24 Jul 2011

LIFE is what happens when you're busy being a feminist

I was at a charity jumble sale today in Milton Keynes, where local charities such as animal shelters and hospices had stalls to raise funds. I bought a book and a DVD, browsed the arrays of home-baked delights, rifled through the clothes, had a few goes on the tombola. As I was perusing one stall, I was dismayed to look down and see a banner proclaiming that it was for the MK branch of the anti-abortion organisation 'LIFE'. For those not in the know, LIFE is against abortion in any circumstances, including rape, incest or threat to the mother's life, envisions a world where abortion is 'unnecessary, even unthinkable', and also campaigns against stem cell research and IVF. I was absolutely disgusted to see what I consider a dangerous, anti-woman, propaganda-distributing pressure group masquerading as a 'charity', and went straight to one of the organisers to complain.

I said I thought it totally inappropriate that LIFE be canvassing for funds alongside legitimate charities raising money for those genuinely in need of help. The organiser responded that any registered charity, which LIFE sadly qualifies as, was allowed to participate. She then said 'If people don't agree with the principles of a certain charity, then they won't give money to their stall.' I argued that not everyone would be aware of what LIFE's actual purpose is, especially as the literature they had displayed was pretty misleading (lots of happy mums and babies, and no mention of abortion anywhere). My point was neatly confirmed by a man standing nearby who overheard us and asked what it was LIFE actually do. Nowhere on LIFE's website does it come out and say 'We are anti-abortion in all circumstances' - instead, their mission statement is summed up by the somewhat long-winded and disingenuous claim that "LIFE exists to save lives and transform the futures of some of the most disadvantaged children and young people in the UK by supporting vulnerable pregnant mothers and young families through difficult times".

The organiser I was complaining to acknowledged my point but said there was nothing she could really do - and also asked me if I was from a charity myself, which presumably meant 'Do you belong to a pressure group with an agenda too?'. I replied that I didn't and that I was just there as a shopper. But I left straight afterwards because I was really quite sickened at the presence of a group that have nothing to do with 'charity' and everything to do with bullying and manipulating women into relinquishing control over their lives and bodies.

It made me think about how to apply the name 'charity' fairly - after all, plenty of charities are not neutral and do have some kind of political or ethical agenda. Christian Aid, Amnesty International, Friends of The Earth - just a few examples of organisations with charitable status, who hold particular beliefs which affect their mission statement. However, I feel there still is a difference. None hold an agenda which dogmatically seeks to reduce the rights and status of a particular group of people. Any organisation which wishes to eradicate abortion is, whether they care to admit it or not, and however much they claim to 'support' the women who come to them, seeking to deny women their right to personal freedom and bodily autonomy. And that is why such an organisation has no place amongst charities who are trying to care for the terminally ill, help abandoned animals, or support people with learning disabilities - aims which can be universally agreed upon as worthy and which are not the subject of any ethical debate.

I wished there was more I could do to protest, but I was glad I at least said my piece to the organiser - who knows, maybe it will give her food for thought when organising the next event. I just found it a frightening indictment of how people turn a merrily blind eye to the erosion of abortion rights happening right in front of us. And I was appalled to see the underhand way in which a group - which exists purely to spread religious propaganda and promote the idolisation of the unborn over living women - had penetrated public space to take people's money. Buyer beware - you never know which anti-woman organisation you might be innocently handing your money over to.

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