SPUC Conference 2023

His Grace, ✠Jerome had the privilege of attending the conference hosted by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children in Milton Keynes last weekend. It proved to be an incredibly encouraging and inspiring experience. The passionate speakers effectively communicated the remarkable efforts undertaken by the charity in their dedicated pursuit of the goal to “make abortion unthinkable”.

We were delighted on the first evening to hear in person one of the UK’s most courageous spokesmen for the gospel and orthodox Christianity, culture warrior Deacon Calvin Robinson. He gave an inspiring talk about the importance and relevance of the pro-life campaign for the sake of women and unborn children and some great words of encouragement to all present. We took the opportunity to thank him for his efforts online and in the media “to speak the truth to power” and assured him of our support and prayers for his work.

Deacon Robinson was the sole “keynote” speaker this year, as the Executive Committee judiciously deemed it preferable to update the members on the charitable campaigns and advancements since the previous in-person conference in 2019, prior to the Covid outbreak. Diverse members of the SPUC staff shared their expertise through informative presentations, interactive workshops, and engaging showcases, illuminating the remarkable achievements and ongoing endeavors of the organization.

The conference commenced with a formal address delivered by the esteemed CEO. John Deighan, a distinguished Papal knight, brings an extensive history of political campaigning and media involvement on ethical matters, spanning nearly three decades in both the Scottish and Westminster Parliaments. He initially pursued a career in engineering and teaching before dedicating sixteen years as the Parliamentary Officer of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland. In 2021, he assumed the role of CEO of SPUC UK, succeeding veteran pro-life campaigner, John Smeaton. John delivered an eloquent and compelling speech at the conference, leaving the audience deeply inspired.

We were thoroughly impressed by the extensive range of projects currently in progress. These include ongoing initiatives to engage with schools, as well as the development of RSE curriculum support materials, theatrical productions, and even a feature film with globally recognised actors. Additionally, efforts are being made to provide support for pregnant students and offer after-abortion recovery care and support services for women. The talks and showcases proved to be highly informative in a professional setting.

SPUC National Conference 22-24 September 2023. Kents Hill Park Training and Conference Centre, Milton Keynes. Photo by and copyright of Paul McSherry 07770 393960 @Paulmcsherry2

The opening presentation was given by Alithea Williams, the Public Policy Manager at SPUC, titled “An Historical Aberration? A Comprehensive Look at 55 Years of Abortion in the United Kingdom.” During her talk, she meticulously examined the legal history of abortion, both in ancient times and specifically in our own country and the beginnings of the pro-life movement. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the concept of the fetus as a non-human entity gained traction, influenced by ideologies such as Communism, National Socialism, and eugenics, before eventually being adopted by feminists.

Advocates for abortion rights consistently endeavor to contest this notion by utilizing language and terminology that diminishes the significance of the fetus and the act of abortion. Nevertheless, the fundamental principle of acknowledging the humanity of the Unborn remains the cornerstone of British law, as exemplified by recent case law.

Carla Foster was convicted for performing a late-term abortion during the Covid pandemic. Initially sentenced to 28 months in prison, her sentence was later reduced to a 14-month suspended one. She was convicted under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, Foster in Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court by Justice Edward Pepperall “for administering drugs or using instruments to procure an abortion”.

Presented by Margaret Akers, SPUC Services Co-ordinator, the informative discussion on “Changing Narratives: How SPUC’s Impact on Women Can Drive Positive Change” shed light on the impact of abortion on women. A new initiative called Her Voice was introduced, which allows women to share their personal experiences of abortion and its effects. The website provides a platform for women to record their testimonies, which can be shared with others seeking to understand the impact of abortion.

SPUC National Conference 22-24 September 2023. Kents Hill Park Training and Conference Centre, Milton Keynes. Photo by and copyright of Paul McSherry 07770 393960 @Paulmcsherry2

Margaret also shed light on two ongoing initiatives. The Alma Mater Fund, which extends financial assistance to university students facing unplanned pregnancies, and The Abortion Recovery Care & Helpline (ARCH), SPUC’s affiliated organization, dedicated to supporting women, men, and families in rebuilding their lives and relationships post-abortion. Both these initiatives are making a huge difference to the lives of the women and families they help.

We also learned about the SPUC petition on Abortion Coercion, calling on the Health Secretary to commission research into the area of abortion coercion, and in doing so, to make this “insidious problem” a priority for health and social policy moving forward. Ideas about “choice” and “autonomy” are central to the abortion industry, however, many abortions take place because a woman feels she has no choice – either because of her circumstances, or because she has been forced by her partner, family, or even medical professionals. Highlighting the insidious problem of abortion coercion is one of SPUC’s current major campaign concerns.

The problem of abortion coercion is backed up by recent research. A BBC poll found that 15% of all British women had experienced pressure or coercion to have an abortion that they did not want. In addition, 3% (33) of respondents said they had been given a substance or tablet to induce an abortion without their knowledge or consent. 5% (54 women) said they had experienced physical violence with the intent to end their pregnancy.

YouTube player

Michael Robinson, Executive Director of SPUC (Public Affairs and Legal Services), delivered a presentation titled “Making abortion unthinkable.” During the session, he delved into the successful advocacy efforts that have led to changes in abortion laws in various countries. It was especially enlightening to gain insights into the strategic approaches employed by abortion advocates and similar activists, and to explore how we can leverage those same tactics to bring about positive change ourselves.

President of Texas Right to Life, Dr. John Seago’s interview provided a comprehensive explanation of how strategically shifting the conversation around the Unborn to emphasize their inherent humanity proved to be a highly effective approach in influencing public opinion and driving legislative change. Through his groundbreaking Texas Heartbeat Act, Senate Bill 8 (SB 8), Dr. Seago played a pivotal role in the momentous overturning of Roe V Wade in the United States on June 24, 2022. This remarkable accomplishment solidifies his status as a trailblazer in the pro-life cause worldwide.

We also saw presentations from other SPUC staff highlighting other areas of the charity’s work from Fundraising, Communications, Policy & Legal through Advocacy & Development, Creative Cultural & Youth Development and SPUC’s Video Producer and Content Creator. From these we learned that grass roots membership of the charity had grown since the previous conference from 37’000 to 40’000 members and nine new branches have been formed in the past eighteen months.

We also gained knowledge about the remarkable initiatives undertaken in collaboration with schools, “LifeVoice” including partnering with a theatre company to create and stage compelling plays. Furthermore, the SPUC team has successfully executed a prestigious film project that has already garnered recognition and received an award at the esteemed Cannes Film Festival. In addition, SPUC is diligently working on producing comprehensive materials and resources for the Relationships & Sex Education curriculum, which will be implemented nationwide across Scotland in the upcoming academic year.

Conference workshops and sessions gave delegates opportunity to ask and share knowledge

The workshops proved to be highly educational, providing valuable insights for the delegates. The interactive nature of these sessions allowed participants to not only learn more about each other but also gain a deeper understanding of their collective endeavors in the pro-life movement. The SPUC staff skillfully facilitated branch development, engagement with local clergy, ARCH initiatives, and youth work, exhibiting utmost professionalism throughout. There were also stalls providing information and resources for various SPUC pro-life partners, campaigns and projects.

As the first in-person conference since 2019, there was a remarkable sense of camaraderie and fellowship among the delegates. Interestingly, two-thirds of the attendees were attending for the first time, reflecting the significant growth in membership and activism in recent months. The conference capacity had to be expanded three times to accommodate the overwhelming interest from those who wished to attend with the final total numbering 180 delegates from across the British Isles. Moreover, financial assistance was able to be provided to all those who needed help to attend. In addition to ✠Jerome other clergy were also present, including diocesan priests, the FSSP and Marian Franciscans.

Despite being a non-religious organization, SPUC brings together Christians from various denominations who share the pro-life cause in common. Throughout the event, attendees had the chance to participate in Masses and prayer services, including the Traditional Latin Mass with many delegates expressing their gratitude for the opportunity to experience the traditional Catholic liturgy for the first time. Meal times and evenings provided moments for fellowship and enjoyable entertainment. On the first evening, the audience was delighted by CEO John Deighan’s daughter’s singing and guitar performance, while the second night featured a lively Ceilidh with a live band and dance caller. Both the staff and delegates thoroughly enjoyed these occasions, allowing them to relax and engage in meaningful conversations.

John Deighan CEO and daughter with ✠Jerome and conference delegate, Alex Curley-Warren

The upcoming Youth Conference is scheduled for February, and there are plans to organize two or three one-day conferences in different regions. Additionally, many hope there will be another three-day conference in the near future. Delegates thoroughly enjoyed the chance to connect, engage in prayer, share meals, and catch up with one another, as well as interact with the SPUC staff. The conference venue proved to be exceptionally suitable for this kind of event. Overall, everyone expressed their satisfaction with the high quality and diverse food options provided during mealtimes, as well as the comfortable accommodations and helpful, friendly venue staff.

As the oldest and largest pro-life organization in the world, SPUC unequivocally demonstrated its professionalism and unwavering commitment to its charitable objectives. The caliber of their campaigns and projects, along with their flawless execution, left a lasting impression on all who attended. The Executive Committee, CEO John Deighan, and the entire SPUC staff deserve heartfelt congratulations for orchestrating an extraordinary event that will be etched in the memories of those fortunate enough to attend.

For more information about SPUC and its efforts for the pro-life cause, or to become a member visit www.spuc.org.uk