Friday, August 05, 2005

Jasper Gerard, how many prolifers have you met?!

A year ago, in a flurry of articles about abortion in reaction to the news that abortion was going to be shown on TV by Channel 4, in a moving article expressing his own growing discomfort with abortion, (which I intend to expand on elsewhere) Times columnist Jasper Gerard wrote:

"If the law is ever to be revised, antis need a more likeable spokesman. Many display the warm understanding of the Rev Ian Paisley. Jepson would be perfect but she might need to lose the dog collar: the British like their debates rational, not religious."

It is a pity that in an article that was otherwise sensitive to the seriousness of the issue of abortion, Jasper Gerard reduces the issue to the issue of personality. To say that the prolife case is based on a religious view is a massive presumption, when in fact the opposite is true. The prolife case is explicitly not religious and based on rational argument and evidence based on the biological development of a child, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the physical reality of abortion.

No one needs celebrity endorsement to assess the issue of abortion. The facts of abortion as another Times columnist put it "scream to be debated". The truth of abortion eclipses whoever is speaking. I was interviewed briefly in the documentary "My Foetus". No one was interested in me. I have seen people walk past demonstrations using abortion images and their faces reflect gravity and shock, they are certainly not interested in something as trivial as the clothes worn by the spokesperson.

But even if it was about the spokesperson rather than the issue, the caricature Jasper Gerard refers to is not one that I recognise. The prolifers I know are doctors, nurses, teachers, students, solicitors, vets, computer programmers, pilots, tax consultants, accountants, artists, university lecturers, charity workers, journalists and political campaigners, to name just a few. In other words, an incredibly diverse group in terms of age, profession, temperament, political affiliation, interests and personality, some with religious belief and some with none. The issue is just basically about humanity and anyone with humanity can respond. As for the emotional warmth Jasper Gerard refers to, it is inescapably the case that if you believe what we do about abortion than your heart must go out to any woman affected by abortion.

If the media's impression of prolifers is skewed than whose fault is that? When has the media ever covered Student LifeNet, the network of prolife students in universities, which doesn't in the least resemble Jasper Gerard's caricature? Student LifeNet actively campaigns for better support for pregnant students, issues press releases which are expert and relevant, and a few years ago, when I was involved, donned Tony Blair masks to campaign against cloning (the sight of 15 grinning Tony's Clonies were simply irresistable, and appeared on news bulletins and even on Have I Got News For You) . It is perhaps understandable that the media as a whole isn't that fascinated in student news, but The Times has its own survey of Generation X, and Newsnight's recent student house gave huge publicity to a few students. The media is missing out on much more interesting news. It is more than tuition fees that affect students.

And then there is the ProLife Alliance which fielded candidates first in the 1997 election and again in 2001, and in the European elections in 2004. Even forgetting the democratic imperative for proper reporting and vigorous debate at election time, which should have guaranteed the ProLife Alliance fair coverage, the media were looking for a way to make the election more interesting and had a goldmine in the ProLife Alliance candidates - ordinary people inspired to stand for something they believed in, speaking from the heart, without the cushy support of a mainstream party machine.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I take your point Fiona and agree that stereotypes about pro-lifers are often just that. However I would say that pro-lifers (in the sense of activists as opposed to people opposed to abortion who are a much broader group_ do have a genunine problem reachign out a certian group- the overwhelming majority of active pro-lifers as far as I can see are
a) normally Catholics from the (theologically) conservative wing of that church and

b) if not tend to be conservative Protestants and/or more liberal Catholics - very few indeed outside those
two groups

this strikes me as a real problem-the American pro-life movment which whatever it's problems in terms of achievement has been much more sucessfull in movementbuidling managed to break out of the ghetto of the first (in a much more CAtholic country) the British to me doesnt' seem to show much sign of yet of doing so.


11:38 AM  
Blogger Fiona said...

Thanks for your post. Yes I think it is a pity that people recite this stereotype in an uncritical way.

I would argue that is is not based on an accurate reflection of the open and enthusiastic recruitment practices of the groups I mention (we welcome anyone who upholds the protection of life), or of the simple humanity that is the inspiring and ironically enough, totally non-controversial basis of the prolife cause.

The reality is that the wider public are moved by abortion because of the humanity of the baby.

I would strongly urge anyone who believes in these issues to become a member and to urge their friends and acquaintances to join. After all, the protection of tiny or frail human beings is a principle everyone in society can enthusiastically share. It is hardly logically the prerogative of any group!

1:38 PM  
Anonymous Colin Beveridge said...

Yeah I don't think it's true, most of the prolifers I know are not even religious let alone hardcore conservatives, though I agree these folks are not too helpful at convincing anyone when they pop up in the limelight. The common-sense prolifers are still mostly a bit passive and could be more active.

2:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In fairness to what Fiona said I would add that I think certian pro-life groups in the UK have this problem more than others.And it is something of a self perpetating problem. I do accept it's not delibarate-and often groups struggle to overcome it.

Having said all that I do think it's a genuine problem and partly self-perpetuated not deliberately but in terms of the kind of people who turn up, the kind of things that are said, the kind of people they mix with and recruit ect ect

Whatever the cause I think it's a real probllem that needs to be dealt with


7:48 PM  
Blogger Fiona said...

thanks for your message. Please can you email me on my personal email address and we can discuss further. I have some ideas that I hope you might be interested in.

best wishes

1:21 AM  

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