heard in the letter columns of local newspapers. They were also voicing their opinions to MPs. 15,000 people came on a two-day lobby of Parliament to back the Bill - it was the biggest lobby since 1985. But they also made themselves heard through letters and cards. The next chapter is devoted entirely to letters. To date, nearly 20,000 letters have come into the office at the House of Commons concerning the Bill. We diligently kept a daily count of both those in favour and those against the Bill. Every letter was read by someone on the staff and pictures of babies began to accumulate on the walls. We began to see that some letters were particularly moving and gradually we began a file just of 'special letters'. That file eventually had to be divided by groups to keep up with the heaps of letters. Poems and tapes also came in and each of those was listened to and kept on our shelves. These letters became a focal point of the campaign. New approaches, encouragement and solutions to the latest problems were often found on their pages. Those letters against the Bill also provided an important input. There we found the issues that worried the public, that angered, puzzled or put off people who were following the debate. We were able to sensitise ourselves to the anxieties of those opposing the campaign and we hope address their fears with rational answers. The letters that appear here have been edited to leave only the main storyline. We have left all the authors anonymous as many of the stories are very intimate. We have all been deeply moved by the reading of these letters and touched by the stories people were willing to share with us. We sincerely hope that sharing them with the readers of this book, in their anonymous form, will inspire and help seekers after the truth. We all felt strongly that the people of this country who have been directly affected by this issue should speak, as they did to us, to the rest of the country.
WE WERE GOING TO BE TWINS What attracted us to one another initially was we shared the same womb albeit the unconsidered products of flippant passion Anyway, we were pre-natal room mates checking each other's progress transfixed by the budding of tiny fingernails and the rhythm of miniscule chests rising and falling like pale pink bellows My brother, for that's what he was now becoming, had a curious almost whimsical shape his head leaning to one side as if he were always about to ask a question He used to poke gentle fun at my by now rapidly expanding feet I only had two but on occasions because of the space they took up they seemed to number far more I can't remember exactly when we were terminated My brother went first in plunged a knife ended his life with a slish and a slash and a silent scream I proved to be a more unwilling participant
like an irritating piece of dust in the very corner of a skirting board a long thin nozzle entered my sanctuary/death cell and I was sucked into oblivion along with bits of my brother all courtesy of the National Health Service In California some beloved dogs when they expire are buried in oak coffins with gold handles Respectful mourners attend and weep accordingly We were poured into a black plastic sack not a hymn nor a prayer was heard We were going to be twins my brother and I Stewart Henderson The Liverpool poet
II Thousands Speak (continued) Doctors
Doctors involved in abortions are often deeply troubled by the procedure. Those who recommend that society 'leave it to the woman and her doctor' perhaps unwittingly implicate many doctors in an operation they would prefer to have nothing to do with. The following letters are all from doctors. Some have been in the profession for many years and have witnessed the changes since the 1967 Act and some have just entered the 'life-saving' occupation only to find it has some grisly aspects. I am a junior doctor working in the Special Care Baby Unit. In the Unit we often spend all day and night battling to save the life of just one of these babies, and last week while we were successfully allowing a baby to go home, I realised that this same child could still have been killed under the 1967 Act, if unborn. I find it incredible that in the same hospital babies can be saved in one ward and killed in the next by the same profession.
During the course of my training, in my younger days, I removed a 18-20 foetus by hysterotomy and I have not the least doubt that I murdered a little human being then and I have had nothing to do with procured abortion since that time.
As a medical officer to a centre for disabled people, I would like to support your Bill. I hope it receives the support it deserves and succeeds in curbing the widespread practice of eugenic abortions. I am dismayed at the way antenatal screening for defects such as Down's Syndrome have been accepted with a minimum of dissent from the medical profession. The concept of 'preventing' congenital defects by eliminating the patient is a barbaric practice. I hope your campaign will cause many to re-think this issue and realise that the disabled baby has as much right to life as anyone. Technology allows the baby to now be treated before birth which can only re-emphasise that the foetus is a patient and deserves our care and attention even if it is seriously ill.
My husband and I have both been hospital doctors for nearly nine years and have quite a lot to do with patients seeking a termination. We decided over four years ago that we no longer wanted to look after these patients, although we could see the desperate social problems many of them faced. However, we came to realise that one wrong could not be removed by another. We are also concerned at the growing amount of screening being done with a view to destroy the child if it might be handicapped.
I am a consultant concerned about the subject of abortion, which has been a source of heartache for many years. Each request forces me to search my conscience and now with this national debate I feel I cannot remain silent any longer. Yesterday I counselled a patient and many issues were crystallised as a result. We talked about alternatives. She could not tolerate adoption as the thought of 'a piece of her out there somewhere' disturbed her. Clearly it was more acceptable to destroy the child than allow someone else to raise it. I pointed out to her that her opinion was entirely self-interested as it could certainly not be in the interests of the child. We must all revolutionise our thinking. When the baby is born its constitution and status are not changed, merely its environment. It is just as dependent on the mother in the cot as it was in the womb. The only difference is that for the first time the mother has a choice as to who provides that support. That is the opportunity for choice not before.
We are a general group practice in a growing housing area where people are living under great financial and social pressures. As such, we have great exposure to requests for abortions and find the 1967 Act sadly lacking. It has basically opened the door to abortion on demand, which I am sure was not the intention of Mr Steel. But the legislation has seriously undermined the concept of 'sanctity of life' in this country, to the detriment of family and community.
The happiest nine years of my life were those I spent with my little daughter. What is least bad in me I owe to Nicola. She brought great good into the world and a necessary part of that goodness was her Down's Syndrome.
As a gynaecologist who has undertaken terminations of pregnancy I write to support your stance on abortion. I can see no justification for the destruction of human life on such a scale. The gestation of the pregnancy is surely irrelevant, though I understand that any reduction in numbers should be welcomed. I can find no easy answer to the problem of severe abnormality but this number is so small it should not be used as an excuse to permit the late abortion of normal pregnancies. Many in the medical profession wrote of personal opposition and profound effects on their careers if they tried to stick to their convictions and not perform abortions. Resisting powerful vested interests inside their profession requires courage and integrity. Many pro-life medics have joined Doctors for Life and the World Federation of Doctors who Respect Human Life. I have worked in the NHS for 38 years and have, over the last decade, encountered intense opposition from colleagues with differing views and they have made many attempts to put me out of my post, but I have withstood the pressure as I hope you will be able to.
My son is a highly trained GP with no end of letters after his name but he will have nothing to do with abortions and therefore he can get no work. Discrimination? It must be. He has the highest of references and nobody can find fault and yet he cannot find a place to hire him. OUT TO KILL Just an unborn babe New quickened in his mother's womb A tiny scrap Of real humanity, and with completed body, Waiting but to grow: The shade of hair and eyes already there And bent of mind.
So who is this they will destroy, While Sister and nurses look sadly on So sadly on - their true-sworn oaths In dismal ashes? Who is to die before he lives? A poet or a prophet An inventor or a saint? V. A.
II Thousands Speak (continued) Mothers
Mothers and their children are of course what this issue is all about. There were hundreds upon thousands of letters from women who had had abortions or thought about having abortions or who had been pressurised into having abortions. These letters are about women who will never regret a decision to stand against all the odds or will always regret a decision that they or others were allowed to make for them. Many letters also arrived from women who had had abortions and felt that it was a decision they had to make, and would do so again; but some feel regret as well. It would seem from the letters that it is nearly always a regretted decision of desperation. The first selection contains letters from women who had abortions in the 'bad old days' of the back street. The first letter is from Mrs C who asked that her letter be published if possible. It is in penance and in deep contrition and praying that this true story will save the lives of unborn innocent little ones that I do write. I already had five small children under the age of seven years when I knew I was expecting another child. I was devastated for I had no one to turn to, no money, not even a decent place to live. Bare stone floors, no form of heat, just a zinc bath to clean the children's body. My husband drank quite a lot and often there were violent scenes, which upset all our lives. I had nowhere to lay this new life, nothing, not even peace to greet the baby. So, I took a dose of quinine, which nearly killed us both, I was admitted to hospital, the stomach was pumped and through the first night it was touch and go. Once during the night I was given up for dead, but revived. When I was recovering slowly, the doctor and sister came to my bed and asked me, 'Why did you try to take your life?' I then explained that I thought I was pregnant and I couldn't face another child; I hadn't taken the awful stuff to kill myself, only to free me of the baby. They were kind and understanding but I needed more than words. I shame to say I had hardly left hospital when I again began to think of abortion. But, by some strange chance, the baby lived on. I never did look forward to the birth and I carried the little one in deep resentment, so the months passed too soon.
Just one month before the birth, I fell down a flight of stone steps leading to the coal cellar. Four weeks later on the day my baby should have been born I was received into Maternity Hospital where I was told there were serious complications. The fall had upset the whole picture. The baby's head now lay under my heart and the afterbirth was in the neck of the womb broken up, preventing entry into the world. So, after hours with no anaesthetic, the doctors managed to get all the afterbirth; I was suffering from severe haemorrhage and they then told me they were going to perform a caesarian operation - 'we can't promise you your child will live'. But God help me I knew then that child wanted to live and even though everything had gone which by the Law of Nature the child needed to survive, I told them the child was absolutely alive and fighting for survival, just jumping, trying to get out. I was almost sure the little one was screaming for help. We were both seriously ill for a long time. She is now herself a grandmother. I watched her beautiful daughters walk down to the altar, I heard them make their vows and I thought that if I'd had my way these beautiful people would have been lost to the world and the pain and joy and beauty which are the pattern of Life. It touches me most when my beautiful great-granddaughter runs to me, her little arms outstretched in love and greeting: 'Hello Grandma'.
Before I entered the faith I had three abortions and one miscarriage and one attempted abortion, which thank God did not succeed as my youngest girl has looked after me in more ways than one. I am nearly 70 years old and experienced life. Incidentally, my daughter had three illegitimate children but I wouldn't hear of abortion knowing what I'd gone through. I had 2 nervous breakdowns due to emotional stress of the abortions and tried to commit suicide. That's what abortion does. Guilt.
I had a back street abortion. I am now 64 and the horror of it still haunts me today. My daughter had an abortion (a legal one) 15 years ago. She has three other children and did not want another one and so they decided on the abortion. They have recently given up their restaurant when she found out she was pregnant as she could not run the place but refused to go through with another abortion. I have counselled many women on the brink of suicide because of an abortion.
Unfortunately many people who support abortion really have no knowledge of the after effects of this act. I have first hand experience and it is one I would not wish on my worst enemy. The last letter from this group of women who were survivors arrived anonymously. I married at sixteen years old to get away from my father - I'll leave you to guess why. I had my first baby when I was 17 years old, a 7 month baby weighing only 4 pounds. The midwife didn't bathe him, she rubbed him - with brandy and olive oil. The following year (April) another son, followed by in October a miscarriage. The following year September a baby girl. That was three babies and a miscarriage in 2 years and 7 months and I wasn't yet 20 years old. That was 1934; up to August 1939 I'd had at least 12 abortions, which cost me sixpenny worth of slippery elm bark. I could go to work with 2 children but not with three so I had to stay at home and do sewing for a tailor till 1 a.m. When in 1940 I was again pregnant, I carried on with it as I couldn't face another abortion for anything. Neighbours said as there was a war I should, but I had my baby at the end of August 1940. When my husband was called up in 1940 it was the first time I'd had a regular income. In 1942 my husband was sent abroad leaving me pregnant and no way of getting slippery elm bark. I borrowed a douche and blood came straight away. It happened every night for five nights. On the fifth night it came away in a lump. I had to make sure but I was all alone, so I nervously cut it open with scissors, and to my horror disclosed a tiny little baby inside, perfect. The next few letters are from women who have also seen their children at various stages of pregnancy and recognise their humanity and vulnerability. After years of trying I found myself pregnant until 23 weeks when I went into premature labour. My son lived for 35 hours in a Special Care Baby Unit. If he had been born today he would have probably survived but whoever tells me he was an unrecognisable blob needs to ask the doctor who delivered him why he wrapped that blob in his own coat to keep him warm while he ran to the Baby Unit and why that Baby Unit did everything in their power to save him. That child looked so much like his father it was unbelievable. I now have three children but I will never forget my firstborn son or his funeral.
I have two children. I was expecting twins last year and to be honest I never really thought about abortion until then. My twins unexpectedly miscarried. The midwives asked if I wanted to see them and I was frightened to see what 24-week
foetuses would look like. I later agreed to see them and the midwife brought them to myself and my husband. They were perfect. They looked like they were asleep in her arms. Perfect right down to their eyelashes; if only women could see them, I am sure they could never take their lives.
I was only 7 weeks pregnant when I had a termination many years ago, but the trauma and nightmare are still with me. The damages mentally and physically are awful, but no one bothered to tell me the facts and that it could affect my chances of having a normal pregnancy, that I would eventually need another operation so that I would stop losing babies. Thankfully I now have three beautiful children but the horror will be with me always.
I had an abortion which nearly destroyed me and that was 8 years ago. I was an older mother and therefore high risk. I panicked a bit as I already had three children and had heard that older mothers have more disabled babies. The doctors all encouraged me to have the abortion and no one told me what could happen. I became very depressed and thought another child might help but as it turns out both my tubes were blocked as a result of that abortion. I think that women should be told that some people never get over an abortion.
The memory of my abortion nearly three years ago was until six months ago with me every day - destroying my life and eroding my marriage. My husband agreed to have another baby and now I am six months pregnant and we are both overjoyed. My fourth pregnancy was a result of contraceptive failure and while I did not want the child nor did I want an abortion. For my husband it was the only solution. We are not poor but we had plans into which another mouth to feed did not fit. With his decision and my GP's assurances that it would go through 'on the nod' I agreed. The abortion was the most lonely dreadful experience of my life. I cried every day
for 2 years, had to have psychiatric help and counselling and lived on antidepressants. I was turfed out into the waiting room as if I had had a tooth removed. I am an older mother now but I have refused the screening tests. I pray that our baby will be whole, but if not, we will cope and it must be better than living with the grief and guilt. How many of the medical profession care, I wonder, about what happens afterwards - they just leave it to the psychiatrists and social workers to pick up the pieces. Abortion is not the easy way out, it leaves a scar and sometimes destroys lives for ever. It may well be difficult to help people with unplanned pregnancies but surely their long term happiness is more important. I hope that many women speak out who have had abortions because until they do and not dogooders or reformers, the people in power will not understand.
I must now speak for the rights of the unborn. I myself had an abortion when I was only 15 years old. I was pushed into it by my mother who saw it as an easy and quick remedy to the problem. I did not get a say! It took me nine years to come to terms with that experience. I look back on that still as the most horrific day of my life.
I was a 'latch-key' kid from about the age of nine. My mother worked and my father was drinking and gambling. When I was 13 they were divorced and soon after my elder brother walked out. When I was 16 my gran, the only person I could ever talk to, died and two days before my birthday I took a bottle of pills and cough mixture. My mother came home ill from work and found me, but after my stay in hospital told me I could not return home. I was dumped on the Social Services and gradually went out on my own. I worked and met a man and we were engaged. Though we used contraception, I became pregnant and we just decided to move the wedding plans forward. I contacted my mother and she said that if I didn't get rid of the baby I could never see her again. That really hurt. The pressure got to me and she reminded me I was still a minor and that the decision was hers in the end and I believed her. I agreed to the abortion and she arranged everything. In the end I lost my baby, my fiancĂŠ, and my mother kicked me out again. I did later meet and marry a wonderful man and we have three children. We wanted four and so when I was pregnant again we were over the moon. However, all was not well.
We soon discovered it was an ectopic pregnancy and the doctors told me I would have to have it removed. I cried and cried and all I could think was that it was my fault for having an abortion. The doctors wanted me to do it right away but it was Christmas and I wanted to be with my family. As I was in no pain, the doctors allowed me to go home. I did go for the appointment two weeks later and had another scan, and there he was - large as life! There were lots of tears but these were tears of pure joy! Our son is now over a year old - our miracle child.
My daughter is a hospital surgeon and has nothing to do with abortion. She has had to structure her career very carefully because of all the pressure that doctors come under to do these operations. Abortions are making doctors like my daughter into executioners and no one seems to realise how they feel at having such sickening procedures imposed on them. It is ironic that I was a mother at risk when I was carrying her for I had toxaemia diagnosed at two months of pregnancy and was told my baby couldn't live or would be severely abnormal, while I would be antisocial for leaving my sons motherless. I refused the abortion and now my daughter is herself caring for others and curing pain.
Why is an abortion so easy to obtain? After months of longing for a baby I finally became pregnant; however, the intensity and prolonged morning sickness plunged me into the deepest and blackest depression imaginable. During this depression I went to my doctor and informed him I didn't want the baby. When asked why I broke down and sobbed and said I didn't know. He immediately made an appointment at the local hospital for me. Here, neither the doctor nor the consultant tried to make me change my mind or point out that things would change. At the back of my mind I knew it was wrong but I was too depressed to actually admit it. I was hoping to talk to someone at the hospital but they said they were all too busy. An appointment was made and I was sent home. A week later I sat on the hospital bed sobbing my eyes out whilst a doctor (complete with pen and clipboard) was encouraging me to sign the child's death warrant. I refused, got dressed and went downstairs to wait for my husband who had been telephoned to come and pick me up. A very cross sister told me to go and wait upstairs in the ward. By this time I was so confused mentally, emotionally and physically I just didn't know what I
was doing. The nurses and doctors kept coming to me to ask if I was ready to sign. I kept saying I needed more time. Three hours later, completely exhausted, I signed. That was four months ago. The grief, guilt and torment never leaves me. Now that I no longer have morning sickness I can see the enormity of what I've done and I can't believe it. The bitterness, anger and regret is indescribable. What makes it worse is that I was never discouraged. Completely the opposite. Because everyone I saw in the medical profession said it was OK in my depression I accepted it. Looking back I can't believe I was so gullible and vulnerable. If one, only one doctor had given me a good talking to I honestly believe that I would still have my baby. Why was I encouraged to go ahead when I was so obviously not in a stable mental state? Surely there should be some kind of interview before the operation explaining what it is all about. Whilst this attitude exists in the NHS I can't believe that the rate of abortions will ever go down. If only a doctor had pointed all these things out to me, I would be a mother today. The issues facing the single (and sometimes the married) mother are difficult. In a time of shrinking monetary resources and growing costs of raising children the pressure can be enormous. These last letters are from women who have faced the decision and found a variety of responses from those around them, but they all decided that to have the baby was the answer. When I first found out that I was pregnant the father wanted me to have the abortion straight away. This was a shock to me as he is a doctor and I could not believe that, knowing what he does, he would allow this to happen to his child. I then told my employer, a firm in the city where I had a very lucrative job in a male-dominated field, but still my shock was deepened by their attitude. I told them on Monday and on Wednesday I was marched into my boss's office and interrogated as to what I planned to 'do' about my pregnancy. They even had the nerve to ask if the father was willing to marry me. They then told me I should have an abortion which I refused and by 3.00 that day I was out on the street without a job, two months hush money in my pocket and no comeback as I had not been employed long enough. I claimed supplementary benefit which I did not receive for four months and every week at antenatal appointments I was asked again if I wanted a termination, and was told that it was 'not too late'. The big day arrived and I was treated like a criminal, but I have only to look at my son to know that I made the right decision, even though everyone still thinks I am crazy.
When I discovered I was pregnant I never thought about abortion but then I told my parents and they rejected me and didn't contact me for four months because I
wouldn't have the abortion. The father of the child offered me lots of money several times to have the abortion and even my sister offered to help me out with money (if it went for an abortion). I just kept saying no. I lost my well-paid job and therefore my flat, but I just kept going knowing it was the right thing to do. My reward was a healthy, beautiful baby who has gradually won the hearts of everyone in my family who are now glad I stuck by my word and kept the baby. But it was hard and now I try to help anyone I meet in similar circumstances, because it shouldn't be so hard, people should try to make it easier for women who are trying to do the right thing in a bad situation.
I have a child of six years that should have been an abortion statistic. Their whole case rested on my age, which was 43 at the time, and the difficult pregnancies I had already endured. The matter had been taken out of my hands. Their decision had been made. I told them with a few well chosen words what they could do. I have now the most beautiful son. Medical men should not be able to frighten anyone who appears timid. Too many women have their minds changed by other people trying to frighten them.
For many years I echoed meaningless slogans such as 'woman's right to choose' (to choose to make love or not, yes, to choose to use contraception or not, yes, after that there are no natural choices, simply acceptance and responsibility, which bring their own rewards). In March I had a baby and realised how ignorant I had been before. At my sixteen week scan, my baby was a recognisable unique human being. If it is wrong for a mother to murder a six-month-old baby because she cannot cope, it is equally wrong for her to kill an unborn baby because she feels that she might not be able to cope. Pregnancy can be full of negative emotions such as fear and anxiety. My baby was planned and yet for a long time I regretted my pregnancy because I felt so ill and weak all the time. But nature has the situation in hand and nearly every mother is overwhelmed by the strength of love she feels for her child when born. Abortion means that nature is not given time to take its course and replace the negative with the positive emotions. I am a teacher and I see attitudes changing in my students and I hope that it does not take everyone having
a baby, the way it took me, to realise that childbirth can be the most enriching and liberating experience in a woman's life. Adoption is an alternative that perhaps does not get enough attention in the media today. These next letters are from people who know the pain of adoption from both sides, but that pain when set alongside the life that is created, becomes worthwhile. I have one wonderful child, but have had four miscarriages. While I was in hospital it broke my heart to see all the women coming and going for abortions. My husband and I could have given such love and care to these aborted babies.
When I was fifteen I was raped and three months later I found I was pregnant. My mother was ashamed to take me out so she tried all the old wives' remedies, which didn't work, and put me through hell. She finally took me to the doctor who yelled at her for trying these horrible things. My mother then demanded an abortion which was refused because of the state of my body after her remedies. My parents then told me that it would be adopted. The hardest thing to do was to give up that child. That was eighteen years ago. My daughter is alive somewhere and I hope she is happy and that perhaps one day she will want to know more about me.
We have three lovely children born to us and have adopted three more 'special needs' children, two of whom have Down's Syndrome. The youngest would have been aborted had the mother known he was defective. He is a delightful child and has made excellent progress. He has even now joined a regular playgroup and is holding his own. Life with six children is no picnic but we firmly believe that no one has the right to destroy life, even if it is not 'normal'.
I am a biased supporter because my eldest child is adopted. He was socially unacceptable to his natural mother but an abortion would have robbed me of a lifetime of pleasure and pride. That looks as if she did not want him. She did, but for reasons I understand she felt she could not keep him. I know she felt guilt about the adoption, but how would she have felt if he had had no life at all?
I was born in 1955 - my natural mother was single. I was adopted at six weeks and I thank God that abortion laws were what they were that I might have been allowed to live. Every child deserves a chance to live.
Sometimes I feel guilty about being allowed to live. My natural mother was single and had me adopted. But with all the things that people say about the women choosing I wonder what my mother went through to have me. My adopted parents love me a great deal and I feel as if they are truly my own. But every day I think of my mother , and I hope that what I have done in my life would make her proud. I am a nurse and I have married a doctor. We have three children of our own and all of that would not have been if my mother had had me aborted. But I do feel guilty sometimes that I must have put her through a lot. The last letter of this section arrived anonymously with permission to use as we wished. It was such a lovely thank you to all the women who have given up their children to others if they could not keep them that we publish it here. Sometimes I wish I had known you. I wish I could have shared him with you as he grew up. What it must have been like for you all these years - never to see him as he learned to talk, to stagger about after his kitten. His first Christmas, his christening when he had to have so many godparents because everyone wanted to be more than just an aunt or uncle. His hair curled, you would not have known that, nor how very good looking he was, and is. I think the best part of me wanted you to know that he would be loved and admired all his life even when I handed the shawl back to the lady who had brought him from your arms to mine, in another room. You wanted the shawl as a memento and that is all you have had.
And yet part of me, the part that means he is mine and his father's, did not want to know you, only through him. You must have been a nice person because he is so nice really nice in the old-fashioned sense. Honest and true and kind, and brave. Many many times he has shown wonderful courage. Today I suppose you would have had him killed, destroyed before he opened his dear blue eyes or held so fast to his new father's finger that he went straight to his heart and has stayed there for 40 years. How we used to laugh at Dad when he claimed every achievement as 'taking after him'. We had to tell him he was adopted of course - as much for his protection as for simple honesty. Someone would have told him anyway; better from us. How sweetly he reacted - 'Did you know her?' he asked. Gritting my teeth I said, 'Your mother you mean?' 'Oh no, you are Mummy, the woman that had me before you.' I said that I did not know you but I wish I had because he probably took after you. I wonder if these people that have abortions ever think of what might have been supposing they had allowed them life with some barren woman, like me, to be loved and cherished all their lives until the wheel turned and the baby did the loving and the cherishing. Do they ever think as my son's mother must, that somewhere there is a person to whom they have given life and who may bring such happiness to men and women who have no children of their own? We have had it all. You let your son live and come to us and we have had it all; the exams, the sport days, the pantomimes and the fun, such a lot of fun. And you never saw his grandfather when we put his tiny grandson in his arms and he was so very very pleased that his ordinary old name would go on into the future. So if you had a baby about 38 years ago, thank you for giving him life and letting us bring him up as our wonderful son - and yours of course. So whoever and wherever you are, you gave birth to a wonderful person who has brought real joy, not only to us, but to all the many people who know and love him.
Nobody loves me, nobody cares And I'm about to die. I truly am unwanted
And I'll never find out why
They say that I am nothing They say that I'm not real They say I have no emotions But they know how I feel.
No one hears my story, No one hears my silent cry, I have no voice in this matter, And they're going to let me die.
Mother don't you love me, Father what have I done wrong For I haven't even been born yet And you want to end my song
I could be badly handicapped Deformed is what you say But your lives are kind of busy now And I'm really in the way
Please can't someone help me Please don't let me go
I've got the right to live a life I've got a right to grow.
I've been alive just twenty weeks And living in your womb But it seems I've been around too long And your belly is now my tomb.
A.M.B. (age 16)
II Thousands Speak (continued) Husbands and lovers
One important person in the equation who is often ignored is the father of the child. It is often here that women find the most opposition to the child, but it can also be here that they find the most support. Fathers have relatively few rights over the life of their unborn child, but that certainly does not mean that they have no feelings. The next section of letters is primarily from husbands and lovers, but also included are letters from other family members who have been affected. Abortion does not happen only to the child. Women become 'aborted mothers' and men 'aborted fathers'; indeed, as these letters show, groups of people become 'aborted families'. I feel particularly strongly about the pro-life issue as I have recently become a father for the first time. This miracle of life is a right that all children should enjoy.
My wife was pregnant when everything else began to fall apart. We have three grown children already and her parents became very ill and came to live with us. We decided that with all the other stress she should have an abortion. 'Ask and it shall be given' and so it was. No questions from the doctors - nothing. The baby was removed. I have been mad with grief ever since. It was the stupidest thing I have ever done in my life. My wife accuses me, as I do myself, of murder but even worse - our own. Our own. Not someone else's but our own. It has ruined us and it gets worse as time goes on. I would function better if we had our child but as it is I do not care any more. I just do not care.
At last I have plucked up the courage to tell you about the abortion my wife had nearly ten years ago and the suffering that haunts us still. In the 70s I had a good job and was finally financially stable after a failed business venture. We had two children already and my wife had suffered two miscarriages. Her doctor placed her on the Pill especially since I was taking a medication that might affect the child if she conceived. When we discovered that she was pregnant the doctors urged us to abort the child on the suspicion that it would be defective (before any tests were done). We were even told it may already be dead. We reluctantly agreed and signed those forms which for me, was the biggest of many mistakes I have made in my life. I went to visit my wife in hospital. She was in great mental turmoil and physical pain as well. While I was there she rushed off to the toilet and passed recognisable pieces of the child's body. After she returned home this passing of material continued and the doctor rushed her back to the hospital for a 'scrape'. She gradually healed, but mentally we were both shattered. I had to resign my career eventually on health grounds. We both spent the next few years visiting specialists, counsellors, psychiatrists and living on prescriptions. My wife and I no longer sleep together for fear of the consequences and only last week she went for another 'scrape'. It appears that the lining of her womb is breaking up and she may have to have a hysterectomy. I have not spoken out before but do so now that others might be spared this agony. Abortion is a horrific experience for all concerned. There is a hidden emotional physical and psychological effect it can have on the parents. This can remain concealed for years only to surface later - like a time bomb.
Ten years ago when my wife was pregnant for the first time our child was diagnosed as having Spina Bifida Occulta. He was eventually born healthy but it was determined that she was a 'high risk mother'. The second pregnancy was therefore carefully watched and we agreed to the tests on the grounds that if the second child were seriously handicapped we would have it aborted. We had to wait for six weeks for the result of the tests and during that time, it began to move and we felt committed to that child. We therefore decided that whatever those tests showed we would have the child. Again we were blessed with a beautiful healthy child. Three years later, immediately after moving house and both moving jobs we discovered she was pregnant again. We decided this time that we were so financially and emotionally pressured that she would have the abortion and be sterilised at the same time. The abortion occurred at nine weeks of pregnancy and we said nothing of the event. Finally one night she broke down, about the time of the expected birth. I felt like a criminal who had broken her heart. We both realised
how much we were feeling the loss of that child. We still believe that given the same circumstances again we would have done the same thing, but we will have to live with that. We were given no preparation for the termination or the sterilisation. We were never prepared for the following emotional trauma and only through loving help from our family have we made it through this whole ordeal.
My first grandchild was meant to be aborted but at the last minute the doctor came in and said it was too late and would have to be treated as a live birth. They were quite shocked but everything was prepared and my son was rushed in and arrived shortly before the birth. That 24- week little girl was rushed to the Intensive Care where she received such love and attention that she managed to survive. She is now 7 years old and every time I think of her lying there just after her birth I realise just what we would have lost if she had been allowed to be aborted. I am sure that I am not the only one that had to think again about the law in this country that would allow such a thing.
18 years ago abortion was mentioned when my son and his fiancĂŠe (they were in training) found their career prospects obstructed by her pregnancy. Her father and I had moral objections to the abortion and they married and as grandparents we helped. There was another child six years later and a divorce five years after that. Last week our granddaughter came to celebrate her 18th birthday - learning to drive she came up with her boyfriend and brought her little brother. We are thankful that we have our grandchildren and that we did not allow their destruction. We believe that abortion is wrong and we have tried to keep our family together and support our decision 18 years ago.
My niece's children are living proof that babies can survive. Both her children, a boy and a girl, were born at 22 weeks and now they are all a happy healthy family.
I am sure my niece won't mind you knowing that her little family is proof that babies should be allowed to live.
When my daughter was fifteen years of age she became pregnant. We went to our GP who convinced me that an abortion would be the best thing for her. I signed those forms and ruined my daughter's life. She had the abortion, I think now, because she thought I wanted her to. She is now in her 20s and leads a selfdestructive life. She does not have any close relationships. She hates small children. She often cries for no reason and her whole character has changed dramatically. I cannot take back what I did, I can only hope that one day she can forgive me.
INFANT CAUSE ... (ABORTION)
Like a poppy in a cornfield you are lonely in a crowd, You can't communicate with those around you. Conversation of the era passes way above your head And a blessed cloak of ignorance surrounds you You are shut away from mortal sight but all the same you're there
Of your aged counterpart you are the other. And you do not have the power to defend your infant cause, For you're locked inside the dark womb of your mother.
No one hears your silent plea to breathe the air of freedom And you'll die before with life you have consorted Your feeble cry of 'Pity me' was heard oft times before For you're not the only child to be aborted! In the silence of your bondage in full trust you lie a-sleeping With a heart that's weeping softly in your sorrow You've so much to give the world if you only had the chance But who knows you may not even see tomorrow And so you mothers of the world who profess to believe In the right to let the cycle of life start Rise up in arms, in unity, and I beg you take the cause Of the undefended babe beneath your heart. A.S. (age 16)
II Thousands Speak (continued) Youth
A surprising by-product of the campaign has been the amazing support from young people and children. It has been especially encouraging to hear of pro-life motions and votes in favour of the Bill at universities and colleges in many parts of the UK, including St Andrew's, Durham, Queen's Belfast and Cambridge Debating Society. Letters and poems have poured in from all over the country from young people and even children spontaneously writing in having seen something on the television about abortion. Radio One's Simon Mayo ran a very informative and balanced phone-in and BBC2 allowed young people to put their points in their 'Open to Question' programme. Young people have seen what many adults have been blind to. Their uncomplicated perspective has kept the questions clear in their minds. They see the paradox of campaigning for human rights on the one hand, and then saying it is perfectly all right to destroy the one group that has no voice, no vote, no rights and no strength with which to confront its opponents. Yes, young people see clearly that adults talk hypocritically on this issue and they are not afraid to say so. Most of the letters received from little children have been of support. They have worried about the individuals in the campaign and have written to say that they are praying or thinking about us. As a young teenager, I have been sickened and thoroughly disgusted with the lack of thought and consideration given by so many of the adult world to the murdering of helpless babies. This is not the kind of society in which I want to grow up! On television I have heard doctors (men who are supposed to protect and save life) talk about something called the 'removal of foetal tissue'. When I realised that what they really meant was the abortion of a baby, I felt quite ill. Please don't give up the fight for these tiny ones who have no voice and no vote!
I will be eighteen on my next birthday and I wanted to write and tell you that I think it is about time someone had the courage to stand for what they believe in the House of Commons. I was supposed to be an abortion but my mum refused (luckily for me!). I start to train to be a nurse next year and I hope that I will be able to always speak my mind on this issue. So many people use the argument of a 'woman's right' but it is taken out of context and too far. The child has rights too, a right to life!
Unborn, they die Killed by man's sin, Butchered by man's hands, Slain by man's intellect Silent, they cry.
Growing they fall Ripped from life, Severed from their only hope, Separated in the cold Moaning they call.
Warm, they grow cold Murdered because of our foolishness,
Thrown away because of our carelessness, Unwanted because of us No chance to grow old.
Blind, they still see That we are to blame, For their life and death, That they never saw the light, Was the fault of you and me.
E.T. (age 14)
Being only sixteen and at school I'm not a profound letter-writer. I'm not even sure what it is I want to tell you. Only that I admire your courage and wisdom in the way that you are standing for and defending these children. I know people my own age that have had abortions. I know what they have been through. My father took me to the hospital near us and there was a baby that had been aborted preserved in liquid. It made me cry. I also know kids that since all the publicity have thought about abortion and have changed their minds. Please don't give up.
I have just seen you on television and felt I should congratulate you. I knew about your Bill before the programme tonight but I felt I had to write. I am in the Upper sixth form studying for 'A' levels. A while ago I participated in a debate on abortion and so I am aware of the facts. I also had a friend who was in the year
above me at school and had an abortion a few months after her 16th birthday. Consequently, she changed dramatically and I know at times it still affects her. Another girl at school had a baby last year and now has a beautiful, healthy girl.
My friend and I are writing to you to tell you our story in the hope it will encourage you. When our mums were pregnant with us, they were both told that they were in danger and should have abortions. Well they obviously both refused or else we wouldn't be here writing to you! We are fourteen years old and best of friends. We live very active lives and are in good health. We both thank our parents for not having us aborted and giving us life. Thank you too for fighting for others like us who could have been lost.
Finally in this section, an anecdote of a young person I met. On the day after the Bill was talked out, a young man stopped me at Adrian Snell's 'Alpha and Omega' concert at St Margaret's, Westminster - Parliament's parish church. He had written a letter of encouragement and meeting me there saved him the postage. In his letter he said that his mother was told that he would be born paralysed. She had been recommended to terminate. She didn't and he was born partially paralysed. The problems ultimately disappeared. He is now 20 years old and goes up to Cambridge this year. Little embryo child not, Forgive us our destruction
Accept the emptiness of my regret
The milk we gave you
tears The clothes we gave you nothing
Your toys we did not buy Your love we couldn't have Your funeral was not held We have nothing for you and have nothing of you but mourning Instead of burial mourning Instead of memory mourning
II Thousands Speak (continued) Caring women
Doctors have no monopoly on the pain that medical staff endure during the process of the abortion. After the corrupting business of dismembering the child, it is the task of the theatre nurse to put together what was, moments before, a living child. It is her important job to ensure that the doctor has left nothing behind that might cause infection. It is a degrading job and many nurses have written to say that they were forced by superiors or circumstances into the theatre and will never forget their experience there. They also say that despite a 'conscience clause' they risk being passed over for promotion and are less likely to be appointed if they question the ethics of these horrific operations. There are many caring professionals involved with the pregnancy of a woman and many of these, too, are women. This last section of letters are from women caring for women. Many professionals recognise that there are two patients to be cared for; and that both the woman and child are entitled to love and practical help. The first letters are from women who began their career before the 1967 Act and have seen a change in attitude in the intervening years. I started a General Nursing Training in 1921 when the medical profession was very much a law unto itself with rigid principles of behaviour even for the back street abortionist. The 'needlewomen' with their sharpened knitting needles all seemed to observe an unwritten law in the timing of their administrations. Their more unfortunate results ended up in hospital but those pregnancies were never more than four months. Often the woman lied to the abortionist to get her to take them and it is those women who were more often than not in hospital. The medical profession must give some balanced thought and judgement to foetal rights.
I am an old nurse now, nearly 75, and I still remember seeing my first operation in a nursing home. I was not told what the operation was for. I was just sixteen and was allowed into the theatre because there was a shortage of staff. I was told I would see a caesarean and could hold the basin for the baby. I dearly loved babies and you can imagine my feelings when a baby of 6 months gestation was lifted out and dumped, still in its amniotic sac, into the bowl I was holding. I was told to take it out and put it in the sluice and cover it with a lid. That bowl stayed in the sluice room for days and every time I went there I thought of that baby. Some time later I was ordered to take the bowl and dump it in to the incinerator. I have never forgotten that traumatic experience. I am glad I am no longer a nurse as the medical profession seems to have become more and more mercenary. I was happy to be able to help my fellow men and their recovery was my satisfaction.
I am a retired nurse and feel that it is a disgrace that to be trained to save lives we must help to destroy them. There was a young nurse I will always remember who was new and was given a parcel to take to the incinerator. On the way it whimpered. She returned, with tears streaming down her face and gave in her notice there and then. We are chasing away the most caring nurses because they cannot take this destruction.
Having worked on gynae. wards for the year during which the Abortion Law came into effect and then for the last 13 years, I have seen the changing attitudes to abortion. At first patients were subdued and sad about what they were admitted for, now more and more of these women almost brag about their abortions to the other women. These often include women in for infertility and miscarriage I might add. It would seem hardly fair that the NHS continues to pay for these women who seem to take so lightly the consequences of their actions.
My own experience as a theatre nurse has shown me that many of these babies are born alive. I baptised a four and a half month foetus lying in the sluice room, its little hands and feet moved when the drops of water fell on it. The second instance was a six-month-old foetus born alive by caesarean section. It was handed by the surgeon to the registrar who disappeared into the sluice room. I saw him trying to kill off the baby by holding its nose with finger and thumb and the palm of his hand under his chin. His horror was as great as mine.
I was a student nurse in 1976 and had observed many early abortions and, to be honest, they looked nothing like a person and so did not disturb me. When I witnessed the abortion of a 24-week baby I was eighteen and still to this day think about it. I knew I shouldn't have agreed to observe but I was afraid of being ridiculed and went out of curiosity as well. The woman was a private patient being treated in an NHS hospital. She had been started on prostaglandin infusion. Complications occurred and she was rushed to the theatre (not because she was at risk but because she was in pain). A hysterotomy was performed and a fully formed baby was removed and put on a tray and placed in the sluice. I went to look and it was moving its arms and legs. I was mortified and ran to tell the surgeon who told me not to 'be so stupid' and that I should not be a nurse if I could not control my emotions. By this time I was hysterical but no one would help me and I was told I would be reported for making a fuss. I was only 18; I just couldn't understand why a baby was alive in the sluice, naked and dying and no one would help or give it comfort. A theatre sister who refused to take part in abortions came to me and together we baptised the baby and a priest came to give it last rites. We refused to let that baby be burned but buried it as if it were stillborn. I nearly left nursing but stayed on because I cared. But I am haunted by that baby even today.
In 1985 as part of my training I was working in operating theatres learning how to assist surgeons. I was assigned to the gynaecology theatre and was told the next operation would be a termination of pregnancy. I could have chosen to not take part but I had no objections at that time. On this particular occasion the surgeon had chosen the suction method. I apologise in advance for the gruesome details but they are important to the story. He was having no success with this method because
(I quote) 'This patient has lied about her dates and how far along she is'. The surgeon had no alternative but to empty the womb manually, and as scrub nurse it was my duty to hand him instruments and relieve him of them when he was finished with them. To my horror and disgust the instruments I relieved him of contained mutilated but perfectly formed tiny limbs, including a foot with five minute toes which I had to dispose of in an open kidney dish on the trolley. These remained there in front of my eyes until the operation was complete. Those vivid pictures of it all remain imprinted in my mind for ever and whenever I read of abortion they come back just as if I were there. I was never told how many weeks pregnant the woman had been but I know it was late and it might have been twins. I was in shock and could not continue my duties that day but had to go home. I also believe the surgeon was as upset as I was because he kept repeating, 'Why do we do it? Why? Oh why do we do it?' I wish you every success because I saw for myself that day just how human that child was and now I am left with the feeling that I helped to murder it. It grieves me deeply. What more can I say except to ask God to forgive me?
Whilst in training I was dumped into being involved in an abortion (theatre staff were very antagonistic towards anti-abortionists). It is an experience I have never forgotten. Your Bill would not protect that perfectly formed 16-week foetus. I find it amazing that in a humane (supposedly) country - it seems incredible - it is legal to murder babies when they can and do survive.
I give you my support as a mother, a midwife but most importantly as a human being.
As midwives we are required to register any infant that lives and breathes independently of its mother for one minute as a livebirth, irrespective of its
gestation. We received into our Unit one night twins of 22 weeks gestation accompanied by their grieving father. Since one was on the point of death they were baptised at once. The second one survived for 10 hours or so. However, the obstetrician in charge said, 'What fool had those babies baptised?' From his point of view they were probably abortions, especially if at the other end of the corridor he had been conducting 7-month hysterotomies that day.
We as midwives working in a private clinic fully support your Bill. We must remain anonymous to preserve our jobs but we are daily sickened with the terminations over 18 weeks. We feel that this is an actual human life, developed enough to give it a chance for survival. We are under a great deal of stress most of the time and on seeing the size of the foetus can only call this murder.
I myself nursed a baby who was judged to be between 20 and 22 weeks gestation who ten years ago made medical history by surviving. Surely we have come further in medical technology and in civilisation since then to say that these children have rights as well?
As a sister I see the other side of abortion. Imagine a ward half full of women having abortions - and believe me it is so easy to get the necessary signatures, and the other half are the women who are desperate to have babies. Perhaps if doctors had to deal with the dirty work at this end, they would not be so eager. Life is very unfair, Mr Alton. Although many letters presented themselves, only a limited number could be used in debate. The following letter is one such letter which I read to the House during the Second Reading debate - not so much for its difference from the rest but because it stated precisely what happened in the theatre.
Although the doctor commences the infusion, it's one of the nurses who has the job of looking after the patient - and some of these are so advanced it's like a normal delivery. Sometimes the foetus lives for a few minutes though the harsh contractions caused by the drugs have usually battered it to death. I don't know which is worse, those done in the theatre, where you see the uterine contents being sucked into a bottle, or seeing bruised bodies of these always perfectly formed foetuses in a receiver on the wall. The final two letters are from nurses who, based on their experience, believe that there are wider issues at stake and further complications stemming not only from the operation but from the attitudes abortion creates. As an SRN I have nursed many young girls who have undergone 'termination of pregnancy'. Many of these girls are devastated by the abortion and when talking with them it has transpired that they really felt that they had no choice parental/GP/peer-group/social worker pressure had been put on them to go through with the most convenient and cheapest way of dealing with unwanted pregnancy. Many of these girls I am sure will be scarred for life. Many seem to be almost innocent victims of a corrupt, greedy system. The Abortion Act is grossly misused and if it weren't so sick it would be laughable. Our society seems to think so hightech these days that they have lost the reality of what happens in an abortion. They are sordid facts which people should know.
Ten years ago, at the age of 38 I became a student nurse. The next three years changed me from being pro- to anti-abortionist. I shall never forget holding in my rather large hands the first tiny person I ever witnessed to be aborted. I remember looking at the beautiful young mother and wondering how long it would be before she felt pangs of regret and inevitable loss. I remember the woman at 40 who had longed for her husband to say, 'Let's keep the baby', the young girl whose repeated abortions since the age of 14 had left her at the age of 22 unable to keep a pregnancy she and her new husband truly wanted - and her anger at the doctor's inability to work the miracle of childbirth for her. I remember the distress of student nurse colleagues present at these abortions and they were less than half my age. I still marvel that they were able to cope. But they would not refuse, they were so eager to help their patients. You are right to say that women do themselves a grave disservice these days. We do not value ourselves enough. Thank you for wanting women to become responsible for life, for wanting women to value themselves, their bodies and their minds. Thank you for appealing to young people
to look hard at the way we live now. Thank you for pointing out that what we do as individuals affects other people too.
I am an SRN and having taken part in many late abortions I have never been convinced that we were doing anything but taking life. More importantly I am a single mother. They have different fathers who I do not see and who do not support us. With the first pregnancy I was asked if I wanted a termination and I declined. Due to what, at the time, I believed to be insurmountable difficulties, I sought counselling with a view to termination of the second. I went to BPAS who told me nothing of other options but abortion. When asked if I could cope with the after effects of the termination I said that I doubted it and they booked me in for an appointment anyway! Just before the appointment I changed my mind and they were angry that I caused them an inconvenience but said I could still come later. Shortly after the birth my mother died and I then had to quit work due to lack of child-minding facilities. The building society repossessed my house and we are now in council housing. I write to illustrate that despite all of these difficulties I do not regret that decision to keep my children. I worry about money and food and housing for them but they are relative concerns when placed against the absolute joy they bring to me and everyone around them. THERAPEUTIC TERMINATION
we are the ones who were to you nothing to lose we are the ones who gave our lives for your freedom to choose we are the ones who forgo all rights
we are the ones deprived of a chance to fight we are the ones who never became your sons we are the ones who were silently slaughtered before we became daughters we are the ones cut out in our prime (but where do you draw the line?) of life
though voiceless you will hear us though powerless we will triumph
outside time in another place we join the ranks for confrontation face to face
we are the ones who stand before you and demand
a life before death
Ellen Wilkie (age 29, with muscular dystrophy)
II Thousands Speak (continued) Ellen
Our contact with Ellen was a most pleasant experience. She wrote to us early on in the campaign and has been a profound help in dealing with the issue of disability within the context of abortion. She became truly a force of her own: travelling to speaking engagements, appearing on television and writing letters and articles on her own initiative. All who came into contact with Ellen were touched and overwhelmed by her spirit and determined personality. In some ways we felt like Ellen's extended family. We were certainly always worried about how she would get to or from engagements. We worried about her travelling 'on her own' (which really meant without us). We became keenly aware of the difficulties facing the active disabled person trying to get around London. The commonplace questions 'Are there steps to the loo?' and 'Is there a ramp to the door?' became for us a panic, but Ellen managed it all with her natural grace and good humour. Through Ellen we, as an 'able-bodied' 'whole' office glimpsed life from a new and entirely different perspective and we all benefited from our experience. We were suddenly even more aware of the issues, problems, heartache and particular kind of joy around the disabled. But perhaps the best introduction to Ellen is her own letter to us which arrived out of the blue. We knew when we read it that this woman was special. As I have a genetic disability (muscular dystrophy) I feel very strongly that babies should not be aborted, particularly if the only reason is because they are disabled, or 'abnormal'. Who is to play God and judge what the norm is? Even after I was born the doctors said I would not survive my teens, but I am now 29, I have a Classics degree, have been a professional actress and poet for 7 years and recently
presented a TV programme (a series). I say this not to boast but to encourage and support you wholeheartedly because no one can ever predict what an unborn disabled baby will be capable of. Correspondence with Ellen began and she, Alison Davies and other disabled supporters came to speak at the rallies in support of the Bill. Ellen also began to be, for us, the representative of the disabled cause. She was the one that informed us that we should not use the phrase 'handicapped' or 'abnormalities' because as she rightly pointed out the definition of handicap is to be hindered and most disabled people would not consider the handicap theirs but the society's. Her example in one of her other letters ran thus: If you get the chance it would be good to point out to your opponents that the dictionary definition of 'handicap' is 'that which hampers', 'disadvantage'. I certainly could not be called disadvantaged by any stretch of the imagination and I have never allowed my disability to hamper me - only society and individuals do that - they are therefore the ones with handicaps. Also anyone who knows anything about disability would not talk of handicap. People who use handicap thereby disqualify themselves from giving an opinion in relation to disability. It's slightly complex but quite logical, e.g. fire regulations are a real handicap because they prevent me from going into buildings but my disability does not prevent me from entering. Ellen kept us up to date on her hectic schedule of activities, many of them promoting the human rights issues underlying the question of abortion. She had no hesitation in pointing out the doublespeak of MPs, the media, doctors and society as a whole saying that there should be no discrimination out of one side of their mouths and with the other saying that 'handicaps' really are inconvenient and expensive and therefore we should allow abortions to be carried out no matter how late in pregnancy. We have reproduced the unedited version of an article Ellen wrote for Disability Now (November 1987), a magazine dealing with issues in which disabled people find themselves involved: About a year ago I wrote a poem on termination, trying to see abortion from the point of view of the aborted. If only we could ask their opinion the debate would be over almost before it started and David Alton's Bill to cut the abortion limit from 28 to 18 weeks would be unnecessary. Meanwhile, the two opposing opinions wage war with familiar weapons, neither side shifting ground, and the silent minority remains oppressed, or rather exterminated and forgotten. So why bother to write 'yet another' article, and who am I to attempt to influence already decided minds?
Well, I think several points have been overlooked which demand confrontation, and having muscular dystrophy, which is now considered indisputable grounds for abortion, that's justification enough to speak. For a start, it seems bizarre that an MP's attempt to save life should create such an uproar when Britain is the only country in Western Europe to permit such late abortions. David Alton is not a misogynist, as many women would like to believe, but one of the most genuinely caring men I've met, who wants to protect women from the trauma of late abortions, not restrict their lives. The issue has never been one of forcing women to keep babies, but only to let the baby be born, as its right - no less nor greater than the mother's but equal. Furious feminists, I sympathise with women's rights while you deny unborn females their rights in the name of feminism. Can you not see already the boundaries merging? Moreover, women should not need to feel the only option is abortion; society needs to provide the alternatives. Our society treats symptoms instead of looking at underlying causes and dealing with them. This is incredibly myopic. It is cheaper and more effective to put signs on tops of cliffs than to send ambulances to collect casualties at the bottom. In other words, if we provided better education in the first place, perhaps we would have less unwanted pregnancies. Boys especially need to learn it is not macho to form a 'list' of sexual conquests, nor is sex the only proof of love. Instead of negative financial gain (profit from private abortions) we should provide positive financial support, e.g. for single mothers - not only cash handouts but accommodation for pregnant girls who are thrown out of their homes. Sadly, all four women journalists who have written articles on David Alton's bill (Polly Toynbee, Helen Franks, Annabel Ferriman, Jane Owens) consider disability justifiable grounds for abortion, however late it is detected. 'There would be an outcry if we aborted on grounds of sex or colour,' said David Alton in the Guardian. Quite so. Of course all four women talk of handicap and abnormality, which makes their statements all the more suspect - their language implies they have had no contact with disabled people. No journalist should write from a position of ignorance; ignorance breeds fear and in this case produces eugenicists, who justify extermination by treating some humans as subhuman.
I find the inconsistency abhorrent in those MPs who vouch their support for oppressed minorities such as unemployed and disabled people, yet unthinkingly condone abortions of 'abnormal' babies (who must be the most oppressed, powerless group in society), thereby revealing that they really find disability all rather inconvenient. If any of those MPs (or the four journalists) had knowledge of disability, I cannot believe they would talk so coldly and clinically about aborting 'abnormalities'. I do not consider myself abnormal or indeed handicapped. My only handicap is other people's attitudes. I lead a perfectly 'normal' life with a fulfilling, enjoyable career, and is it not a sane and normal practice for someone who cannot walk to go around in a wheelchair? Not so very long ago it wasn't thought 'normal' for women to work or for black people to be doctors, so the sooner we forget about the 'norm' in relation to disabled people the better. Talk of aborting disabled babies to exempt them from lives of suffering stems from a simplistic misconception: disability = inability (or helplessness) = misery. Disabled people still have intelligence, creativity, sexuality, jobs, relationships, children and of course plenty of able-bodied people are miserable. But we don't believe in 'putting them out of their misery'. Many people with disabilities contribute far more to society than able-bodied hooligans. On what criteria are we to judge life valid? What society would dare call itself civilised if it judged 'contribution' alone? Now David Alton's bill is going forward, I hope people will reconsider the whole issue of abortion in a much wider context, accept their responsibilities and decide for themselves that pre-birth disposal is not the answer. In addition to the Disability Now article, we have included here apiece written by Ellen especially for this book, discussing her reactions to this campaign. One day in September 1987 my flat-mate dragged me dripping from the shower (looking not exactly the best advert for the pro-life cause!) to watch a programme where a hot debate was taking place. David Alton and his protagonists were on one side and the opposers of the much maligned Alton Bill were on the other. I was quite struck by two aspects of the programme - first, the wisdom, sensibility and lack of aggression in David Alton's responses to the razor-sharp attacks from the opposition; second, the discussion of aborting disabled babies and the lack of a disabled representative. Having a disability myself I was not surprised at the 'invisibility' of disability - it is a common mistake to suppress our views - but the
total absence of disabled people was certainly striking. So struck was I, in fact, that I laid aside my usual cynicism towards politicians and picked up a pen to write to offer David Alton my verbal and visible support on any future television programmes, where he had to lay his Bill on the line. Thus, by bringing the 'crips' out of the closet I hoped to redress the imbalance of opinion, little suspecting the Sisyphean slope ahead of me. I have never seen the abortion issue as a party political issue but a human rights issue. Everyone has the right to be born regardless of race, creed, ability or gender. I therefore find it bizarre that it has become so polarised with the Left afraid to offend by making a stand and encouraging society to view anti-abortion as a purely right-wing, oppressive measure. While the Right readily support 'the cause', they use the issue to political ends, with a tendency to over-moralise, and seem unaware of reality. This understandably alienates people who think, 'Where were you when I was having a last-resort abortion?' It is now possible to detect certain disabilities (no, not 'abnormalities' thank you) in the womb but not until late in pregnancy. Imagine the far-reaching implications for the disabled populace in a country which permits late abortion. Conversely, the present pre-natal tests to discover disability become irrelevant where late abortion is illegal. Living in a society where babies with my disability are commonly aborted I was more than interested in a bill that would attempt to eliminate this. Being not only disabled but first and foremost a woman, I can identify to a certain extent with a movement which aims to improve the lot of women in general. Sadly though, I have to say a large proportion of the women's movement has not identified with my own experience; feminists have not been open to the views or listened to the voice of women with disabilities when it comes to abortion. Once when I recited my poem 'Therapeutic Termination' at an event where I thought freedom of speech was honoured, I was verbally abused for 'daring' to expose my opinion in public and told I should be ashamed of myself as a woman for supporting David Alton's Bill. Was I not allowed a mind of my own? The compĂ¨re even obliquely apologised for the 'offensive' nature of my material. I found this highly ironic since her own material was extremely risquĂŠ, potentially offensive to men and not entirely inoffensive to my ears. It seems some feminists have cut off their nose to spite their face. It never ceases to amaze me that such a supposedly strong movement will, on the whole, continue to support a practice that has harmed many women and girls mentally and physically. The suffragettes chained themselves to the railings; they didn't advocate putting baby girls out of their misery. I fully appreciate that the vast majority of women and girls are at the mercy of the medical profession and I hold doctors responsible for their irresponsible behaviour. By which I mean, women are often not making an informed choice because not all the appropriate information has been imparted to them or it is imparted in a biased
way. Doctors and counsellors have a duty to explain the side effects of abortion and stress that it is not the only option. In fact, a medical training should include a disability awareness course, then doctors would not infect their patients with such paranoia on discovering a disabled baby in the womb. If doctors talked positively and explained that spina bifida, muscular dystrophy etc. are not the end of the world and that disabilities actually do not, in themselves, preclude a good quality of life, I'm sure few would feel the 'need' to abort. It is the doctor's job to allay human fear, not the reverse, and to point people in the way of organisations or groups which offer post-natal support. In any case, all too often doctors make predictions which are wildly inaccurate. Speaking from personal experience, according to medical opinion I should have been in a wheelchair 8 years earlier than predicted, and dead 10 years ago. Well I can tell you I'm alive and kicking and intend to be around for a long while yet! Nor am I an exception - I know of many people with disabilities who as babies were labelled 'ineducable', 'vegetable' etc. and had very gloomy futures forecast but who are now living independently, some married, some with university degrees, some with fulfilling careers, and I'm including mentally disabled people. The medical profession is respected and regarded as an authority on every aspect of giving birth and we tend to take as gospel what doctors say, so when the medical opinion is, 'It's better for society if disabled babies are not born', this attitude is received as if it were a diagnosis. What sort of society do we live in where lives are treated like commercial commodities and what hope is there for those with a disability to gain greater understanding in a society where even doctors question our existence in the first place? I realise that only a small percentage of babies are aborted on grounds of disability but people with disabilities feel this is the thin end of the wedge. Eugenicists who wish to create a perfect race have to face the reality that this world is not only for the perfect, the planned and the privileged. Parents who want to wait for a 'perfect' child and/or a perfect environment for the child's upbringing may as well not give birth at all. It is not possible to eradicate suffering through abortion. Anyway, why this myth that disabled people suffer 24 hours a day and nondisabled people don't suffer at all? How many suicide cases are people with disabilities? A letter from Teresa Connor published in the June 1988 edition of Disability Now gave the ideal answers to a French eugenic practitioner from her Scottish point of view:
What about the really crippling diseases of our modern times, vices such as selfishness, greed and lust? The list could be endless. Being so preoccupied with this job, she ... wouldn't have time to worry about the trivialities of our disabilities; they would be a drop in the ocean in comparison. We would have time to enjoy the good life then! This same message I would pass on to the pro-abortionists in our society. They are every bit as icy.
Being involved in David Alton's campaign meant being subjected to media manipulation. I was hardly na誰ve in this area at the beginning of the campaign but by the end, my worst opinions had been confirmed. The treatment my 'expertise' on disability received at the hands of the media epitomises the general attitude towards people with disabilities in society. Early on I offered the Independent health page an article on the Bill from a disabled person's perspective. The reply I received was: there was not sufficient to say to warrant an article. When I said I had already had an article published in a magazine, I was showered with preposterous contradictory comments on disability and abortion. I decided it was their loss not mine. Television must be one of the worst culprits, with an attitude which effectively denies our existence. Interestingly enough, no major television company employs even the 3% legal minimum quota of disabled people (as required under the Disabled Persons (Employment) Acts 1944 and 1958) so we have very little power to make our voices heard. I certainly sensed this powerlessness when time and time again the bulk of what I said and my most pertinent comments ended up on the editing floor. On one occasion when I had gladly given up half my working day in the belief that my opinion was required in the form of a meaty interview with David Alton, the whole interview was cut and the viewers were left with Mr Alton talking to me about Simon de Montfort as I wheeled my way into the House of Commons! There was a voice-over stating a few facts about me and wrongly implying I was a rare example of a disabled person's ability, and that was it! I might as well have not turned up. The whole thing smacked of tokenism as I was squashed in between examples of able-bodied people who were all allowed more than their fair share of air space to oppose a view which hadn't even been vocalised. I was outraged at the stifling of the voice of disability and the excessive imbalance of the programme and I wrote to the editor to express this with no mincing of words: 'Your programme contributed to reinforcing society's misconception that disability is undesirable and disabled people unimportant.' In this instance I could only conclude what I had to say was so irrefutable that it was too 'true' for television or at least a political programme. Yet the media have a responsibility to mediate not manipulate. TV in particular has such a powerful influence that any bias will inevitably tend to permeate society. TV will, of course, always deny a bias even when it stares us all in the face but how can they not be biased while 10% of the population remain unrepresented? If the media did actually represent people with disabilities and accurately reflect their views, I believe such respect would influence the general attitude towards aborting on grounds of disability. Another programme held a studio debate on the Alton Bill and feeling the disability issue was an important one, sent a researcher to 'suss me out' as a
potential participant. Again, I must have been too potent for them because they chose an able-bodied woman to 'represent' the disability issue with her wishywashy idea that ultimately it's the mother's choice anyway. She should have been on the opposing side! Of course this programme had its token man but not its token 'crip'. It really is outrageous. In this day and age you would never have a white person talking on behalf of black people on black issues. How dare the able-bodied presume to know disabled people's thoughts and feelings? Needless to say I put pen to paper, this time in the form of a poem which I sent to the editor.
cry for our world cry for our world I cry for our world where white speaks for black and non-disabled for disabled and man for wife where perfect, planned and privileged are liked, loved and worshipped and alone have the right to life where ignorance breeds ignorance and power is snatched from those who know where fools make the decisions and lay down the law for us all and take choice from us blow by blow
cry for our world
cry for our world I cry for our world but my voice is only one drop in the ocean of messages and how far that can reach without drowning I don't know
Eventually there was a programme solely on the disability issue purporting to put across views straight from the disabled mouth. Yet with a non-disabled woman having total editorial control, it made a mockery of the whole thing. It would have been slightly more acceptable if she had been coming from an 'aware' stance. However, when I received the scripted questions I began to be concerned as the language and tone was out-dated and alien to disabled people. I explained all this to the woman and she agreed to make any necessary alterations, seemingly understanding my reasons. Imagine my dismay when I watched the programme and saw not only a very emasculated version of my original points but also a presentation which made me cringe - none of the agreed changes had been made. I realise one cannot wave a magic wand and produce instant change, but that's all the more reason to be adamant - in this instance about someone with a disability having at least some measure of editorial control. I hadn't envisaged how ludicrous it would look with a non-disabled linker. A disabled person would have made a stronger programme, quite apart from their presence as a presenter making a point in itself. Able-bodied people opposed to abortion of disabled babies must be very careful what language they are using. Language can be a subtle reinforcement of stereotypes and labels. People with disabilities are sick and tired of hearing 'healthy' and 'normal' in place of able-bodied, and 'handicapped' and 'abnormal' in place of disabled. If you take my wheelchair away from me I become handicapped by your action, otherwise I am merely disabled. Disability politics also allows no 'norm' or yardstick to judge by. Many of the disability organisations, I'm ashamed to say, did not support David Alton on the issue of disability and abortion. Such organisations should be campaigning for disabled rights and fighting for improvement in access, education, living accommodation, etc., and fighting against cuts in benefits, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, etc, i.e. taking positive measures to aid parents bringing up disabled children. Needless to say, more often than not, able-bodied people head disability organisations. I hope they realise they are providing the Government with exactly the excuse it wants to disregard the needs of people with
disabilities even further, because their backing abortion adds weight to the view that disabled people are a burden and inferior members of society. I strongly believe that more positive actions need to be taken to support women who find they are carrying a disabled child. Through counselling and education we need to dispel the fear and myths surrounding disability. The option of adoption/fostering has to be promoted. The fact is, there are far more parents wishing to adopt, than disabled babies up for adoption. Of the 1,000 parents who wrote to a certain adoption agency last year, specifically stating willingness to adopt a disabled child, 970 were disappointed - only 30 babies were available. All too often nowadays people prefer a negative solution to positive preventative and supportive measures. Parents talk selfishly of what's 'best' for an unborn disabled child, meaning what is easiest for themselves at the time. The pervading attitude is if an unborn baby is a problem, get rid of it, rather than get round the problem. I do not deny I caused my mother extra work, but so does the juvenile delinquent, the drug addict, the moody adolescent, and a mother is expected to put up with them because they are, after all, quite 'normal'. On the other hand, nor would my mother deny that I have been a support to her. Abortion of disabled babies and the position of disabled people in society are inextricably intertwined. If the disabled populace are considered inferior then it is hardly surprising that doctors advocate abortion as an 'acceptable' means of quality control and parents feel 'justified' in trying for a 'superior' product next time. Conversely, as long as abortion continues to be permitted on grounds of disability the future looks bleak as regards improving the lives of the population's disabled 10% in all areas, e.g. access to buildings, employment, education and suitable housing. There are those who think justice has been done through the Bill's defeat, but justice has yet to be done. JUSTICE ANTHEM
You may have your say today but justice will have the final say justice has a strange old way of turning up trumps in unexpected time or place
Cowards will use trickery to keep injustice as it stands while some claim they fight for human rights but still fail to see their glaring inconsistency
Neutralists in fact support through their lack of opposition those who sit upon the fence adopt this selfish ploy to help their comfortable position
Some may have their way today but justice will sweep all before her justice has a strange old way of claiming the victory in unexpected time or place.
II Thousands Speak (continued) Disabled people
Ellen was certainly not the only disabled person that wrote to us. We received many letters not only from disabled people themselves but also the parents, relatives and friends of disabled people putting their case. These letters were often very mixed and dealt with not only the problems that disabled people faced, but the problems for the family as a whole. This next section of letters are first from those people around the disabled person and finally from disabled people themselves. These letters illustrate well what the late Lord Cohen of Birkenhead, who was closely associated with the genesis of the British NHS, felt about the aborting of mentally or physically disabled children. 'No doctor could subscribe to this view ... who has seen the love and devotion which bring out all that is best in men when lavished on such a child.' Our baby was sadly stillborn. We knew early in my pregnancy that she would probably be severely handicapped, if she lived. We never thought for one minute of termination, our only concern was what we could do for her welfare. We have other children all of which have been precious gifts and our last child was no less so because of her handicap. Mothers who abort, I believe, can never mentally heal or overcome obvious feelings of guilt and loss which follow. Plenty of people are waiting to adopt. In fact one of our children is adopted.
After an eventful second pregnancy I gave birth to a son. Immediately he was taken away from me and transferred to a larger teaching hospital, because he required urgent surgery. However, at this hospital we were told that this was only the beginning of his problems and concern was expressed for almost every organ in his body. We were then asked by the registrar to consider whether or not we wanted him to have this operation or let him 'die naturally' (although with him
fighting so hard to stay alive it did not seem to be at all natural). The situation was devastating to say the least but we knew there was no choice. He was God's gift and we would receive him gladly. If God wanted to take him at any time then that was his divine right but we would not give him back without fighting for him with every ounce of our being. We were not to play God. I had grown to love him so much over the past nine months I could not give him away. In the end he was with us for only six months, but all that I can say is that, devastating as his birth was, it was absolutely nothing to the feelings upon his death. And though I have my regrets about the things I did or did not do during his lifetime, I will always know that when it came to the choice I said 'yes' to him. I chose him. I gave him life and I fought for him. My life has been irrevocably changed through my son and to list the things that he has taught me and the ways in which he has enriched my life would take forever, but how glad I am that no one knew his condition before birth, that I had no tests and that I was allowed to enjoy my pregnancy and build up a wonderful relationship with my unborn child, which helped to prepare me for the trauma of his birth. No one would dare to suggest that it will be easy giving birth to, or rearing, a handicapped child, no one would pretend that it is something which they want. No, it requires a great deal of responsibility and resources, not just from the parents but from us all, and I feel that so often it is this that people do not want to face. I know now as a high risk mother that if I ever dared enter another pregnancy I would still refuse all the tests because as I told my doctor, 'How could I destroy another simply because he/she might be the same?'
When I became pregnant a fourth time, my older children were in their teens and I was deemed a mother at risk due to my age. I was offered an abortion which I refused. I was surprised at how readily it was offered to me. I gave birth to a child with Down's Syndrome. Only a mother who has had this experience can know the horror that tears through your body when you realise that your child is not normal. Whilst in hospital I had tender loving care from all the nurses. But the doctor on the other hand was rude and officious. He called me a 'stupid woman' for not agreeing to a sterilisation. As I was over 40 I didn't think it necessary, but I was prepared to have another child as my little Down's baby might need a brother or a sister. It occurred to me that this doctor thought he was the most important person in that room with all of his qualifications and the nurse, also qualified, was an important assistant to him. As for the 'stupid woman' who lay on the bed I was rather unnecessary and that lump of flesh in the cot should have been terminated
months before and not caused all this bother! As I realised this it also struck me that in human terms we were all equal and that the sooner I appreciated we were all as important as each other the sooner I would be able to cope with my new baby. I had to learn to love my little Rachel. I found it hard but the nurses helped a great deal. One of them had worked in a mental hospital and told me of all the women who had, when younger, had abortions and were now paying the price. She had a heart murmur and mild epilepsy but with treatment she improved and by the time she was two she was the most popular baby in town. I saw barriers broken down and love released wherever she went. Every shop we went into she was the centre attraction. That child gave out more love in her short lifetime than that doctor ever did. However, all was not well, my husband could not cope with it on top of his pressures. He told me I should never have had her, and left us. Little Rachel went into Great Ormond Street hospital for a heart operation shortly before her third birthday. Within a month she was dead. There was a tough old woman who worked the till in Sainsbury's and when she heard, she wept in public and couldn't sleep. I couldn't go into some shops because of the response I would get. A light had gone out of all of our lives when Rachel died. My world had fallen apart. My husband and baby have gone and my children grown but I made it. I am on my own now but happy and fulfilled. I see others in similar situations and I know I would do it again. I often ask myself 'what is normal anyway?'
Our son was born with severe spina bifida. Doctors told us it was the worst case they had ever seen. They gave our son two days to live. After two days they gave him a week, then a month and so on. As is often the case with spina bifida he soon contracted hydrocephalus, and due to the doctor's belief and certainty that he would soon be dead no action was taken to fit a valve until we insisted. As a result of the delay, and the meningitis contracted when it was fitted, our son also has some brain damage. It was obviously our son's will to live, and my wife's will that kept him alive. When we finally got to bring our son home it was a long hard struggle, but it became apparent that he did respond, especially to music. We moved to be closer to better medical facilities but at school he was still written off. We then conceived a second child and we were refused tests at the Infirmary unless we agreed before hand to abort if they were positive. We didn't have any intention of aborting, we just wanted to know so that we could prepare our home! In any case we opted for not knowing and so lived through those months. Our second child was completely healthy. Work moved us again and in the new school our son flourished. He now reads entire books, has four keyboards and a piano and plays
solo. He was written off so many times in his past and to this day we still encounter so many doctors that say this or that treatment is not worth it because he won't live long anyway or spout meaningless rubbish about 'quality of life'. Would that we all had his sheer love of life! We do not want to set ourselves up as spokespeople for the parents of the disabled, ours is a personal opinion, but nor do we want to have others with equally personal views speaking for us. Together we believe that the presence of disabled people in our world is a force for good, and that the current fashion for eradication of handicap by termination prior to birth is dangerously akin to a 'master race' mentality.
Janet was born 18 years ago suffering from cerebral palsy which affected all four limbs. She is mentally handicapped and cannot speak. She spent the first few years of her life in an institution because her mother was not well enough to look after her. Her personality survived through her time at an institution and when it had to close she was fostered by a woman who worked there and could not bear to lose her. Her foster parents say that she has contributed so much to their family that they do not know what they would do without her. She came to our school shortly after that and we gave her mobility with a wheelchair and a voice with a computer synthesiser. With her right thumb, the only digit she could control, she did most of her work on the computer. But she gave us far more than we gave her with her sense of humour, her mischievousness, her determination and independence, her love of life and of us, and her sympathy. She instinctively reached out to those who were hurt or unhappy. She is now very sick, quite independent from her disability. Last summer the consultant gave her until Christmas, then they said six weeks at the most, well she is still there. The doctors have given up on her but she hasn't given up on herself. Don't anyone tell me she should never have been born. And when she does die, don't anyone say, 'it's a blessing'. She has touched more lives and given more joy in her 18 years than most give in a lifetime. My life is certainly richer for knowing her.
I was deeply dismayed and angered by a Panorama programme I watched last might raising some of the issues surrounding your Bill. They were discussing the hereditary blood disorder of haemophilia. One woman was undergoing tests and, if
they proved positive, she was going to have an abortion. The other woman was refusing tests preferring to have her baby, affected or not. Presented with just these two cases, viewers could understandably be left with the false impression that haemophilia is a life-threatening condition; that the birth of a haemophiliac child can only be viewed in terms of unhappiness and fear. My son is a severe haemophiliac; I am a carrier of haemophilia. I refused tests to detect the condition in my last pregnancy (since born unaffected), as I have only to look at my son, beautiful, lively, intelligent and with as much zest for life as any seven-year-old, to know that it would be sheer madness to kill a foetus with haemophilia. Let's get things in perspective by showing these children, who lead happy, normal, full and worthwhile lives, coping with treatment whenever the need arises. Too often disability looms overwhelmingly large ... the child is overlooked.
I have a little four-year-old girl who was born with spina bifida. She is supposedly 'severely disabled' and we thank God that on the night she was born there was a surgeon who was willing to operate on such a 'badly handicapped' baby. It is doubtful she would have survived otherwise. I hope that because of this campaign the medical profession will re-examine their approach. During all three of my pregnancies I was made to feel irresponsible, stubborn and cruel, even stupid. I knew I was none of these things but I just wanted to keep my children no matter what (I have since had two more perfectly healthy children). The consultant came to see me after my first precious child and said, 'Perhaps you will have the tests next time.' It was as though he thought he had won a battle and proved his point because my child was disabled! Thank you from all the people like me who will benefit from people knowing more about disabilities and that they are to be accepted and loved, not feared and discarded.
I am writing in defence of the handicapped, as the mother of a Down's Syndrome boy, Anthony, who we had the pleasure of having for twenty years until his death in 1984. My husband and I were devastated by his loss. He was the youngest of my six children. He was loving and compassionate. When he was ten years old, we were watching a programme about famine in Africa. On seeing the starving children he opened his bank box, gave me the money and said, 'Hot tea and pillow
Mum.' They are all God's children and what a poorer place our world would be without these children. My other children are now caring and compassionate adults and we all feel that our Anthony enriched our lives beyond description. The last letter of this section is from a parent of an anencephalic child. Cases such as this are, when strictly speaking, considered 'terminations' and not abortions. These situations would not have been affected by the Bill. But her letter was powerful and so it is included in this section. I opted for a home birth, and although I went to hospital for antenatal checks, had refused an early scan; this was partly because I wasn't 100% sure of the long term safety and partly because neither my husband nor myself wanted to be faced with the decision of whether to abort if something were wrong. I agreed to a scan late in pregnancy only to appease my obstetrician who was so unhappy about my having a home birth. The scan showed nothing wrong. The head was not visible but we assumed that was because it was well engaged. It was after a straightforward labour that our child was born, and a great shock when we were told by the midwives that he would only live for an hour or two. We did all that we could to show him that he was loved and were rewarded by the fact that he was bright, alert and responded to us. At that time my mother in law lived with us and she looked after him when we were too exhausted. My mother and brother were able to travel to see him before he died and they valued this a great deal. Our child lived for 68 hours. This was longer than we expected and we felt very grateful for having been able to spend so much time with him. His death was very distressing as we were helpless and there was nothing to do but stay with him and show him we cared. We all have memories which we cherish. We have photos and had a funeral so we can visit his grave. If he had been aborted we could have had none of this. I would have grieved but I would never have known the baby in the same way that I am grieving for. Afterwards people said it was a pity I had not had the scans as it 'would never have happened'. They meant I could have aborted him. I've tried to explain that I am glad he was born and that we enjoyed the brief time we had together but I don't think they understood. Abortion seems to be viewed as a cure. I am expecting another baby and like last time I am refusing tests and opting for home birth. They are so keen on detecting problems that they then put on so much pressure to have the abortion that I just don't want to fight them. The last two letters are from disabled people themselves who are obviously watching this debate with care and understanding that the country has been focusing attention on them and on their 'worth' and 'contribution' to society.
I am writing to you to say that I am pleased to hear about the Abortion Bill being passed in Parliament, because it would mean that the mentally handicapped would have more of a chance to live. I would like to say that I was born severely handicapped and my mother was told that I would have to be put into care. I was lucky that I had a family that cared about me and gave me a lot of support. I am now 22 years old, I am employed and I lead a full and active life. I feel that I can speak of most people with mental handicap. We do have a lot to offer and the world would be a poorer place without us. I am reminded of Hitler in his bid to create a perfect race, killing millions of Jews. I do not think that we should play at being God. He had a reason for putting us on this earth. And I am not Jewish but abortion makes me feel we are committing mass murder just the same. I wish you could read this out to all the members in Parliament. It might help them to understand the other point of view.
I don't like the word mentally handicapped because I am handicapped in some way inside and I don't really want to be, but I am and I can't do anything about it. I don't like when people pick on me and take the mickey out of me just because I am handicapped and I feel it's not fair so how can I defend myself. In some ways its quite nice to be as I am. If I was like everybody else I wouldn't be me. I am the sort of person who does take my time with everything. I can't do things fast like everyone like walking, washing and drying up and typing very quick. I am lucky because I can read faster than some other people... I typed this all myself because I learned it at school and night classes when I was at college. At Second Reading the name of one disabled person was on everybody's lips: Christy Nolan. He had just won the Whitbread Book of the Year Prize. His brilliant achievement is yet more proof that no one will ever be able to say what a disabled person will be capable of. This was his acceptance address: Ladies and Gentlemen - firstly, may I say how awed I am by the occasion. You all must realise that history is now in the making. Tonight crippled-man is taking his
place on the world literary stage. My book says grim things, as you know, but tonight the world seems peaceful from my powerful point of view. Tonight is my night for laughing, for crying tears of joy, but wait, my brothers hobble after me hinting 'What about silent us ... can we too have a voice?' Tonight I speak for them, but fresh freedom is nodding on their horizon. Between the scientists looms the challenge - can you read the BRAIN-WAVED-SPEECH of brain-damaged man? Ladies and Gentlemen, tonight is the happiest night of my life. Imagine if you will, what I would have missed if the doctors had not revived me on that September day long ago. Each day of my life is a bonus of comfortable blessings. My days of sadness are as of nothing compared with my serene days of sobbing - fresh pleasure. Can freedom honestly be denied to the handicapped man? Can yessing be so difficult, that rather than give a baby a chance at life, man treads upon his brother and silences him before he can ever draw one breath of this world's fresh air? And now my thanks. To Mr Whitbread I say - Go raibh mile mile maith agat - a thousand thousand thanks. To the judges I say thank you. By choosing my book as the Book of the Year, you have fashioned me as an equal to any other writer, be they creating words by hand or by head. Added to that, I must say, that I most certainly admire your taste! And lastly, to my saviours one and all, I say - you know that my fond thanks is couched in my every glance.
II Thousands Speak (continued) Opposition
While the overwhelming majority of the letters we received were in support, it would be grossly unfair to allow the misunderstanding that there were few letters against. Out of 20,000 about 2,000 letters were against the proposed amendment. Most of these letters arrived before the Committee Stage and argued for abortion on the grounds of disability. While I personally feel very strongly that disability should not be used as grounds to abort children who could, with the right attention, live rewarding and fulfilling lives, these next letters indicated the strength of feeling from parents of children who were severely disabled and some suffering from diseases that medical science could not cure. Pro-lifers must accept that it is not enough to be merely anti-abortion. Where a child is disabled its family will need back-up and care and practical help. Pro-lifers cannot support policies which reduce care for the single parent, the disabled or the vulnerable without being hypocritical and should actively campaign for these policies as well. The Bill in its original form allowed for termination where a child would be born dead or without the necessary organs to sustain independent life. Although this provision was amended during the Committee Stage, I do not believe that disability - anything from club foot to spina bifida - should constitute grounds for an abortion. These letters are from those parents who feared that their options of having any future children would be taken away if they could not abort those with fatal genetic diseases. Also included are general letters opposing the Bill for various reasons. The first letter is one of general opposition: a letter that summarises very well the points and tone of many that we received. I am writing to express my total opposition to your Private Member's Bill. Were such a bill to become law the results would be:
A return to dangerous backstreet abortions.
The bearing of children by unwilling women who for reasons of ignorance, fear or misdiagnosis fail to seek an abortion within the time limit. Such women would undoubtedly tend to be the most vulnerable - the very young, the mentally handicapped, victims of rape and incest.
The birth of handicapped children to parents who are completely unwilling to care for them. This would either lead to misery for the families concerned or to the handicapped child's residence in an institution in which the personal love of parents is missing.
Beyond this I suggest that the proposed limit of 18 weeks is a completely arbitrary one which in fact is designed simply to reduce the overall number of abortions. Medical science suggests that a foetus may be viable from 24 weeks of gestation, it does not suggest that the foetus of 18 weeks may be so.
I am a doctor who spends several hours every day giving ultrasound scans to women who are trying to become pregnant, had previous miscarriages or abnormal children or for a variety of reasons are contemplating termination. I have also recently given birth to a normal little boy. I consider your attempt to reduce the limit both inhumane and misguided. No woman chooses to terminate her pregnancy without considerable debate and distress. In particular, all those involved are aware that the later the termination the greater the distress and risk. However, many of the abnormalities that can be detected with today's advanced methods are not conclusively detected until the pregnancy has advanced beyond the 18th week. I refer to spina bifida and hydrocephalus in particular. To prevent women carrying such a foetus from the personal choice to consider termination is a limitation of their personal freedom: surely a cornerstone of liberal thinking. To use pictures taken in utero of a foetus sucking his/ her thumb and implying that this is something that is only seen from 18 weeks onward is to lie to the less well informed public. The foetus is from 8-10 weeks quite human-like. Movements can be visualised during an ultra-sound examination. Ask any woman who has seen her baby wave and kick during a scan at this gestation. You should be honest with the
electorate. Your attempt to reduce the limit is really an attempt to remove the Abortion Act from the statute books altogether. I suggest you visit a genetic counselling clinic where those who have had the misfortune to have one abnormal child go through the emotional trauma of assessing the risks of another. In a country where provisions of help and care for the disabled continues to be a low priority you should think carefully about the implications of your Bill. The laws of a country should surely reflect its civilisation; your wish to modify and even remove this humane legislation from the statute books is a retrograde step.
You speak glibly about hare lips, cleft palates and club feet being relatively minor problems. You quite obviously have not done your homework and that your comments about your godson having a cleft palate has not made you realise that you and any wife you may have will need genetic counselling as these problems can be linked to spina bifida and hydrocephalus. I do know my facts, I have been connected with an association for 15 years and done my research. In my family three generations have been affected by congenital defects. My father had a club foot, I am spina bifida occulta and my daughter is spina bifida and hydrocephalus and is in a wheelchair. I realise with your indoctrination (I went to a convent school and know their teachings) that all this information would supposedly make no difference to you. You have stated that you were a teacher of disabled children. Teaching is one thing, living with a chronic disabled person is quite another. The parents and families of the disabled are of prime importance to that person; if the parents are not able to stand up for themselves on behalf of their child, or are unable to cope mentally with the problems that occur very regularly then the child ends up living a hell of a life whether in the family home or in an institution, and contrary to your comments not many of them get adopted. My daughter is now 20 years old, working and can drive a car. She has a reasonable if curtailed life with 100% support from a close and loving family. Many members of our association have not been as fortunate. Many are one parent families, not single parent but a marriage broken up by the stresses of having a disabled child. There are families that are trying to cope entirely on their own without knowledge of services that could help them and so they mollycoddle that child, doing nothing for themselves, and create a completely dependent child.
You can see that the most important element of a handicapped child's life is that child's family, predominantly mother and father. Not only is it important that the child have both parents but that mother has the backup of father. I could not have carried on without my husband. The reason I oppose your Bill so strongly is that you and your followers are not giving me and the people who oppose your Bill the choice. You argue 'the choice for whom?', but a young girl who has in a moment of carelessness managed to get herself pregnant could not cope with the huge responsibility of bringing up a disabled child and should not be forced to do so. Nobody likes abortion and if research can do something to find out sooner rather than later any problem with the foetus, and I do not mean chorion biopsy as this does not detect spina bifida, then your figures would drop considerably and I and many others would be very happy. However, until that time, do not damn a defenceless little human being to a life of nothing.
I felt I must write to you not in any spirit of malice but to ask you to please reconsider the implications of your Bill. My life has been altered forever by the events of the last few weeks. The child that my wife and I had so longed for was not only to be severely disabled with spina bifida but would not live due to an inoperable condition. I watched this child come into the world and held her in my arms unable to do anything to save her precious life. As a couple we had decided to forgo any tests as we could not face the decision of aborting for disability but that was our decision. The scans showed no abnormality not even over 30 weeks. It was only the final scan that indicated there might be a problem. We had to go to specialists with the best equipment in the country to find out the real truth of the situation. Now your Bill looms large. Yes we need reform; while I was with my wife I watched premature babies nursed to health by devoted professionals. But would you force a woman to carry an irreparably damaged child against her will? I realise that you care deeply about the rights of the disabled but what of other supporters? Will this government boost spending so that parents of disabled children can lead happy provided-for lives? You know about the problems of poverty and ignorance.
I know now of the pain of this situation and I am afraid of what your Bill might bring. Please think again.
I write as someone related to a lady who, before the 1967 Act, died attempting an abortion at home. So, I support the present legislation which could have saved her life. While I respect your convictions and sincerity, I cannot go further than a reduction of the permitted period to 24 weeks and the setting up of a standing committee to monitor technical advances in the hope of a further reduction later. Further, when I see the young people at our local day centre for the mentally handicapped shuffling through 'life' I am sure that families should be able, if possible, to choose whether or not to take on this awful burden.
After the death of my first child at the age of three days I went on to have two more children. After a divorce and remarriage I had another child who is very much loved by us all, you see he has muscular dystrophy, the terminal type so we do not know how much longer he will be with us. You made that statement of which you cannot begin to know the meaning or results, 'handicap is no reason to abort'. Not as your smug idealistic life may be, try mine and my husband's for a month, I guarantee your knight on white charger Bill will seem less important by the day. I thought I'd been through hell once in my life and survived, not so, it's a daily hell to my beloved child, you and your Bill will probably condemn untold hell on future families. Dear sir, I hope you continue to sleep well at night, or better still perhaps our Lord may visit your own family with a special child, as they are sometimes called; if so don't hesitate to write for tips on how to fight for your rights, such as mobility allowance, a special bus for school and lastly a bungalow. My child has special transport now, Mr Alton, after a long and bitter fight. I fought alone with no help from school or social workers or education services. The same for our bungalow - this time it was the council and housing association. The fight is never over for us. I put my child on the bus in the morning and he cannot even lift his own arm to wave back, or go to the toilet on his own or play with the toys he so dearly loves now that his disease has progressed. So you see your victory is
shallow. Your Bill will probably be victorious; rest assured, Mr Alton, I will say a little prayer that your victory turns out the same.
I am writing three hours after hearing the result of your Reading in Parliament. I am upset by the result and hope that changes occur to prevent it becoming law. This is not a protest letter in the militant sense, but merely an account of my own experience. We decided to have a family and I duly became pregnant. The pregnancy was trouble-free and I went along for all the tests and scans and they all were deemed normal. The scan was at 20 weeks. I continued the pregnancy and at 39 weeks labour began spontaneously and after an uncomplicated labour I gave birth to a little girl. As I said at 20 weeks all was normal but at birth the baby's head was very small and every indication was that this child was not at all normal. Our little girl was microcephalic and so very severely mentally handicapped. She had convulsions despite regular medication, she had no strength to feed and never responded to any stimulus. She didn't know the difference between being cuddled and lying alone in her cot. Her suffering finally came to an end at the age of seven months. Our baby died peacefully. The relief was immense; our child's suffering her horrendous existence - was over. Please don't misunderstand; we were not happy that our child died. We loved her dearly and still miss her. We still shed many tears for her. But she is peaceful now and untroubled. Quality of life is far more important than quantity. I became pregnant again not to replace our first child but because we still wanted to start our family. We were told by the GP that should the same abnormality occur we would not know until the 25th week. The thought of aborting at that late stage was horrible but not close to the pain of sitting helplessly by and watching another child suffer indefinitely until its inevitable death. We now have a beautiful healthy little boy. The postmortem results from our first child showed that her brain was grossly abnormal; in fact some sections were missing entirely. We stand a one in four chance of producing a microcephalic child again. While 28 weeks may be too late to abort a normal child, 18 weeks is far too early to detect some abnormalities that are very severe. Please reconsider and think of those little innocent children that will suffer.
We are writing to express our total opposition to any reduction in the time limit for abortions. Two years ago our newly born son was diagnosed to be suffering from a genetically caused disease of the skin. This disease causes the sufferer to lack a certain essential fibre in the skin. Any contact with the skin causes large blisters to form and burst leaving raw skin that only heals slowly and then leaves a scar. The disease is incurable and usually causes death within the first six months. Our son's case extended to his digestive and respiratory tracts and as a result of such internal blistering and scarring he died a painful death at the age of ten weeks. We have a one in four probability of producing another child with this defect. But it is possible to detect the disease antenatally. We decided to restart our family only because we knew that this test was available and we knew that we could have another affected child terminated. This decision was not taken easily or lightly. The test can only detect this disease at about the 18th week because only then has the child's skin developed enough for the complex testing that must take place. So any reduction below the 22-24 week limit would prevent us from having the family we so desire. We have had to watch our first child die slowly and painfully with no opportunity to even hold and comfort him because we knew that that would only cause more blistering and pain. His food intake caused pain and nappies were unbearable. So you see if we are to become a family we must have the 24-week option open to us.
Alton you are a sadist, an evil man who enjoys the suffering of children. All handicapped children suffer, their families also and you enjoy that. You gloat over the fact that other countries do not practice abortion. Those other countries you so admire, do you ever watch the millions of poor little children suffering and dying of starvation? You enjoy that also. How stupid and evil can you get? Drop dead Alton, before we have to commit your murder. You are so pathetic we are amazed that any decent person can bear the sight of you.
We know the tragedy of caring for a handicapped child, you do not. It is soul destroying, and if only we had had the knowledge beforehand, our lives would
have been so much happier. This child would be dead, out of its misery, and our continual self-sacrifice for a vegetable. Think carefully Alton before you do even more harm to children and to their parents.
Whilst I would like to give you my wholehearted support I feel that there are certain aspects of this issue that perhaps you have given little or no thought to. I am a single parent. I have two little boys both of my pregnancies were unplanned. I had a good job and a happy life. I cannot tell you how I felt when I found out that I was pregnant. The father cannot, for valid reasons, support us. Obviously I had to look carefully at my options and after a great deal of soul searching I decided to keep my children, despite the advice of everyone, including my doctor. I could not for one moment have considered harming my own child. They were never just a 'mass of tissue'; they were alive and human from the very start. Anyway this brings me to the point I am trying to make. I kept my children and I'm glad I did but I never could have kept them had I known in advance the heartache I would have to endure. I lost my job and now rely on supplementary benefit. What a heartless uncaring group of people run our DHSS: I have spent three and a half years trying to get what my children need and they treat us like second class citizens or criminals! Now you tell me, did I do the right thing? I see my children go without, I wonder every day what kind of a future they will have. Wasn't I being more selfish by keeping them because I couldn't take giving them up than not putting them through this degrading experience? I am weary of the struggle. I want to love and enjoy my children more but I spend every waking moment trying to make our lives better. Perhaps your time would be better spent trying to help those of us in society that need it. Make it possible for a woman to have her babies instead of killing them. That's the heart of the problem really - poverty. I am sure you mean well and I am in principle completely behind you but someone has got to start caring about the nation as a whole - not just those lucky enough to not need additional support. If only I could make you politicians understand.
Your intentions are honourable, but it is not your body, your life, your rape or your handicap. You must have a great deal of confidence to so openly support the oppression of women.
Just prior to Second Reading we received a very disturbing letter typed out carefully. I am an orphan. I am poor. I am disabled. I wish I had never been born. After Second Reading another letter arrived presumably in response to the passing of the Bill which was even more disturbing. I am still an orphan. I am still poor. I am still disabled. I still wish I had never been born. The final letter, it must be said, was not particularly typical but it did represent a point of view. It was on the letterhead of a prominent university which she makes mention of in the letter. Get off my back Alton. It's my body and I will do as I please with it. You do all this talking about post-abortion trauma, well I'm here to tell you that I've had three abortions in the last year and I would recommend it to anyone who wanted to get rid of a baby. I don't like contraceptives. They cramp my style and they have side effects that abortion doesn't have for me. As you can see I am an educated woman and I am merely exercising my right to choose which I won't have Catholic men like you stopping me from doing. You just don't want people to have fun and certainly not to have sexual freedom so crawl back into whatever hole you came from and leave women's bodies alone.
III Prayer and pressure Prayer and pressure I have laid before you life and death ... choose life (Deut. 30.19).
Diane Munday of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service said that one aspect of the campaign which was different to all previous attempts was what she called the 'bizarre' calls for prayer. It was even suggested that it was under- handed, leaving Ann Widdecombe, the Maidstone MP, to comment during the Committee Stage that it was the first time that she had heard prayer described as a 'dirty trick'. The precedents for combining political action with prayer are well documented and range from the Clapham Sect and their commitment to the anti-slavery movement to the 'Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom' which was organised by Martin Luther King, Jr. Parliament actually begins its day with prayers led by the Speaker's Chaplain. They are a bit of a ritual but presumably those who take part believe that they are to some purpose. I am told that our practice of turning to face the Commons wall as we pray began when some MPs tried to distract others by sticking out their tongues and making faces! Prayers are not very well attended - except of course on days when important debates are to take place and the one way of reserving a House of Commons seat is to be present during Prayers. There is, however, a Parliamentary Christian Fellowship - and from time to time MPs gather together to pray. A small group are led regularly by Viscount Martin Ingleby and by Lord Robertson. Then there are groups like the Lydia Prayer Fellowship, and the Intercessors for Britain, who meet within Westminster to pray about crucial issues facing the country and Parliament in particular. I found it curious that the people who would normally be the most dismissive about the very idea that God even exists have been the loudest in their complaints about people praying to Him. They complained bitterly that it was 'unfair pressure' - and I suppose that it was. At one point during the passage of the Bill there were even attempts by some disgruntled Members to have the matter referred to the
Committee of Privileges! - which investigates issues likely to bring Parliament into contempt. While I pondered on whether to introduce the Bill I also prayed about it. Since childhood I have relied on prayer, as millions of others do - uncertain how the prayer may be answered but confident that God listens and that through the working of His Spirit he will provide the answers. One of the greatest gifts which God gives us is free will - and that is the inevitable answer to those who ask why doesn't God intervene directly to stop this or that. We are free to listen and to then act or to reject and to go our own way. Solutions lie in our own hands. When we pray the Lord's Prayer we pray that the Kingdom should come on earth as well as in heaven. This most powerful of prayers is not that God will intervene to stop famine, hunger, poverty or war. It is a request that His Spirit will fire our hearts and minds and use us as lightning conductors - enabling us to proclaim and strive for the justice on earth which is central to Our Lord's teachings. It is easy to blame God for man's shortcomings. It is also popular to say that you could never believe in a God who 'allows' pain. C.S. Lewis was right when he said that pain is God's megaphone through which He speaks to a deaf world. Prayer is a way of talking to God and pleading a cause with Him, but it is also a two-way process. Listening for God amidst the cacophony of our self-centred and success-oriented world is one of the hardest things to do. For the Christian prayer is not a piece of superstitious nonsense. It is at the heart of the promise Jesus gave his disciples. In his first letter St John puts it like this: 'We are quite confident that if we ask Him for anything, and it is in accordance with His will, He will hear us; and, knowing that whatever we may ask, He hears us, we know that we have already been granted what we asked of Him' (1 John 5.14-15, Jerusalem Bible). Our Lord is quite specific in His promise that 'I tell you solemnly once again, if two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them' (Matthew 18.19-20, Jerusalem Bible). Prayer is also a part of the spiritual warfare in which Christians must be prepared to engage. Can anyone doubt that at the heart of the abortion business lies a force which is intrinsically evil? It has become unfashionable in the 1980s to think in terms of the devil as corrupting and personally destructive. But the word Satan means the enemy and he appears throughout the New and Old Testaments as tempter and corruptor. We make his defeat at the Cross effective by prayer and by fasting. We may sometimes appear to be a rather puny army, with few or no weapons; but as in the story of Jericho, when the order is given to march around the walls and to storm them with our prayers alone, we can be staggered by the results.
Even the 'strongest' of men and women, caught in a desperate situation, will resort to prayer. It has always seemed absurd to limit prayer to emergencies only. Prayer is a way of getting close to God, of allowing Christ's Spirit into our lives, of abandoning self and plunging deeper into His service. It is also an essential way of handing over the burdens and cares that can so easily devour or embitter us. Throughout the months that the Bill was being debated all over the country it would have been impossible for me to function properly without the outlet of prayer. There is a limit to the emotional battering which anyone can reasonably be expected to take. Some of the hatred and bitterness which manifested itself at virtually every meeting I addressed seeped quite deep inside. Combined with the endless picketing of my home and surgery; the daubing of my constituency office with obscenities; and the constant sniping by people whose motives were often suspect; all this can be very bruising. Prayer is the one way of getting rid of that hurt. Getting closer to Jesus in prayer means finding comfort from a friend. His willingness to listen, to help and to forgive and His own wisdom come from the ultimate act of hatred. We talk of man's inhumanity to man but man's inhumanity to God takes some thinking about. Perhaps the most direct confrontation in the spiritual warfare took place at Norwich. I had been collected from the station by the chairman of the local LIFE group. They had organised a private interdenominational prayer vigil at a local school. The event was scheduled to last all night and involved Christians from many backgrounds. A Down's Syndrome girl was to be present with her mother and I had been asked to begin the evening with a short talk about the issues surrounding the Bill. On arriving at the school there were the usual group of demonstrators hanging around the gates. They do quite a good line in personal abuse. Anyone attending a pro-life meeting can expect to have their parentage and a lot of other things questioned. After running this gauntlet, those attending usually feel quite shocked, sometimes upset. Some understandably turn around and go home. However, by and large, that sort of treatment puts fire in the belly. Getting into our Manchester meeting was an especially difficult experience - with 300 opponents even I pounding drums in a piece of noisy ritual. Supporters had to walk down a narrow corridor which the police cleared across the pavements. One of the 3,000 who crowded into the Manchester Free Trade Hall later wrote to me to tell me it was this venom and the insults which convinced her of the necessity to make pro-life work her first priority in the future. At another meeting, at Leicester, pro-life supporters voted to stay put even in the face of the threat of a bomb which opponents said that they had planted in the meeting. All part of the war of nerves. At Norwich, however, the protesters were not content to remain at the gate. They broke their way into the school and refused to leave the room where the vigil was due to begin. The chairman, who is a planning inspector, has had to deal with some
disorderly crowds in his time, but said he had never experienced anything like it. He was grabbed by his tie and had to exercise great restraint to prevent himself coming to blows. Undeterred by all of this, pro-lifers gathered in the staff room and locked the door behind them. While I proceeded to give my talk protesters were hammering away outside. It proved impossible to go on with the vigil at this location and the group dispersed, gathering again later in a nearby church. A young Methodist wrote to me subsequently and said that he had never considered the prolife issue before. He had come along that evening on the off-chance. Now that he knew what we were up against he knew that he could no longer remain neutral. On the eve of the Second Reading of the Bill, scheduled for January 22nd, I had asked that a prayer vigil be organised. This was undertaken by Angela McArthur, the administrator of the Order of Christian Unity. Bishop Maurice Wood, former Anglican Bishop of Norwich, also of the OCU, served nobly as the MC for the event itself. By one of those happy coincidences of dates the vigil fell at the end of Christian Unity Week - and must have been the biggest Christian unity event of the seven days. The evening began in the Church of England's Synod building in Church House, which the Bishop of London, Graham Leonard, had kindly allowed us to use. It moved on to the great cathedral of nonconformism, Westminster Chapel, and finally on to the Catholic Westminster Cathedral. While this was under way, our opponents were having a march and protest at the Methodist Central Hall. Nearly 30 of their supporters were arrested in clashes with the police. I had been upset that the administrator of the Hall had turned down the many requests of our Methodist supporters that the Hall should be made available for the use of the vigil and the reservation made by the opponents revoked; but encouraged to learn that a Methodist minister had entered the Hall and was so enraged to see boxes of pro-abortion literature on sale next to John Wesley's statue, that he turned over the tables. The vigil was an important event in terms of bringing together Christians to pray and prepare themselves for the battle ahead. The evening set a tone of unity, balance and peace for the rest of the campaign. Throughout the vigil many moving statements were made, including a powerful interview with a young woman who had had an abortion and an account of the pain this had caused in her life. Stewart Henderson, the Liverpool poet, read some of his poetry and parliamentarians led prayer and read Scripture. One young man came up to me afterwards and told me that he had travelled all the way from Northern Ireland. He stayed in Parliament Square that night and prayed his way through the whole of the Second Reading debate. When the vote was taken at 2.30 p.m. it was at the end of a debate which commentators commended as serious and restrained. How easily it could have become rancorous and embittered. Throughout the debate supporters who had filled the Strangers' Gallery had been praying. Catholics sat with their rosaries next
to Pentecostals praying in tongues under their breath. As Ann Widdecombe MP, who acted as one of our tellers, took her place in front of the Clerk's table to read out the result, a ripple of gentle applause broke out. We had a majority of 45. During the Committee Stage, too, there were always people in the gallery at the back of the Committee Room praying for the members of the Committee. Some young people from Ichthus Fellowship in South London would use breaks for adjournments or divisions as an opportunity to telephone back to friends in their church to let them know how things were progressing. One of the most memorable moments of prayer came at the end of the meeting in Belfast. This rally was held just a few days after the Poppy Day Massacre at Enniskillen and given the events in Northern Ireland we considered postponing the meeting. Ultimately we decided to proceed and the meeting was held in Belfast's Europa Hotel (now the Forum) - which has been blown up several times over the last 20 years. Over 800 people crowded into the conference room, and the meeting was chaired by the head of the Belfast LIFE group. On the same platform were Rhonda Paisley, from the Democratic Ulster Unionists, Revd Ian Paisley's daughter; and Eddie McGrady, the Social and Democratic Labour MP for South Down, who is Catholic. The Ulster Unionist MP the Rt Revd Martin Smyth was also on the platform. Clearly the possibility of a war of words could not be ruled out. The meeting opened in prayer led by a Catholic priest and by a Presbyterian clergyman. It was actually one of the most orderly and well conducted meetings we held. It was marked by three things. During questions a forthright voice announced that he was fed up with all these Christians explaining why they were pro-life. He was an atheist, he told the audience, and he was pro-life too. Second, at the end of the meeting the Chairman invited a few people who had come from his Church, to say a small prayer of thanks. As they were about to begin, a group of Catholic women from the Falls Road asked if they could join in too: perhaps sowing seeds of ecumenism. And third, while that meeting had been under way, the fellowship at St Mary's in Liverpool's Edge Hill district had been meeting to pray for the success of the Belfast meeting. Perhaps here, too, there are possibilities for the three British-Irish cities of Belfast, Liverpool and Glasgow, with their common histories of sectarianism and division, to create greater support for each other. Of course the Belfast atheist was right, you do not have to be a Christian to be prolife - and there must be no sense of exclusivism about the pro-life movement. One of SPUC's greatest backers is an Orthodox Jew. He has used his wealth to finance the fight of the Opren drugs victims; he helped finance the ships which picked up the drifting Vietnamese boat people; he finances the Freedom of Information campaign and Friends of the Earth. Inevitably, the one cause he finances which
brings him criticism is when he commits himself to the cause for the unborn. Then he ceases to be a humanitarian and becomes a fundamentalist bigot. But it is not surprising that Christians refuse to compromise on the question of abortion. The Quaker, Gerald Priestland, puts it like this in his book Right and Wrong: in an abortion, 'life is not just prevented or postponed, it is destroyed. As a Christian and a believer that life is a divine gift and that God has a will for each one, I have to agree that his presence does put things in a different light.... Like war, abortion is a confession of failure.' If you once remove the assertion that man is made in the image of God, society is left with little reason to prize each individual life. This is not a new conflict. Eugenics - the science of breeding from 'good stock' - was promoted actively between 1890 and 1940 and resisted by the Church. Race hygiene and eugenics dominated much of the inter-war thinking. When Germany began an aggressive sterilisation programme of the 'inadequate' in 1934, it was applauded in the West. These days hardly a country exists in Western Europe which does not now allow abortions on eugenic grounds. Society sees disability as a burden - one which can simply be aborted away. For the Christian all life is precious. How could it be otherwise? We believe in a Saviour who deigned to come to Earth as all men, through the womb. How significant that the gospel writer, Luke, himself a doctor, should use the same Greek word brethos to describe the child in the womb, the child in the stable and the children whom the disciples tried to turn away from Our Lord. The indivisibility of the humanity of the child before and after birth is the issue. No one is more powerless, more vulnerable, more innocent then the unborn child. Christ put himself on the side of the voiceless and the oppressed. There is no doubt about where the Christian must stand in asserting that life is sacred and the right to life paramount above any other claimed rights. Standing up for the right to life is not a popular position to take. No one should become involved in this struggle unless they are prepared for the abuse. Nor can pro-lifers expect easy victories. This is where prayer can be a great sustainer. On April 18th 1791 the anti-slavery movement suffered a reverse when the Abolition of the Slave Trade was rejected by the Commons - with one MP justifying slavery on the grounds that it was comparable to running a butcher's business. Neither was a very pleasant pursuit but for all that, a mutton chop was a good thing! These days they say abortion is not very nice but 'it is the lesser of two evils'. The other analogous argument is the hoary old chestnut that 'if we don't do it someone else will' - always the last retreat of vested interest. Despite the disappointment of the Parliamentary set-back caused because abolitionists were blamed for having caused unrest among the slaves, William Wilberforce recorded the encouragement that he received, especially emphasising the fortification which
he experienced through offered prayer. One of his closest friends was John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. In the last letter that he ever penned, Wesley wrote to Wilberforce in these terms:
If God be for you who can be against you? ... Be not weary of well-doing. Go in the name of God, and in the power of his might, till even American slavery ... shall vanish away before it. That he who has guided you from your youth up may continue to strengthen in this and all things is the prayer of, dear sir, your affectionate servant, John Wesley.
Over the 20 years since 1967, 15 pro-life Bills have been placed before the Commons - and each, in turn, has been defeated. Since 1975 no Bill has been lost on a vote of the House. Parliamentary tactics, procedural ruses and obstruction have been used to frustrate progress. Throughout those years prayer has sustained many of those involved in fighting for change. Among the thousands of letters have been countless numbers which have promised prayer. Many have been a source of inspiration and all of great encouragement. The following are some examples. Thank you for bringing this subject out into the open - it's about time we Christians made a stand. I want you to know, David, that I'm praying for you, and for the nation's hearts to be softened. I know you must get disheartened, but remember, whatever happens, Jesus has the victory. So keep on and lean on the Lord -
'Let mine eyes overflow with tears Night and day without ceasing, for my virgin daughter - my people has suffered a grievous wound, a crushing blow.'
I support you in your love for Jesus in the unborn child. I hope and pray you will have every success with your Bill. If passed, your Bill will also protect the mothers of these children - mothers who I feel are often victims of the circumstances they find themselves in. I have trained on a gynaecology ward and see women all the time. And by having an abortion, mothers 'trade in' one lot of problems for another lot of problems. Besides guilt, if they ever comprehend what they have done, there is also a question, will they be able to have children in the future? There was an echo in this letter of something which Mother Teresa of Calcutta said when she attended a press conference at Westminster in support of the Bill: 'In an abortion, there are two victims. The child, of course, is killed but the second victim of the abortion is the conscience of the mother. The poorest countries are those that allow abortion or proclaim it.'
A great pro-life activist, one who has worked for many years for the unborn, wrote a great letter of encouragement after the Second Reading victory in January. Her husband had spoken at our South Wales rally. He told the 1,000 people present that as a Socialist and a pacifist he believed it was entirely consistent to champion the cause of the unborn child. His wife said this: We were so excited when we heard the result of the debate on Friday. I was on pills all day and decided to do lots of cleaning - not my favourite occupation - and offered the whole day to God as a prayer. As soon as we heard the result, Benjamin [their young son] and I made a David Alton chocolate cake and at family prayers, at our evening meal, he insisted on singing happy birthday to you because he knew there was something to celebrate and that was the best way to express it. So, at prayer time we lit the candle and solemnly sang 'Happy Birthday David Alton!' It was a nice way of showing our joy. I know the next few months are going to be very demanding and trying and that the Bill is only part way up the ladder but it seems tremendous to have achieved this amount of success and to see the Bill well on its way. All the discussion seems to have altered the climate of opinion about abortion. It has certainly made everyone aware of how badly the 1967 Act needs changing. People have really begun to sit up and take notice. Please be sure that our prayers are with you still. We pray for you daily at our family prayer time and I know everyone else will be doing the same. God bless you. P.S. Benjamin lights a candle for you every Sunday.
I thought I would like to tell you I have just heard of your victory in the House of Commons, and I am very pleased with the result. I myself have been disabled from birth. Some mothers might have considered aborting a disabled person like me but fortunately my mother gave me the right to life. Good luck with your Bill which I am sure will eventually become law. I will remember you in my prayers.
Since I wrote to you at the end of September after I had heard the debate on abortion on The Times, the Place television programme, so much has happened.... It is so important to understand that all life is God's, the life spirit of all that lives in the living God, living everywhere and for ever. This is a wonderful truth for mankind. Man does not create life, for God is life itself and has always existed. There can be no excuse for aborting a child. There are so many loving arms waiting to welcome such a little bundle of love.
We sent a card to our MP urging him to support your Bill. We are delighted to have played a very small part in obtaining the desired result in today's debate. I thought it would please you to learn that my eldest daughter gave birth to her third son this morning and has named him Andrew David - his second name after you. Thank you for all your hard work. We will have a Holy Mass said for you. May God love and bless you.
My husband and I just wanted you to know of our support and prayers for you at this time, and to thank you. We can only begin to imagine how difficult the last few months must have been for you, and we do pray the Lord will protect you, body, mind and spirit as you continue in your campaign. 'The battle is not yours, but God's' (2 Corinthians 20.15).
I am now a Christian but four years ago when I had an abortion I was not close to God. I tried to cope for a long time without any help but the strain was too much and I thank God for the people who brought me back to church and helped me get my life back together. I know that God forgives me but there is not a day that I do not ask for His forgiveness and for His help to other women who are in the same circumstances that I was in. I know He listens to prayer, even such unimportant ones as mine. I will keep you also in these daily prayers, these women need our help.
We praise God for the way in which you presented the Second Reading of your Bill. Having prayed for it, and for you, we were reassured of the Lord's blessing, in the straightforwardness of the Reading. As doctors we have seen so many cases of women misled by doctors and poor ethical standards among the counselling clinics, we pray daily for our profession and both those who perform these abortions and those who can resist the pressure.
I am not a constituent, just a humble admirer. I do not expect a reply, but I did just want you to know that I go to Mass every morning and I remember you and your team in my prayers. I think that prayers early in the morning are clearer and crisper than at any other time of the day, and so that is the time I offer up my thoughts of your campaign.
In our local prayer groups we have topical studies on current issues. Your Bill has been, of course, of great interest to this group. We have met every week, and extra meetings too when something important was happening that week, to pray for you and for the country, that we would all see this issue for what it is, a human rights issue of life and death which we must redress here, if we are ever to hope that the world will recognise its importance as well. Many nuns wrote to us and entire convents held us up in prayer every day. During the campaign, to judge by the national press, particularly the Guardian, one might think the entire pro-life movement consisted of nuns and the same two at that!
I was fortunate enough to have my first schooling from some dedicated and very loving nuns and you can usually be certain that in the toughest situations you will come across a sister quietly and calmly bringing some special love and care. This last letter is just one example of the letters we received from sisters across the country. This is an old (young-old) nun of eighty writing to you to bless you and to congratulate you.... I never thought to see my country, 'this dear land, this England', become the abortion factory of Europe. I never thought in my old age I should be ashamed of my country for which I have prayed and laboured and suffered all my life (during the War I worked on the Rest and Feeding Centres in the East End of London. I have been a teacher all my life). God bless you abundantly. Perhaps the world's best known nun is Mother Teresa. I have already mentioned some of her remarks at the press conference we held at Westminster prior to her meeting with the Prime Minister. On arrival at the House of Commons, Mother Teresa's first visit was to the Crypt Chapel, situated alongside Westminster Hall. There she prayed the Rosary - recalling the sorrowful mysteries, the sorrow and distress Jesus experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane. Afterwards, she walked through the Great Hall of Westminster, where Simon de Montfort and the barons had held the first Parliament in 1265. It was also where Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England and Speaker of the House of Commons, was sentenced to death. Here, too, Edmund Campion and others had been tried and sentenced to the most terrible of deaths - to be dismembered in a gruesome execution, being
hanged, drawn and quartered. Mother Teresa paused to remember this piece of inhumanity in her silent prayers. Journalists can be a pretty cynical lot but even the House of Commons lobby correspondents (who probably have good reasons for cynicism) were moved by Mother Teresa's response to their questions. What would she do with unwanted children? 'Give them to me, I will find them a loving home. Give them to me,' she replied. Where would she put the homeless? Westminster Hall would do nicely! Mother Teresa then walked to Downing Street - as Gandhi had done 40 years before to be described by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, as a naked fakir. Mother Teresa put her case to Mrs Thatcher with the same force with which Gandhi had argued for the rights of the Indian people. Mrs Thatcher explained that we are a wealthy and fortunate country; we have this and we have that; 'but have you got love?' asked the elderly nun from Calcutta. From Catholics to evangelicals, Christians have prayed for the unborn like never before. 10,000 evangelical Christians at Spring Harvest (held annually at Skegness and Minehead) committed themselves to the battle. Charlie Colchester and Revd Lyndon Bowring of CARE and Mike Morris and Clive Calver of the Evangelical Alliance are the heirs of Wilberforce and Lord Shaftesbury. One of their great thinkers is the Revd Dr Nigel Cameron, who put the evangelical view in front of 5,000 people at the CARE for Life rally held at the Royal Albert Hall.
'With the connivance of our doctors, and amidst repeated hand-washing by our political masters, the weak - the weakest of all - have gone to the wall. The killing of our children in their sacred place of safety - surely, the final act of child abuse marks the dawn of what can be seen only as a new barbarism, and challenges our Christian values at a fundamental level. 'And it is against this new barbarism that David Alton's Bill is set. It is a modest measure, and yet in its modesty asserts a massive principle - that the dignity of a human being attaches to the pre-viable and sub-normal as well as to the viable and normal like you and me. It asserts it against the fashionable convictions of a generation whose morality has failed, but whose power remains formidable. It challenges them - and this is why, modest though it be, it has met such opposition it challenges their easy assumption that human life is at the disposal of humankind. 'For that can never be, since life comes from God. It belongs to God, and we bear his own image from the first moments of human existence. There is nothing negotiable about this life - it is possessed of the very sanctity of the life of God himself. An assault upon it is an assault upon him. And it is a challenge to his right to be Lord of life and death.
'Yet there is something special about the life of the unborn child. It is human life, yes. But human life at its weakest, its most defenceless. And it is human life in which God has taken a most special interest. For it was in such a manner that he chose to take human life to himself. He did not first become Jesus the carpenter and preacher, or Jesus the boy. He did not even first take on the swaddling clothes of Jesus the babe in the manger. He dressed himself in the precarious beginnings in which all our human life is found: the egg, miraculously wrought upon by the Spirit of God; the embryo, the foetus. God took human nature to himself in its most feeble and dependent form of personal existence which might be taken by God himself. The Lord Jesus Christ in whose name we pray - glorious in heaven but still 'flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone' - was once a human foetus. That is what incarnation means. 'Not only so, but in the divine plan of redemption the first witness of the incarnation was no apostle or wise man, nor even a shepherd, but another of the same; a child unborn. Filled with joy and the Holy Spirit at the presence of the newly conceived Lord, the foetal John leaps in the womb of Elizabeth. Could there be any stronger demonstration of the unequivocal commitment of God to his unborn children than that? 'Because they are God's unborn children, and those whom we have rejected, he has not. St Augustine asks, of those who die before they are born, 'If they have shared with us in death, shall they also not share with us in the resurrection of the dead?' And though we grieve for them as flowers born to blush unseen, their sweetness is not wasted in the desert of the abortion mills. For in God's mysterious and sovereign purpose, and on another shore, they bloom in glory. 'I ask, can we doubt that our unborn dead wait even now in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ and the angels of God? "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, Thou hast brought forth perfect praise", wrote the Psalmist. Can we doubt that theirs is the sweetest of all, babes who were never sucklings, orphaned of their mothers before they brought them forth? - who stand in the presence of God, glorious and glorified as the Saviour who called them to be his own? "Suffer little children to come to me," he said; and though cast off by their earthly parents, they are God's children still. 'And their blood cries out for vengeance before the throne of God. 'But there is another sound, the sound of their prayer; for their mothers and their fathers, for doctors and nurses, for politicians and citizens - for all who have conspired against them, to cut off their lives in this world. Their prayer ascends and with it let ours. "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do."'
From evangelical Christians at Spring Harvest to Gerald Coates and the House Church movement; from Denis Wrigley and his friends in Maranatha to Catholic monks at Prinknash Abbey, Christians have been praying. On the eve of Report Stage on May 6th, 1,000 men and women gathered for a second vigil. Some stayed all night long and were ably led much of the night by Liverpudlian Fr Paul Thompson. Fr Paul was a great support not only on that night, but throughout the campaign. His combination of humour and wisdom were always appreciated. Cardinal Basil Hume composed a prayer for the evening, which he led. It seems appropriate to close this section on prayer with that prayer.
Lord God Almighty, our Creator, as we gather here today in your presence, we celebrate our existence, we rejoice to be alive. Teach us to understand more and more profoundly, that every life is sacred, whether it belongs to an unborn infant, or to a terminally ill patient; to a handicapped child, or to a disabled adult; to people who live next door, or to those who live far away. Remind us, Heavenly Father, that whatever a person's age, race, colour or creed, each individual has been made in your image and likeness; and has been redeemed by Christ.
This makes them precious in your sight. Help us to see other people with your eyes, so that we may reverence, preserve and sustain Your gift of life in them, and use our own lives more faithfully in your service. We ask this through Christ our Lord. AMEN.
Christ himself bore our sins in his own body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds we have been healed (1 Peter 2.24).
Prayer is never wasted and, in due course, the pressure and prayer will bring their victory.
III Prayer and pressure (continued) Postscript On 6 May 1988 the Bill was effectively 'talked out' - our opponents recognising that they could not defeat it on a fair and free vote. But the Bill has proved two things: first, that there is a majority in the country and in Parliament for reform; and second, that although the present Government talks about 'values' and the sanctity of human life, in reality they are not prepared to lift a finger to assist the pro-life cause. Since May 6th two fallacies have been reiterated ad nauseam by opponents of the Bill. The first is that if the upper time limit had been set at 24 weeks it would have had a consensus and would have been enacted. The second is that different tactics might have ensured a different result. Pro-life MPs would have been prepared to see a vote at 24 weeks and, if earlier options were defeated, we would have accepted the verdict of the House. However, let us be clear that a limit set at the end of the 24th week, which would include several 'exceptions', would not save a single one of the 172,000 babies aborted last year. Twenty-four weeks may have consensus support among pro-abortion MPs but they are well aware that the consensus in the House is for something lower than 24 weeks, which is why opponents such as Jo Richardson MP promised she would be against any reduction in the time limit. The issue is clear. At 18 or 20 weeks the child has sentience. This leads to cases like that of the 21-week-old Carlisle baby, left to struggle for three hours. Twentyfour weeks would not have saved that child's life. As for our tactics: since 1975 every pro-life Bill has achieved a majority at Second Reading and all 15 pro-life Bills have been thwarted by small groups of opponents using every trick in the book. However, public and political opinion has undoubtedly altered radically, and no pro-life Bill has got further than this one. When the Prime Minister says that it is all a matter of tactics, it is surely incumbent upon her to explain to Enoch Powell, Bill Benyon and all the other sponsors of talked-out Bills precisely what tactics should have been deployed.
Throughout all its stages my own Bill had a pro-life majority. Opinion in the House has moved a long way since 1967 when only 29 MPs voted against the Third Reading of David Steel's Bill. His was the seventh attempt to enact abortion legislation. The Government of the day gave it an additional 25 hours of time to complete its stages. The present Government, despite a Commons motion signed by 120 backbench MPs and supported by many ministers and parliamentary private secretaries, said it would not even provide compensatory time in lieu of that which was lost on May 6th. If no controversial Private Member's initiative is to be allowed to complete its stages it will set the 1967 Abortion Act in concrete. This places it in a unique constitutional position. It becomes a great untouchable. The Government is faced with two choices. It can wait until a new session, when pro-life MPs will return with another Bill and will again force the House and the country to consider an upper time-limit for abortions set some 59 years ago in the Infant Life Preservation Act. Alternatively, the Leader of the House could present Parliament with a motion enabling the House itself to decide whether the compensatory time needed to complete the votes and the debate on Third Reading should be provided. To date, despite receiving thousands of letters the Government has refused to find a single moment of parliamentary time to enable the House of Commons to reach a conclusion. In Parliament I contrasted the provision of time for a debate on the restoration of the death penalty (the other 1960s 'conscience' issue) with the failure to conclude the debate on a Bill designed to save human life. It was ironic indeed that Mr Roy Hattersley, the deputy leader of the Opposition, said in the capital punishment debate: 'It is wrong in itself, for it undermines the principles of the sanctity of human life on which all our laws are based.' Yet Mr Hattersley was reported in theIndependent newspaper just ten days earlier as personally intervening with Mr Speaker, urging him not to call the pro-life amendment. The Prime Minister has been at it too. In her speech to the Church of Scotland she talked of the preciousness of life. She is said to be troubled that Thatcherism is so closely identified with consumerism and the selfish society and therefore wants to seek the higher ground. On four occasions I asked that the Prime Minister meet with me or co-sponsors of the Bill to discuss its contents and progress. Her pointblank refusal reveals much about her attitude and style. Pressing engagements kept her away from the House when the Bill was debated. Yet her time-table permitted her to be present to vote for the return of the death penalty. Throughout the passage of the Bill her personal antagonism has proved to be an immovable object and in the last analysis prevented more time being given. For the future, pro-life supporters must organise even more effectively and especially in strategic, marginal seats. They must commit candidates during
elections; they should join political parties; seek appointment to public bodies, such as Area Health Authorities and Community Health Councils; and target the seats of political leaders and prominent ministers. Many of the present generation of political leaders are steeped in 1960s attitudes. Their changed thinking on economic issues and East-West relations has not yet been matched by a new realism on pro-life questions. In Germany during the 1970s the Greens decided to raise the profile of environmental questions. As a result, all the conventional parties were obliged to take a stand on key ecological issues. Pro-lifers must now do the same. They must set the agenda on experimentation, transplants and the inalienable right to life. No candidate or party should be allowed to push this issue to the margins and those who seek to deny the exercise of conscience should be exposed as anti-democratic and deeply authoritarian. This book has largely been based on views of people who have written to us. I was particularly heartened by this final letter:
'An unexpected and very welcome side effect of the Bill which I have noticed on the District Health Authority Committees I sit on, is that you have given us a new dignity and a firmer platform to stand on in our pro-life influence on these committees. 'Before the discussion surrounding your Bill, anyone who "swam against the flow" and raised any pro-life point in relation to an issue to do with termination was looked on as a crank, a religious nutter who was immediately to be ostracised. 'However, since the Bill has made public so many good points and so many supporters, it is now quite respectable and acceptable to raise more "pro-life" points and comments, with a reasonable expectation of support from other committee members. It is now more acceptable to be in disagreement with unrestricted abortion. A million thanks.'
We all hope that the Bill genuinely has made it easier for people who share a progressive view of politics to declare themselves as pro-life. You do not have to be a fundamentalist or indeed even religious, or to come from the political Right to cherish human life. It is the 1948 United Nations Declaration on Human Rights which asserts that 'everyone has the right to life'. People do not have to be religious zealots or right-wing to subscribe to that. The Bill has given new momentum to a
cause that is central to just standards and attitudes. The day may have been lost, but the cause has not.
David Alton MP Letters and commentary on David Alton's Bill to limit late abortions With Alison Holmes The Right to Life