Globe and Mail

Catholic Church offers girl money not to abort fetus

British pro-choice, feminist groups enraged at 'bribery' of pregnant 12-year-old

European Bureau
The Globe and Mail
Tuesday, October 12, 1999

London -- The Roman Catholic Church has provoked anger and outrage among feminist and pro-choice groups in Britain with its decision to provide financial help to a pregnant 12-year-old on condition that she keep the baby.

The girl, who has not been identified, had been advised by social workers and teachers to have an abortion because of her age.

"Offering money to a child to keep her baby is bribery and removes choice," said Sarah Colborne of the National Abortion Campaign.

Jane Roe of the Abortion Law Reform Association accused the church of putting religious dogma ahead of what's good for the girl. "Children are losing their childhood and the Catholic Church is putting religious principle before their welfare."

Britain, which has the highest teen-pregnancy rate in Europe, has been rocked in recent months by several cases of pregnancy among 12- and 13-year-olds. The cases have been concentrated in the deindustrialized North, where joblessness, poverty and hopelessness are endemic.

In June, a government report on teenage pregnancy said there are 90,000 conceptions involving teenagers in England every year, with 2,200 involving girls 14 and younger. Sixty per cent of them result in live births.

Britain's teen birth rate is twice as high as Germany's, three times as high as that in France, and six times as high as that of the Netherlands.

The undisclosed amount of money for the young mother-to-be is coming from the Pro-Life Initiative, a program set up by Thomas Cardinal Winning, head of the Catholic Church in Scotland, to offer pregnant women an alternative to abortion. The 12-year-old is the youngest of 200 mothers who have benefited from the program, which has reportedly spent about $300,000 since it was established two years ago.

The girl, who lives in England and is not believed to be Catholic, is apparently midway through her pregnancy. The father of the baby is reported to be a classmate.

Her unemployed parents contacted the Catholic Church after reading about the program, saying that their daughter would be devastated if she had an abortion.

Monsignor Tom Connelly, a church spokesman, said that the program is based on belief in the sanctity of life and that abortion constitutes murder.

"The church offers real choice so the child in the womb does not suffer," he said. "A life is a life irrespective of the quality of that life. Thank God for this scheme so that, even if a girl has been misbehaving, a life is not killed."

Roseann Reddy, co-ordinator of the Pro-Life Initiative, said her group is simply trying to reduce the financial pressure the child-mother would be under once the baby is born.

"We're getting practical things the girl will need -- a cot, a pram, baby goods like nappies [diapers], clothes, a bath and a sterilizer. That will continue for as long as necessary," Ms. Reddy said.

"We have helped women as old as 44 and as young as 12," she added. "The younger girls are adamant that they want to keep their babies and find the idea of abortion repulsive."

Ms. Roe of the Abortion Law Reform Association said the church's approach is completely blinkered: "They aren't thinking about the girl. All they're thinking about is the fetus. All they can think about is saving another soul."

The Labour government has set a goal of halving Britain's teen-pregnancy rate within 10 years through a special program that includes better sex education and access to contraception, as well as better support for pregnant teenagers, with particular emphasis on a return to school.

Copyright © 1999 Globe Information Services