Tuesday 2 February 2016

In celebration of Margaret Cuthill, leading UK witness to the harm of abortion

Margaret Cuthill celebrates retirement
Last Friday evening, on the occasion of her retirement, we celebrated Margaret Cuthill's inspirational leadership for a quarter of a century of ARCH, Abortion Recovery Care and Helpline formerly known as British Victims of Abortion funded and administered by the SPUC Education and Research Trust. Margaret's counselling, her unforgettable witness as a post-abortion speaker, has helped to heal countless mothers following an abortion and has saved the babies of countless mothers-to-be.

I was honoured to pay tribute to Margaret's work during our celebration dinner - in these words:

In the heat and in the hurry of SPUC’s educational and political campaigning on behalf of unborn children and their mothers – it’s been deeply comforting to me and to my colleagues in the Society that the work of ARCH – Abortion, Recovery, Care and Helpline, funded and staffed by the SPUC Education and Research Trust for three decades – has been quietly active, reaching out to women suffering after an abortion, and helping mothers in crisis pregnancies to avoid abortion.

Bob Edwards, Chairman of SPUC Education
and Research Trust, talks to Sister Andrea Fraile
of Glasgow-based Sisters of the Gospel of Life. Across
the table is John Deighan, SPUC Scotland director
ARCH has been there, doing this great work, originally under the title British Victims of Abortion, for thirty years. And Margaret, whom we are honouring this evening on the occasion of her retirement, has been absolutely central to this work, leading and inspiring it throughout the UK from the office here in Glasgow, shared with our colleagues in SPUC Scotland, in so many ways, for 25 of those years.

Paul Tully, SPUC’s London-based general secretary, who started work for SPUC 35 years ago, provides a perspective from a distance on the quality and quiet effectiveness of Margaret’s work in these few comments that he sent me today:
"I don’t think I’ve ever had the chance to work closely with Margaret apart from referring people to her for help – whether for post-abortion counselling or support during pregnancy - but I do recall her moving contributions to a number of conferences, public witnesses, training sessions, etc, where she spoke of her experience of abortion and the survival of her daughter. Her simple, unostentatious honesty about the situation she found herself in and the harm of abortion were deeply impressive. Her work supporting other post-abortive women has been mostly unseen and unsung of course, but it is surely none-the-less appreciated by the many hundreds of women she has met with or spoken to over the years.”
And Katherine Hampton, who’s worked for the Society for 22 years, said to me today:
“My abiding memory of Margaret will always be the student lecture tour we did together back in 1995 – with speaking engagements from Dundee to Dover. As well as the school and university talks Margaret undertook on this tour, there were also local radio interviews that she did so well. It was her ability to keep telling her own personal story over and over again that particularly impressed me. I think that by the end of the tour I knew her story off by heart!”
Margaret’s courage and self-sacrifice in telling and retelling her powerful personal history and testimony regarding abortions must have saved countless lives, and given new hope and a sense of belief and self-confidence to countless women and men – either to recover and to begin again after an abortion, or to continue with a pregnancy or to give support to a mother-to-be. What Paul calls Margaret’s “deeply impressive unostentatious honesty” has saved lives and, I believe, through Margaret’s work in the media and in other significant public forums, has changed the nature of the abortion debate in Britain.

Anthony Ozimic, SPUC’s communications director, has been telling me about the significant media impact and coverage Margaret has achieved over the years conveying to the public the true nature of abortion and its damaging impact on mothers – for example, in The Independent on Sunday in 1993, on Sky TV in 1996, on the BBC in 2005, in The Scotsman in 2006, in the Sun in 2009, in the Telegraph in 2015 and in The Herald and in 2016 – and on countless other occasions in the print and broadcast media.

Anthony has sent this message to our celebration of Margaret’s work this evening:
“In the abortion debate in the media, there is often a clash of absolutes: between the right to life of the unborn child and the woman's right to choose. While it is good and proper for this clash to take place, it often seems to result in people remaining in entrenched positions. Margaret's compelling testimony and personal insight has the power to move hearts even when heads remain in the sand. No biased interviewer, no aggressive opponent and no irate caller can say credibly to Margaret: 'you were not there when you had the abortion'; 'your pain was not real', 'the women you've cared for don't exist'. Margaret's voice will be greatly missed."
Beneath the simplicity of Margaret’s quiet witness, everyone listening can sense a depth of experience and understanding which changes the listener. In my view, the listener undergoes a kind of conversion experience as Margaret tells us the full truth about abortion and its consequences. And like all great speakers, she knows when to burst into oratory, like at the press relaunch of British Victims of Abortion under its new name of ARCH five years ago. Margaret said that women were "tortured and tormented" by abortion. Quoting Shakespeare's Richard II, she conveyed the sorrow of abortion in these words:
“My grief lies all within, And these external manners of lament Are merely shadows to the unseen grief That swells with silence in the tortured soul”
Two beautiful sisters, Marion, left, and Margaret Cuthill, right, met in Glasgow 5 years ago to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Margaret's working as a post-abortion counsellor.

I was privileged to pay tribute to Margaret at the Glasgow celebration of her great work. This is what I said then – and I’ve no reason to change a word of it 5 years later:
“For me, Margaret embodies what the pro-life movement is all about. Quite apart from her daily counselling, Margaret has devoted her life to giving a courageous, powerful, personal witness concerning her own abortions. She's the most moving speaker on abortion I've ever heard, with her simple, understated witness. Again and again, over the years, her personal witness has helped to change the nature of the abortion debate in the UK, humanizing it, removing it from the level of confrontation, and introducing people, instead, to the truth. She certainly fulfils Pope John Paul II's prophetic address, in Evangelium Vitae, to women who've had an abortion: “With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone's right to life.” (EV, 99)
I love you Margaret, for what you have done for unborn children and their mothers. On behalf of so many people you've helped and inspired, thank you.

In closing this blogpost, on behalf of my fellow trustees on the SPUC Education and Research Trust, I also thank SPUC Scotland whose office has been shared by Margaret and her team this past 25 years. The SPUC Scotland team and its leadership (Linda Porter, followed by Ian Murray, followed by Donna Nicholson and now John Deighan) have given invaluable love and support and critical support and guidance to the ARCH team, critically assisting its vital compassionate outreach, for a quarter of a century. 

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