Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Reflections on the latest series on abortion, a moral and ethical opinions production of Channel 4, has recently focused on the theme "Should abortion clinics be stopped from providing counselling". You can view all of the episodes focusing on this theme on the website. Each episode of shows one person offering their view on a particular moral issue. That person is asked numerous questions and filmed for over an hour and the production team then produce a show of approximately ninety seconds. In November 2010 I spoke on the theme "Is abortion ever justified?" and earlier this year Anthony Ozimic, SPUC's communications manager, spoke about the dangers of opt-out organ donation systems. Our experience is that the team is fair and impartial.

Paul Smeaton, my son, has sent me the following observations on the series: ask "Should abortion providers be stopped from providing counselling?" ~ Analysis by Paul Smeaton

Seven people were interviewed on the theme "Should abortion providers be stopped from providing counselling?" They were
  • Tanya Ray - a woman who says she regrets the abortion she had at fifteen
  • Kate Cooper - mother of four living children, who had an abortion twenty years ago which she says she doesn't regret
  • Mara Clarke - employee of the Abortion Support Network, which assists women in The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland to travel overseas to procure abortions. She describes herself as "a mum and an abortion activist"
  • Dr. Evan Harris - radically pro-abortion former Liberal Democrat MP who lost his seat at the last general election and is now an unelected health adviser to the coalition government
  • Edward Rennie  - clerk to the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group and member of "Catholic Voices"
  • Matt O'Connor - founder of Fathers 4 Justice
  • Obadah Ghannam - a Muslim and fifth year medical student.
Tanya Ray's interview is very moving. Tanya was 15 when she had a late-term abortion and painfully describes sitting on the toilet surrounded by abortion professionals as she delivered her dead child.

The short biography given on the website says that:
"Tanya now works educating girls on the seriousness of contraception and believes that abortion clinics put women under unfair pressure to have an abortion".

I was unable to ascertain whether or not Tanya works for the sort of organisation that promotes contraception in schools, or whether she is aware of the intimate link between contraception and abortion. As those doing the former are more numerous than the latter it seems likely that, unfortunately, Tanya works promoting contraceptives. If this isn't the case then I apologise unreservedly. It is clear from the interview that Tanya is aware that what is most heavily promoted by society is not necessarily what is best for women. If she doesn't already know, it would be worth her noting that the manufacturers of contraceptive drugs and devices acknowledge that their products may, as one of their modes of action, kill a developing embryo by preventing him or her from implanting in the lining of the womb.

This blog has pointed out several times before that there is hard evidence that pushing contraception onto children does not reduce teenage pregnancies or abortion. Professor David Paton, who holds a chair in Economics at Nottingham University, has shown in a paper entitled "The economics of family planning and underage conceptions" (this paper is not available free online, but if you would like a copy please contact John Smeaton) that so-called "family planning", and increased access to it, increases the likelihood that teenagers will engage in sexual activity. Professor Paton says:
"I find no evidence that greater access to family planning has reduced underage conceptions or abortions. Indeed, there is some evidence that greater access is associated with an increase in underage conceptions..."
Kate Cooper was 20 and a student when she had an abortion. Ms Cooper said that she was never morally troubled by her abortion and that she remains happy about the decision to this day. Ms Cooper said that she would advise her daughter to have an abortion if she became pregnant at an inconvenient time and seemed genuinely mystified by the notion that anyone might object to abortion. Here, as a brief reminder, is a description of a suction abortion, the most common type of abortion procedure in Britain, representing 52% of the 189,574 abortions which took place last year under the Abortion Act in England and Wales:
"The cervix (the neck of the womb) must be stretched open to allow the surgeon to insert a plastic tube into the womb. Sharp-edged openings near the tip of the tube help to dismember the baby so the parts are small enough to be sucked out. The surgeon then uses the suction tube to evacuate the placenta from the womb. The remains of the baby are deposited in a jar for disposal."
Mara Clarke is a self-described "abortion activist" and is openly committed to the promotion of abortion. It would seem that Mara finds nothing morally problematic with abortions, but does with the idea that abortion is illegal in Ireland. This makes her claim at the end of the interview that "you cannot legislate morality" particularly surprising. Most people would agree that much of our legislation is based on objective principles of morality and rightly so. Most people would agree that the illegality of child abuse and rape is a good thing and something that should be upheld. It is also clear that Mara finds it morally reprehensible that women don't have easy access to abortion in Ireland. What Mara is advocating, therefore, isn't for legislation which ignores morality, but for legislation which corresponds with her own moral views, which include the belief that it is morally acceptable to kill an unborn child.

Dr. Evan Harris begins with the deliberate use of rhetorical language which aims to both demonise and belittle pro-life pregnancy counsellors. He says:
"You cannot allow women who are seeking abortions to be encouraged into the clutches of those who would claim, for example, that abortion causes cancer. It has been well established by science that it doesn't." 
Notwithstanding the ridiculous and insulting description of pro-life counsellors as having "clutches", Harris uses the well-known tactic of employing a straw-man argument by suggesting that pro-life counsellors unequivocally claim that abortion causes cancer. What pro-life counsellors might well inform women about, and what Harris refuses to acknowledge, is that there are numerous studies which suggest a link between abortion and breast cancer. These studies included (but are not limited to) the work of Professor Joel Brind, who in 1996 published a meta-analysis of 23 epidemiologic studies; Dr. Angela Lanfranchi’s research at the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute; or the 2003 paper by Karen Malec in the professional journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, which states that:
"[T]hirty-eight epidemiological studies exploring an independent link between abortion and breast cancer have been published. Twenty-nine of these report risk elevations. Thirteen out of 15 American studies found risk elevations. Seventeen studies are statistically significant, 16 of which report increased risk. Biological evidence provides a plausible mechanism for this statistical association".
I am not aware of a single pro-life organisation in the UK which claims that the evidence linking abortion and an increased risk of breast cancer is conclusive. In order to depict pro-life counsellors as scare-mongering, conspiracy theorists (possibly with claws instead of fingers), Dr Harris utterly dismisses the existence of scientific evidence which suggests there may be a link. He is not concerned with providing women with truthful information, but solely with promoting abortion.

At the conclusion of the episode Dr Harris gives the lie to the claim that abortion promoters don't put women under pressure to have abortions:
"If someone finds they're pregnant when they weren't intending to be and they're not sure if they want to continue the pregnancy it's in a woman's best interest to have rapid access to abortion if that's what she's going to have because the later one leaves it the more dangerous it is and for those people who have ethical concerns about abortion the more problematic it is for later stage abortions".
According to Dr Harris, women considering abortions should be seen by abortion providers as soon as possible, since any delay would make things more difficult and potentially more ethically problematic. It is somewhat surprising that Dr Harris is even prepared to accept that abortions are genuinely dangerous for women. It was reported only last Friday that a London-based abortionist has been fired after leaving an Irishwoman fighting for her life after he botched the abortion. Dr Harris even uses what he describes as the ethical concerns of those opposed to abortion to advocate for abortion as quickly as possible! Abortion at any stage of a child's development is the destruction of an innocent human being and any distinction between human beings is prejudiced and arbitrary.

Matt O’Connor, the founder of Fathers 4 Justice, made a number of interesting points in his interview. Mr O'Connor pointed out that abortion providers have a vested interested in promoting abortion for financial gain. As one would expect, Mr O'Connor's concern is principally representing the rights of fathers, but he has also penetrated a number of the myths promoted by the abortion lobby. He rightly pointed out that abortion is not solely a women's issue, as it involves the life of another - the unborn child. He also identified as an injustice children aborted without their father's knowledge or consent.

Obadah Ghannam, a Muslim and a medical student, said he felt challenged by what he considered to be a conflict between medical ethics and his understanding that his religion said abortion, generally speaking, isn't correct. Mr Ghannam said:
"If a fourteen year old Muslim girl came up to me and I was a GP in the clinic and she said to me 'I'm pregnant. I want an abortion.' The question is: what would I do? And there are two conflicting things here. On the one side I'm having to think about my professional obligations about how we would deal with this situation and what's best for the patient." 
Mr Ghannam seems unaware that doctors are not under any obligation to refer women for abortions. It is  worrying that he seems to think they are.

Edward Rennie, clerk to the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, is a member of "Catholic Voices" and is described on the website as a "Catholic pro-life activist". His interview concludes on the positive note that we need to "reclaim our responsibilities" and Mr Rennie suggests that society needs to re-examine our root attitudes to sex, relationships, marriage and raising children. However, a number of his comments preceding this are troubling. At the beginning of the episode, he says:
"In the United Kingdom as a whole we're still left with over five-hundred abortions a day and I think that pro-choicers and pro-lifers can agree that that's just far too high".
This begs the question: how many abortions does Mr Rennie think is too many?

Mr Rennie is not correct in thinking that he will find such common ground with so-called 'pro-choicers'. At a recent Voice for Choice public meeting in central London, BPAS's medical director said that: "it's crucial for abortionists to talk about abortion as a good thing" and that she finds performing abortions "gratifying". At the same meeting the idea that there is such a thing as too many abortions was held up to general ridicule by Marge Berer, a veteran abortion activist and editor of the magazine Reproductive Health Matters. She described abortion as a normal part of life and simply a part of a whole sex - contraception - abortion cycle.

Mr Rennie later said that:
"I think pregnancy counselling should be offered from many sources and it shouldn't be offered solely from those who provide abortion".
The suggestion here is that abortion providers should be one of many different groups offering pregnancy counselling, but surely as a Catholic and self-proclaimed pro-lifer he is opposed to abortion providers offering pregnancy counselling at all?

Mr Rennie then goes on to state:
"[W]hatever angle you're coming from, whether you're pro-life or very strongly pro-choice, in terms of the counselling it needs to be non-directional to allow a pregnant woman to come to her own view of what she wants to do".
To suggest that counselling "needs to be" non-directional is to undermine the vital and life-saving work of those organisations who offer explicitly pro-life 'directional' counselling. To suggest that the moral legitimacy of pregnancy counselling is based on the counselling providing no direction, rather than providing a morally good direction, is to suggest that abortion may be an acceptable choice for a mother to make, so long as it is a choice she arrives at independent of persuasive counsel.

-- Paul Smeaton's analysis ends --

I confess that even after decades of working in the pro-life movement I continue to find it alarming that individuals such as Evan Harris, Kate Cooper and Mara Clarke are given a public platform to promote the killing of unborn children. However, in the context of the culture of death appear to have done their best to provide what they would consider to be a balanced and varied selection of guests. What is especially disappointing is that, despite the presence of a "pro-life activist" among those interviewed, the right to life of unborn children was not clearly and comprehensively defended by any of last week's participants.

Comments on this blog? Email them to
Sign up for alerts to new blog-posts and/or for SPUC's other email services
Follow SPUC on Twitter
Like SPUC's Facebook Page
Please support SPUC. Please donate, join, and/or leave a legacy