40 Days For Life on Today

Yesterday, Robert Colquhoun of 40 Days For Life managed to overcome his severe media aversion to make an appearance on Radio 4’s Today Programme, where he was interviewed along with Ann Furedi of BPAS. The results were interesting, less for what he said than for the difficulty he seemed to have in making any positive statements at all. On this showing, although the UK pro-life movement seems to be growing more aggressive, it isn’t at all confident that the public shares its aims – rightly so, given that polling data consistently shows extensive support for a woman’s right to choose. Below, I’ve made a transcript of the discussion, with a few of my own comments threaded through:

Justin Webb Can we start by working out if we can have any agreement about what is acceptable in the way of protest, because abortion upsets people, they want to make their voice heard and known. Robert Colquhoun, what do you think is the legitimate way that that can be done?

Robert Colquhoun What we have here in London is we have a peaceful, a prayerful and a legal vigil, and we work very well with the police in ensuring that behaviour is extremely good during the campaign and I think any assertion that there is any harassment or intimidation as a part of our campaign is very, very inaccurate.

Not quite an answer to the question.

JW So it’s OK, or you think it should be considered OK, for protesters simply to walk with a women who’s going up to the door and stand next to her and offer her literature? You think that should be done?

RC What the essence of our campaign is…

Again, not an answer.

JW Just on that point, you think that should be done?

RC Well we do have people praying, we also have people offering hope to show that there is a love out there. The essence is that there is love out there that can help you choose life for your unborn child.

There’s love out there, apparently, but still no answer. Webb tries another line of questioning:

JW It’s the direct contact I suppose, and BPAS have surveyed women who’ve been in and got them to write down their experiences. I’ll just read you one: “The man by the fence followed me to the door with leaflets and asked why I wouldn’t speak to him. He waited until the intercom answered.” Now, potentially that woman might have been a rape victim, she might have been a victim of incest, she might have already been in desperate emotional turmoil. Is it acceptable, do you encourage your people to speak directly to those women?

RC Some of the women have been spoken to, and we’ve seen wonderful transformations as a result of our campaign. We’ve seen lives saved, hearts and minds inspired, and many people have been very thankful for the help that we have offered. And yes it is considered controversial by some people, but I think that love – what we are intending to do is show there’s a love out there that can help you choose life as well.

40 Days For Life confirms that is does approach women, as described in the account given to BPAS. It’s not just peaceful prayer – the organisation really is pursuing women up to the doors of the clinic. I’d be very interesting in hearing more from these people who are thankful for the help 40 Days offers, too, as well as getting a bit more detail on what that help consists of. The voice of the “turnaround” is disturbingly absent from this debate, although 40 Days seems very willing to speak for her.

JW Ann Furedi, they do have a right, don’t they, if it’s not aggressively done, and you can talk to someone who’s on the public street?

Ann Furedi They absolutely do. And to be perfectly clear, I support their right to freedom of expression as I support everybody else’s and I also support their right to protest, and I’ve been on many a protest myself. But, you know, what I’m saying here is not that this protest that they’re carrying out is unlawful. It’s just really wrong. If you want to have a debate about the issues, and it is a controversial issue – if you want to have a have a debate about abortion, that’s great. Have one. Debate me, debate my policy team, debate other people who have strong views on it. But for heaven’s sake, leave the women alone who are coming to our clinic. Because they’re not coming because they think abortion is right, they’re coming because they need medical help.

JW But address that point Robert Colquhoun’s just made, that in some circumstances, after this conversation, women have changed their mind.

AF Well I think it may very well be the case that if you are pinned to the wall with someone haranguing you with a leaflet, you will say all kinds of things to get out of that situation. But maybe let’s say some women have changed their mind, but that really doesn’t make what they’re doing right. I think that frankly it would be far better if they took their love somewhere else and had a debate with people who wanted to have it, not women who are coming to access a lawful service.

Ann Furedi nobly refrains from telling 40 Days where they can stick their love.

JW Can I ask you Mr Colquhoun, what are you actually aiming for? Are you trying to stop everyone having abortion in all circumstances?

RC The essence of why we are there, um. Abortions don’t happen in parliament, they don’t happen in the courts, they happen in the local community. People at the vigil are not there to judge, they’re not there to impose themselves. They’re there to pray and to offer help…

You might notice, again, that this isn’t an answer to the question that Justin Webb has asked.

JW But are you opposed to abortions in all circumstances for everyone? You want to close these clinics down?

RC I believe that abortion leads to the destruction of an unborn child.

And another non-answer. It’s almost as if he’s trying to avoid saying he wants to stop abortion in all circumstances.

JW In all circumstances, you’d like to ban it?

RC I, uh. Well in this country abortion is partially decriminalised, and what we see is that 98% of abortions are happening on the grounds of the mental health clause of the abortion act. However, a major review by the Royal College Of Psychiatrists showed that there’s no evidence that the continuation of a pregnancy ever involves risk to the mental health of the mother…

And another one! The reference to the RCP review is interesting: it shows anti-choice activists have been forced to back away from their assertions that abortion causes trauma, because there’s no evidence that it does. Instead they’re now saying that pregnancy and birth are no more damaging than abortion (tacitly admitting that pregnancy isn’t an inevitably positive experience). However, even this doesn’t support their case, because the RCP report doesn’t include data on the mental health outcomes for women who want a termination but are prevented from having one.

JW It’s a simple question. It’s important too, because you look at what happens in America where people feel very extreme, have very extreme views about this, and it’s led to appalling conflict. Just, you are opposed, your group is opposed to abortion in all circumstances? Yes or no.

RC Yes. We believe that abortion is wrong. But we believe that through peaceful, through prayerful and through legal means that we can provide a solution to the crisis…

Fourth try by Webb, and finally there’s an answer. Is it really so hard for a pro-life campaigner to come out and say he’s against abortion?

JW What happens in America Ann Furedi, as you will know better than I do, is that people are employed, organisations employ people to escort people into clinics. It happens particularly in some states where it’s hugely controversial, but it’s actually quite widespread. Are you considering that here?

AF I think at the moment we frankly do not have the need for it. Usually the demonstrations that we’re seeing are not well supported, and in fact it’s interesting that this group at Bedford Square have been complaining that they themselves have been harangued by passers-by. At the moment, I just think we have to understand that this is a tiny minority of people who are protesting against a legal service. But even that tiny minority can add enormously to the distress of women who are already in a difficult situation, and they should think really carefully about whether what they feel they’re doing is Christian.

And maybe this is why Colquhoun has trouble explicitly stating his beliefs: because he knows that absolute opposition to abortion is actually a pretty unpopular position.

JW In a word Mr Colquhoun, you’re not going to stop?

RC Well we have until the first of April for our 40 Days For Life Campaign. We’re in 250 cities around the world, more than 5,000 women from around the world have decided to keep their babies, and we’ve also seen 23 abortion clinics closed as a result of our campaigns.

Note how the closing of clinics with which Colquhoun credits 40 Days is actually counter to the organisation’s claims that it wants to give women the “choice” to continue their pregnancy. It doesn’t: it wants to take away the choice to have an abortion.

JW Robert Colquhoun, Ann Furedi, thank you both very much.

Text © Sarah Ditum, 2012; photo by bestfor / richard, used under Creative Commons

19 thoughts on “40 Days For Life on Today

  1. What a shameful US export – so sorry 40 Days has crossed the ocean.

    I’ve escorted patients into a clinic to help them avoid protesters. Many patients are coming for services other than abortion, and either deeply confused or highly amused that someone is trying to block them from getting a pap smear or flu shot. Some coming for abortion services are upset and angry that we cannot keep these strangers away from them, but I’ve never, ever had a person change her mind or decide not to enter the clinic. Not once.

    Truly awful is when a mother is entering the clinic – for any number of reasons – and has a child with her. And by child, I mean an already-born walking (or toddling) independent human being, not a fetus carried in her uterus. I escorted a mother with her son, who was about 4, as the 40 Days for “Life” protester encouraged the mother not to murder her baby. That little guy’s eyes were wide with terror as the stranger repeated, over and over, that he hoped she wouldn’t murder her baby. Clearly, the 4-year-old was also hoping not to be murdered by this point. The protester didn’t care. Sick.

  2. Thanks for that comment, nonsequiteuse. I think it’s usually right to take an opponent’s position in good faith: if an anti-abortion campaigner says they’re concerned for women’s welfare, then I’m generally willing to accept that their concern is genuine, however illogical and perverse I find their reasoning. But stories like the one you give, and like the account of following women to the door of the clinic that came up in the radio interview – as far as I’m concerned, no one who was genuinely considering the woman first could justify doing those things.

  3. These self-styled pro life campaigners seem to pride themselves on persuading women not to go into the clinics that they target. I wonder if it’s ever occured to them that the women who retreat in the face of their ‘love’, may simply go back later, perhaps when they’ve worked up the courage to face more of the same ‘love’, or maybe when they have a friend with them for support (or protection?).
    I think if a woman chooses to have an abortion the reasons for that choice are going to be compelling and I don’t see how a bunch of campaigners, whatever their motivation, can have the right to meddle, particualrly when they don’t know, and have no right to know, the circumstances that have informed that decision.
    I’m not exactly pro abortion, but I’m not arrogant enough to think that I can foresee every circumstance, therefore I do not believe that I, or anyone else, has the right to deny women the right to make their own choice in these matters.
    That’s what makes me pro choice.

  4. I detest this repugnant movement. If you don’t like abortion (my legal right) then don’t have one yourself. But do not ever tell me I cannot do what I want with my own body.
    I do not harangue smokers when they’re buying fags (despite them damaging themselves and innocent people around them.
    Nor if I were vegetarian would I harangue people in the supermarket doing their shopping.
    I neither like passive smoke or agree with battery farming, it does not give me the right to accost people in public as they’re smoking or eating kfc.
    They are disgusting repugnant misogynists. Worst of all is any man who thinks he is entitled to a say over a woman’s body. As a woman I don’t harass men taking viagra, even though clearly they are going against the supposed natural order of things.
    Furthermore as a vehement atheist I am appalled at some religious bigot trying to dictate my right to bodily autonomy in the name of their way of thinking. I don’t recognise your self appointed moral authority. Keep your Rosaries Off My Ovaries.
    MY BODY, MY RIGHT.
    MY VAGINA, MY BUSINESS.
    Don’t film me in the street going about my business, I don’t want your leaflets full of lies, I don’t want to hear what your imaginary skydwelling friend thinks about anything,

  5. At the moment your body fails because you have cancer or you have a breakdown it stops becoming your body, your business….it becomes that of those who love you to support you through that crisis and the wider society. God help you at that moment….and if the Pro-lifers stand up for the bodies of innocent children….then perhaps it is because these children do not have anyone to speak for them…..it saddens me when people are so self-centred that they can can claim rights yet fail to see how with those rights come huge responsibilities including the responsibility for aging parents, the disabled and the dying…it is a small step to the eugenic world that Hitler espoused…..this is not just about the woman’s body. It is about the society we are creating….how many of you truly can see beyond your own noses!!We go to abortion clinics to stop this genocide…..200,000 a year in the UK…..estimated losses of over 7 million since 1967…..what is amazing to watch is the hate that resides in all Pro-choicers….that is the hate that drives you people and no society can ever survive on hate alone….ask Hitler who was tried to end the lives of all such misfits……

  6. Putting the rights of an ambiguously-alive foetus above the rights of a definitely-alive woman is a moral error. A foetus may become something recognisable as a person, but a woman definitely is a person already, with existing relationships and dependants – all of which you judge as being less important than the potential-personhood of a foetus.

    I would dearly love to know what you think is likely to happen should access to safe, legal terminations be withdrawn. Are you really happy to see women dying of dangerous abortions? What do you think is going to happen to babies born to mothers who know they’re not able (socially, economically, personally) to support a child? Do you have a plan, or are your ethics satisfied by simply compelling women to stay pregnant?

    As you’d see if you read some of my writing on abortion, I am very supportive of disability rights and healthcare provision, and I find it unpleasant that you would suggest a person with an illness or disability loses their right to self-determination because they receive treatment. As for Hitler, I’m not sure why you’d mention him given that under Nazism, abortion was banned for Aryan women. It was also forced on non-Aryan women, which is obviously antithetical to a pro-choice position.

  7. Sarah, from one former ambiguously alive foetus to another, can I deal with each of the points you raise. How hypocritical to preach on morality when you are such an advocate for abortion. There is no greater crime against humanity than the murder of innocent children – the ultimate child abuse. A foetus (whether ambiguously defined by you) or more clearly seen by the medical profession has a beating heart at 3 weeks and 1 day and is fully formed (with all organs working) at 12 weeks. Pro-choice supporters like to de-humanise the foetus. A toddler, teenager, adult and the elderly are mere stages of life. And where did I judge the woman as being less important than the unborn child? It is you who places the child in that inferior position – and then it becomes a very easy step to the world of eugenics when the disabled child, the genetically malformed child, the old person are seen as ‘non-viable’ using the language of the pro-choice lobby. I see all life as equally valued. Now that is something you cannot claim.

    Abortion should be a very rare event and only used when the life of the mother is definitely at risk. A truly caring society would make all birth safe providing at all times for the welfare of the mothers. There are medical instances such as ectopic pregnancies when a child has to be aborted to safeguard the health of the mother. Sadly, our society has used the poor excuses (and you use them yourself) that the economic (i.e. very poor people, black people) , the socially disadvantaged people (i.e. the single mothers, the very young mothers) and the personal (i.e. its ‘my body’ brigade) that justify the murder of over 7 million children since 1967 and some 200,000 each year. Yes, we should have a plan that places the vulnerable woman and unborn child at the heart of the agenda. Support them through the pregnancy whether economically or psychologically. It should be paramount. Adoption where there mother does not want to bring the child up. There are alternatives that are in the interests of both the mother and the child. It is never an either / or.

    Self-determination is not a universal right to murder. The women’s rights do not trump the rights of the unborn. The rights of the able do not trump the rights of the disabled, the rights of the young do not trump the rights of the frail and elderly. Life is equally sacred and not determined by your stage in life and the disability you carry. Till 1967 abortion was rare in all of western Europe. My point in relation to Hitler is very simple. His ideology was of the perfect race and his experiments were to create a world that would never have imperfections. All unborn today are seen in that same way – an inconvenience, a burden, misfortunate ambiguous errors that must be terminated for the good of the society we live in. Is it surprising, for example, that a disproportionate number of poor and black people abort their children. Who needs Hitler when we pass laws that can do the same thing? He was stopped at 6 million. We march on with 7 million and counting…….like slavery before, it will take brave pioneers to stop this genocide.

  8. You judge the woman less important than the child when you decide that the maybe-alive foetus’ right to life is more important than the definitely-alive woman’s right to life. You’re happy to condemn those women to these terrible ends, while deluding yourself that adoption can be a mass substitute for the dedicated and devoted care needed by a child. A foetus doesn’t have dependents who will suffer if it is aborted. A foetus doesn’t suffer itself. If the foetus that became me had been aborted (either deliberately or spontaneously) I wouldn’t have existed to feel anythinb at all, so it’s rather absurd to suggest that I should be distressed by that prospect simply because you’ve deemed life “sacred”.

  9. Sarah please have the intellectual honesty to respond to my questions and please stop speaking for me. The woman is alive and her rights are given. The unborn child has the same rights in natural law but those rights are taken away through abortion – and very permanently. Most abortion are for economic reasons and not because the woman’s health is being threatened.
    Let me follow your ‘dependents’ argument further. Logically, a single mother with 4 children should terminate the life of a new born because she is unable to cope. Is that right? In the developing world mothers should make choices that condemn more than one child to death for the benefit of the first child and the wider society (welcome to the society of China!!). This is both absurd and callous.

    I also beg to differ – there is evidence that the unborn child does suffer. There is evidence that the mother suffers too. I am sure if your mother had miscarried you she would have been affected by that experience. Abortion in many ways is much more traumatic for the mother.

    The sacredness of life is always best seen close at hand. It is the gentle caress of a mother of her pregnant stomach, the first cry of a new born child, the laugh of an old person dying in a hospice, the cancer sufferer who has to say goodbye to her children, the down syndrome man who smiles at you at the supermarket. It is not theoretically and defined by me. It is precious and worth fighting for. For the Pro-choice folk it is the outsourcing of the care for the elderly as convenient and kind, the termination of down children as economically and psychologically imperfect, it is the flight out to Switzerland to clinics that put you to death. Is it then surprising that you are all so keen on rights and so afraid of responsibility? Abandoned parents and disabled, irresponsible sex, abortion, euthanasia – convenient views when life is seen so cheaply and the strong can exercise their liberal selfish rights over the weak. Shame on you that you can use the weak to hide behind in getting such laws passed in the name of self-determination. The liberal left can talk up its caring concern for women but I am not sure it serves their best interests at all and the trauma we are now inflicting on women is at the expense of a wider society in deep trouble. May God forgive you all when the true judgement day arrives…….and it will for us all you can be sure.

    Finally, the idea that pain in some way determines life is absurd. When in a coma does that make the person dead to the world? And if I switch of the life support machine on the basis the person cannot speak for himself and appears not to feel pain hardly seems just or humane. My point about your birth is that you are here to argue with me. If your mother had killed you in the womb we would not be having this conversation. Seven million children in the UK (since 1967) sadly have been killed because people like you thought it was okay. And it is not…..you should be distressed if you had a conscience.

  10. If I wanted to be cheap, I could accuse you of lacking the conscience to care about the women injured, killed and impoverished by the removal of their right to legal abortion, but I won’t. I have a hard time taking the accusation of “intellectual dishonesty” seriously from someone who conflates the effects of abortion and miscarriage on a pregnant woman (very, very different experiences), won’t acknowledge that restricting access to legal abortion limits women’s rights over their own bodies, and imputes weird opinions to me (everyone should have a choice, and economic circumstances are a key part of the ability to care for a baby; but I don’t think that anyone “should” have an abortion in any given situation). I’ve held and lived my own children, felt them quicken inside me, held beloved relatives as they breathed their last — and none of that gives me any reason to believe that a foetus is a living thing with rights to rival an adult woman’s.

  11. I return to the same points so perhaps its best we end having agreed to disagree. My points are – the rights of the unborn child seem to be ignored…and yes I do think that women who have had abortions will be injured, impoverished and in very rare instances killed but not on the scale of 7 million over 45 years…..if our major consideration for having children were predominantly economic then birth would be the priveldge of the rich and the ones who abort interestingly would be the ‘poor’ and disadvantaged….statistics seem to bear this out….great that you can acknowledge that the child within your womb was indeed able to quicken inside you….sadly for many unborn that is a reality denied them.

  12. It’s the designation of the foetus as a child that is the profoundest point of disagreement here. They are not the same thing, and it’s dishonest of you to use the word child when you mean foetus.

    Resources are always a consideration in whether a child can be supported or not: money, time, assistance from a social network, security of living situation. All those things matter enormously – because children are enormously demanding, enormously important things. Life is not simply a matter of gross numbers of souls, as you seem to suggest with the constant iteration of a supposedly-shocking figure. It’s far more important that people are able to make the right choice for themselves and their families.

  13. Hi Sarah: just trying to understand this comment you made above: “You judge the woman less important than the child when you decide that the maybe-alive foetus’ right to life is more important than the definitely-alive woman’s right to life”

    1) The comparison is not between a woman’s right to life, and an unborn child’s right to life. Most (almost all?) pro-lifers would agree that if a woman’s life is threatened by the continuation of the pregnancy, then abortion is permissible, not to end the baby’s life, but to save the mother’s life. Yet this grounds for abortion counts for a tiny proportion of the 2 million unborn children killed by abortion each decade in this country. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that the foetus’ life matters more, but that it matters equally. If it matters at all as a human life, then we took a very seriously wrong turn in 1967, since which there have been some 7-8million abortions.

    2) Everyone agrees that the foetus is alive from very early on. Even Anne Furedi herself has said “the point is not when human life begins, but when it begins to matter.” (in debate with John Wyatt.) there is a heartbeat, a unique genetic code, and the life is certainly human (it’s not a gerbill) she says.

    3) I’d be interested in your own thoughts as to how we begin to answer the question as to when a human life begins to matter, such that we should accord equal human rights. Even your use of the word ‘maybe’ suggests that maybe you think we should treat the unborn child with equal dignity and worth as other human beings. Even if you say, “Maybe, but probably not” that “maybe” should give a huge pause. If they are “maybe” innocent human children, then we should not kill them until we are pretty sure that they are not.

  14. Even if abortion is made illegal, women who know very well that they’re not able to support a child (for lack of social support, lack of financial support or any other reason) will seek abortions. Abortion doesn’t happen because it’s legal; it’s legal because it happens, and the consequence of prohibiting and penalising it is that women are left to the mercies of medical care outside the law, which is often exploitative, expensive and fatal. If you remove the right to terminate a pregnancy, you condemn women to death from unsafe abortion for the sake of a foetus – which is obviously alive, like my apendix was alive before it was removed, but not obviously a person with the same rights as the woman carrying it. The innocent human children you make such a sentimental appeal for require a lifetime of intense care, attention and nurturing. If a woman deems herself incapable of providing that, I can think of few greater acts of inhumanity and folly than forcing her to bear a child she cannot be a mother to.

  15. Sarah, you say that Robert Colquhoun fails to address questions directly. Correct. Your own comments above are also an absolute model of not addressing questions correctly – and I think we know why.

  16. I don’t know who the “we” you refer to is, but I’ve answered every question addressed to me above. Presumably you think the only logical place for me to end up would be opposing abortion, but for that to happen, I would have to radically devalue my estimate of a woman’s life, and completely revise everything I know about the needs of children and families. Thanks for stopping by to make tedious and pointless insinuations, though.

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