History of the Pro-life Movement in the UK
The 1960’s in the UK heralded in a movement pushing for ‘women’s rights’, with marches demanding that women be given the right to decide whether their unborn babies should live or not. “It’s our bodies, we can do what we like!” It is worth noting that a very large number of men were involved in this movement – in spite of women claiming “What’s it got to do with men?
Notably it was a man who first brought the abortion bill before Parliament, Labour MP Mr. Crossman – an amendment was put forward by David Steele (later knighted) and was passed. Len Murray, Trades Union Leader, led at least one march through London (he also was subsequently knighted); and a lot (possibly most) abortionists were (and maybe still are) men.
There was a huge Rally in London to oppose the Bill – 100,000 people from all over the country assembled at Hyde Park; the Embankment was filled with coaches. (Blessed) Mother Teresa was there and gave a talk and then the march wound its way past Buckingham Palace and on to Parliament. SPUC waged its war in letter writing to MPs, door-to-door leafleting etc. and a crisis pregnancy centre, Life, was started. Sadly the man-made law legalising abortion was passed in 1967.
We cannot talk about the pro-life work in the UK without first and foremost mentioning Father James Morrow. He was parish priest at St. Andrew’s Church in Braemar, Aberdeenshire, and the first clergyman in the UK to get involved with protection of the unborn, which he did heroically right up until he died. He was given the use of a very old and small disused one-time church/school which he turned into a pro-life centre and called it Humanae Vitae House, where many pro-life people were able to attend talks etc. In 1988 Mr. Jim Gallagher launched Rescue Fr. Morrow was very much involved with this. In 1989 the Rescues extended into England – Birmingham in January and then Manchester in March.
In 1990 Bishop Conti relieved Fr. Morrow of his duties as parish priest so that he could devote all his time to pro-life work and in particular protection of the unborn. Fr. Morrow moved into Humanae Vitae House and it was also used as a Retreat Centre.
In the latter half of the 1980s and early 90s, another pro-life organisation which sprang up was Pro-Life Action Network, started by Liz Toolan, Tamsin (now Sr. Tamsin Geach, OP) and her brother More Geach, and Fr. Morrow was its Spiritual Director. The marvellous, brave people who belonged to PLAN actually went outside the abortion mills to offer help to women and to stop them from going ahead with the abortions; the only pro-life organisation in the UK together with Rescue which did this. It was, according to the media, confrontational, aggressive, violent. And, of course, the media made much of reports that in America, abortion clinics were being burned down and abortionists were being shot – surely if these pro-life fanatics weren’t stopped, the same thing would happen in the UK.
Then in 1999 a marvellous thing happened – Mr. Gianpaolo Mosconi (A Day For Mary) was told by his mother that whilst in New York she had joined a pro-life vigil which was led by an amazing priest and that he, Gianpaolo, should ask the priest to come to the UK. He did this and in May of that year, Monsignor Philip J. Reilly came to England to tell us how he did things in New York. He had started pro-life activities much the same way as others – Rescues (i.e. blocking the entrances to the abortion mills), protests etc. – but had realised this wasn’t working well enough. He prayed before the Blessed Sacrament and the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants was born – very, very peaceful and very, very prayerful; almost like a whisper compared to the noise and clamour caused by the pro-aborts and civil authorities in their dealings with pro-life activities like Rescue and, sometimes, PLAN.
So in 1999 we had our first taste of the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants way of doing a prayer vigil – and we liked it! On Friday evening Monsignor Reilly gave a talk and the next day, May 31st, starting with Mass in St. Bede’s Church, Thornton Road, Clapham Park, he led well over 100 of us in a vigil to the BPAS abortion centre in Leigham Court Road, Streatham.
In the year 2000, it was decided that PLAN would ask Monsignor Reilly if we could go under the banner of the Helpers. And so from our infancy in PLAN we blossomed into the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants – UK.
Shortly after this, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal came to London and Father Richard, CFR, became the Spiritual Director of the Helpers-UK. Now we were able to arrange our big monthly Rosary Procession Prayer Vigils as well as having our smaller weekly ones.
The people on our PLAN mailing list in the UK were now learning about what was happening in London and soon there were Helpers groups starting up throughout the UK – Edinburgh, Scotland; Newcastle-upon-Tyne; Leeds; Fallowfield, Manchester; Stockport; Birmingham; Bath and Bristol; Maidstone.
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