Forced abortion and the silence of moderate pro-choice people


A UK court has just ruled that a pregnant intellectually disabled woman who does not want to have an abortion is to be forced to have one. Sky News buries the lede with the headline “Woman with mental age of child to have abortion, court rules”, but mentions that it’s involuntary further down.

In a ruling, Mrs Justice Lieven said: “I am acutely conscious of the fact that for the State to order a woman to have a termination where it appears that she doesn’t want it is an immense intrusion.

“I have to operate in (her) best interests, not on society’s views of termination.”

The woman suffers from ‘moderately severe’ learning difficulties and a mood disorder. According to the story, she estimated to have “the mental age of six-to-nine year old.” She is 22 weeks pregnant and in the care of an NHS trust. It is apparently unclear how she became pregnant, and a police investigation is trying to establish the circumstances of conception.

The medical specialists caring for her recommended an abortion, despite the fact that she wants to keep the baby, and despite the fact that the woman’s mother – who is Nigerian, and a former midwife – also opposes her having an abortion and has offered to help take care of the baby. A social worker who helps care for the woman is also opposed to her being forced to abort.

The woman would be unable to care for the child on her own and the judge was concerned about the risks posed by the woman’s behavioural and psychological problems.

She said the woman may have to leave home if the baby was placed in the care of the woman’s mother.

This last because the court judged that the woman’s mother couldn’t look after a child in addition to assisting with her daughter’s care. She also ruled out other options:

The child could also potentially be placed into foster care.

The judge said she believed the woman would suffer more distress if the baby was taken away, rather than if it was terminated.

“Pregnancy, although real to her, doesn’t have a baby outside her body she can touch,” she said.

The Judge goes on to say that “I think she would like to have a baby in the same way she would like to have a nice doll.”

Let’s review the facts: an intellectually disabled ethnic minority woman is being forced by a UK court to have an abortion against her will, based on the recommendation of her expert carers, in whose care she became pregnant in the first place in unknown circumstances. Her mother, a midwife, has offered to help care for the child. But in the woman’s best interests, she is to be subjected to a forced abortion.

This is a human rights atrocity, and everyone should be able to agree on this. This should straightforwardly and obviously appal any pro-choice person who cares about bodily autonomy or respecting the agency of women. This is, on pro-choice premises, a clear case of this woman and her choices being used as a means to the end of her own ‘best interests’ as defined by judges and doctors. Her values are being trampled on, and the life of her wanted child ended against her will, despite the presence of abundant resources to help her raise the child.

So far, however, there has been little the story in the media – I’ve found the Sky News story, one from the Daily Mail, and a couple from Catholic papers. I hope more attention gets paid to it, but I know that even if that happens, this will never become a major topic of discussion. It will never be talked about like the death of Savita Halappanaver or the X case. I suspect that, if it’s talked about at all, there will be a handful of pieces condemning it and another handful saying that things are very complicated, recommending that we trust the courts and the experts, and gently encouraging us to look the other way.

And I wonder why. I wonder why all the people who say they favour abortion only in hard cases are so slow to object to cases like this, and so very quiet when they do. I wonder why these violations of women’s dignity don’t matter as much. I wonder why they don’t get the widespread outrage that they deserve. I wonder why people like this judge, relying on ableist arguments to violate a woman’s autonomy, don’t get challenged or campaigned against by pro-choice activists or most journalists. For what it’s worth, Judge Lieven has been an outspoken pro-choice advocate in her past as a lawyer, representing the British Pregnancy Advisory service in a case arguing that women should be able to medically abort their own pregnancies at home rather than going to a hospital.

In 2016 she argued that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws violated the UK Human Rights act, and the following year said that those same laws force people to go through “physical and mental torture”. 

This is not just a UK problem either. In Ireland we’re just as good at ignoring abortions where consent is dubious. Think of the case of Miss C, a 13-year-old rape victim who was brought to England for an abortion in 1997 by health board staff and social care workers because she was judged to be suicidal. Years later she described the circumstances of the case in an interview with the Irish Independent (in which she referred to as ‘Mary’):

In the days after the rape, social workers arrived at Mary’s caravan in north Dublin and took her away. She believed she would be home again in 24 hours.

She was taken to Mullingar and placed in foster care with another Traveller family. Slowly, the days turned into weeks, and the weeks into months. Before long, she realised nobody was coming to take her home.

Around this time, she developed severe hunger pangs and frequent vomiting. She had no idea what was wrong until one day her foster mother took her to the local GP where she was asked for a urine sample.

The next morning, she was told she was pregnant. She was bewildered. “I said: ‘What’s pregnant?'” she recalls. “They said ‘you are having a baby’. I didn’t understand how I could be. A few weeks later, they came and took me on a plane to London.

“The next day, I was taken to a building. All I remember next was being wheeled on a trolley and screaming with the pain.

“They gave me an injection, and when I woke up, the pain had gone. Eventually they told me the baby was dead.”

In the days before her abortion, her parents had taken a legal action against the State in a bid to stop their daughter being taken to England. A psychiatrist for the Eastern Health Board insisted that Mary would kill herself if she did not have an abortion. The couple, however, failed in their action and the abortion went ahead.

Miss C was was taken into care after the abortion where she alleges that she was regularly drugged with the anti-depressant Largactil against her will: “four or five staff would come in, hold me down and give me an injection in the bum. That was horrific because it brought back memories of the rape. Eventually I ended up taking the tablets because I didn’t want to be held down any more.”

She regrets the abortion and had this to say about the way her case was publicly discussed: “My name – the C-case girl – is brought up on radio and TV all the time these days as if I’m an ad for abortion. The X-case girl never had an abortion in the end so we don’t know how it would have affected her, but, for me, it has been harder to deal with than the rape.”

As soon as the actual circumstances of her abortion became clear, interest in Miss C basically dried up. Other than that Independent interview and a Six One News appearance that barely mentioned the forced abortion, there was virtually no serious discussion of her case or allegations.

If we really cared about women, cases like Miss C’s, and that of the woman with a disability in the UK, would be subjects of grief and rage. Outside of anti-abortion circles they are not: and pro-choice people of good faith have a lot of questions to ask themselves about why that is.



Being right for the worst reason but finding common ground on abortion

One of my all-time favourite TED talks is “On being wrong”, by Kathryn Schulz. At one point in the talk, Schulz asks what it feels like to be wrong. The audience answers: “Embarrassing! Dreadful! Thumbs down :(”. Schulz says these are great answers, but then points out they are answers to a different question. That’s not how it feels to be wrong – it’s how it feels to realise you are wrong. Being wrong, on the other hand, feels an awful lot like being right – confident, clear, certain. Schulz uses the analogy of the coyote in the cartoon show Roadrunner, who often runs off a cliff, and just keeps running – until he looks down and realises he’s running through thin air. And then he falls.

Except sometimes being right feels just as much like falling. Sometimes you realise you’re right about something, but you wish to goodness you had been wrong. Sometimes being right is just as devastating as being wrong. And this is exactly how pro-life people felt when we learned of the dreadful news that a couple had been told their baby did not, in fact, have Trisomy 18, known as Edward’s Syndrome – but only after they had already had an abortion.

I immediately thought of my friend Anita, who shared her story in the run-up to the referendum last year. Unlike the women who had shared stories of their abortions, Anita was not called “brave” by pro-choice commentators. Instead, the broad thrust of pro-choice people who responded to her story was “But you had a choice. Why deny that choice to others?”. Well now we know exactly what that “choice”, which was being strongly pushed by her doctor, would have looked like, had Anita made it. A perfectly healthy baby dead, broken-hearted parents, devastated family.

Many pro-choice activists might like to ignore these stories altogether, while a few extremists might like to make it all about the vagaries of prenatal genetic testing. However, the overwhelming majority of people, with or without any particular view on abortion, should be able to agree on one thing: this abortion should not have happened. There is no reasonable person who could argue otherwise. When the abortion statistics for 2019 are compiled and reported, all reasonable people should be able to agree that the total number of abortions was at least one too many.

Many people voted Yes by the skin of their teeth. I think they probably have far more in common with people who voted No by the skin of their teeth than they do with those who voted Yes with a heart and a half. So I appeal to those reluctant Yes voters: come and talk to us. Let’s try and figure out together how we can get the abortion rate as low as possible. We may disagree on how low it should be eventually, but we can at least agree that it’s currently too high. If the group START, that represents doctors performing abortions are to be believed, doctors are performing 800-900 abortions per month – which means our abortion rate under the new regime is more than twice what it was estimated to be when the unborn had legal protection. Absolutely no one in the pro-life movement feels good about this. We would give our right arms to have been proven wrong, but so far, it looks like the opposite has been the case. The public discourse has changed completely – the only voices seeking change to our new abortion regime are those who want less restrictions and more abortion. Get rid of the twelve week limit, get rid of the three day waiting period, get rid of conscientious objectors, do everything possible to deny more parents what my friend Anita had – time, space, all the information available, and a live, healthy baby.

If you voted Yes but with reservations, now is the time to shout “Stop!”. We can and should work together to minimise the total number of abortions that take place, and preventing another family from ever going through this dreadful ordeal should be only one of many things we tackle. Let’s get to work.

Why do people change their minds about abortion? Read Frederica Mathewes-Green’s story!

What changes people’s mind about abortion? Read Frederica Mathewes-Green’s account of why she changed her mind on the issue, having started out as a young, hopeful pro-choice feminist!

Do read the article, ‘When abortion suddenly stopped making sense’,  but to encourage you, here’s a few quotes.

She started off as a young pro-choice feminist:

At the time of the Roe v. Wade decision, I was a college student — an anti-war, mother-earth, feminist, hippie college student. That particular January I was taking a semester off, living in the D.C. area and volunteering at the feminist “underground newspaper” Off Our Backs. As you’d guess, I was strongly in favor of legalizing abortion. The bumper sticker on my car read, “Don’t labor under a misconception; legalize abortion.”

The first issue of Off Our Backs after the Roe decision included one of my movie reviews, and also an essay by another member of the collective criticizing the decision. It didn’t go far enough, she said, because it allowed states to restrict abortion in the third trimester. The Supreme Court should not meddle in what should be decided between the woman and her doctor. She should be able to choose abortion through all nine months of pregnancy.

Continue reading “Why do people change their minds about abortion? Read Frederica Mathewes-Green’s story!”

When do you count as a real mother?

March 2015 marked my first Mother’s Day with offspring of my own – although I didn’t know it at the time. It was only a week or two later that I took a pregnancy test and realised that there was a baby on the way. Sadly, a few weeks later again, I had a miscarriage, and so the following Mother’s Day I was pregnant, for the second time, but without having given birth yet. I found myself wondering – what does Mother’s Day mean when you’re pregnant? When you have miscarried? So I did what any self-respecting millennial would do – I hit Google.

Continue reading “When do you count as a real mother?”

Ever wondered exactly *how* crisis pregnancy centres help women? Or what volunteers do? An interview with Eve Tushnet on volunteering in a crisis pregnancy centre

Ever wondered what crisis pregnancy centres do? How do they actually help women?  I did, so I interviewed Eve Tushnet, whose writing has appeared in a number of publications, including the Atlantic, and (online) the Washington Post, the New York Times, and now this blog. She is the author of Amends: A Novel,  Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith (winner of the 2015 Catholic Press Award for books on Gender Issues), and the editor of Christ’s Body, Christ’s Wounds: Staying Catholic When You’ve Been Hurt in the Church. She has also been volunteering in Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center since 2002 (and her views are, of course, her own and not the official position of the centre).

CHPC is located in Washington DC so the obstacles facing pregnant and parenting women there might be different to the ones women face here, in Ireland. But I also used the interview as an opportunity to ask questions about problems that women coming to the centre face, and to ask more general questions about how the friends of women who are pregnant or parenting can support them.  I also asked about volunteering for an explicitly Christian pregnancy center, and how this works. Continue reading “Ever wondered exactly *how* crisis pregnancy centres help women? Or what volunteers do? An interview with Eve Tushnet on volunteering in a crisis pregnancy centre”

The Provision of genuinely non-directive healthcare: Imagine being a GP in Ireland in 2019

Imagine you are a GP. You are prochoice, and strongly believe that women who want abortion should access it, and so you have signed up to provide medical abortion through your practice. You have received training on the medical aspects of this from the HSE, and on how you regard abortion and how this might influence you in your work (with no training offered on how you regard women in various circumstances continuing with their pregnancies). As a GP, you have some training on how to respond to a patient with empathy, but you have no formal training in psychology or counselling.

Continue reading “The Provision of genuinely non-directive healthcare: Imagine being a GP in Ireland in 2019”

An Interview with Ann Furedi, Chief Executive of BPAS, that’s really, really worth reading.

This interview is published in full on the Oxford Students for Life word press blog. It is really worth reading, and showing to friends who may be on the fence, or who hold a middle ground position. This is one example of what an intellectually honest defence of abortion looks like, and the challenges that it runs into. Again, it’s really worth reading in full, but here’s two extracts to draw you in.

The first is shorter, and includes a description of one reason why some women have late term abortions : “[v]ery often, the reason why you’ve got someone who’s presenting later is because they’ve been trying to make it possible for them to have the baby.” (A is Ann Furedi, and H. is Henry, the medical student interviewing her.)

Continue reading “An Interview with Ann Furedi, Chief Executive of BPAS, that’s really, really worth reading.”

What if Simon Harris were a woman?

Simon Harris is not having an easy time right now. From the cervical check scandal to the ongoing saga that is the cost of the new Paediatric Hospital, he’s on shakey ground. I can’t help but wonder though: if Simon Harris were a woman, who had just had her first child, would he be expected to answer questions in the Dáil, and in front of an Oireachtas Committee, and on Prime Time, all while coming to grips with all that parenthood entails? Or would we cut the poor woman some slack, and allow junior ministers in the Department of Health, or the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister for Finance do the political explaining, even just for those first few weeks?

Continue reading “What if Simon Harris were a woman?”

Some short articles that could have been blog posts, but that ended up in student papers instead! 1) Interview with Kelsey Hazzard from secular pro-life

Over the past two or three years, some of our members have written pieces for student publications. This is a quick series of blog posts putting all of them up on our blog as well.

December 2016. Interview with Kelsey Hazzard, founder of Secular Pro-Life, Trinity News 

[The below text originally appeared in Trinity News].


How it all began

Secular Pro-Life is an advocacy group based in the US. Their website makes a surprising claim:
“Fact: There are over six million pro-lifers in the United States who aren’t affiliated with a religion.

According to the Pew Research Center, 19.6% of American adults have no religion. That’s approximately 46 million people given the current population of the United States. And according to Gallup, somewhere between 15 and 19 percent of Americans with no religion are pro-life. Do the math, and it comes out to between 6.9 and 8.7 million. Out of an abundance of caution, Secular Pro-Life calls it 6 million.”

Continue reading “Some short articles that could have been blog posts, but that ended up in student papers instead! 1) Interview with Kelsey Hazzard from secular pro-life”