The phrase ‘anti-abortion protestors’ paints the picture of an angry mob, armed with pitchforks all but exchanged for graphic pictures of unborn children.
So upon hearing there was such a protest in Norwich, you’d be forgiven for walking past the handful of peaceful protesters on Bowthorpe Road without batting an eyelid. The protest was held by Norwich’s branch of the anti-abortion charity, 40 Days for Life, whose history is marred with problematic events, including one incident in which a man brandished a gun at a protest in America. Thankfully Norwich’s protesters were meek in comparison.
Seeming nervous as I approached, things quickly settled down when I spoke to Eldred, a 56-year-old campaigner and spokesperson for the charity in Norwich. He started by telling me how he got involved in this line of activism. ”I’ve gradually developed concerns about life over a period of many years… not just unborn children but anyone that’s vulnerable, that’s the basis of our society… I’ve always had a pro-life conviction, but it’s become more focused as I’ve seen more of life.”
Similarly to most students, I have a relatively pro-choice leaning, so I was keen to understand what would make someone campaign for a pro-life cause, whether it be religious or personal grounds. Eldred explained it was both, saying “citizens have to be responsible for what happens in their city… I think we should be responsible for vulnerable women and unborn children. But there is also a religious motivation, I’m Catholic and believe God created life and he is the only person who should create it or take it away.”
He stressed that 40 Days for Life, although a primarily Christian charity, is open to all faiths. The impression I was getting was far from what I expected. I saw less of angry protesters and more of a peaceful vigil. They said their aim was to not distress, and when I pointed out that their mere presence may be distressing for people seeking to use the service, Eldred highlighted the signs they brought along which read “Pregnant? Worried? Can we help?” explaining that they “show there is actually hope.”
It all seemed a bit too good to be true, especially considering my previous expectations. So I thought I’d ask Eldred about specific instances of abortion, and although he explained that the charity doesn’t seek to make any legislative change to the law, but instead focuses on helping women directly who are considering abortions, he did say that even in cases of rape “I don’t think you’re going to help a woman by giving an abortion, that could potentially damage her physically and psychologically.”
I pointed out the psychological concerns about having to bear a child conceived in such a way, and in response Eldred drew attention to not only the psychological, but the physical implications of abortion. When asked what he would say to a woman seeking abortion, he said he “would want her to really make sure she’s understood the physical implications for herself. For instance, it can lead to sterility.”
The NHS advises that, “Having an abortion won’t usually affect your chances of becoming pregnant and having normal pregnancies in the future.” Instead of abortion, Eldred prefers to point people seeking to use the service to other options, including foster homes, saying “many more couples wanting to adopt children than children wanting to be adopted.”
According to Kevin Williams, Chief Executive of The Fostering Network, a child comes into the foster care system every 20 minutes, and figures obtained by The Metro show that in May 2017 over 7000 new foster families were needed to deal with the increasing demand.
I spoke to another protester (who wishes to remain anonymous) whose protest was inspired by her own experiences of nearly being aborted before she was born. Her husband alerted her to the work of the charity in Norwich, and she believed her own personal history was what gave her a pro-life conviction. She shared her story with me in the hopes of inspiring others. “I was adopted at 10 days old, but my mother was under a lot of pressure to not go through with the pregnancy because she didn’t have any support… [I was only born] because she had the support of a sister who encouraged her to go through with it, but the rest of her family didn’t want to know any more about it, and she was sent away to another part of the country so the pregnancy was hidden.”
“I do feel that my life was saved, and I’m very grateful. I can’t imagine to have had that chance of life taken away, and it was very close.”
As we got talking more, she lightheartedly chastised me for giving her the label of ‘activist’, saying “I don’t feel it’s like a demonstration in an active sense. I’m here to pray for life and protection for life… We’re fundamentally Christian; we believe in life, we believe life was given by God as a gift and as a gift to cherish and something very precious.”
I was pleasantly surprised by my visit. Although I believe the approach of the people there is fundamentally wrong, and that abortion rates are best reduced through contraception and education, they were far from the angry devilish creatures you tend to see at these kinds of protests, and their prayer vigil was a long way away from a pitchforked mob.