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Abortion politics
  Mass resignations at SPUC 19/7/99
By Maxine Lattimer

Last week it emerged that Phyllis Bowman, the founder and political director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), had resigned last month along with at least six other members of the executive. The future of the organisation is now in doubt. Members of the Pro-Life Parliamentary Group have written to SPUC expressing their fear that the resignations signal a more conservative approach which could alienate Protestant, Muslim and atheist supporters. This week the Shadow Home Secretary, Ann Widdecombe, will be meeting other anti-abortion MPs like Tory MP Ann Winterton and cross bencher Lord Alton, to discuss the fate of SPUC. The new SPUC chairman, Chris Walsh, has been summoned to Westminster by members of the Pro-Life All Party Parliamentary Group. The group is said to be disillusioned with the leadership of the SPUC national director, John Smeaton, and believe the SPUC is distancing itself from Parliament to forge a closer alliance with the Catholic Church.

It has also emerged that seven former top SPUC executives have written to all the Society's national council members to tell them of their 'extreme disquiet' at recent developments and the hostility 'shown towards staff who dare to raise grievances or criticise Mr Smeaton. A former senior SPUC member said the 'a climate of fear pervades the Society at the moment. You cannot even raise a genuine question without major problems. As a result most people chose to resign after a period of years.' And predicted that at the meeting between SPUC and anti-abortion MPs 'there's no doubt they'll be delivering a few home truths with steel toe caps and spiked boots. Miss Widdecombe doesn't mince her words and she's furious about what's going on. The group's position is that they have absolutely no confidence in Smeaton. They believe him to be politically ignorant, contemptuous of them and dragging the society off into right-wing Vatican politics. That view might or might not be true, but the question is one of confidence and you can never restore confidence in political terms. I cannot see that there is anything SPUC can do to restore confidence short of John Smeaton's resignation.'

Signatories to the letter sent to SPUC's National Council by former senior staff members claim they are not writing 'out of a sense of anger or conspiracy'. They 'unconditionally support SPUC's aims and objectives.' However, they go on to refer to the recent letter from the Parliamentary Pro-Life Group expressing unease at SPUC's direction: 'We wish to record our support for the sentiments expressed in their letter and record our own extreme disquiet with developments within the Society at national level and certain staff changes.' Later the letter says 'Some of us distinctly recall the hostility shown to 'dissident' staff members and would seek to alert you to this possibility. At times indeed the raising of grievances or criticisms to John Smeaton, the current National Director, was, in our experience, seemingly deemed as a breach of staff discipline.' John Smeaton himself refused to shed light on the resignations and denied a split. He said 'There has been no disagreement about policy and the group is now more united than ever. Our fundamental and primary objective remains the battle in British Parliament to defend human life from conception to death.

This latest news from SPUC shows clearly that the anti abortion lobby have lost the battle in terms of affecting a change in the abortion law in this country and making abortion provision more restrictive. It is little wonder that SPUC are abandoning their parliamentary campaign and seeking alternative strategies, such as forging links with the Roman Catholic Church. It highlights the difficulties anti abortion groups are currently experiencing when presenting extreme and out dated views that are not supported by public opinion.
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