As of Sept. 1, Britain’s Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) has a new CEO: John Deighan.
Founded in 1967, SPUC is the oldest pro-life campaigning and educational organization in the world. Its founding coincided with the British abortion bill being then debated in Parliament. That bill would go on to become the 1967 Abortion Act. It remains the basis of abortion provision in Great Britain.
On Oct. 8, the Register caught up with Deighan to find out what’s next for Britain’s oldest pro-life charity and to ask if the pro-life cause in the United Kingdom is “a lost cause.”
“I don’t think it can be definitively lost because it has truth and goodness on its side,” replied Deighan, before adding, “But there is no doubt that the field is strongly tilted against us.” That said, he sees today’s U.K. as “a very hostile environment” for pro-lifers, seeing the chief challenge being a society where “many have been radicalized to oppose instinctively the pro-life position.” This, he senses, has occurred largely, but not exclusively, through national institutions across society that have “been captured by ideologues with their own secular ‘religion,’ which has abortion as a sacred tenet.”
Alongside this, he senses a censorship of freedom of speech on the subject of abortion, made worse by those who are controlling the flow of information within society and who have their own agendas. Deighan believes there is a real danger that those who hold pro-life views will be completely “squeezed out of public life.”
In the U.K. today it is easy to despair in this anti-life climate. It is also easy to get overwhelmed by the challenges presented. But which of these challenges concerns Deighan most? “The collapse of reason and the numbing of people’s minds in our entertainment-soaked age,” he answered. “There is something wrong with our education system when it produces so many people who are unwilling to think for themselves, albeit they are often good at regurgitating what they have been told to believe.”
Nowhere, he says, is this form of passive acceptance seen more than in the U.K.’s House of Parliament when it comes to the subject of abortion. “There is so much conformity among politicians,” lamented Deighan. “They typically take the position of the pack, which is presently strongly pro-abortion.”
And given that this anti-life indoctrination has reached the parliament of the land, how does he view his new role in the fight to change that? “My role is to maximize the effectiveness of SPUC in the pro-life struggle,” said Deighan. “That includes ensuring that the work of our staff is aligned to strategic objectives which can defeat abortion and that we assist our supporters in making a significant impact in the political and culture-shaping areas of society. Impacting on political life is ultimately what is required if we are to get just laws.”
Prior to his latest national appointment as SPUC’s CEO, Deighan led SPUC Scotland. Before joining SPUC in 2015, he was parliamentary officer and regular spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland. This involved time working in the Scottish Parliament, where he was involved in directing the “Scotland for Marriage” campaign, as well as organizing successful campaigns against assisted suicide and euthanasia bills in the Scottish Parliament. Following his 16 years of service with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, Pope Francis awarded Deighan a papal knighthood. In addition, he is vice president of the Catholic Union of Great Britain, an organization whose purpose is to promote a Christian standpoint in public affairs.
Today, as it did in 1967, SPUC campaigns against abortion. It advocates the need for a consistent life ethic, one that values the lives of all human beings. As a result, it also campaigns against other direct threats to the lives of vulnerable people, such as euthanasia and embryo abuse.
SPUC remains a grassroots organization with more than 60 local branches in Britain and now boasts thousands of supporters across the United Kingdom. Its national U.K. headquarters is in London, with regional offices in Scotland and Northern Ireland. From these locations it works to support its local members: planning political campaigns, running a pro-life communications service, organizing conferences and outreach, as well as sending speakers into schools and engaging in academic research.
According to its website: SPUC bases its work on principles of natural justice, namely that it is wrong to kill innocent human beings; everyone should be treated equally; all human beings are people with rights; children deserve special protection and care; and the weakest in society must be protected by the law.
From the start, SPUC has always been a nonreligious organization, drawing ecumenical support from those of all faiths and none. However, in today’s decidedly secular Britain, is there a danger that any pro-life organization will be viewed simply as a Catholic dominated one? “Unless people have a reference point outside their current culture,” said Deighan, “they simply adopt the values of that culture in an osmosis-like manner. The Catholic Church is an institution which transcends time and culture so those who adhere to the Catholic faith typically have a greater opportunity to access information that can inoculate them from the errors of our age. So it is not surprising that we have many Catholics supporting us.” He pointed out that other religions and philosophies can also “provide the tools to assess our culture. The values of SPUC are in line with reason and therefore accessible to anyone.” “Our support should not just be Catholics. As the spread of the tyranny of secularism reveals its true nature, it is increasingly showing itself opposed to reason, freedom and democracy; it has to give rise to a counterculture of those who know those values are important.”
Facing the spread of “the tyranny of secularism” is no mean task, however, particularly in 21st-century Britain. So what, if anything, gives hope to the new SPUC CEO? “My immediate predecessor John Smeaton leaves a legacy and vision for getting to the heart of the pro-life fight, including key legal challenges and an unwavering commitment to being a dependable voice of witness. I want to live up to that example. The pro-abortion position has been spread through misinformation and distortion and is therefore held weakly by most people,” observed Deighan. “It means it is always at risk of being overturned, [as] it takes a lot of effort to keep pumping out propaganda that is contrary to reason.” He is equally certain that those who are committed to pro-life views hold those convictions much more deeply than their opponents and that they are also unlikely to give them up.
“I’m reminded of [William] Wilberforce’s words,” Deighan continues, “when he first tried to end the slave trade in Parliament: ‘The nature and all the circumstance of this trade are now laid open to us: We can no longer plead ignorance; we cannot evade it; … we cannot turn aside.’” Deighan pointed out it took Wilberforce another 20 years before he achieved success, but SPUC’s CEO feels that “pro-lifers have the same attitude and will win.”
Now, with SPUC well over 50 years in existence, how does he view its next decades? “Fighting the good fight in the face of cultural breakdown,” Deighan replied without hesitation. “I’m certainly working with the aim of having a society which once more sees abortion as unthinkable, just as Wilberforce did when confronted with the slave trade. My conscience won’t allow me to stand aside when I know a terrible trade in lies, misery and death exists in the society around me. I’m not planning on it taking 50 years, but the future depends on how effective the creative minorities are. And who knows what divine Providence has in store.”