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.

Photo: Getty
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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder