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What's it like spending two days with Abort67? - Day 1 | Camilla Olim

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Christian Concern works closely alongside pro-life activist group Abort67, and many volunteers are Wilberforce Academy graduates. But what it is like being at their displays? 

Last week, Camilla Olim went to find out by visiting two different displays in London. Writing about the first day, she says she "didn't know what to expect", but left feeling "hopeful that work like this... is actually having some impact and turning the tide." Part 2 will be available next week.

I admit, I didn't know quite what to expect when I agreed to spend a couple of days with pro-life activist group Abort67.

Christian Concern works closely alongside Abort67 and many of the volunteers are graduates of the Wilberforce Academy.

The group organises displays outside facilities that offer abortions and other strategic locations. Blown up photos of aborted babies are displayed on large banners whilst other volunteers engage in discussion with passers-by. They have different banners for different purposes, but regardless, they are hard to look at.

Their aim is to make abortion unthinkable; their method, to expose the practice for what it is.

I'd met some of the Abort67 volunteers at the Wilberforce Academy, where I was able to see that a method I'd previously considered extreme is perhaps, in some cases, necessary. But I'd still felt uncomfortable at the idea of attending their displays, or even, to be quite honest, 'liking' their Facebook page, out of concern about what my friends would think.

But writing several opinion pieces on abortion over the past few months has shifted my perspective, so I was willing to have my views further challenged.

'Putting a stone in their shoe'

The first day, I spent two hours outside a GP surgery in Lewisham, which was hiring out a room for Marie Stopes to perform abortions.

Volunteer Ruth Rawlins, naturally chatty and open, filled me in on the basics before we got started. Strapping on a front-facing camera, she said: "We wear these to record everything that happens, for our own protection, as some make false allegations."

"It's about putting a stone in their shoe," she emphasised, as they set up the banner, depicting an embryo aborted at 8 weeks, and signs either side of the display warning of the graphic images. "We never make accusations. We don't protest, abortion protests itself. We let the images speak for themselves and we ask questions."

Changing mindsets

After the banner was raised and the cameras were set up, we joined hands in prayer. As we prayed on the side of the busy road, I was moved by their compassion. I was moved by their dependence on God to do the real work of changing hearts and minds, and their recognition that we are privileged to play a small part in His work.

We then took our positions and waited. We'd barely been there for five minutes before a woman walked past, took one look at the banner, and jeered at us: "You're pathetic."

Great, I thought. We're off to a good start then.

As passers-by engaged with us after seeing the banner, I listened in to some of the conversations that took place. I heard no judgement or accusation. There were only questions which helped those who engaged in discussion to further explore their own views.

One passer-by on the other side of the road called out, "Is that what happens!?", before walking away shaking his head in disbelief.

Why the images?

For the most part, it was quiet enough to ask Ruth some questions. Ruth had joined Abort67 about three years ago after attending the Wilberforce Academy.  

My first question was probably the most obvious: Why the images, as opposed to any other way?

She explained that research on social reform showed that images were effective tools in changing public opinion. She reminded me that leading abolitionist Thomas Clarkson had used images of the appalling conditions of the slave ships, to sway society on the issue of slavery.

I then said: "Obviously, some Christians will say, 'that's offensive.' What do you say to people who think this is offensive?"

Ruth replied that Christians should actually be "the first people that need to see these images."

I thought back to being at the Wilberforce Academy, where the group had shown a harrowing video of an abortion being performed. I remember the reactions: grief, shock, disgust. At least one girl ran out of the room sobbing.

Ruth continued: "The images can only be offensive if the act [they're] depicting is offensive, and abortion is extremely offensive. Why? Because it takes a life – not just takes a life, but violently kills an innocent human being, and of course that's offensive.

"The problem is that people don't see it as being offensive enough, because the church has not mobilised itself for 50 years to end this injustice. So people need to be aware of how offensive it is. That's why we need to show these images."

Exposing the deeds of darkness

"Do you think a lot of Christians don't know that this is what abortion looks like?" I asked.

"I think there's a level of ignorance," she said, "but I think most people know deep down that it's a life. But, you know, especially with social media, there's so many social justice warriors and Facebook warriors, and there's so many things… but I think that we just need people to know that this is the number one killer in the world, of all time."

She then said something which struck me; something that Jessica, another volunteer, repeated the next day: "We're following Ephesians 5:11 by exposing the fruitless deeds of darkness."

At that moment I wondered whether any objections I may have still had about Abort67's work could stand up to this direct command from the Bible.

I said to her: "I feel like… for me I always knew abortion is wrong, and that it's taking a life, but before I's seen those images it was kind of… a bit of a vague concept to me." I only remember abortion being mentioned in church once, whilst I was at university, when they announced that they had set up a crisis pregnancy counselling charity.

Public response

I still had a few reservations, though. I wondered about the effect these images may have on a woman who has had an abortion and already feels guilty about it.

I asked Ruth: "What kind of response do you tend to get from people? Do you think a lot of people have changed their minds about abortion?"

"Yeah, definitely," she replied. "I mean a lot of people – you know, sometimes we watch the people on the other side of the road, just to see their faces. And I think the great thing about images is that it burns itself into your memory. And it might not be that someone who has seen it is in an unplanned pregnancy at that time, but later down the line, should they come to that position, or even find a friend in that position, they now can associate the reality of the word abortion rather than it just being, you know, a euphemism or an abstract thing.

"The pro-abortion lobby have done a phenomenal job of framing this argument in 'choice'… and the reason they've succeeded is because the church has stayed silent."

"Yeah, because actually, what is the choice?" I said. "It's the question people don't ask themselves."

"Yeah. The choice to kill a human being."

Dealing with the police

During the second hour, a police van pulled up, and two officers emerged to say that someone had complained about the images being offensive.

I found it fascinating to listen in as Ruth explained the law to these officers, who admitted that they didn't know quite what constituted a public order offence. They seemed sympathetic to what we were doing, though, and the situation was resolved calmly.

'Turning the tide'

After we packed up, we headed to a roadside café to debrief. Jessica, who impressed me with her deep compassion, said she'd spoken to two women who'd had an abortion previously, and expressed concern about how best to engage with women in this situation.

Fortunately, Pauline Peachey, who works with the post-abortive support arm of Abort67, had joined us for the meeting, and was able to share her wisdom.

Pauline, who had an abortion when she was young, firmly believes that people who have gone through the experience need to be able to process it, in community with friends they can trust, rather than bury it.

She runs a website called Post Abortive Support for Everyone (PASE) which offers resources for all those affected by abortion, such as mothers, fathers and church leaders. Pauline sometimes attends Abort67 displays, holding up a board saying: "I've had an abortion, ask me about it."

I left the café with a hundred thoughts, finding myself burdened, challenged, motivated and hopeful. Hopeful that maybe work like this, though hard and small in the face of the statistics, is actually having some impact and turning the tide.

The second half of my time with Abort67 will be posted next week - looking at election strategy, church engagement and how you can get involved in the pro-life cause. 

Related Links: 
UK's biggest Christian festival bans pro-life group
'First in the UK': Abortion facility to close following pro-life campaigning 
BPAS's 'morning after pill' campaign: Deceptive and irresponsible | Camilla Olim 
The 'pro-choice' argument is betraying women | Camilla Olim 
Being anti-abortion is not enough | Regan King