A year later, I can’t say that I would have made a different choice, given the chance. Photo: Getty
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“You’ll ruin my life”: one woman’s experience of abortion and the Catholic church

“Asking the nurse not to turn the ultrasound away, I saw our baby, the same size as a chickpea, and wondered how an innocent thing could ever be shameful.”

“Only God can forgive you,” two nuns repeated, forcing leaflets into my hand as I pressed the buzzer on the abortion clinic door.

My baby was 7 weeks and 3 days old. Some suggested that it would hurt less to call it a foetus. Some asked why I took vitamins to nurture a pregnancy I’d planned to terminate. And of course there were others still to damn me and wish me straight to hell.

But this is what I know: nothing is straightforward. There’s no instruction manual. No experience akin to another. And almost nobody wants to talk about it.

All we can do is what feels right for us. Yet, that itself is a privilege.

The father was a 30 year-old man terrified of his devout Catholic family. He told me, in no uncertain terms, that our baby would ruin his life. We weren’t in love, we weren’t together, let alone married. There was little talk permitted for accountability.

Asking the nurse not to turn the ultrasound away, I saw our baby, the same size as a chickpea, and wondered how an innocent thing could ever be shameful. To me it was beautiful, with power enough to grow the instinct inside me, telling me to run. But I didn’t. Instead, my voice was stuck in my throat and the religious pleading kept ringing in my ears.

“You’ll ruin my life.”

 “Only God can forgive you.”

“You’ll ruin my life.”

 “Only God can forgive you.”

This is where I tell you I’m agnostic.  I have no God, no Allah, no churches or mosques. What I have instead is faith in humanity. To me, religion, like love, is a freedom.

And all I needed then was to not feel alone, to appreciate the women who had faced this before me, to know that they had survived.

“Do many of us come here, not knowing what to do?” I asked the nurse.

“Yes.”

I left a pause, a deliberate beat, a request that she continue to fill the silence I couldn’t bear.

I heard about a 13 year-old girl who had saved her pocket money so she could get to the clinic, travelling there alone, not wanting her parents to find out.

I heard about a Catholic teacher whose treatment was privately paid for by the church, her baby fathered by a priest.

That’s when I pictured them both, tucked them away to keep them with me.

My baby was 8 weeks old on the day of treatment. That morning, I did three things: I took the vitamins, fell to my knees and prayed. Hands clasped, desperate. “You’ll ruin my life.” How could I be responsible for that? I wiped my face clean of make up after crying it off a second time.

Inside the clinic, inside myself, I was breaking, my mind screaming at me. Screaming at me for being so polite to the woman who handed me the paperwork. Screaming at me for saying, “Thank you ever so much,” when she handed me a pen, when all I wanted was to say, “I don’t want to be here. Please help me.”

There is much to say about a society that raises us to be polite and not to make a fuss.

In the waiting room I asked again if keeping it would be the worst thing in the world: “Yes.” That night, he showed me a pair of jeans he’d bought while I was in surgery.

I wasn’t prepared for what followed. The tears that wouldn’t stop. The sound of me screaming into my pillow, a sound I didn’t recognise. The regret of not speaking up, haunting me beyond pain. The grief.

My first step towards closure came some months later. I was exiting the tube at Oxford Circus when the notes of Amazing Grace from a Salvation Army brass band hit me in a wave. I froze on the corner of Argyll Street, and all the tears I had in that moment fell; one heavy tear after another until my body forced me to breathe again.

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me...”

I’ll never know if she would have been a girl, but she became one to me: Grace. Named after a Christian hymn. I smiled at the irony.

A year later, I can’t say that I would have made a different choice, given the chance. Along with peace, time has given me clarity: that it wasn’t the right time, the right situation, and certainly not the right person.  

But in making my decision, I wish it had been my voice alone that I’d heard. Not the voice of any man or church or faith. Because ultimately, alone in the clinic, that’s all there was. Just me. And that’s OK. That, I could have lived with.

Eva Beeching is a pseudonym.

ELLIE FOREMAN-PECK FOR NEW STATESMAN
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Craig Oliver, Cameron's attack dog, finally bites

A new book reveals the spiteful after life of Downing Street's unlikely spin doctor.

It must be hard being a spin doctor: always in the shadows but always on-message. The murky control that the role requires might explain why David Cameron’s former director of communications Craig Oliver has rushed out his political memoirs so soon after his boss left Downing Street. Now that he has been freed from the shackles of power, Oliver has chosen to expose the bitterness that lingers among those on the losing side in the EU referendum.

The book, which is aptly titled Unleashing Demons, made headlines with its revelation that Cameron felt “badly let down” by Theresa May during the campaign, and that some in the Remain camp regarded the then home secretary as an “enemy agent”. It makes for gripping reading – yet seems uncharacteristically provocative in style for a man who eschewed the sweary spin doctor stereotype, instead advising Cameron to “be Zen” while Tory civil war raged during the Brexit campaign.

It may be not only politicians who find the book a tough read. Oliver’s visceral account of his side’s defeat on 24 June includes a description of how he staggered in a daze down Whitehall until he retched “harder than I have done in my life. Nothing comes up. I retch again – so hard, it feels as if I’ll turn inside out.”

It’s easy to see why losing hit Oliver – who was knighted in Cameron’s resignation honours list – so hard. Arguably, this was the first time the 47-year-old father-of-three had ever failed at anything. The son of a former police chief constable, he grew up in Scotland, went to a state school and studied English at St Andrews University. He then became a broadcast journalist, holding senior posts at the BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

When the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson resigned as No 10’s communications director in January 2011 because of unceasing references in the press to his alleged involvement in the phone-hacking scandal, Oliver was not the obvious replacement. But he was seen as a scandal-free BBC pen-pusher who exuded calm authority, and that won him the job. The Cameron administration, tainted by its association with the Murdoch media empire, needed somebody uncontroversial who could blend into the background.

It wasn’t just Oliver’s relative blandness that recommended him. At the BBC, he had made his name revamping the corporation’s flagship News at Ten by identifying the news angles that would resonate with Middle England. The Conservatives then put this skill to very good use during their 2015 election campaign. His broadcast expertise also qualified him to sharpen up the then prime minister’s image.

Oliver’s own sense of style, however, was widely ridiculed when he showed up for his first week at Downing Street looking every inch the metropolitan media male with a trendy man bag and expensive Beats by Dre headphones, iPad in hand.

His apparent lack of political affiliation caused a stir at Westminster. Political hacks were perplexed by his anti-spin attitude. His style was the antithesis of the attack-dog mode popularised by Alastair Campbell and Damian McBride in the New Labour years. As Robert Peston told the Daily Mail: “Despite working closely with Oliver for three years, I had no clue about his politics or that he was interested in politics.” Five years on, critics still cast aspersions and question his commitment to the Conservative cause.

Oliver survived despite early wobbles. The most sinister of these was the allegation that in 2012 he tried to prevent the Daily Telegraph publishing a story about expenses claimed by the then culture secretary, Maria Miller, using her links to the Leveson inquiry as leverage – an accusation that Downing Street denied. Nevertheless, he became indispensable to Cameron, one of a handful of trusted advisers always at the prime minister’s side.

Newspapers grumbled about Oliver’s preference for broadcast and social media over print. “He’s made it clear he [Oliver] doesn’t give a s*** about us, so I don’t really give a s*** about him,” a veteran correspondent from a national newspaper told Politico.

Yet that approach was why he was hired. There was the occasional gaffe, including the clumsy shot of a stern-looking Cameron, apparently on the phone to President Obama discussing Putin’s incursion into Ukraine, which was widely mocked on Twitter. But overall, reducing Downing Street’s dependence on print media worked: Scotland voted against independence in 2014 and the Tories won a majority in the 2015 general election.

Then came Brexit, a blow to the whole Cameroon inner circle. In his rush to set the record straight and defend Cameron’s legacy – as well as his own – Oliver has finally broken free of the toned-down, straight-guy persona he perfected in power. His memoir is spiteful and melodramatic, like something straight from the mouth of Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It. Perhaps, with this vengeful encore to his mild political career, the unlikely spin doctor has finally fulfilled his potential. 

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories