Christian Hacking had just graduated from Leeds University and was on a teacher training scheme when he had a rock climbing accident that left him partially paralysed and needing a wheelchair. As he was going through rehab, he started asking himself how his energies could best be spent. One question he raised was: “What is the injustice that future generations will look back and judge us for?” Hacking considered global warming, educational disadvantage and homelessness but decided they were already well catered for. “Then I ran through the same metric for abortion and I was like, ‘Hang on, this is on a different scale’.” Which is why, almost a decade later, Hacking, 32, is spending his Saturday morning outside St Pancras station in London in front of two billboards showing grisly images of aborted foetuses.

He is employed as a public engagement officer for CBR UK, a group that opposes abortion, using shock tactics imported from the US. In recent years members have protested outside abortion clinics. They also targeted the Labour MP Stella Creasy, who has campaigned to extend abortion rights and was pregnant at the time. In her Walthamstow constituency in northeast London, CBR put up billboards that featured her face alongside a picture of a foetus aborted at 24 weeks. There are 7members of the group at St Pancras, 4 women and 3 men, most of them young, all wearing red high-vis jackets. They have video cameras clipped to their fronts, a precautionary measure, they say, in case they need to defend themselves in court. It doesn’t seem necessary. Most people who walk past are oblivious to the gore behind them. Those who do recognise the images for what they are avert their eyes.

The group’s members have felt energised since the US Supreme Court overturned the Roe v Wade decision that established in America the constitutional right to an abortion. Ruth Rawlins, 40, who runs communications for CBR UK, says inquiries about membership have risen from an average of about four a week to one a day. “You can either believe that America has gone mad,” says Hacking, “or you can face up to the fact that there are loads of sane people in America who have an issue with the constitutional right to kill. It is not as niche or as marginal as people think it is.” The anti-abortion movement in the UK is considerably smaller than its US counterpart, but the two are closely interconnected. CBR UK is a direct offshoot of an American group called the Centre for Bioethical Reform, which was founded in 1990. It has existed in Britain since 2012, when it was set up by a Christian called Andy Stephenson, now 47.

In 2012, the group had a core membership of 50 people and an occasional presence in a handful of cities in the south of England. Today, they have 11 members of staff, nine teams across the country and 481 volunteer “educators” who hand out leaflets. The recruits are young, educated and religious. CBR members no longer station themselves outside clinics; instead they post postcards through letterboxes in recognition of the fact that abortion pills can be taken in the home. But their position is absolute: they compare abortion to genocide and draw parallels between their efforts and those of the slavery abolitionists. 90% of people in England describe themselves as pro-choice. Yet when it comes to questions of who should be able to have an abortion and how late in the pregnancy, the picture becomes more complicated. Polling shows that 70% of women support lowering the time limit for abortion from 24 weeks to 20 weeks.

Yet polling suggests only 1 per cent of women would be in favour of removing all time limits and allowing the procedure to be carried out right up to birth. Campaigners are quick to point out how few voices there are addressing these concerns in the public domain. The Tory MP Danny Kruger was criticised for raising the question in the Commons in June of whether a woman had the right “to absolute bodily autonomy”. Right to Life, another campaign group, said it did not name politicians it worked with because of the level of abuse they received. “Politicians are timid on this because they don’t realise how much public support there is,” Hacking says.

Source: The Times

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