Abortion row in Cardiff city centre

Hannah Austin explains why pro and anti campaigners are taking to the streets in the Welsh capital

For the past couple of weeks, an anti-abortionist group 40 Days For Life has been holding a vigil outside an abortion clinic in Cardiff’s St Mary Street underneath a banner ‘Come And Pray to End Abortion’. They are part of a movement, originated in America, that holds these ‘vigils’ outside abortion clinics during the 40 days of Lent.

They view abortion as murder and oppose it in all circumstances. One of the Cardiff group suggested that a woman who became pregnant as a result of rape could find carrying the unwanted pregnancy to term to be a “healing experience”.

40 Days For Life claim they are not intimidating women who seek to access an abortion. However, their presence directly outside the clinic is innately intimidating for women at a time when they are already likely to be feeling extremely vulnerable. Contrary to the beliefs of these religious fundamentalists, abortion is not a decision taken lightly by women. No woman needs to experience intimidation and judgment en route to the clinic having made a choice that is hers and only hers to make.

Last week a friend and I decided to meet with the manager of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service abortion clinic  – part of a UK-wide charity – to find out how we could usefully support them and stand up for a woman’s rights to reproductive choices. She told us that women entering the clinic had been extremely upset by the presence of 40 Days For Life. Several had been in tears. Furthermore, she had been forced to call the Police on two occasions because 40 Days For Life had been praying on the steps to the clinic and telling the women entering the clinic that they would “pray for their souls”.

As a result we have decided to host counter-demonstrations every Saturday outside the clinic for the duration of Lent. We chose Saturdays because the clinic is not open on weekends. Unlike 40 Days For Life we have absolutely no desire to inadvertently further intimidate women entering the clinic by forcing them to pass through a crowd of protestors.

Our first demonstration took place last Saturday when we vastly outnumbered the anti-abortionists. At the protest’s peak there were a hundred of us, both men and women, drawn  from a broad church – seasoned activists, concerned residents, students, parents, those with religious views and atheists, and of varying political allegiances.

We heard speeches from Julie Morgan AM and an elderly Christian Minister who travelled down from the valleys to support the pro-choice cause. Passing taxi drivers honked their horns in support while passers-by cheered us on. Several Christians stopped to tell us that they were appalled that 40 Days For Life were claiming to be acting on religious grounds.

As one of our placards says, we are the pro-choice majority. More than three-quarters of the population in the UK support a woman’s right to choose, as do 90 per cent of GPs. Access to safe abortion is essential to protect women’s health. Every year across the world, 80,000 women die as a result of unsafe abortions. The recent case of Savita Halappanavar dying in Ireland after being refused abortion illuminates the potential consequences of women being denied access to abortion. Indeed, it is hard to see how 40 Days For Life can call themselves ‘pro-life’ when the only lives that they are concerned about are those that are not yet born or viable. The lives of women are nowhere on their list of priorities.

It is quite unbelievable that more than four decades after the passing of the 1967 Abortion Act, we still have to get out on the streets to defend the radical idea that women can make their own decisions about their own bodies, their own futures and their own family planning. However, for as long as anti-abortionists insist on intimidating women and pressing for legislation that would not end abortion, but would only increase its casualties, we will be out in the streets of Cardiff supporting women’s right to reproductive choices.

Hannah Austin is a feminist activist. Information about the pro choice campaign in Cardiff is on Facebook here

20 thoughts on “Abortion row in Cardiff city centre

  1. I would suggest that the members of ’40 Days for Life’ quoted here should read the Bible. In it they will find that Jesus does not approve of rape and that the idea that a rapist should be rewarded by knowing that his victim is carrying his child is wholly contrary to Christian teaching as we understand it in the Church of Wales. Don’t forget that elements of behaviour are inherited. Logically therefore ’40 Days for Life’ is encouraging rape by ensuring that this deviant behaviour is passed on to another unwilling generation.

  2. I whole heartedly agree with Hannah’s article. Access to abortion and contraception are crucial – there cannot be equality of opportunity for women without them. Making abortion illegal does not mean there will be no abortion – it leads to deaths and injury from backstreet abortions.
    The 40 days for life protesters are doing their best to intimidate and upset women. This gives a good indication of their agenda!

  3. David Lloyd Owen, are you suggesting that the sins of the father are passed to the child? Do you believe that a baby (boy or girl) fathered by a rapist, even if not concieved during a rape, are tainted?

    What would you propose doing about them? What else do you consider ‘deviant’? alcoholics? homosexuals? non-believers?

    Claiming that certaion people are born with inherent traits that should be removed is the start of a very slippery slope.

  4. I don’t think those rape comments are particularly helpful, David Lloyd Owen. This is a very well argued piece about the pro-choice position and the issue here concerns women having autonomy over their own bodies. We must also be aware that if abortion is made illegal, wealthy women would still be able to access it and working class women would have to return to the backstreets. However much 40 Days For Life dress up their position in religious language, the fact is this would be a retrograde step with nothing to recommend it in any measurable way, other than salving the consciences of a few bigots who do not represent the majority opinion in this country, nor even in their own churches.

  5. We’re a democracy enjoying free speech and have the right to demonstrate. Both groups of protesters have valid arguments but both believe their opinions are the ‘right’ ones. Abortion should not be so freely available, in my opinion. Never before has a woman had so much access to information and choices regarding contraception. Unwanted pregnancies should be so few as to almost make the abortion argument defunct.

    Of course abortion could be available in rape cases but firstly there must be support and counselling. Survivors of rape have gone on to give birth and brought up their children with love.

  6. Indeed! Motherhood is a blessing! As a Christian man, it strikes me as evident that women have foreclosed on their moral duty – pregnancy is a consequence of their, not gods, mistake. Afterall abortion goes against the divine plan.

    That said, as a social conservative, I do need to point out that single mothers place an unconscionable strain on the system; funding their irresponsible lifestyles off the back of my tax-receipts. Moreover, not only do single-parent homes arrest infant development but also, where the woman chooses to work, tend to inflict irrevocable harm on a child’s confidence and self-esteem.

    Good! Now that we’ve got that sorted out, I’m off to stand by a bin…

  7. David, I was making the observation that behaviour can be inherited, which makes the argument that victims of rape must be obliged to carry the rapit’s child doubly awful. A woman ought to have control of her body, not to have extra grief imposed upon her by others.

    Frank, I was making an observation about this group perverting Christ’s message. In that sense, it was at a tangent to the article, which I found to be a wholly reasonable statement regarding the need for women to be able to make the choices they need to do.

  8. @ Lindy Miller – there are lots of reasons for unwanted/unplanned pregnancies. The women involved will all have their own feelings about what is best outcome for them. Some of them will choose abortion. That’s why we need to be mature about it and not try to reduce it to black and white. I’ll say it again, if you make abortion illegal it does not mean “No abortions” it means “unsafe, illegal abortions that kill women”.

  9. It needs to be noted that despite what Hannah Austin is saying BPAS have said about the 40 Days for Life Vigil, no vigil members have approached women entering the clinic or spoken to anyone who has not crossed the road and spoken to them first. The vigil is not on the steps of the clinic, but on the opposite side of the street. It was also claimed by the counter protest that vigil members were giving out dolls (untrue) and telling women they were going to hell (untrue). While BPAS may have called the police, it will not be because anyone from the vigil was harassing women or behaving inappropriately. BPAS will have been told by the police that they know about the vigil and that its presence there is perfectly legal.

    It is also untrue to say that women are nowhere on our list of priorities. We have every concern for them and that in their vulnerability they might believe the lie that the child they already carry is not a child. That it is a child, a human being in earliest stages of its development – whatever the circumstances of its conception – is a fact that cannot be disputed. 200,000 of these most vulnerable members of our society die every year in places like the BPAS clinic on St Mary Street. While the majority of people in the UK support abortion, those who oppose it are no small minority and across the world the pro-life movement has significant support, from men, women, the old and the young, people of all faiths and none.

    Lastly, David Lloyd Owen’s idea that we are somehow encouraging rape is ludicrous. Regarding us distorting Christ’s message, there are many biblical references to life beginning in the womb, God knowing us before conception, forming us in the womb etc. I won’t reproduce them but they are easy enough to find online if that is what you are looking for. Given that, and Christ’s dire warning to any who should knowingly hurt little children I think a Christian who supports abortion is the one in need of returning to the BIble and re-evaluating their position.

  10. I am appalled by some of the above comments, the suggestion that rape survivors should be encouraged via counselling not to have abortions is abhorrent. I’ve looked at 40 days for life’s website where there is reference to rape survivors being ‘happy mothers’ as well as reference to all forms of contraception being murder of babies. I do ask what century do these people think they live in? Access to free, safe contraception and if that has failed, abortion is essential not just for equality but also safety. I’m fairly sure God would not be pleased by a small group of (to be brutally honest) over zealous nutters harassing women attempting to go into a medical facility. Many women in the UK will at some point in their life have an abortion for a variety of reasons, in a time when we are allowed to work, vote and own property etc surely we should also be given enough respect to be allowed to choose what happens to our own bodies.

  11. The only answer to the abortion question which is both sensible and moral is to allow it: a barely-formed fetus is no more a child any more than sperm or eggs are. The current “time limit” is at 24 weeks – well before a child could be born and healthily survive. Abortion law in this country is currently stacked strongly against the woman; it gives medical professionals a worrying amount of control through the two-doctor policy. If the British system of abortion is too free for you, move to Chile or Malta, where it is entirely illegal.

    For another note, abortion rates are similar in countries where it is illegal to where it is freely legal – however, they are done entirely through dangerous illegal channels. In other words, to oppose abortion rights is to encourage the deaths of women – that it was not your hands that held the knife does not clean them of the blood that would stand on them if your minority got its laws through.

  12. I believe abortion is a woman’s right to choose. In my opinion, if a woman finds herself pregnant, whether to continue the pregnancy or not is hers alone, and no-one else’s. I deplore the insensitivity of 40 Days for Life in choosing to hold a vigil outside the British Pregnancy Advisory Service offices in Cardiff. As far as I am aware, this is the only place in Cardiff where a woman with an unwanted pregnancy can go for free, impartial counselling to explore her options. I have been holding my own vigil alongside the 40 Days for Life vigil for one afternoon a week, bearing witness to my belief that ‘Abortion is a woman’s right to choose’. I feel it is really important that women visiting BPAS, and passers by in Cardiff, know that the group praying to end abortion are NOT representative of the majority.

  13. “they might believe the lie that the child they already carry is not a child. That it is a child, a human being in earliest stages of its development – whatever the circumstances of its conception – is a fact that cannot be disputed”

    Actually it’s the potential to be a child. something like 90% of abortions take place before 13 weeks. You know what though… most people decide to terminate a pregnancy while still being aware of all these facts. You seem to think that every person having an abortion is dismissing the foetus as ‘just a bunch of cells’ when the reality is that women who make this decision do so fully aware of the biology involved. These women believe, as I do, that their rights are more important than the potential child and that it is a choice they are happy to make. No one wants women to be pressured into making choices that are bad for them which is why I always believe it should be an informed choice but that the choice should always be there.

  14. 10 to 20% of known pregnancies miscarry (spontaneously abort), and studies have found that 30 to 50% of fertilized eggs are lost before or during the process of implantation. If the Bible is correct in its assumption that God knows us before we are even conceived then why does he allow for natural abortions to take place if he is so anti-abortion? Additionally if he knows us before we are conceived and knows the path our lives are to take, then that implies he knows who is going to be aborted, whether naturally or through human intervention. As for considering the bunch of cells which form the embryo being a child, that is ludicrous… it is a POTENTIAL child, NOT a child, the foetus can only be termed a child when it is capable of sustaining itself outside of the uterus (with or without an incubator!). I was brought up a Christian, and even studied theology, and was told that God made Man with the gift of FREE CHOICE, thus it seems to me that a woman deciding whether to keep or abort a foetus is exercising that God-given right.

  15. Whatever the views of 40 Days for Life, to express them in a ‘vigil’ outside a clinic where vulnerable women are seeking professional help is absoutely inappropriate, insensitive and shameful. And they wonder why people are getting upset about it.

  16. Completely agree you with you Donna M. It should be up to women to make the decision. The alternatives to safe, legal abortion are too grim to contemplate.

  17. I am firmly in favour of the pro-choice side of this debate and Sara’s points are well made against religious fundamentalism. Yet 40 days are entitled to represent their (rebarbative) views in public. Free speech sometimes involves some people being upset. I pay ‘vulnerable women the respect of supposing they are just as able to deal with it as men or anyone else..

  18. My comment about rape survivors being counselled prior to having an abortion was picked up on negatively. I think any form of counselling is positive and if it results in a happy outcome, even better. The second point I want to make is that I wanted to emphasise that it’s important not to see abortion as the do-all answer to bad planning or unfortunate life events. (Sorry, it’s hard to find words that everybody will appreciate). It’s my belief, from what I’ve read, and from women I’ve spoken to over the course of my life, that abortion can be used as a form of birth control. Not easily, but it’s that kind of mindset. My hope would be that all humans could learn, from an early age, about the value of life. Especially today when everything is disposable, I do think children need to learn to value their bodies, value their minds, and value all life, no matter how small or insignificant in the scheme of things.

  19. David, we do not believe that a father’s crime confers hereditary guilt. But the Catholic Church does not believe that there is such a thing as an innocent foetus. It believes that we are all conceived in original sin, which only baptism can remove.

    It also used to believe in hereditary deicide for people who were born Jews.

    A mid twentieth century pope actually cited original sin as a reason why a foetus’ life is more important than its mother’s. The mother will supposedly have been baptised and can go to Heaven. St Peter will not allow an unbaptized baby through the pearly gates.

    I’m afraid Catholic theology really is as primitive as this. Ditch it in favour of reason.

    Remember Savita was sacrificed on ‘principle’ even though the foetus could never have lived. And according to Catholic doctrine, Savita would not go to Heaven as she was a Hindu and had not been baptised.

    Remember an extreme anti-abortionist holds the position that a woman is not a real person even if they don’t admit it. Otherwise why do they oppose abortion even when a woman’s life is at stake and even when there is no viable foetus?

  20. David Lloyd Owen makes an interesting point that rape might be hereditary. I think there’s evidence for this in Fred West’s family and probably Jimmy Savile’s. But what is difficult to determine is if it is genetic or cultural.

    If the latter, there might be little to worry about as the rapist will presumably not be influencing his child directly. But remember Miss X, the 14 year old rape victim who was nearly forced to have a rapist’s child by the Irish Constitution in 1992. She said she would never be able to love the child or look it in the face.
    A child born in those circumstances will have problems even if it doesn’t have rapist genes.

    It seems to me that if truly devout religionists could force a little girl to have a rapist’s baby when she is immature both physically and mentally, they must be very cruel people. And how can cruelty be God’s will?

    Furthermore, statistically, it is a racing certainty that some of the priests and nuns who support the rights of unborn children have been involved in covering up the sexual abuse of born children. Their attitude to child welfare should not be arrogant as if they were experts on the subject. It would be more becoming if they displayed humility and contrition.

Comments are closed.

Also within Culture