I previously worked in Parliament on the issue of what is now euphemistically called “assisted dying”. I quickly learnt that compassion is a political currency rapidly increasing in value. The palliative care community, the majority of whom oppose assisted death, are taken seriously by parliamentarians precisely because they are the people who devote their lives to ensuring that people die as painlessly as possible. They are regarded as the consistent and compassionate opponents, utilising their expertise to make the option of assisted death obsolete.
There are some pro-life supporters who do work indefatigably for the welfare of women in order to practically support them through crisis pregnancies. But following Friday night, I realise, more than ever, that we need to commit wholeheartedly to ensuring abortion is an increasingly obsolete option when facing an unplanned pregnancy.
When I last heard Ann Widdecombe speak on the subject of abortion, her central message was that progress would never be made unless we showed genuine compassion and care for women. Those words rang shrill at the 40 Days for Life prayer vigil on Friday evening. Despite the aggression I witnessed from the pro-abortion lobby, the more moderate among them are still convincing the public and themselves that they hold the monopoly on compassion for women.
The main slogan that protestors kept shouting was “stop harassing women” and “you hate women.” Their outrage stems from accusations that supporters of 40 Days for Life have harassed women and even filmed them going into abortion clinics.
So how should 40 Days For Life respond? How can they make clear their commitment and the wider lobby’s commitment to the welfare of women?
Well of course, those who agree with their view of abortion might argue that that is this prayer group’s raison d’être. Members are so concerned about women’s welfare, they dedicate themselves to discouraging women from seeking an abortion for the sake of both baby and mother.
But what about those who don’t agree? The middle-ground who imbibe the Today programme every morning over breakfast, who would not have joined the pro-abortion rally on Friday night, who might even pledge they would never opt for abortion themselves but, nevertheless, who support a “woman’s right to choose.” How might they understand that 40 Days for Life and the wider pro-life lobby is sincerely committed to the welfare of women when powerful groups try to convince them otherwise?
It is paramount that we implement the sacrosanct pro-life principle of upholding women’s dignity. Within the context of 40 Days for Life this means a zero-tolerance policy on behaviour that violates women’s privacy such as photographing or filming them. 40 Days for Life have verbally disassociated themselves from such practices but they must now ensure that offending persons do not attempt to participate in any prayer vigils. Participants must confidently meet the media glare by making this zero-tolerance policy crystal clear.
For the wider lobby, while some work tirelessly to amend the Abortion Act itself, efforts must also be redoubled in ensuring that the options which women face in crisis pregnancy render abortion increasingly unnecessary. Convincing the middle-ground among the media, parliament and the public that pro-life activists genuinely care about the welfare of women is an urgent priority.
In your typical “Any Questions?” audience, most would be uncomfortable with the panellist who accuses palliative care doctors of hating cancer patients. How many would be uncomfortable if he accused pro-life activists of hating women?