K.V. Turley writes from London.
There is never an easy time to start a pro-life charity.
For Dr. Jack Scarisbrick and his wife, Nuala, however, the passing of the British 1967 Abortion Act was the moment when they knew they had to do something.
At that time, Scarisbrick was a Professor of History at Warwick University in the English Midlands. Perhaps it was Scarisbrick’s sense of history, his awareness that prevailing ideas ebb and flow over time, that prompted him to set up the pro-life charity, Life, in 1970. He recognized that the law which permitted abortion had to be challenged and, one day, changed. Crucially, however, Scarisbrick and Nuala also recognized that an unplanned pregnancy was not a time for theorizing but, instead, a time when practical help was needed by the mother-to-be.
As a consequence, the Scarisbrick’s own home in Leamington Spa became something of a haven for expectant mothers. Looking back now, Jack and Nuala have lost count of the number of young women who came to stay with the Scarisbrick family prior to going into the local maternity hospital. At times, there were so many pregnant mothers passing through there that Jack became a regular visitor to the maternity ward in the hospital as well. Scarisbrick remembers that this provoked the occasional raised eyebrow from the nursing staff: who was this man with all these new mothers? Today Scarisbrick laughs at the impression then given, but he also looks back grateful for the many children who had a chance to live on account of the help he and his wife offered to those babies’ mothers.
The charity, Life, continues to thrive today. It is a campaigning body still dedicated to the removal of the Abortion Act from the country’s statute books. Life as a charity also continues to help expectant mothers. Over the years a number of homes have been established to this end.
Scarisbrick is now in his 90th year. No longer at the helm of Life, he still takes an active interest in the charity he founded. His opposition to abortion in all its guises has never faltered in the past 50 years. His campaign to end abortion and his opposition to it, whether in the media or with the great and the good, has never wavered; it surely never will.
The 50th anniversary of the passing of the Abortion Act leaves Scarisbrick under no illusions. He has watched as British society has changed from one that reluctantly allowed abortion in certain circumstances to one almost enthusiastic in its embrace of all aspects of a rapacious Culture of Death and with a permissive abortion regime. When Scarisbrick helped found Life, he spoke of his hope that the law might be changed to a pro-life position within 25 years. Both he and his wife believed that that was possible. The 1967 Act was an aberration, or so it seemed to them, a mistaken piece of legislation that soon would be proved as such. Scarisbrick says he did not foresee then how far the pendulum would swing from protecting the unborn when he started his pro-life work. It is easy for someone to stand up and support the majority position. It always takes courage to oppose that position. This was undoubtedly, the case in 1970. It is the mark of the prophet that he or she speaks the truth when all around a lie is in the ascendant. There was, and still is, a prophetic element to founding a pro-life charity in the midst of a society that is intent on heading in the opposite direction. Scarisbrick has never shrunk from this prophetic role.
As already mentioned, Scarisbrick was Professor of History for a number of years at a high-ranking English university. In 1968, he published a work that was to change how Tudor history was perceived. That book was called Henry VIII. It was the first academic contribution to what would become a revisionist historical movement in English scholarship, a text that would detail and reference how the popular myths of the Whig version of history did not correlate with historical fact.
For the first time from within academia an historian challenged the prevailing historical record that the English Reformation was a popular movement. It was clearly not. Instead, what Scarisbrick, and later others, revealed was that the English Reformation was a front for a “top down” revolution — an Establishment device to remove the riches of the Church, in particular the monasteries and religious houses and place them in the hands of those complicit with the State and the new order then being created by Henry. The religious changes in England were imposed upon a people who were, for the most part, deeply Catholic, and who, once more for the most part, wished to remain so. As we know, many died in martyrdom as a result of their fidelity; others quietly continued to believe and practice the Old Faith alongside persecutions of varying sorts.
This reading of the English Reformation may appear today uncontroversial. In England in the late 1960s, it was deeply subversive. As Scarisbrick points out, back then, it was revolutionary, almost as revolutionary as his pro-life stance. Fellow historians, to say nothing of the whole British body politic, were wedded to the myth that it was Henry VIII’s break with Rome which propelled England and later the British Empire forward to its later prominence economically and politically upon the global scale. Something cheered on by the masses, to say otherwise was to call the whole Imperial project into question. Furthermore, Scarsbrick’s analysis also called into question the very bedrock of British society: the link between the monarchy and the state, and the link between the Royal House and the Established Church.
Scarisbrick’s seminal work appeared in a year of change: 1968. The campus of the university where Scarisbrick worked, like so many at that time in the Western World was a place where Marxist ideologies circulated, among both staff and pupils. The university also had its fair share of student protest. The utopias being propounded at these demonstrations, Scarisbrick remembers, were as fanciful as they were historically nonsensical.
It would be fair to say that, from the late 1960s, Scarisbrick was a man swimming against a number of prevailing tides. Not being a Marxist, he was deemed a “reactionary” by some of his students; some of whose number refused to be taught by him. Being pro-life, he was perceived as “counter-revolutionary” to the Sexual Revolution then in full force. Being a Catholic historian, and one able to articulate an England that was never a willing participant in the 16th-century Protestant revolt, Scarisbrick stood far outside the British Establishment in all its many guises. Listening to him today, it would seem that he cared not one jot about this. He spoke what he believed to be true and right; he stood up for the defenseless, and, in so doing, pricked the consciences and challenging the historical memories of many.
On saying goodbye to Scarisbrick, and thinking over the past 50 years of witness he has given, I was struck by one thought: a prophet is not recognized in his own land. Then another thought came: the truth will set you free and, in Jack Scarisbrick’s case, that is unquestionably just as true.