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Defending life from the moment of conception

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SPUC hosts Maternal Health Conference

Posted by Rhoslyn Thomas on 23 May 2012

On 20 March, Bristol Students for Life's outgoing President Eve Farren and I, attended the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children's (SPUC) Maternal Health conference in Oxford Street, central London.

Bristol Students For Life (BSFL) attended hoping to learn more about the challenges that mothers and babies face in countries around the world, where these challenges are most common and what is being done to tackle them: we were not disappointed.

The conference was well attended: a range of people including medical professionals, bioethicists, religious figures, students from other universities and concerned members of the general pro-life community were there and the conference featured an excellent line-up of speakers.

The first speaker was to be the much loved and respected pro-life feminist and supporter of BSFL, Fiorella Nash. Unfortunately, Mrs Nash was unwell that day and could not attend, but her excellent talk was read out nevertheless. Mrs Nash spoke of her experience of superb maternal healthcare in the UK, which literally saved her life, as well as that of her son who was delivered by caesarean section following a lengthy obstructed labour.

She lamented the poor and often non-existent level of maternal healthcare which is present in many countries, a reprehensible state of affairs given that all the equipment and knowledge already exists to prevent maternal deaths. Staff at a hospital in Sierra Leone, she said, for want of a footbridge during the rainy season, were unable to help as they watched women die on the other side of the river. An argument often used by pro-abortion groups is that if only there was more abortion, there would be fewer maternal deaths. Mrs Nash, however, pointed out that Ireland and Malta, where abortion is illegal, are two of the safest countries in the world for a woman to give birth. A coincidence?

Also speaking at the conference was Dr Roger Kiska, senior legal counsel of the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF). Dr Kiska, who works in Vienna, spoke of the legal battle against the establishment of a 'right' to abortion in international law. At present, no such right exists and no UN treaty makes abortion an international human right.

However, there is increasing pressure from the UN on countries to legalise abortion and to make it a 'right', including UN compliance body meetings to decide on 'punishments' for those countries who are still in defiance of the pro-abortion position. Steps are being taken by many pro-life legal figures to block these bullying tactics, as can be seen in the San Jose Articles (

These articles are an aid in combating the increasingly accepted assertion that abortion is a human right. They state first and foremost that: "as a matter of scientific fact a new human life begins at conception." According to their website, “The San Jose articles were created to help governments and civil society promote human rights through a proper understanding of how the right of the unborn child are protected in international law. The articles should be used to counter false assertions, such as the erroneous notion that abortion is a human right”.

The next speaker was Professor Robert Walley, a leading obstetrician. He was given the ultimatum of changing his speciality or leaving the field of medicine altogether during the 1970s following the legalisation of abortion in Great Britain. As Professor Walley pointed out, “Medics must live according to their consciences, which tells them not to perform abortions. Medics are trained to save life not destroy it."

Professor Walley later went on to found Matercare International which runs a  much-needed programme in Kenya. It brings healthcare to mothers living in rural areas, often hours away from hospitals with nothing but dusty tracks to travel on. He gave a sobering account of the state of maternal healthcare in the countries where Matercare currently works: “In the countries in which I work, one in seven mothers will die due to lack of medical equipment...It is ridiculous to supply women with abortion and condoms when they need access to emergency obstetrical care...Abortion is a sin of commission, but failing to provide mothers with obstetrical care is a sin of omission", he said. "We are here to uphold women's dignity".

After a hearty lunch, the conference heard from Terry Brown, a representative of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVP), a parish based group that works to support women in Sudan amongst other countries through the building of water wells, children's homes, feeding clinics, medical treatment and many other things. For the SVP and for pro-lifers in general, being pro-life and being pro-woman go hand in hand.

Last but not least was the fantastic Dr Obielumani Ideh, an obstetrician and researcher from Nigeria. Dr Ideh expressed her frustration at the poor level of healthcare available to the vast majority of Nigerian women. In fact, the Nigerian Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) makes up 10.7% of the global MMR of which 33.9% is due to haemorrhage.

However, instead of money being pumped into services to help women who are in desperate need of basic equipment, medical staff and – in many cases – just a clean room, abortions are being illegally carried out by international organisations such as IPAS, which has been a presence in Nigeria for 20 years and whose director has been lobbying the president to legalise abortion.

IPAS work in Nigeria under the guise that they are providing 'after abortion care'. How, if IPAS abides by the law, is 'post-abortion care' taking place with no abortions?

In addition, Dr Ideh revealed that a department of the British government, the Department For International Development (DFID), has pledged £10 million to IPAS from 2008 to 2015. Dr Ideh pointed out that this money could go a long way to helping the many women who are in desperate need. It can cost as little as £26 to look after a woman during childbirth in Nigeria, so just £3.4 million could pay for 30,000 patients. At this point, no doubt many in the audience were wondering when the widespread killing of unborn children will end and the rights of women and babies to clean, safe and widely available healthcare will begin.

The SPUC Maternal Health conference was an indisputable success and set the benchmark for all future maternal health conferences, which BSFL hope SPUC will continue to host. However, finding speakers who are more involved, more passionate and themselves more committed to the improvement of maternal health will be a difficult task indeed!

This post originally appeared on the Bristol Students For Life blog

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