Driving into town on Saturday morning I switched on BBC Radio 4 to listen to “From Our Own Correspondent” and was startled to hear Damian Grammaticas, the BBC’s Beijing correspondent, deliver a wholly pro-life broadcast about the evils of China’s “one-child” policy. What made it more compelling was that Grammaticas was not setting out as a pro-life advocate; he was simply doing what a good foreign correspondent should do: reporting the facts as he saw them, without whitewash or spin.
What he related wasn’t news to anyone in pro-life circles – especially if they ever read the bulletins put out in the past by Human Life International and now by LifeSiteNews. Steven Mosher, president of the Virginia-based Population Research Institute, wrote eloquently about the barbarity of China’s anti-life laws back in the 1980s; indeed, from having a “woman’s right to choose” attitude as a research student at Stanford University, he became a convert to the pro-life cause the moment he was invited to watch a forced abortion in rural China.
But it still felt strange – and strangely hopeful – that an employee of the BBC should write such a straightforwardly damning report. Grammaticas included a most harrowing interview with a weeping Chinese woman whose baby had been forcibly aborted at six months by family planning officials. He spoke of a father photographing his dead baby son on his mobile, lying beside his mother at a clinic, and then sending it round the internet to shock the world with his private grief and public outrage. As Grammaticas pointed out, the internet has made it impossible for the Chinese authorities to keep their shameful and secretive policy away from international scrutiny any longer. A new generation of Chinese young men and women have begun to challenge this draconian edict, openly questioning what was never publicly spoken of before. China’s birth rate is falling, there is a growing disparity between the numbers of baby girls being born compared with baby boys and an increasingly elderly population. Although Grammaticas didn’t offer any moral judgments, his deliberate selection of material and interviewees spoke for itself.
Having listened to this report with the very poignant images it conjured up, I then happened to read an article by Ann Furedi, chief executive of BPAS (the British Pregnancy Advisory Service) on Spiked, the online magazine. It was the record of a speech she had made at a debate at Conway Hall concerning two conflicting freedoms: the freedom to make pro-life protests and the “freedom to provide abortion services”. Furedi spoke of “clients” and “providers”; she stated her commitment to “personal autonomy [as] a core value”; although she valued freedom of speech it did not include “a freedom to say anything to my person, at any time and in any place”; she saw pavement counsellors in the same light as hecklers at a public meeting who had to be ejected so that public order would be maintained. Tolerance is fine – “until [you are] confronted with the intolerable”. Tolerance, she believed, “can coexist with judgment. And I judge that verbal or physical protests at clinics are just plain wrong.” She concluded by stating that “protest may represent an intolerable assault on a person’s autonomy” and that bpas, like pro-life advocates, also had a “mission”: “to stop [counsellors] stopping women from exercising their reproductive choice”.
I won’t comment on Furedi’s views except to say they sounded slightly surreal when I thought of Grammaticas’s report. Readers of this blog will point out that there is a huge difference between someone who is forced against her will to abort her baby and a woman who chooses to do so. But I couldn’t help thinking, as I recalled the sobbing mother interviewed by Grammaticas, and the anguish of the other bereaved parents he spoke to, that this difference is really very small: in each case the baby still experiences a violent death – and who knows what inner violence is done to the spirit of the mother as a result of her “exercising her reproductive choice”?