Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pro Life's pharisees are its biggest liabilities

To a very well-heeled pub on Horseferry Road with a chum where we were joined by Sarah M***** who works in public affairs for an aerospace interest group and dreams of becoming a Tory MP. In her spare time she's a big fish in the very small pond which is the Alive and Kicking Campaign. A&K is is another one of litigation queen, Josephine Quintavalle's megalomaniac initiatives. It attempted an assault of the Abortion Act last year but flopped badly not least because Quintavalle, for all that she considers herself much more modern, much more savvy than SPUC, has precisely zero experience of political campaigning and the kind of brilliant people skills which saw her fall out and publically diss her star attraction, the hot blonde vicar, Joanna Jepson.

Anyway, fresh from its barnstorming success last year, Alive and Kicking is still at it apparently and determined to have another heave at the abortion issue; specifically, it's set itself the task of slashing the number of abortions in half. Sounds fabulous, I'm Pro-Life too but dare one be so impertinent as to enquire how it intends to do this? Much waving around of hands and talk of strategy and tactics and the steering group. Uh huh and who's on the steering group? Well, Josephine of course and a chap called Kevin and Peter Saunders - yes that Peter Saunders, the one who Chris Paul exposed, if that's the right word, as having some very curious ideas about how to deal with sex offenders - and, wait for it ... Andrea Minichiello Williams. The last the telly-watching public saw of Minichiello Williams was on Channel 4's Dispatches giddily declaring that planet earth was four thousand years old or thereabouts.


But sorry to press the point, Sarah, how, exactly, will this campaign set about changing hearts and minds? Does it have any comprehension of the needs of women in crisis pregnancies? What would you do, Sarah, if you knew someone in a crisis pregnancy? "I'd talk to them about support about financial support and ..." what exactly does that mean, what do you mean by support? "Financial support, accomodation ..." Accomodation, you mean housing benefit right? "Yes and income support." Do you think about income support and housing benefit for yourself, Sarah? "No, I think about my pension." You think about your pension and what on earth makes you think that women in crisis pregnancies want to think of a life of housing benefit and income support? Don't you think they'd like to think about their pensions too? "Well they don't have to be in that position," she replied by which I think she meant they don't have to find themselves pregnant in the first place. Incisive thinker, eh?

But don't let me interrupt Sarah who was explaining why she was so moved to work for the cause. "I feel empathy with the foetus and solidarity with women who've had abortions and are left on their own but I don't feel empathy for women in crisis pregnancies," she declared casually.

There you are, she said it. Her boss, multi-millionairess Josephine Quintavalle, by the way, styles herself among other things, as a pro-life feminist and what an enormous outpouring of sisterly solidarity she's inspired in her circle. In case your fingers are hovering above the keyboard and poised to bash out a furious comment that this is an isolated example and one which is entirely atypical of the current crop of pro-life activists' genuinely felt compassion for the poorest and the weakest among us, hold your fire. Dredging around in my memory I can recall hearing that bright spark at the Catholic Union, Ms E***** K******, who had her fifteen minutes of fame some years ago when she refused to accept a school prize from a pro-choice politician, objecting to the dangerously communist idea that single mothers are entitled washing machines, or was it fridges? Same difference. Ms K******, incidentally, is supposed to be our front line of defence against the secularist hoardes and I'm sure you'll agree that she's an inspired choice for the role. She hasn't heard of Nick Cohen or David Aaronovitch and she thinks the Observer is a daily newspaper.

Mind you, I should also point out that by no means all pro-lifers are like that. The doyenne of Pro Life in the UK is the formidable Phyllis Bowman, a magnificent diva who stands only 5 foot tall but has a commanding presence. Phyllis Bowman has one of the tenderest hearts that can be found, she was an anti-war activist in the 1960s and took striking miners in during the strike of 1984-5. But there seems to be an increasing gulf between the younger core of Pro Life activists, who all too often are wierd single-issue obsessives and the older guard who have a more rounded view of the world, who have, in Denis Healey's famous phrase, a hinterland.

Pro Lifers often wonder why they keep on failing in the UK. There are many reasons but one of the main ones is that which I've just outlined. Far too many of them don't care about women in crisis pregnancies, haven't the faintest idea what they go through, are utterly disinterested in their needs and aspirations and let me tell you that their contemptuous attitude to the women they supposedly champion shows. It's not just the fact that croesus rich dowagers who style themselves Pro Life feminists have never campaigned for free or affordable childcare, or against cuts to single parent benefits, or for rape crisis centres, or any of the other basic bread and butter issues which concern working women and which socialist feminists in particular have battled hard for, which make a mockery of their pretensions, though God knows it's enough. It's that they very transparently couldn't give a damn about women for whom an unplanned pregnancy means the world falls in.

Idealist that I am, I believe in the Pro Life cause. I really would like to see it succeed. But it's not going to happen unless and until Pro Lifers engage in some serious self-criticism and the self-appointed wierdos who've achieved their status in the lobby by virtue of having bought their positions lose their litigation addiction, stop launching silly single-issue deposit-losing political parties and stop launching high-profile campaigns to lower the abortion limit when they haven't even a coherent idea of what it means to be Pro-Life and why. And for God's sake, could they stop mewing that they have compassion for women in crisis pregnancies. Women in crisis pregnancies don't need compassion, they need solutions.


Blogger Paul said...

Excellent post. All too true. Just to nitpick (something I've had to do plenty of lately - and only because I care): "weird" is an exception to the "i before e" rule.

2/20/2009 6:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Insightful post Maria, the product of many despondent nights talking over wine and cigarettes.

Sadly however - as I already know you realise - your post only exposes the tip of the iceberg. When one looks at many of the newer crowd "coming through" (to further mediocrity and glorious defeat), things are far from encouraging. Considering that during the aforementioned debacle, having placed a public affairs strategy before no less than four - FOUR! - "activists" of note, I was told politely that they had it all under control by two (how prophetic in their ignorance), and simply not contacted again by the remaining two.

If the current "movement" wish to get anywhere in the next twenty years, new blood is needed and at the expense of all those soft and inexperienced individuals you mention who have too easily been given jobs-for-life by those enthralled more by their parentage than their credentials (you know who I'm talking about).

How's life besides?


2/21/2009 6:35 AM  
Blogger Voltaire's Priest said...

I think the real problem you have Maria, is that your own (broadly left-inclined) views do not accord with those newer "pro-life" activists, primarily because they are de facto the UK's version of a religious right. Of course they don't care about the women concerned who have unwanted or unplanned pregnancies: they have a religious cause and those people are incidental to its fulfilment. It's no accident that they're far more closely aligned with the Tory party than the older generation of pro-life politicos used to be, nor indeed is it an accident that the supply of northern and Scottish pro-life Labour politicos has pretty much dried up.

I think that the "pro-life" movement has moved to your right, and that will keep it marginalised for decades more. Good thing too from my perspective, but one imagines not from yours.

2/22/2009 12:58 AM  
Blogger Merseymike said...

Yes, I think that makes sense. I'm not a supporter of the anti-abortion movement and would identify very much with the other side of the great divide.

However, what I have always thought is that there is actually common ground which could be explored. For example, pro-choice people do believe that women should be able to choose NOT to have an abortion if that is their wish - and that the sort of treatment doled out to single parents makes this all the more difficult. If one is going to enable women not to have abortions, then its no good portraying single parents as loose-living slatterns who want to scrounge money and housing from the state, and voting for cuts in benefits which ultimately hurts their children.

What annoys me about right wing anti-abortionists is that they inevitably take this view (and that they tend to assume that every other right wing cause, being anti-gay in particular, is somehow 'part of the argument'). Of course, this means that people on the left are far less likely to be attracted to their cause.

I certainly remember a time when there were women in the Labour Party like Eunice Durkin who strongly shared your view on abortion but was certainly not prepared to line up with the anti-gay, single-parent hating, benefit-cutting warriors of the religious Right.

2/25/2009 4:22 AM  
Blogger David Lindsay said...

Massively increased benefit dependency and general moral chaos go back to which decade, do you think?

I'm sorry, but I really cannot see how "Labour MP Condemns Thatcherism" is any sort of story.

3/07/2009 7:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is the text of an email I sent to the organization in response to Bowman's recent comments (which, by the way, was returned as undeliverable):

"This is directed toward Mrs. Bowman and by extension to your entire organization.

Regarding this quote:

"Phyllis Bowman, executive director of Right to Life, which opposes euthanasia, also said the Duffs' case was sad.
"I think it's very sad, particularly as they could have gone together into a hospice. A hospice with cancer -- there is not uncontrollable pain," Bowman told CNN. "I think that with the euthanasia lobby, they feed on despair and they encourage despair rather than hope."
To begin with, I would like to ask exactly what qualifications Mrs. Bowman has to determine whether any pain is controllable or not. DSG is not the title of a doctor, nor, for that matter, can I find any similar reference to that three-letter designation. Perhaps it's an organizational one...Director of SG or some such, whatever that is. However, no doctor with half a brain would ever make such a statement, nor would anyone with an iota of compassion or knowledge of the situation other than a politician bent on a particular subject and making any statement, no matter how fallacious, to make their point.

I'm not a doctor, but I have personally experienced the end of a terminal brain cancer patient, my father. Doctors had determined that there was no more that they could do for him about four months before he ultimately died. (Let me note here that my mother is a well-known and -loved nurse by just about everyone in the medical community who knows her, so that she was able to get some of the finest oncologists in the area to help with my father's case.) The only action physicians took beyond that point was to prescribe ever-increasing doses of morphine in an attempt to control the pain.

Under this regimen, my father was in almost constant pain as evidenced by his moans, every single day and night. (I know this because I helped care for him up until his death and was there almost all the time.) This was not a man given to complaints about pain, either. He had to have been experiencing great pain, every day, for the short remainder of his life. The medication did NOT control the pain, to the point where my mother frantically searched for any way to help reduce it. By the time of his death, he was taking doses that would have killed someone who hadn't built up a great tolerance to the drug. This had one major side effect: it destroyed his personality by the last month of his life, to the point that he didn't know who or where he was. Prior to this, when he still had some self-knowledge, he had literally begged my mother on numerous occasions to help him commit euthanasia which, being of a Catholic upbringing, she could never have done anyway.

Mrs. Bowman has quite plainly never had direct experience of this type of situation, let alone the pain that cancer patients have had to endure. She displays herself as callous and as grasping at any explanation to justify her point of view on the subject, no matter how illogical nor how much it is contradicted by reality. (Not an uncommon affliction among the deeply religious or political, which I am left to assume that she is, probably on both counts.) Once again, I ask, what qualifies her to make any determination whatsoever about the pain of terminal cancer patients?

She discredits your organization by her apparent lack of any human compassion (or knowledge) whatsoever. I'm certain she will shrug this off, should it ever be brought up to her, placing her own religious fervor and faith over the most direct of evidence. (In my country, she would be classified as either a 'religious crank' or a 'nutcase.' Personally, if there is truly justice in the world, I believe she should become a terminal cancer patient and have to deal with the kind of pain that my father went through.

I'm certain that this will have no effect whatsoever, nor do I expect you will even get to this last line, but I had to speak my mind. Thank you for your time."

3/07/2009 11:34 AM  
Blogger Red Maria said...

Very interesting comments from all of you.

Thanks Paul for the subbing, we all need it on occasion :-)

Anonymous #1 Oh yes, we both know this post is the tip of the iceberg and you know that better than many people. Life's ok at this end of the globe give or take a credit crunch or two :-)

VP, unfortunately I find it very difficult to disagree with you, so I won't. Damn! I hate it when you're right.

Merseymike, I completely agree with what you say about single parents; it seems to me that you are in broad agreement with Voltaire's Priest on much of this. I think it's regrettable, to say the least, that certain sections of the Pro Life lobby - I refuse to call it a movement in its current state - is descending into reactionary obscurity and cuddling up to the crummier religious right elements. It wasn't always like that and there's no need for it to be so now. Back in the 60s there was a gay MP, closeted of course but almost all gay people bar a few brave souls were closeted in those days, who endured homophobic abuse on the floor of the house when defending the Pro Life cause. I think some Pro Lifers would do well to remember that.

David Lindsay, you make a very pertinent point and one that Tories standing up to cheer Tom Harris should consider.

Anonymous #2 I’m sorry to read about your father’s cancer and your bereavement. As your comment very poignantly expressed, it isn’t just cancer patients themselves who suffer the disease but their loved ones too.
The problem with short quotations and sound bites is that they convey very limited information rather than the full complexity of an individual’s views. I think that is what happened with Phyllis Bowman’s quote. Knowing her well myself, I can only assure you that she is very far from the grasping person lacking in compassion that you imagine her to be. Phyllis Bowman would not walk on by the other side, quite the opposite in fact; she is one of life’s good Samaritans. I know that she would be very sorry to hear that her words had caused you any distress or evoked painful memories for you.

3/08/2009 2:57 PM  
Blogger berenike said...

Ms E***** K******'s family have a practical hands-on approach to the whole culture of life business; from the unemployed pregnant girl from the provinces (who was told by her fiance to choose between him or the baby) and said girl's unemployed female friend, taken in by Ms E. K.'s sister when the sister herself was in in the kind of situation that most of us would think occasion for receiving help, not giving it, to her elderly relative, bed-ridden for ?10 years now, and needing 24/7 care, which is provided by the family at home. I know Ms E. only a little, certainly not enough to know about any private helping-out she does of people who need it, but I expect that like the K. I know best, she responds with generosity and alacricity when she encounters someone in need.

3/18/2009 1:39 AM  
Blogger Red Maria said...

I think one of the problems with that kind of practical hands-on approach to the culture of life is that it sniffs far too much of Lady Bountiful's charidee. One doesn't have to dismiss these efforts to realise their limitations: unemployed pregnant women who are given a roof over their heads for a period of time do so through desperation, not because they have any other options. When they're staying in someone else's gaff, they'll be painfully aware that they're there on sufferance, that they must be perpetually grateful to their patrons and that they can't do whatever they want. Their autonomy is curtailed and they are in a very unequal position to those taking them in. They're reliant and dependent, not self-reliant and independent, which is what self-respecting adults want.

I'm sorry to sound cynical but there is also an unspoken reason behind some charitable endeavours. Far from being completely altruistic and selfless, the donors do get something out of their giving: bluntly, it makes them feel good. They get that warm, self-satisfied feeling of virtuousness from their actions. It's not dissimilar to the concept the Church refers to as "spiritual pride". I say it's a very deficient form of charity.

True charity means desiring the same for someone else that you would desire for yourself. It means putting yourself in the position of someone else and asking, how would I feel if I were in that position? What would I want for myself?

I submit that we would not want to be dependent on other people and that we would not want to be their charity cases.

Back to the K's. Their hands-on practical work must be set against Mrs K's dotty politics - she stood as a candidate for the Quintavalleite Pro Life Party in 1997. Yes, the ludicrous Pro Life Party, not the Lib Dems, or the Greens, (horrors) the Labour Party, or any party with progressive policies on single parents. It must also be set against her frankly bizarre behaviour a few years ago, when she followed
Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor around demanding that he make some sort of statement about abortion when he spoke at a non-Catholic boys public school. For what, for heaven's sake? And why?

Then there's the disturbingly conservative type of Polish history Ms E***** K****** has been exposed to. I once asked her if she knew what happened in Poland in '68 - a massive student uprising followed by a government anti-Semitic campaign. She didn't have a clue about it.

Not to mention the equally disturbingly conservative culture of the WYA where she worked for a number of years. They hold what amount to anti-Communism 101 symposia for their acolytes who don't know the difference between democratic socialism and communism, still less communism and Stalinism. Ms E***** K****** lapped it all up but she hadn't even cared to glance at as basic a political text as The Communist Manifesto.

This is the kind of socially-restricted ultra-conservative home which will produce someone like E***** K****** who fatuously declares that single mothers are not entitled to basic amenities like fridges and washing machines because she objects to the notion that they have rights - and those are her words, by the way, not mine. I don't have the imagination to come up with something that medieval.

A year ago, I saw E and some of her siblings at a Pro Life meeting which was picketed and disrupted by assertive Pro Choice supporters.

I saw one of her sisters buttonhole one of the Pro Choice demonstrators and badger her with idiotic questions, trying to argue her out of her Pro Choice convictions. It takes an enormous amount of arrogance to imagine that you can convert a stranger with convictions of their own to your point of view like that. When I interrupted with some questions of my own, determined to end the silly farce, the sister flounced off with a good deal of hair-tossing injured vanity. I can't tell you how absurd she looked.

I also saw E there very self-important with her camera. When the meeting was being disrupted I heard her whispering in urgent Polish to a young man to do something about it.

You can see footage of that meeting here

Watch from 2.49 to 3.46. You'll see two Pro Choice demonstrators, one with short dark hair and another one with long curly hair. The latter is a branch organiser for the SWP, so when she got up and chanted Pro Choice slogans to disrupt a Pro Life meeting she was just doing her job because all's fair in love, war and politics. You'll see two men, one older, one younger - maybe you'll recognise the younger one - manhandling them and hauling them out of the meeting. I call that assault and I think someone with a law degree would know that to be the case, don't you? If I saw one of my siblings behaving in such a neanderthal fashion, I'd stop them, wouldn't you?

Possibly Ms E***** K****** does respond with generosity and alacrity to people in need. But they certainly don't include the victims of fascism. She was asked recently to sign an anti-fascist letter. After quibbling over the contents and no doubt much agonised soul-searching she declined to do so. She explained her failure to dart her head rapidly above the parapet as being work - she's in a delicate position, she whined, she represents The Catholic Uuuuunion. But she could've signed in a personal capacity, I pointed out. Well it was her miiiiigraine. She's under so much pressuuuuuure.

I wondered how Doreen Lawrence would buy such self-serving bullshit. It made me feel sick.

3/18/2009 6:31 PM  
Blogger berenike said...

All you've done is poured out a lot of theoretical bile on someone you don't know over a situation you know only through my comment.

Is this a practice you recommend?

3/23/2009 12:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

very useful read. I would love to follow you on twitter. By the way, did you know that some chinese hacker had busted twitter yesterday again.

2/08/2010 9:22 AM  

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