By Simon Caldwell
THE NATIONAL director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children has called for a new era of unity among Britain's pro-life groups — in a move that could patch up more than 20 years of divisions.
National director John Smeaton made the plea at the end of a fortnight in which the society bore the brunt of widespread public ridicule because of the exposure of internal rifts which has led to an avalanche of top-level resignations. Among those who have quit amid a huge row over Mr Smeaton's leadership were political director Phyllis Bowman, chairman Alan Rabjohns and parliamentary officer Christopher Whitehouse.
Writing in today's Catholic Herald, Mr Smeaton, 48, reaffirms the remit of the society — "to provide our fellow citizens with the hard facts they need to lobby their Members of Parliament intelligently" — but hints that he wishes to work more closely with a wide range of other groups, primarily through his new initiative, Operation Outreach.
He claims that only a broad coalition of secular and religious organisations would be capable of defeating attacks on human life, which he says involve "the most powerful institutions in the world", and, in a remarkable admission, said Spuc was "kidding" itself if it thought it could succeed alone. Mr Smeaton goes on to cite the words of Pope John Paul II in the 1995 encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, that "no person or group had a monopoly on the defence or promotion of life", and acknowledges the work done by the society's "sister prolife groups".
He writes: "While never losing Spuc's primary focus on the Parliamentary battle at national and at local level we must co-operate ever more effectively with all the major faith groups, and other associations which include respect for life in their beliefs or organisational ethos."
His comments were cautiously welcomed by Life, the Prolife Alliance and antieuthanasia pressure group Alert — all of which have not only failed to win the co-operation of Spuc, even on things such as the marking of anniversaries, but have also complained their efforts have in the past often been frustrated and antagonised by the society, which was described by one source as "unbelievably hostile".
Prof Jack Scarisbrick of Life, which has unsuccessfully approached Spuc with a range of initiatives over the last 15 years, said: "This is a wonderful opportunity for us all to join up and form a really effective organisation."
John Smeaton — p6