Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 68(1) February 2018

Nine million too many. In defence of Abortion clinic Prayer Vigils.

Adrian Treloar FRCP, MRCGP, DRCOG, MRCPsych

October and November 2017 saw Ealing Council and then Portsmouth City Council passing resolutions which seek to establish Public Space Protection Orders around abortion clinics. This move has been driven by the concern of abortion clinic providers and also some patients who attend those clinics at the presence of prolife witnesses outside the clinics. In fact the prolife witnesses have been peaceful and it is important to note that there has not been violence or other disturbance. Police have never had recourse to make arrests or to charge anyone at such events. And yet there are many women who have been helped by those witnesses, and many who have turned back and later delighted in having kept their babies.

There is real concern about the way in which abortion clinics counsel women seeking abortion. In late 2016 the Care Quality Commission found that Marie Stopes “put women at risk by failing to adequately train staff and neglecting to obtain proper consent from patients, a watchdog report has revealed. Staff at Marie Stopes International (MSI) had “limited training” in resuscitation and clinicians were found to be “bulk-signing” forms authorising abortions, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) said[1]. Other services had already been suspended earlier that year. [2]

In late 2017 there was grave concern expressed that staff in Maidstone received performance related pay for assuring that women who entered the clinic did not leave until they had had an abortion. Even after women had stated that they did not want to proceed with the abortion, some were repeatedly rung by clinic staff to support them if they had a change of heart (or, as some might have thought, to “support” them into having a change of heart).[3]

Baby saved outside clinicIn that context the debate occurred both in Parliament and in Councils about the rights and wrongs of protests outside abortion clinics. In a truly shocking failure to be willing to hear the other viewpoint, Rupa Huq (the MP for Ealing) refused to meet women who say they were helped into keeping their babies by pro-life witnesses. It does appear that that level of determination not to listen to the voice of hope and the voice of the unborn child is deeply embedded in those who promote abortion.

Here we reproduce two of the most powerful submissions on the matter. The children born and the women who have suffered so much and been helped can speak for themselves.

My daughter wouldn't be alive today if MPs pushing buffer zones had their way.

This testimonial from “Kate” was read in Parliament on the 8th November 2017 in the wake of the claim by that pro-life groups outside abortion clinics "harass" women..

"I leapt out of the window"

"I never wanted to go through with an abortion but I felt a lot of pressure from people around me who offered it as a no brainer solution," the testimony began. "On the way into the clinic at the Marie Stopes clinic at Ealing I was offered a leaflet by a woman who I spoke to briefly. She just told me she was there if I needed her." Still not happy with being there for an abortion, Kate "leapt out of the ground floor window and cleared 3 fences to escape. I talked to the woman on the gate again, who offered any support I needed to keep my baby and this gave me the confidence to leave where I was supported by the group that this women worked with."

What would women like me do?

She didn't find any aggression from the pro-lifers outside the clinic, but was given help to keep her daughter. Her story ended with a powerful message to MPs:

"The potential introduction of buffer zones is a really bad idea because women like me, what would they do then? You know, not every woman that walks into those clinics actually wants to go through with the termination. There’s immense pressure, maybe they don’t have financial means to support themselves or their baby, or they feel like there’s no alternatives.

These people offer alternatives.

"I had my baby who is now three and a half years old. She’s an amazing, perfect little girl and the love of my life. I want MPs here today calling to introduce buffer zones to realise, that she would not be alive today, if they had their way."


The Abortion clinic told me nothing

In the debate at Portsmouth City Council, Caroline Farrow (a well-known Catholic blogger ) stood up to recount how when she became pregnant through rape twenty years ago, the abortion clinic offered her no other options.

"I was not informed about the basic facts of my procedure, such as the development of the foetus, that pills were given as a pessary, or that I could expect to experience a form of labour," she said. "If I'd been given this information or known about how an abortion can affect your mental health, especially during subsequent pregnancies...then I would have rethought. Had I been given the counselling services offered by those outside the clinic, it's likely I would have changed my mind. Had I been offered practical help such as accommodation, financial help to get me on my feet and retrain for a different career, or legal help to challenge my employer's discriminatory policies, then I may have rethought. In an age where choice is key I didn't choose to have an abortion, rather I went through with one because that was the only option available to me."

If I'd been given a real choice

"When I learnt of services like those offered by 40 Days for Life I was angry that these hadn't been made available when I needed them," she continued. "I was also angry at how I'd been misled and the reality of abortion glossed over by the clinic. Had I walked past people gently praying in public witness it may well have given me cause for thought...and then, instead of telling you about the baby I lost thanks to having no choice, I would be mother to a twenty year old. If you genuinely believe in choice for women, vote no today." 

Many other women have also told us that they have had similar experiences.

What do the prolife vigils actually do?

The motion was also ably opposed by Lisa Butler, head of the Portsmouth 40 Days for Life group. She countered many of the accusations made against the prayer vigil, and explained that the whole way of operating was designed around being approachable and non-judgemental to women in need.

Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, who runs the Birmingham 40 Days for Life campaign, presented evidence that it is often opposition pro-choice groups that create a climate of fear around vigils. She showed councillors video evidence of pro-abortion protesters harassing an elderly priest. A local resident also came forward to say that when she came across 40 Days for Life, she was struck by their true care for women and unborn children. 

Only one of the four public deputations, a representative for Hampshire Pro-Choice, supported the proposal. 

In parliament Paula Sheriff MP described "anti-choice protesters" as "reprehensible", and complained about Government money being given to Life to help vulnerable pregnant women. Diane Abbott, effectively accused the prayer vigils of criminal activity. She stated that the "guerrilla actions and threatening activity" of pro-life activists are modelled on tactics from America, where clinics have been closed "have been closed following demonstrations, attacks and even bombings."

Pro-Choice or infantophobia ?

The term Pro-choice is a positive term favoured by the pro-abortion lobby. But those who are pro-abortion are campaigning to remove the voice that defends unborn children from society [1][4]. In the end the greatest victims of abortion are the dead children that result from it. They are denied life. And the desire to enable that killing, the performance management of workers in abortion clinics and the repeated stories of poor care in abortion services all suggest that there is a real problem. To be pro–abortion is to want the killing of children. Infanto-phobia may be a better term.

Peaceful protests, peaceful support

We should be willing to acknowledge the many children whose lives have been saved by these prayer vigils.

Given the accusations of infant-phobic speakers, it seems important to record clearly and unambiguously that pro-life vigils in this country have been peaceful, compassionate and shown real care for women who are choosing abortion.

We should also acknowledge the many women whose lives have been transformed by having received the opportunity to turn back from having an abortion.

Nick Hurd, the minister for policing also confirmed that "the police recently assessed that pro-life demonstrations do not ordinarily result in crime or disorder, and it is rare that police intervention has been called for." He also stated that the Government believes that existing police powers are sufficient to protect people against harassment. Mr Hurd also stated that pro-life groups deny intimidation, and said such claims that Pro-life groups are intimidating were "a million miles away" from his experience of talking to pro-life constituents, who presented the arguments "with great calmness and dignity".

While some (and especially perhaps those who provide, and receive income from, abortion services) are clearly upset by the reality of opposition to abortion, we should be willing to acknowledge the many children whose lives have been saved by these prayer vigils. We should also acknowledge the many women whose lives have been transformed by having received the opportunity to turn back from having an abortion.

Nine million too many

Nine million abortions is nine million too many. Every single one of those nine million has involved doctors and nurses. The 1967 Act should be repealed.


We are indebted to SPUC news for substantial parts of the source material for this item.

  1. Marie Stopes UK abortion clinics put women at risk, says CQC. Guardian newspaper. 21st December 2016
  2. Marie Stopes suspends some abortion services over safety issues. Sarah Boseley Guardian newspaper 19 Aug 2016
  3. Borland S (2017) One of Britain's largest abortion providers 'paid its staff bonuses for encouraging women to go through with procedures' claims watchdog in damning report. 19th Oct 2017.
  4. Treloar A, (2016) Debating conscience with the Pro-abortion movement at University College London. Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 66(2) May 2016.