Oxford Students for Life

Promoting a culture of life in the University and beyond

Tag: start of life

Statement from Oxford Students for Life Responding to Oxford SU’s “Right to protest, Right to choose” statement

With their latest statement, WomCam have decided to double down on their attack on free speech, while claiming that they are doing no such thing.

They claim in their statement that they “were not protesting Oxford Students for Life or their speakers’ right to free speech” and that they “were not breaking the law”.

We’ve received legal advice that WomCam were breaking the law precisely because they were denying our freedom of speech.

Under Section 43 of the Education (No 2) Act 1986, the University is required “to issue and keep up to date a code of practice to be followed by all members, students and employees of the University for the organisation of meetings and other events”.

The code of practice is as follows:

“Members, students and employees of the University must conduct themselves at meetings and other events on University and OUSU premises so as to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the University and for visiting speakers. The University believes that a culture of free, open and robust discussion can be achieved only if all concerned avoid needlessly offensive or provocative action and language. The freedom protected by this Code of Practice is confined to the exercise of freedom of speech within the law.”

Given that the protesters shouted down the event continuously for 40 minutes, called the attendees and speakers “anti-choice bigots”, gave attendees the middle finger, and blocked the projector screen, we’re confident that they engaged in “needlessly offensive or provocative action and language” and did not “conduct themselves at meetings and other events on University and OUSU premises so as to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the University and for visiting speakers.”

Considering Oxford SU’s statement that “Bodily autonomy is not up for debate”, they confirm in their statement itself that they were not acting to facilitate “open and robust discussion”.

We’ve received legal advice that had they protested outside, or even staged a walk-out, they would have been within their rights. But disrupting the event for 40 minutes in this way breached the University’s Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech. By ignoring security requests to leave the venue, they were also guilty of aggravated trespass.

WomCam of course have a right to freedom to expression. But a right to freedom of speech does not mean the right to prevent other people from speaking.

Press Release: Oxford Students for Life Expresses Sadness and Anger at Disruptive Protest by Oxford SU WomCam

Oxford Students for Life have expressed their sadness and anger at “a deliberate attempt to shut down discussion and dialogue through harassment and bullying”. The disruptive protest was organised by the Oxford SU Women’s Campaign to target OSFL’s “Abortion in Ireland” event on Wednesday 1st November at St John’s College.

Anna Branford, co-president of OSFL explains: “At the beginning of the event, I explicitly welcomed all people, whatever their views, to the talk, and emphasised that the format of the evening was such that half the time would be allotted to the two speakers – Breda O’Brien of the Irish Times and barrister Lorcan Price – and the other half would be fully open to questions.

“One minute into her presentation, a group of approximately fifteen protesters from the Oxford SU’s WomCam stood up and chanted slogans to shout down Breda and prevent her from being heard. It was impossible for the committee or security to engage in any meaningful manner with the protesters. This continued for approximately forty minutes: protesters shouted, jeered, stood in front of the projector and chanted from a pre-prepared “chant sheet” including ‘Pro-life, that’s a lie, you don’t care if women die’.”

OSFL secretary, Georgia Clarke, said: “the saddening reality was that we were not given any opportunity to respond to these hurtful claims, nor give any justification for our views. Instead, we were bullied into silence.”

Anna Branford went on to say: “We had attempted to create an atmosphere in which all views were welcome and everyone would have a chance to speak, but were instead met with shouting, middle fingers and vitriol. Realising that they were uninterested in talking, some of us made signs of our own. I held one that said “ I’m a woman, where is my right to speak?”, while Georgia carried one saying “Is this what dialogue looks like?

“St John’s had hired security because they knew there would be a protest of some kind. They asked the protesters to leave multiple times and were ignored. One of the security guards tried to remove one of the protesters and there was a brief altercation.

“On foot of that, the security guard called the police as they were now guilty of aggravated trespassing. Eventually, the speakers were moved into another room and the protesters were left to shout themselves out, but not before gathering outside the window of the second room and banging on the windows while continuing to shout at the people inside.”

She went on to say: “It is such a shame that the protesters never listened to what we actually had to say. Had they heard Breda O’Brien’s presentation, they would have realised just how much we do care if women die, contrary to their chanting, and they would have heard the truth about Savita Halappanavar’s tragic death. Their disruption and refusal to engage meant that we could not show them the evidence that Ireland is as safe a place to give birth as the UK.

She continued: “I was disappointed that we never managed to discuss the issue with the protesters or engage in any kind of debate with them, but I was glad that we were eventually able to continue with the event and they had ultimately failed to achieve their goal of silencing us.”

Georgia Clarke added: “The irony was that the actions of Oxford SU’s WomCam, which ought to represent women of the university, resulted in the harassment of many women present for the event, some of whom were driven to tears. As committee members, we have a duty of care to those who attend our events, and it was distressing not being able to provide the supportive and open environment we had promised. We invited students to hear speakers, not to be shouted at. The shouting essentially amounted to an attempt to no-platform our speakers. In being party to this protest, the Oxford SU is making us feel like neither we, nor our views, are welcome to even be heard in this university.”

Freshers’ Fair Adventures

Ben Conroy shares some of his expertise on representing Oxford Students For Life at the annual Freshers’ Fair.

The Oxford Fresher’s Fair is an experience. With around 3,500 new students passing by your stand over the course of the fair, (minus anyone who sleeps through their slot) and a couple of hundred other stands to compete with for their attention, it gets intense.

I’ve now done one fair as a participant and two behind the stand, and these are some of the main tips that I’ve learned from the experience.

Invite people to talk.

It’s good to have both a hawker’s cry and an introductory pitch. The first one is for getting people to come to the stall. We use some variant of “human rights, life ethics and free flower seeds!” (you can’t give out food or sweets at the Oxford fair and we like the “seeds of life” symbolism). Once you’ve made eye contact, give them a quick pitch for what exactly your society’s about and why they should come to your events. It also helps to have a cool-looking stand!

You’re there to invite people to a conversation, not start one.

It can be tempting to engage people in debates about the issues at the stand: but that’s a waste of both their time and yours. They have a load of other stands to go through, and you have a lot more people to talk to – they’re walking past all the time. You want to invite people to sign up to your mailing list, come to events, and chat to them there.

But be willing to have a brief chat.

You can have all sorts of interesting brief conversations with people if the opportunity presents itself (when they’re writing down their name and email for example). I had a great chat this year with someone about our shared appreciation for CS Lewis, while another person offered to help the society fundraise. Interactions can sometimes get weird: during my first shift this year one guy left our stand only to come back with a bunch of flowers for my stand partner and fellow committee member before vanishing again. It’s also great to develop a rapport with the people on the stands around you – it’s a long day at the fair and you can use some stallholder solidarity.

Be unapologetically pro-life, and unapologetically civil.

The unofficial Oxford Students for Life motto is never more appropriate than at Fresher’s Fair. We’re totally up front about being the University Pro-Life society and what we stand for, but we’re also keen to emphasise that we welcome people of all views on abortion, assisted dying etc. to our events. We almost never get anyone actively hostile (the worst is usually a “not interested” or a grumpy look), and several times someone who initially seemed sceptical ended up enthusiastically signing up.

On that note…

Have an event people of all views will be interested in.

Our first event this term was a talk by Ryan Day of Alliance Defending Freedom on the theme “Whose Life Is Worth Living”, discussing, among other things, some of the ethical issues raised by the tragic Charlie Gard case. That’s an issue that doesn’t cut along standard pro-life and pro-choice lines, and we had a lot of interest in it from people of all persuasions on the stand. Later on in the term we have a discussion of conscientious objection for medics that also drew interest.

Have fun!

If your university has a fresher’s fair or something like it, it’s an excellent opportunity to talk to so many people about your society and pitch yourselves and your events. And you never know what might happen: the conversation I had with the OSFL team as a fresher was instrumental in getting me to join the committee and spending the next two fairs behind the stand.

Ben Conroy is in his third year, studying PPE at St John’s.

Abortion and disability: the case for social justice

Guest blogger: Ruth Akinradewo is a second-year undergraduate studying French and Italian at the University of Oxford. She blogs at The Change Channel.

As a Christian who values the gift of life, the idea of not being opposed to abortion has never been an option for me. Still, of late having had my attention drawn to the distressing repercussions that the legalisation of abortion has had on disabled people, I now find myself faced with an even greater pile of evidence to show the extent of severe harm that termination can bring.

Opposition to abortion is typically, and rightly, focused on the taking away of an innocent life; the notable harm incurred on the mother and others; the paradox of having such a high rate of abortions when there are so many childless couples tenderly awaiting the joy of parenting . . . But few people tend to talk about the fact that terminations provide ammunition for the myth that disabled people are less valuable than the rest of society.

I didn’t know it myself until very recently: current UK law permits the abortion of foetuses deemed to have physical handicaps up to 40 weeks. Medical professionals agree that at 37 weeks the foetus is full-term; moreover, general legislation on abortion in this country caps the cut-off period for termination at 24 weeks. But if the baby doctor looks at a scan of you in your mother’s womb and decides you’re disabled, he and your parents are permitted by law to cut your life short even after you’ve fully developed and possess the necessary characteristics to live and breathe the air of the outside world.

In 2011, 144 abortions were carried out in England and Wales after 24 weeks.

That is scary.

What is more, doctors can be wrong: at last term’s OSFL Pro-Life Feminism panel discussion, Emily Watson spoke of how her mum had been told her brother would be born with Down’s Syndrome and no such thing happened.

The UK Parliamentary Inquiry into Abortion on the Grounds of Disability, which took place in 2013, rightly compared the aims of the 2010 Equality Act, which promises to prohibit discrimination based on disability, with the Abortion Act, which prevents individuals from being guilty of an abortion offence if ‘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.’

Is it just me or do these two acts of legislation contradict each other?

Shielded by UK law, 2,732 abortions were carried out in 2013 under ground E of the Abortion Act. “Congenital malformations” and “chromosomal abnormalities” were often cited as the reason for implementing the termination. “Down’s syndrome (22% of all such cases) was the most commonly reported chromosomal abnormality.”

I was moved to tears when at the same panel discussion I mentioned earlier, Isabel Errington detailed how one of her friends had defied the doctors and had chosen to carry her disabled baby to term, leaving her only a matter of days to spend in life with him. Despite the brevity of the precious time they spent together, this mother spoke with tenderness of cherishing the gift of a son that she had been given.

The claim that killing off disabled babies is the best course of action for the child (think Richard Dawkins) is not only extremely offensive, it is extremely presumptuous. Who can say before they have given a child the chance to live that their lives will not be worth living?

Try telling that to Nick Vujicic, who, despite being born with neither arms nor legs, obtained a bachelor’s degree, is now an internationally-famous motivational speaker, and a husband and father.

If someone in Nick’s situation can achieve so much despite being “seriously handicapped”, as UK law puts it, then how much more those born with cleft lips and palate, who – yes, it is true – are being aborted under Ground E legislation each year?

With the mind of someone who cares deeply about social justice, I cannot sit still in the face of such injustices. I am inspired by friends and family who suffer or have suffered with disabilities and still rise up each day with fresh vigour to live their lives without being held back.

I cannot bear to see the experiences of people such as these being forgotten or ignored by those that believe they’d be better off dead. Baroness Grey-Thompson, speaking in a talk hosted by OSFL, highlighted that the discrimination that disabled people face shows no signs of abating and I am convinced it is precisely the position assumed by laws such as Ground E of the Abortion Act, that are inhibiting progress and the social justice that the disabled deserve to be a part of.

New study shows the most pro-life Britons are…women and young people

A study from ComRes, out just this week, has shown that women are more likely than men to favour restrictions on abortion, and the younger generation are more pro-life than their parents or grandparents.

Asked whether they would like to bring UK law in line with other European countries by halving the upper limit on abortions from 24 weeks to 12, 43% of women said yes, compared with 32% of men.

The age gap is even bigger than the gender gap: on the same question, 48% of 18-25-year-olds said yes, and only 31% of 55-64-year-olds.

Given that Westminster and the media lean pro-choice, and that feminism and ‘abortion rights’ are often conflated (thought not here at OSFL), these figures – which mirror previous studies – are thought-provoking. Maybe it’s because women know more about pregnancy than men; maybe it’s because young people have grown up familiar with ultrasound images. Or maybe it’s because the practice of sex-selective abortion – which three-quarters of respondents said should be declared illegal – has concentrated the public’s mind.

But it is hard to deny, looking at these figures, that the caricature of the pro-life movement as misogynistic and outdated is a fantasy. And given the study’s other finding – that Labour and Lib Dem voters are more pro-life than UKIP or Tory supporters – it suggests that the ‘right-wing’ tag won’t really stick either.

But of course this is about more than the numbers. That’s why we’re holding a debate next Tuesday on the right to choose and the right to life. Male or female, pro-choice or pro-life, please come along!

(On a related point: a very useful new website, WhereDoTheyStand.org.uk, tells you what your local election candidates have said on life issues.)

(Dan Hitchens)

Gendercide: the questions pro-choicers don’t want to answer

At the end of February, the House of Commons rejected a bill that sought to spell out the illegality, under the 1967 Abortion Act, of sex-selective abortion. The bill, proposed by Fiona Bruce MP, called for a clarification in the law that the terms of the Act do not allow abortion based on the sex of the unborn. It was shot down 292-201. Many have claimed that sex-selective abortion is illegal, including the Health Secretary. But there’s no explicit stipulation in the law preventing it, as BPAS’s Ann Furedi has pointed out. And the Crown Prosecution Service has twice blocked a prosecution against Drs. Prabha Sivaraman and Palaniappan Rajmohan, whom the Telegraph caught on camera agreeing to procure gender-based abortions in 2012. So the question has to be asked again: is sex-selective abortion legal in Britain? By default and in practice, it seems to be.

This isn’t an easy conclusion to face. The question of sex-selective abortion has cut across typical lines of opinion, perhaps more so than any other question in the abortion debate. Most people, even many who are pro-choice, seem to see something deeply wrong in aborting unborn children – usually girls – based on their sex. The trouble is that once you dig a bit deeper into what exactly is wrong with sex-selective abortion, you end up asking questions that defenders of abortion don’t want to answer.

Stop-Gendercide-cover

There are many reasons to be repelled by the idea of sex-selective abortion, or “gendercide” as its critics have dubbed it. For those of us who are repelled by the idea of all abortions, the sexism of gendercide is a blatant insult added to a far more profound injury. For those who don’t object to other reasons for aborting, however, the issue becomes murkier. If it’s acceptable to abort an unborn girl because she’ll be expensive to raise, she has Down Syndrome, or her parents don’t love each other, why isn’t it acceptable to abort her because she’s a girl? Legal abortions are defended as beneficial for women who want to have them; practically speaking, that benefit isn’t altered if the child’s sex is the main motive for a termination.

A number of pro-choice commentators have ended up defending sex-selection, making this very point. But those who defend sex-selective abortion must resort to doing so by fixating on choice in a way that suppresses ethical discussion of the content of that choice. Humans can make good and bad decisions, and the point of ethical discussion is to evaluate what those are. Defending gendercide by giving choice an absolute primacy is a preemptive way of avoiding the real question at hand.

This is a philosophically embarrassing issue for pro-choice feminists. You can’t oppose sex-selective abortions without admitting that abortion is sometimes wrong, and you can’t accept sex-selective abortions without admitting that explicit gender discrimination is sometimes permissible. This is what has made the debate about sex-selective abortion so revealing. This issue calls abortion into question on precisely the grounds that are usually used to defend it, showing that legal abortion may not actually be the feminist victory it’s touted as.

The question of sex-selective abortion isn’t going to go away, and nor should it. Pro-life people who want to win hearts and minds need to push this point, because the gendercide issue draws out serious problems in contemporary pro-choice arguments. And pro-choice people who want to secure the right to abortion even based on the sex of the child need to ask themselves if a feminism that allows for discrimination against and selective destruction of girls is worth defending – or can be called feminism at all.

(M.G.)

Feminism, the Pro-Life Movement, and Justice

If I could guess the one thing that all women who are actively pro-life have in common, it’s probably that at one time or another, someone has asked us (in so many words); “How can you be a woman and be against abortion? That’s so anti-feminist!” The question can be asked with anything from timid confusion to outraged disbelief, but however it’s asked, it points to a very real issue.

The truth is, it’s not immediately clear how, in 2015, one could identify both as a feminist and as pro-life. The dominant feminist narrative of our age often emphasizes the right to abortion as one of its essential tenets. Many women agree with this, but many women don’t, and have found themselves bizarrely at odds with a movement that is supposed to work for their benefit. But as defenders of feminism have pointed out, being a feminist simply means believing that all people, regardless of gender, are of equal worth and deserve equal protection and rights under the law. And believe it or not, this also happens to be the fundamental principle of the pro-life movement. Those who are pro-life reject human rights violations such as abortion on the grounds of the essential equality in dignity of all human beings, born and pre-born. So while the pro-life position may clash with a few of the specific policy goals of modern feminism, it concords with the true spirit of feminism in a way that those policy goals blatantly do not.

A criticism hurled at many pro-life women is that, in opposing abortion, they are “judging” other women, while a true feminist would support whatever choices women make. This simply isn’t true. There’s a vast gulf between respecting another person and sanctioning any action they may take. Judging an action is not the same as judging a person. Being supportive of other people doesn’t mean approving of destructive choices; on the contrary, being supportive of others means wanting and working towards their good.

The major injustice that legal abortion supposedly resolves is sexual inequality between men and women. Men are literally able to walk away from unwanted parenthood in a way that women are not; hence the promotion of abortion as a way of levelling the playing field. The trouble is that abortion may achieve equality on a crude practical level, but it does so by perpetuating injustice on a much deeper one. Neither men nor women should be able to walk away from their children, whether or not those children are planned and wanted. Pro-life feminism takes the positive approach of insisting that both women and men take responsibility for their children, and seeks to build a culture in which women who are abandoned by their partners are supported in choosing justice even when their partner doesn’t.

Feminism is meant to empower women in societies in which men have historically been the wielders of power. The brand of feminism that defends abortion continues the institutional abuse of the weak by the strong, and in doing so, contradicts the fundamental principles of feminism itself. There’s some truth in the argument that one cannot be both pro-life and feminist in the modern world. But this is only true inasmuch as contemporary feminism has erred. In the interest of advancing women’s rights to create a just society – a worthy and incredibly important aim – we’ve forgotten that a just society is impossible if any person’s rights can be violated by another person at will. It’s deeply wrong that men’s interests should be realized at the expense of women’s rights, and it’s even more wrong that adults’ interests should be realized at the expense of children’s lives. Pro-life feminism demands higher standards for society’s treatment of all people. Women deserve better than abortion as a response to gender inequality; as feminists of all stripes have pointed out, no man will ever have to worry about needing to have an abortion. No woman should ever have to, either.

(M.G.)

First Person: I’m pro-life for the same reason I’m a feminist

DelapOur guest blogger is Sarah Delap, a modern languages graduate from Durham currently working as a Fundraising and Communications Officer for the pro-life charity LIFE.

Do women’s rights and abortion have to go hand in hand? Of course not.

Feminism exists to promote the equality of the sexes: to advocate for equal economic, political, social and cultural rights for women. This can include having access to the same work opportunities as men (with the same wage prospects), having our opinions and thoughts respected, to ultimately be seen as individuals whose worth is not connected to our reproductive organs.

I couldn’t agree more with these aims. As a woman I believe that I deserve to have access to the same opportunities as my male counterparts. In essence: I am a feminist.

But where does abortion come into this? As well as being a feminist, I also hold strong pro-life values. Not because I’m religious (I’m not) but because I believe that a human life comes into existence the second that a sperm swims merrily into an egg and changes its make-up forever. Science is on my side here too – it is widely agreed that life begins at fertilisation; the crux of the abortion debate centres around when that life becomes valuable.

As a woman, the same principle could be applied to my value in the eyes of a patriarchal society. When do I become valuable to society? When I satisfy a man’s needs? When I conform to the stereotype of female attractiveness? When I put a home-cooked meal on the table when my husband walks through the door after a long day at the office with his male chums?

How ridiculous. I am a female human being, who should carry the same value and be awarded the same rights as a male. These points have been made for decades, achieving women’s equality has been recognised as necessary, logical and most importantly, required for an equal society to exist. Gender should not determine whether women and men hold the same value economically, politically and culturally.

It can be argued that the unborn are oppressed by born humans in the same way that females are oppressed by males; the value of the first is determined by the opinions of the second. It is only if individuals meet certain requirements that they are deemed valuable, rather than the group itself being granted this status on the simple grounds that they are human and deserve to be treated in the same way as other humans.

There is an irony, therefore, given that the unborn and women are both oppressed, that it is women’s rights and feminist groups who advocate for increased access to abortion, for the unborn to be oppressed ever further. Feminists are battling oppression with more oppression. The patriarchal society in which we live cannot believe its luck – it can continue to control women’s bodies without doing anything. The feminist movement is doing all the hard work for them under the mantra of “choice”; women can choose to further their career and to access further education – they just can’t choose those things and have children anywhere near as easily as men can. If women do choose a career and children, they don’t ‘have it all’ like they were once promised, they simply end up exhausted from ‘doing it all’. Survey after survey shows that working mothers still do the vast majority of childcare and domestic chores compared to working fathers.

Little wonder then, that women’s fertility is looked on as an inconvenience, something which gets in the way of having consequence-free sex. We seem to overlook the fact that sex is a must if you’re to make a baby, and are shocked when it succeeds – whether that was the original intention or not. Regardless of its “wanted-ness”, we’ve already agreed that the pregnancy is now another human life, so how do we weigh up whose life is worth more? Are not the woman and the life growing inside her two sides of the same coin, which need to be cared for and respected equally, in the same way that born men and women should be viewed and respected as equal?

Whilst I’m certainly not claiming to know exactly how this can be achieved, I strongly believe that the current ‘quick-fix’ solution of abortion is far from the most positive approach – for men, women and children. Women are choosing to abort their pregnancies because it is the only way they see to participate in society on an equal footing with men. But what victory for feminism is this, when this ‘equality’ is built upon the oppression of unborn members of our society? Not only are they stinting the progress of achieving true equality, they are deploying the very techniques which we experience first-hand and deplore.

Have the oppressed become the oppressors? As victims of bullying, are women really ok with becoming bullies themselves? I’d like to think that we are better than that and that’s why I am a pro-life feminist.

A reminder that, as part of our 3rd Week focus on pro-life feminism, we’re hosting a panel discussion tomorrow at Exeter. Please come along!

Previously in this series: Robert Stagg, ‘Why I am a pro-life atheist’.

Pro-Life Heroes and Heroines, No. 9: Concepta Wood and Mary Doogan

(A guest blog from Xavier Bisits, former President of Cambridge Students for Life)

When Concepta Wood and Mary Doogan signed up to their job at an NHS hospital in Glasgow, they expected that their job would match the description:

“The post holder is responsible for providing clinical leadership and operational management for delivery of the midwifery service within labour ward and obstetric theatre.”

No mention of abortion.  They were supporting the midwifery service – a service that is by its very nature life-giving and life-affirming.

Wood and Goodan were outraged when the NHS turned their role into one that made them cooperate with the hospital’s provision of abortion – and decided to take legal action.

Even though the Court of Session in Edinburgh had previously taken their side, last month the Supreme Court ruled against them.

What was the problem? The pair had been employed as labour ward co-ordinators at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow.

The NHS of Greater Glasgow and Clyde gave them notice of new duties that required them to supervise and delegate work to staff assisting in the procurement of abortions.  The argument of the NHS was that their work did not involve the actual work of providing an abortion.

Such an argument, however, as lawyers acting on their behalf explained, makes a mockery of freedom of conscience. The point of freedom of conscience – especially in medical situations – is to spare objectors from cooperating in an act that they believe to be a fundamental violation of the their beliefs.

To the nurses, overseeing a process of abortion is tantamount to direct participation.  History is littered with atrocities that were executed with chilling bureaucratic efficiency; sitting at a desk does not mask involvement.  On the contrary, it is part of the overall process – all of which is necessary. And anyone who believes in the unborn’s right to life could hardly take part in that process with a clear conscience.

Speaking after the decision, they said:

“We are both saddened and extremely disappointed with today’s verdict from the Supreme Court and can only imagine the subsequent detrimental consequences that will result from today’s decision on staff of conscience throughout the UK.

“Despite it having been recognised that the number of abortions on the labour ward at our hospital is in fact a tiny percentage of the workload, which in turn could allow the accommodation of conscientious objection with minimal effort, this judgment, with its constraints and narrow interpretation, has resulted in the provision of a conscience clause which now in practice is meaningless for senior midwives on a labour ward.”

These nurses deserve our support for their efforts.  They put their jobs and professional reputations on the line to secure justice and draw attention to the difficulties that so many medical professionals in the UK face when asked to provide “healthcare” that conflicts with their beliefs.

They may have lost the case but they are a testament to the need to be vigilant about the right to conscientious objection in the UK.

(Previously in this series: Alice Paul, Jack Scarisbrick, Gandhi, Hans and Sophie Scholl, Lila Rose, Ovid, Mildred Jefferson, Jerome Lejeune.)

Pro-Life Heroes and Heroines, No. 8: Jerome Lejeune

A key figure in modern genetic science, Jerome Lejeune is best known for his discovery of the extra chromosome that causes Down syndrome, and best loved for his work in caring for those with the condition.

Born in France in 1926, Lejeune studied medicine in Paris and became a researcher at the National Centre of Scientific Research in 1952. He published a seminal paper in 1959 with two colleagues, Raymond Turpin and Marthe Gautier, which showed that those with Down syndrome have 47 chromosomes, just two years after it had been proved that the standard amount is 46. For the discovery of ‘trisomy 21’ he won the Kennedy Prize in 1962 and was named the first chair of human genetics at the University of Paris in 1964. He went on to identify the cause of cri-du-chat syndrome, among other chromosomal disorders, and was given the William Allan Memorial Award from the American Society of Human Genetics in 1969, the highest distinction that can be granted to a geneticist.

One of the consequences of Lejeune’s discovery was the screening for Down syndrome that became available in the 1970s, which led to routine abortions on prenatal diagnosis. Lejeune was deeply troubled by this: “Hate the disease, love the patient: that is the practice of medicine,” he said. He spent much of his later life working to discover treatments for such conditions.

People say, “The price of genetic diseases is high. If these individuals could be eliminated early on, the savings would be enormous!” It cannot be denied that the price of these diseases is high—in suffering for the individual and in burdens for society. Not to mention what parents suffer! But we can assign a value to that price: It is precisely what a society must pay to remain fully human.

He was pro-life because he believed that every life, no matter how many chromosomes it relies on, is worth living and deserves protection. His pro-life stance was not just that though – it was dynamic; he’s a pro-life hero because his beliefs had consequences for his personal life and professional career. The Nobel committee had considered rewarding the discovery of the origins of Down syndrome, but when Lejeune spoke out against abortion at a conference of delegates to the United Nations, he had to write to his wife later that day: “Today, I lost my Nobel prize in medicine.” His funding for research was cut, he was marginalised by the academic community and his family were even routinely harassed.

He continued to defend the most vulnerable, though, even travelling to the United States in 1989 to be a witness at a court case which would decide whether frozen embryos were properly ‘property’ or not. You can read his statement about the origins of human life here. Alongside his research and this kind of advocacy of the right to life for all, Lejeune dedicated himself to caring for those with Down syndrome. He was the founder of the first specialised clinic for trisomy 21 patients at Necker Children’s Hospital in Paris. He paid personal attention to each of the 9000 children who passed through his wards – his daughter Clara records that at the time of his death he knew the 5000 current patients by name. He also worked to help them find educational and job opportunities, and was a constant support for many families across the world. Thousands of parents came to him, seeking advice and comfort. Clara recounts that people would call him and – day or night – he would spend hours with them.

Jerome Lejeune died of lung cancer in 1994. He was a pro-lifer who was not afraid to put his reputation on the line, an expert doctor and scientist who put his life at the service of those he worked with. We’ve cited the statistics on this blog before, but they’re still shocking. Around 90% of foetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted in Britain every year. We should be asking, in the practical spirit of Lejeune, what more we can do about it. Clara talks about a family lunch in her biography: her father came home and told them about a little boy with Down syndrome who had seen something on television about prenatal testing, and who begged him to save him from “those who want to kill us.” She writes: “He was white and he said, “If I don’t protect them, I am nothing.” The ‘price’ of not resorting to eugenics might be high, but Lejeune saw that it is cost of remaining “fully human”.

(Amy Owens)

Previously in this series: Alice Paul, Jack Scarisbrick, Gandhi, Hans and Sophie Scholl, Lila Rose, Ovid, Mildred Jefferson.