Oxford Students for Life

Promoting a culture of life in the University and beyond

Tips for Being Pro-Life Online

Being publicly pro-life can be tough – especially on the Internet. As someone who has posted op-eds I’ve written about pro-life issues, pictures of me and my friends at the March for Life in Washington, DC, and most of the undercover videos published by the Center for Medical Progress last summer, I have taken my share of public abuse on social media for my pro-life views. These are plain for all to see. But what people don’t see when they look at my page are the tens of productive discussions my posts have led to, offline. I’ve received just as many notes thanking me for my posts and the encouragement they give to those afraid to speak up about their pro-life positions. These posts have also led to in-depth and in-person conversations in which people who had never considered the issue before take one step closer to being pro-life. For every note I’ve received, I hope there are dozens more who have thought about the issue more seriously because they have seen my Facebook page. This makes the ridicule and conflict I often face eminently worthwhile.

Though I have by no means mastered the art of being a pro-life social media warrior, I will offer five tips from my experience about how to have more productive conversations about pro-life issues on social media platforms.

  1. Remember your audience.

If you’re American, fifty percent of your contacts are likely to be pro-choice. If you’re English, it’s more like ninety percent. Notwithstanding the tendency we have to befriend people of similar views, many if not most of the people seeing your posts are likely to disagree with you. When you write something, do so with the image of walking on a stage and speaking to 1,000 of your closest friends through a microphone (half of whom are booing you), not like you’re sitting in your parents’ basement alone with a laptop. That will help you manage the tone of your message and double-check the accuracy of your claims.

  1. Have a “hook.”

It’s helpful to anchor your comments by referring to current events instead of posting out of the blue. This increases the likelihood that someone will pay attention to your post when scrolling through their newsfeed. Plus, if your comments are timely and relevant, it won’t feel like you’re just moralizing your Facebook friends. People hate that.

  1. Back up your claims.

When you do post an article, be sure that it comes from a reliable source. This can be difficult to do in a media climate that is so blatantly pro-choice, but it’s worth the effort to add some authority to your claims. The facts surrounding such a controversial issue will always be matters of debate. However, you need to have a plausible explanation for your opinion, lest you be dismissed offhand.

  1. Watch your tone.

The pro-life message is a positive one: we appreciate the beauty and significance of every human life. Our tone must reflect that, and our pro-life social media presence can’t be limited to posting images of aborted fetuses (although such a strategy has a time and place). We lose when we do that because our tone becomes angry, negative, and off-putting. All the pro-choice side needs to do is find a famous actress to speak about the importance of abortion as a women’s rights cause. When it looks like pro-choicers are promoting a tangible good and pro-lifers are fighting against it, we have lost in the court of public opinion. So in addition to highlighting the horror of abortion, we have to post twice as much about the positive pro-life work that’s happening, not just for the unborn, but also for the elderly. A picture with a grandparent or baby, a link to a group facilitating adoption, a calendar of events at the local convalescent home — these are all subtle messages that will (hopefully) not provoke a big fight, but will celebrate every human life.

  1. Manage the comments.

When you are going to post something controversial, plan ahead. Choose your timing carefully so that you have a day on which you can manage the comments. Even if you post a coherent, factually proven point, your efforts will have the opposite effect you intend if there are a bunch of unanswered comments beneath it. It is best to arrange for a handful of people to keep an eye on the post and can come to your aid when necessary so you aren’t overwhelmed and it doesn’t look like you’re the only one of your friends with pro-life views. Furthermore, in managing the comments, remember that it is your page. You can choose the content of the discussion, and delete comments that are accusatory, irrelevant, or rude. Finally, don’t allow someone to bait you into saying anything that could be taken out of context later. Even if you delete content on Facebook, it is out there forever.

Social media is an important tool for promoting the pro-life cause in our generation. Its strength lies in its ability to reach a lot of people at once, many of whom may not have thought one way or another about the issue. Unfortunately, the breadth of reach often corresponds with a lack of depth. In a personal conversation about pro-life issues, you’re unlikely to change someone’s view completely — much less so on social media. You can’t expect a post or comment war to change someone’s heart. After all, the pro-life battle is one about hearts more than minds — no argument can prove beyond dispute that human life is worth living and protecting, even in the most difficult circumstances. People need to see this and internalize it for themselves. Our witness, in our daily lives and on social media, can help get them there, one step and one post at a time.

Aurora Griffin is a Rhodes Scholar from California

Pro-Life and Socialist

This article begins our first series of the new year, “Pro-Life and Political”, in which several writers will explain how their different political opinions shape their pro-life views. 

When I was asked to contribute a piece to this blog on being pro-life and socialist, I hesitated a little. Not because I didn’t like the idea of writing for Oxford Students for Life, quite the contrary! No, I hesitated because I have never associated my pro-life stance as being in any way linked to my self-proclaimed political position as a socialist. My anti-abortion thinking goes much more naturally with my faith as a Christian.

Some weeks later, I can sort of see why I was asked to bring these two sides together in a blog post.

Being pro-life is typically associated with right-wing, conservative thinking. That means politicians in the United States that go on about how everyone should have the right to have their own gun are often the same people that talk about the right an unborn foetus has to life.

Strange, really.

The right-wing of the political spectrum is usually the side that prizes individualism, choice, and self-determination. It’s typically the left end of the spectrum, where socialist ideologies sit, that presses for equality, looking after the most vulnerable in society, and giving a voice to the voiceless.

If we think about it, being pro-life actually fits much more comfortably into the socialist end of the political spectrum than it does into the right wing. That’s probably why 46% of Labour supporters in the UK, in comparison with 40% of Conservative voters (and 38% of UKIP voters), think the unborn child ought to have some sort of “legal protection of its own”, according to a recent poll.

Why do I think that “pro-life” is the right-shaped piece to fit in the socialist jigsaw puzzle?

It goes hand-in-hand with equality.

Upholding the value of human life is in no way at odds with advocating equality. In fact, the two are rather comfortable bedfellows. The thinking which governs calls for equality is that each and every person is of equal value and should be treated as so, regardless of their race, gender, religion and so on. This is the same thinking which is behind those that back the foetus’ right to life: every person should be treated with dignity, respect and with value.

After all, this is a human right. The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights underscores the ‘recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family’ as ‘the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world’.

Article 3 of this same document – the foundation of international human rights law – decrees: ‘Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.’ Another clause reads: ‘Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.’ These are the ground rules that govern the socialist rhetoric, which emphasises social solidarity and justice for all.

So why do people tend to disregard the unborn infant’s ‘inherent dignity’ as ‘a member of the human family’ and its ‘right to life, liberty and security of person’, as well as its ‘right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law’? Why, especially, should the school of thought that usually shouts the loudest for these rights for all people, suddenly abandon this thinking when it comes to the topic of abortion – shouting instead for the woman’s right to “choose” (ignoring the child’s right to live) and her right to go about her life without “the burden” of a baby?

It may not seem evident at first but in addition to being incompatible with the full recognition of human rights, abortion also has telling repercussions on the position of women in society.

The rhetoric of the self-styled ‘pro-choice’ camp fixates more than anything else on a woman having the right to choose whether or not she wants to have an abortion. But is it really a choice for that many women? Some of the top reasons that come up as having driven women to go through an abortion include fear that pregnancy and rearing a child will inhibit their career goals and the fear of not having enough finances to support a child.

I think we should be concerned about these concerns. Or what do you think: should we not be worried when women feel that the only way that they can get ahead in life and succeed in their careers is by ending their own children’s lives? The fact that so many women feel they must stop the pulse of the very lives breathing inside them shows that we have a long way to go in making women feel equal to men. For why should a woman’s unique and immensurable capacity to bring life into the world be something that she becomes ashamed of? Why should a child change from being a “gift” to being a “burden”?

And does it not say something about the inequality of our society when a mother feels that it is out of her reach to provide the monetary means for her child to live in this world?

Being pro-life and socialist actually shouldn’t be seen as a paradox at all. Being a socialist means desiring equality for all, looking out for the needs of the most vulnerable, and giving voice to the voiceless. Being pro-life means counting the unborn child as worthy of having rights – and that to life is the most important of them all. Being pro-life also signals a grasp of the reality that the foetus is a mute and defenceless human being who needs our voices and our law to protect it.

Ruth Akinradewo is a student at the University of Oxford and posts on her own blog, ‘The Change Channel’

A look back at one of the biggest pro-life moments this year

Earlier this year, a slew of undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood employees discussing the sale of fetal tissue made for a PR nightmare for the largest abortion provider in the United States. Conducted by a group called the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the undercover investigation suggested that Planned Parenthood had illegally profited from the sale of fetal body parts, and that abortion providers may even be modifying abortion procedures in order to obtain desirable tissue.

The videos added fuel to the raging debate in the U.S. over abortion. They made people ask whether Planned Parenthood, which bills itself as a non-profit providing millions of women access to affordable health care, deserves the half a billion dollars it receives from the federal government each year, in addition to state funding.

Staunch Planned Parenthood supporters decried the undercover investigation, arguing that the videos were selectively edited (one investigation alleged they were, while two others showed they weren’t); that fetal tissue is essential to medical advances (it’s rarely used); and that Planned Parenthood is a critical health care provider for women (more on this later).

It wasn’t the first time that undercover videos have suggested wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood, including covering up child sex trafficking and accepting donations earmarked to abort racial minorities. Previously, Planned Parenthood brushed off such scandals, firing implicated employees but otherwise continuing business as usual. Mainstream media ignored the stories, few people outside the pro-life movement reacted, and calls for investigations fizzled.

But something was different this time: CMP’s videos struck a nerve. While denying any wrongdoing, Planned Parenthood hired a fancy PR firm to do damage control, even pretending at one point that its website had been hacked in order to garner donations. Early in the scandal, president Cecile Richards apologized for one of her employees’ callousness of tone as she discussed fetal dismemberment while munching on a salad and sipping wine – although since then, Richards has gone on the offensive, calling for supporters to rally around the organization.

Planned Parenthood had good reason to be worried. Pro-lifers were galvanized: people came out of the woodwork to participate in nationwide protests and to become more active in the pro-life movement, and six states  discontinued funding for Planned Parenthood. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a measure defunding the organization, though it was later defeated in the Senate. Even members of the European Union Parliament demanded investigations and defunding of the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

More interesting, however, was that despite media bias, even some who identify as pro-choice became uneasy and reconsidered their stance on abortion, as one writer describes:For those of us who are pro-choice, the Planned Parenthood videos are a game changer.” Others worry that Planned Parenthood’s alleged modification of abortion procedures to obtain intact fetal parts puts women at risk.

Further, Planned Parenthood’s approval rating  dropped among those who have seen the videos, continuing a downward trend in approval, from 81 percent in 1993 to 59 percent in 2015.  

Planned Parenthood and its supporters have tried to deflect the controversy over abortion by arguing that defunding the organization would leave millions of women without access to affordable health care, including well-woman exams, mammograms, and STD testing, as well as contraception. For instance, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) asserted that Planned Parenthood is the sole source of health care for one-third of U.S. women – 36 to 39 million individuals. But this is patently false; only 2.7 million women and men visit the organization every year. Planned Parenthood had also claimed to provide mammograms and that abortions comprised only a small percentage of their services. When Cecile Richards was called to testify under oath before Congress, however, she admitted that Planned Parenthood does not provide mammograms but only referrals, and that abortions account for 86% of revenue.

As pro-life advocates and community health experts have pointed out, for every Planned Parenthood facility there are a dozen community health centers that provide all the same services, including contraception, but do not perform abortions. These federally funded health centers serve as a one-stop shop for 23 million women, (and men, and children) for comprehensive health care, not just reproductive issues. There’s even a new interactive map of all the places that women can find affordable health care, and it includes providers one wouldn’t initially think of, such as schools and homeless shelters. Planned Parenthood has framed the discussion in such a way that support for defunding the organization pits one against women’s health, yet clearly, it’s possible to provide women with quality health care without America’s largest abortion provider. Accordingly, the House’s bill defunding Planned Parenthood contained a provision redirecting funding to community health centers.

Planned Parenthood ended up announcing that it will no longer accept any kind of reimbursement for fetal tissue. One might be cynical and say that this allows the organization to continue to perform abortions while putting to rest the question of whether it made money from selling fetal parts. But the reaction from people who were upset by the sale of fetal body parts, including many of those who were pro-choice, underscores the recognition, implicit or explicit, of the humanity of the fetus. After all, despite Planned Parenthood’s attempts to dehumanize the unborn person, the use of fetal parts for human research affirms the fact that the fetus is not a nebulous blob of tissue, but a member of the human species.

Planned Parenthood has big money, passionate supporters, and political clout, often making it impervious to oversight. But the organization’s response to the scandal – the apology for tone and its ceasing of taking any kind of reimbursement for fetal tissue – indicates wariness on its part that the general public is growing increasingly skeptical that Planned Parenthood deserves their trust.

 

Audra Nakas was a visiting student at Christ Church in Hilary 2013. She is a fellow with Ethika Politika.

The Argument that Made Me Pro-Life

During my first month of my first year at university I was assigned to read Judith Jarvis Thompson’s A Defense of Abortion for an introductory Philosophy course. I found Thompson’s famous violinist analogy intriguing – it was accessible, creative, and challenging. In contrast, the piece I was assigned that argued against abortion’s permissibility was unimpressive and forgettable (in fact, I can no longer recall its name). Thompson’s piece engaged my imagination, in part because it reinforced the view of abortion that I had at the time – surely a woman should have control over her own body. As a physician-in-training, though, I knew carrying out abortions was something I would never feel comfortable doing myself.

My fundamental moral inclination was against abortion but I had never heard a compelling argument made on non-religious grounds, and thus my orientation as something of an ungrounded inclination. I did not think that the pro-life position was something one could reasonably contend for in the terms of Rawlsian public reason, in part because I had never heard it done. I remember vividly where and with whom I was sitting when I realized my error

I was now in my second year of university and was sitting in the basement of our student center with a PhD student friend. As it often was, our lunch was accompanied by the discussion of weighty topics, and I was explaining to him that while I would never do an abortion or encourage a friend to have one, I knew of no compelling argument that could be leveraged against the pro-choice position broadly or Thompson’s argument in particular. My friend first engaged Thompson- pointing to the completely absent assumption of risk in the analogy, and thus to an important dissimilarity between the case of the violinist and most cases of unwanted pregnancy.

Whether or not there was a hole in Thompson’s case, I pressed, the pro-life side didn’t have much of an argument. “Sure they do,” he remarked. He asked me if I thought that I had a right to life (a right not to be killed). My nod indicated my assent. “What about when you were 5?” Again, my nod was sufficient. “And a newborn?” He pressed back further, asking me what had really changed about me as I passed through the birth canal. He continued to press back to the second trimester and then to the first, and eventually all the way to my conception – which he claimed was the only non-arbitrary point – the point at which I began to exist. He began with my assent to the idea that human beings have a right to life and made what was ultimately a biological argument – and one echoed by Robert George and Christopher Tollefsen in their recent book Embryo: A Defense of Human Life – that human life begins at the point of conception.

Now, as a philosopher I have spent a good deal of time engaging with the arguments that would maintain that I began to exist when I developed consciousness or certain capacities of reason, but I have found them to be ultimately unconvincing. It is important that what compelled me is the bedrock of the pro-life case – that a new human being begins its life at conception. This is fundamentally a biological argument and is in-line with what we see in all of the major biology textbooks. Attempts to ground human worth in anything other than simply being human continue to be made – and pro-life philosophers (Christopher Kaczor among others) have responded in kind.

 

Mike Hawking was a member of the OSFL committee in 2014-2015 while completing a degree in medical ethics. 

5 Points of Controversy from Monday’s Debate

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Last Monday, November 9th, a panel of four experts – Dr. Peter Saunders, Dr. Kevin Yuill, Dr. Richard Scheffer, and Dr. Jacky Davis – came together to debate the motion ‘This House opposes the legalisation of assisted suicide’. After a forty-five minute exchange, the panel opened up for questions, most of which addressed specific claims repeated by each side throughout the debate. Both the proposition and the opposition relied on several key points to make their cases; here, we take a look at the ones that proved the stickiest.

‘Assisted dying isn’t suicide’

Dr. Scheffer began his opening remarks with this punchy assertion. ‘Nobody’, he claimed, ‘wants to die’. Unlike those who commit suicide, he argued, those who choose assisted dying don’t want to die, but are already dying and simply want to avoid a highly painful or undignified death. Dr. Davis affirmed this in her speech as well; the pair emphasised that assisted suicide ought to be considered a vital part of palliative care for the dying, and is not for the suicidal.

But this is controversial. After all, an audience member asked, what about nihilists? Why is the desire to live a criterion for being able to ask a doctor to help you die? And how is it possible to argue that those asking for legal drugs, to take themselves, don’t want to die? If assisted dying isn’t suicide, there’s very little that seems to distinguish the two; fundamentally, both are caused, at least in part, by a desire to end one’s own life. And after some grumbling, Drs. Scheffer and Davis admitted that this is true; at the very least, those who ask for assisted dying have formed a will to die by the time they actually do so.

‘Assisted dying laws undermine moral equality’

Dr. Yuill’s arguments hinged on this claim. Assisted dying laws, no matter how well-worded and safeguarded they may be, ultimately create two moral classes of people in society; those whose lives are worth protecting, and those whose lives are not. A terminal diagnosis and six-month prognosis, he argued, are just arbitrary criteria, which can be changed or thrown out once it becomes permissible to say that person A may not be given lethal drugs, but person B may. Those who wish to die may not believe their lives have value, but it is the duty of the law to afford every life value, and equal value at that. The opposition didn’t counter this point directly, but instead argued that assisted dying is about freedom, not equality.

‘It’s working in Oregon’

In the final round of questions, Dr. Saunders remarked that ‘it’s pretty clear we have different ideas about what’s going on in Oregon’. Oregon came up frequently in the debate, as assisted dying bills in the UK have been largely modelled off of Oregon’s assisted suicide laws. The opposition cited Oregon’s law as a perfect example of a restricted, safe, functional assisted dying law. The proposition, on the other hand, pointed out that only a fraction of those who die by assisted suicide in Oregon actually underwent the psychological evaluations that candidates for assisted dying are supposed to receive, showing that the safeguards aren’t really that effective. Moreover, they pointed out, in Oregon, health insurance for low-income people covers assisted dying, but doesn’t cover many forms of palliative care. It can be more expensive to keep someone alive than it is to kill them; Oregon is a sad example of this.

‘Assisted dying undermines and threatens the vulnerable’

Dr. Davis rejected outright the claim that assisted dying undermines vulnerable people. She cited an instance in which her patient came to her, saying she’d been told to oppose the law because it threatened ‘vulnerable people’, but she didn’t know who those people were supposed to be. The vagueness here is worth clarifying, which the proposition could have done more of. Still, they pointed out that in places where assisted dying is legal, the elderly, frail, lonely, and depressed often feel increased pressure to consider physician-assisted suicide, because a previously unthinkable option is suddenly on the table. Though many of those who would be in this position are, sadly, on the fringes of society, many have come forward to oppose assisted suicide; some of the strongest opposition to a change in the law has come from disability advocacy groups.

‘The law would be restricted, and safe’

Time and time again, proponents of assisted dying have emphasised that any change in the law in the UK would be heavily safeguarded, and that therefore a ‘slippery slope’ argument just doesn’t work. Drs. Scheffer and Davis both repeated this point. But the proposition responded that despite good intentions, advocates for legal assisted dying can’t deny that safeguards have failed in many places, and that once the law is changed, there’s no guaranteeing its application. While the law may have safeguards and restrictions, once the door to legal physician-assisted suicide is opened, there’s simply no way to make sure it’s not abused. Are we willing to risk it?

 

The audience wasn’t – a final vote passed the motion by a significant margin. While both sides made clear and strong points, the opposition couldn’t persuade those listening that any good assisted dying laws could do wouldn’t be outweighed by the tremendous risk we would take in passing them. Though both sides emphasised compassion and mercy for the dying, the proposition made a powerful case that legal assisted suicide would be a threat to public safety. The push for assisted dying isn’t a solution to our problems; it’s a symptom of them.

 

For those who want to learn how to defend the pro-life position against assisted suicide, come along to Hertford on Monday for an apologetics workshop. More details here and here.

Event Preview: “This House Opposes the Legalisation of Assisted Suicide”

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Legal assisted suicide, as proposed by the Marris Bill, was rejected by the House of Commons earlier this year after considerable media attention and public debate. 330 MPs voted against the bill, with only 118 in favour, in the first vote on the issue in nearly twenty years.

The Suicide Act of 1961 currently makes it an offence to encourage or assist a suicide or suicide attempt in England and Wales. Anyone found to have done so may face up to 14 years in prison. Many in the medical profession oppose the legalisation of assisted suicide, believing it would result in a transformation in healing ethic of their work, and that it must remain illegal ‘for the integrity of these professions and the public good’.

Many people, on both sides of the assisted dying debate, are motivated by compassion. But is it right to ask doctors to help end the lives of those they serve? In response to the Marris Bill’s defeat, Dr Peter Saunders said the law ‘protects those who have no voice against exploitation and coercion; it acts as a powerful deterrent to would-be abusers and does not need changing.’

What do you think? Want to know more about it?

Come along to Christ Church on Monday at 7:30, for what will be an interesting debate on the issue by four excellent speakers.

Proposing the motion will be Dr Kevin Yuill, senior lecturer in Culture at the University of Sunderland and author of ‘Assisted Suicide: The Liberal, Humanist Case Against Legalization’. He will be joined by Dr Peter Saunders, campaign director of ‘Care Not Killing’, former general surgeon, and chief executive of the Christian Medical Fellowship.

Opposing the motion will be Dr Richard Scheffer, a palliative care doctor, former hospice director, trustee for Compassion in Dying, member of Health Professionals for Assisted Dying and a board member for Dignity in Dying. He will be joined by Dr Jacky Davis, who is a consultant radiologist, co-chair of the NHS Consultants’ Association, executive member of the National Health Action party and a member of the National Health Action party.

Stay after the debate to have a drink and for a chance to meet the speakers!

Amnesty International is wrong about the Eighth Amendment

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Liam Neeson recently recorded a voiceover for an Amnesty International video calling for abortion to be legalised in Ireland. As the camera pans over the ruins of a Catholic church, Neeson talks about a “ghost of the last century” that still “haunts this land”, bringing “suffering and even death to the women it touches.” That ghost is the Eighth Amendment to Ireland’s constitution, in which the state recognises the right to life of the unborn, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother.

Neeson is one of Ireland’s great actors, but this isn’t his finest piece. As a piece of pro-choice advocacy, the video fails. (It’s been viewed over 90,000 times on Youtube, but has a thumbs-down to thumbs-up ratio of more than 3 to 1 – my impression is that most pro-choice people in Ireland are vaguely embarrassed by it). But its existence makes perfect sense. Those who want the Eighth Amendment repealed are committed to the story it tells: that the Eighth is a part of old, bad, Catholic Ireland, a place where women’s health is put at risk in the name of dogma, and we’ll only be a truly modern, progressive country when we get rid of it.

That story is so important to tell because the truth could hardly be more different. The reason campaigners for repeal are trying to make the debate about “ghosts of the last century” is that Ireland proves that it’s more than possible to be a modern, egalitarian democracy with world-leading maternal healthcare, all without abortion. It’s the embodied contradiction to the horror stories told by pro-choice campaigners around the world about what a country with pro-life laws would actually be like.

Ireland passed the Eighth Amendment in 1983, which ensured that abortion remained effectively illegal in Ireland until 2013. After a 1992 Supreme Court ruling interpreting the Eighth’s “due regard” clause to allow abortion when a woman is judged to be at risk of suicide, the Irish Medical Council cited the lack of medical evidence that abortion ever reduced suicide risk, and continued to define direct abortion in all cases as medical malpractice while making it clear that withholding necessary medical treatment from a pregnant woman would also get a doctor struck off the medical register. Did this policy lead to disaster for women’s health?

It lead to Ireland achieving one of the lowest maternal death rates in the world in 2010. That rate has recently increased to the same level as France’s, but it’s still lower than the UK’s. Every preventable death is a tragedy, but the idea that the Eighth Amendment is bringing “suffering and even death” to women just isn’t true.

The debate over the 2013 legislation that legalised abortion on the grounds of suicide gained a lot of its momentum from a cynical exploitation of the tragic death of an Indian woman named Savita Halappanavar in an Irish hospital.

Three separate inquiries have since concluded Savita Halappanavar died of sepsis mismanagement, a problem that’s on the rise in hospitals in both Ireland and the UK  (there’s no space here to get into the details of the case: but Wikipedia’s page is unusually good), but that didn’t stop most of the Irish media running with a story about repressive Irish abortion laws leading to the death of a young woman (the story was leaked to pro-choice groups a few days before it as first published in the Irish Times.

Nor did the fact that her death had nothing to do with suicide make a difference: in the end, what mattered was the narrative – the same narrative that features in the Amnesty video calling for constitutional change.

Those who want to repeal the Eighth amendment are focusing our attention on the hard cases – and they are hard: because there are some situations in which there is no way to avoid suffering and heartbreak. When a baby won’t live long outside the womb, there’s nothing that can take away that grief.

But I know some of these hard cases: cases like that of Baby Liam Óg, who lived for nine weeks, three days and forty minutes after birth, and during that period received so much love from his parents Anne and Liam, his older sister Eileen, and the wider network of family and friends whose lives he touched.

Ireland’s abortion law wasn’t needed to save baby Liam’s life – but it did something else, something crucial. It recognised his dignity and his equality: it stood as a testament to the fact that this child’s nine weeks, three days and forty minutes outside his mother’s womb, as well as the 9 months he lived before he was born, were every bit as worth living, every bit as valuable, as the life of any other person.

Making Liam Óg’s short life shorter would not have helped him – and it would not have helped his parents Anne and Liam. When I speak to families who have continued with pregnancies where there child has a terminal condition, I hear about healing, about closure, about peace. The pain and grief doesn’t go away: of course it doesn’t. But it is not the whole story.

Orla O’Connell is a midwife working in Cork University Hospital who specialises in caring for families suffering going through pregnancy loss. Some of the things families have told her about having their babies:

“It was unbelievably painful but the most healing experience imaginable”.

“Having Timothy has made me a better person, he gave me the gift of understanding what life is about, what I am about and living in the present.”

““The media campaign for termination of pregnancy made me feel like I had something to hide”.

“If abortions had been legal in Ireland I would have done it so I am glad it wasn’t.”

People who want to relieve the suffering of families in this situation by legalising abortion are motivated by genuine compassion. But their solution is the wrong one. There is a better path. There are as many better paths as there are children.

Opening those paths for women and families who feel that every way is closed off is the most important work of the pro-life movement in Ireland. We are not defending the status quo – far from it. The Eighth amendment was only ever a first step: necessary but not sufficient. We, like Amnesty International, think that the more than 4000 terrible journeys that Irish women make to the UK every year to have abortions are a disgrace. The difference is is that we want to address the reasons that women feel they have to make the journeys.

Amnesty would seem to be satisfied with making the journeys shorter, and bringing the clinics where so many women talk about being treated coldly and inhumanly to Ireland.

The Irish pro-choice movement used to be interested in reducing abortion: a conference in the 1998, 5000 Too Many, brought together some of the leading figures in pro-life and pro-choice movements who wanted to co-operate to bring that number down. Since that time, the Irish abortion rate, then the lowest in Europe, has decreased even further.

But now the movement to repeal the Eighth is lead by people like Senator Ivana Bacik, who stood up at that conference to protest its existence, saying that there was no right or wrong number of abortions. Presumably, the more than 16,000 abortions a year that would happen if Ireland’s abortion rate matched the UK’s would be, to her, no loss.

As pressure builds for repeal, the Irish pro-life movement will need to pursue a two-part strategy: a strong defence of the equal right to life that the Eighth Amendment recognises, and a big, broad, progressive campaign against all the things that prevent that right being vindicated. Sexism and family-unfriendly workplace policies; stigma and lack of support for student parents; prejudice against people with disabilities and economic injustice. All these are obstacles to the true abolition of abortion in Ireland, and while they still exist pro-lifers will always have a mission.

But it’s a mission that our constitution and our laws still recognise as a good one, and a mission that is both inspired and aided by the Eighth Amendment’s clear and unambiguous affirmation that all human beings are truly equal. I’m hardly the world’s most patriotic person, but the existence of the Eighth amendment has always made me quietly proud of my country.

Ben Conroy is studying PPE at St John’s College. He’s worked as a freelance journalist and has been published in newspapers such as The Irish Times and The Irish Catholic. He also blogs for Patheos.

5 things we learned from Philippa Taylor’s talk on foetal disability

This Monday Philippa Taylor addressed OSFL in its first event of the term on ‘Should foetal disability be a ground for abortion?’ Philippa addressed different aspects of the current UK law on abortion and disability, as well as looking at what society can do to improve the experiences of those who learn that the child in their womb may have a serious disability. She engaged us all in a vital conversation we otherwise might not have considered and here are 5 things we learned:

  1. The law is ambiguous

-Ground D of the Abortion Act 1967 permits abortion up until birth in such situations where ‘there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.’ The law however is no more specific over what “substantial risk” or “seriously handicapped” actually mean, leaving room for dangerous ambiguity. Doctors widely disagree on the specifics, largely because pre-natal diagnoses are often extremely unreliable. As Philippa pointed out, it has led to cases of abortion being justified for a cleft lip or clubfoot.

  1. The question over disability is similar to sex-selective abortion

-Philippa pointed out the fact that allowing abortion up until birth for disability can logically be compared to making abortion legal on the grounds of sex-selection (which is of course illegal in this country). At the heart of both situations is the question over whether some lives are more worth living, and rightly our society attempts to legislate against this sort of discrimination. However, since it would be natural to oppose a clause allowing for abortion on the grounds of sex as discriminatory, surely the same is also true of the current law allowing for abortion on the grounds of disability. Whilst it’s important to recognise that the two are practically very different, it is an interesting comparison worth considering.

  1. Whatever the law, numerous difficult issues will always arise

-An important point to realise when discussing a sensitive issue of this sort is that, whatever the law, disability will always exist inside and outside of the womb, and the law can’t legislate suffering away. Philippa reminded us to focus on what sort of society we want to create. Her answer:

  1. Society should treat those it can, and care for those it can’t

-Whilst making this point, Philippa acknowledged that there still remains the very difficult instance of rare cases, where children are diagnosed with a really terrible illness, especially one that is potentially fatal. Recognising that there is no easy answer to these situations, Philippa told two very powerful stories. One of them was about a child named Benedict, who died 4 hours after his birth. His mother knew of the fatal illness but had decided to carry him to term, and when asked whether it was worth it, she replied: “Oh yes, for the chance to hold him, see him, and love him before letting go, and for the chance for our other children to see that we would never stop loving them regardless of their imperfections.”

  1. Peri-natal hospices can provide the support needed

-Most in the room hadn’t heard of these hospices, and Philippa said that from her experience most expectant mothers carrying a child with a disability hadn’t heard of them either. They do incredible work giving care, love, and support for mothers and families who know that their child will likely die shortly before or after birth. One example is Zoe’s Place Trust (there are three in the UK), but sadly hospices of this sort lack funding and aren’t numerous in the UK.

Event Preview: Philippa Taylor on Abortion and Disability

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On Monday night, we’ll be joining Philippa Taylor, head of public policy at the CMF, for a talk on ‘Should foetal disability be a ground for abortion?’. So, why is this a pertinent topic for discussion, and why should you come along?

Ground D of the 1967 Abortion Act, as amended by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, allows abortion up to birth in circumstances where it is discovered ‘that there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.’ In almost all other circumstances, abortion is legal up to 24 weeks’ gestation. The question is, is this discrimination against the disabled, if indeed discrimination before birth is such a thing?

Statistics for 2013  show that 2,732 abortions were carried out because of foetal abnormality – 22% because Down’s Syndrome was detected. We’ve discussed the sadness of this fact before. Despite the wording of the law determining that the signs would need to point to the child being ‘seriously handicapped’, there have been claims that abortions have been carried out for such things as cleft lip and club foot – things which routine surgery can easily treat. But then, there are cases of much more serious disability where the child might not survive birth, or the child will live a life that is fraught with suffering. We must address the very acute problems and pains that such diagnoses can cause.

These are all very sensitive issues whose impact touches, or indeed overwhelms the lives of many. My Grandma was paralysed from the waist down for 10 years. My best friend’s dad was born with one arm. The boy I looked after on my year abroad had Down’s Syndrome. As individuals, we all know people with disabilities and we all know that some are lived with in relative ease whilst others render life unbelievably challenging. As a society, we are becoming much more aware of the lives of people with disabilities and the obstacles that they and their families face, as dramas such as BBC’s ‘Don’t Take My Baby’ help demonstrate. We too need to become more aware of whether the current abortion law is in line with the changing ways we are looking at disability or if it flies in the face of such progress.

Email us at studentsforlife.oxford@gmail.com to reserve a place for Monday’s talk – details here

Jo Jackson is co-President of Oxford Students for Life

What we’re looking forward to this year…

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The year ahead is an incredibly exciting one for OSFL. With a number of great events planned, and many more ideas still in the pipeline, we can’t wait to get started. As before, our work is going to focus on two main areas. Firstly we will be organizing events directed towards fostering discussion of life issues, and secondly we are committed to improving the lives of student parents on campus.

At the start of September the House of Commons emphatically voted against the Marris Bill, proposing the legalization of assisted suicide. In all likelihood the question won’t return to a commons vote until the next parliament at least, but given its prominence in the news we thought it appropriate to focus on this question for Michaelmas. For our main event of the term we have invited Dr Kevin Yuill, author of ‘Assisted Suicide: The Liberal, Humanist Case against Legalization’ and Dr Peter Saunders, campaign director for the Care Not Killing Alliance and formerly a general surgeon. They will be proposing the motion ‘This House opposes the legalization of assisted suicide’, against two representatives from Dignity in Dying, the leading campaign group in the UK supporting legalization.

At the end of the term, in the next installment of Life Chats, we are very excited to have Greg Jackson, former OSFL member and Student Support Officer for the Alliance of Pro-Life Students, presenting a session on assisted suicide apologetics. He will be tackling some of the thornier issues surrounding autonomy, suffering, and legalization.

Our first event of the term, however, is on a different topic. Philippa Taylor, Head of Public Policy at CMF, will be addressing us on the very delicate issue of foetal disability. In UK law abortion is only legal up until 24 weeks, unless the foetus displays “physical or mental abnormalities”, in which case abortion is legal up until birth. This poses numerous complex and sensitive questions, including potential discrimination towards disabled people, and we look forward to hearing Philippa’s talk on the matter.

With regard to student parents, there is a huge amount of work to be done and lots to build on from the excellent start made by the student parents sub-committee last year. Over the summer we had a very productive meeting with the newly elected Student Parents and Carers rep at OUSU, and look forward to working together as much as possible. Our initial focus is going to be on passing motions in the different college MCRs and JCRs, so that nappy changing tables are installed and high chairs are available in halls. Whilst doing this, we hope to raise awareness about the difficulties faced by student parents, by handing out information leaflets and running another student parent week, similar to the one held at the start of Trinity last year.

It is sure to be an eventful year, and one which we hope will make an actively positive contribution to student life at Oxford, whether that is through campaign work for student parents or by offering new perspectives on complex issues that affect each and every one of us. We always want to hear from you, and have been really encouraged by messages people have sent suggesting events. If ever you want to help out in any way, do not hesitate to get in touch!

For more information on events, including dates, timings, and venues, please visit our website or Facebook page.

Johnny Church is co-President of Oxford Students for Life

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