As members of Integrity and Action started to gather outside Russell Street underground station on Friday evening ahead of the 40 Days for Life prayer vigil, there was, amongst some, a slight feeling of trepidation for what lay ahead. The campaign, which finishes this weekend, had been well attended throughout by the most dedicated I & A members. They, as anyone who has engaged in activities in defence of the unborn child, are well acquainted with the vitriolic verbal abuse one invariably receives from the odd passer-by. But, in the week preceding the major occasion in this particular 40 Day event at the BPAS house at Bedford Square, London, which was to have an Episcopal presence in the form of Bishop Hopes, the insults and derision had taken on a distinctly nasty tone, and it did not come from one or two isolated pedestrians, it was organised and directed by the Bloomsbury Pro-Choice Alliance.
Decrying the supposed intimidation and harassment of women entering the BPAS clinic, the Bloomsbury Alliance, with an astonishing lack of self-awareness, began to employ intimidation tactics towards the pro-lifers. An I & A member who witnessed the unpleasant goings-on wrote an email documenting what they saw:
“The pro-death people turned up in a large number and hurled a torrent of abuse and insults with their loudspeakers, guitars and basically shouted at us for nearly 2 hours while a smaller group of Catholics tried peacefully to pray. There was a lot nasty anti-Catholic abuse.
There were moments where a few of us had to walk away as a some of the demonstrators were putting their cameras right in front of our faces and taunting especially one of our group.
Amongst other filthy things they were saying, one of the girls in this pro-choice group started lifting up her skirt and being really vulgar towards us (especially the men).”
Another email from another I & A member informed us that through the week the 40 Days group had been pelted with eggs and had their banner stolen. Theft and assault not being too low for these people it is understandable that there was a worry that things might get ugly on the Friday evening as the Bloomsbury Alliance were claiming up to 400 people were likely to attend their counter-demonstration.
These emails served as a rallying cry to friends and supporters from all over the country who descended on London, ready to defend the rights of the unborn.
As we approached the vigil after congregating at the tube we could see the two groups from a distance and the ratio seemed to be about five pro-lifers for every three pro-abortionists. Both groups grew in size rapidly but the ratio remained much the same all evening. (See this link from Joseph Shaw for a review of the numbers that have been grossly misreported by the mainstream media: http://www.lmschairman.org/2012/03/forty-days-for-life-in-bedford-square.html).
There was already a substantial police presence working on separating the two groups with metal barriers to the jeers of the pro-abortionists who, presumably, had hoped to get right up close and personal as on previous occasions. A number of invitations were extended to members of the 40 Days vigil from the pro-aborts to break ranks and engage them on a more physical level, but these invites were respectfully declined. Though, if they were prevented from threatening and intimidating, they could still try to disrupt, and they did this as best they could with loudspeakers, drums, and chanting. They displayed placards with all kinds of obscenities and blasphemies, but most of their songs and chants were just juvenile: Ten Green Bottles seems to be a favourite. However, the most amusing chant of the evening came as the pro-lifers got down on their knees to say the fifth sorrowful mystery of the Rosary. ‘Sit (sic) down if you hate women!’ was the response from the Bloomsbury Alliance. If anyone from that group is reading, to avoid future embarrassment you ought to know it’s called kneeling.
Despite all the uproar the 40 Days for Life vigil remained calm and prayerful throughout and it must go down as one of the most promising successes of the pro-life movement in England for many years.
If sometimes it is difficult to see the truth of St Paul’s words that all things work together unto the good, in this instance it was plain to see. Unwittingly, the enemies of the pro-life movement have, in a sense, become our most influential allies. In just a matter of weeks the Bloomsbury Alliance has injected a new vigour into the pro-life movement in England and provided it with publicity before undreamt of. A quick internet search for 40 Days for Life brings up reports on this one evening’s event from major news sources. And an article on The Washington Post website proves it has become internationally newsworthy.
Unsurprisingly, much of what has been written in the media is dishonest and heavily biased in favour of the pro-abortion crowd, but that, in itself, is encouraging. The fact that there has been so much opposition to 40 Days, and the media coverage has been so unfair, just goes to show the pro-life movement can no longer be ignored as I’m sure it’s enemies would prefer. They must be frightened to risk giving it so much publicity.
The media may be painting a dishonest picture but those who were at the scene will not be so easily conned. What might an impartial observer have made of it all? No doubt there were many onlookers unaffiliated to either side. It is hard to believe that anyone could have watched the proceedings with an unprejudiced eye without being impressed by the demeanour of the pro-lifers and appalled by the conduct of the pro-abortionists. I also find it hard to believe that similar sentiments didn’t pass through the minds of one or two of the Pro-aborts themselves.
In any group of people who unite for a common purpose, there are different degrees of commitment to the cause among the members and there were certainly some among the pro-abortionists who seemed less vociferous and less inflamed than others. Surely some of these people who had turned out after hearing the tales of wild-eyed religious fundamentalists hissing threats of damnation at poor distressed young women must have wondered about the truth of these claims. These Catholics, barely audible over the din caused by the counter-demonstration, serene, cheerful, (except for a few moved to quiet tears), and, despite the scorn hurled at them and all they hold dear, unprovoked to anger, are supposedly the women-terrorisers of liberal horror stories? Might it have occurred to them that if someone was of a sufficiently fragile and nervous disposition to be intimidated by this crowd, they probably aren’t the type to leave their home at all in the first place?
It would be unrealistic to think that these sentiments were common, but amongst one or two? Very possibly. The pro-lifers were offering their prayers for these people and that is more than reasonable grounds for hope.
(Update: I’ve just seen the Bloomsbury Alliance website has an apology for their conduct at the protest mentioned above in the quoted email. The comments make interesting reading and prove that their own actions have only served to discourage people from joining their campaign. See here: http://bloomsburypca.wordpress.com/2012/03/25/sunday-5-lets-get-the-bad-parts-out-of-the-way/).
Perhaps the most obvious good that came out of it was the rejuvenation of the pro-life movement. Who, in recent times, has seen 500+ people at a pro-life prayer vigil? Many attendees had not made the effort for a long time. If anyone were discouraged by the many past hours they had spent involved in these activities with seemingly little success, they are surely now revitalised to see what an impact this one campaign has had. There was a definite buzz around as the crowds dispersed from the vigil and many vowed to make more effort and attend such things more often in the future.
For these things we must give our thanks and congratulations to 40 Days for Life. But let us also not forget to thank and congratulate our friends over at the Bloomsbury Pro-Choice Alliance: you’ve been so very helpful.