Pro-choice lobby derides Cardinal's cash offer

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The Independent Online
An offer of financial support to turn pregnant women away from abortion, given by the leader of Scotland's Roman Catholic church, was strongly criticised yesterday as a false promise.

In a speech heralded by the anti-abortion lobby and the Catholic church in Scotland as a "bold new initiative", the Archbishop of Glasgow, Cardinal Thomas Winning, pledged to help "any woman, of any religion, of any ethnic background, from anywhere, who is pregnant and in need".

But the pro-choice lobby hit back at the cardinal's offer, calling it a publicity stunt.

The National Abortion Campaign's chairwoman, Anne Marie Keary, said his statement trivialised the decision-making process around abortion "by implying that women can be bought".

Cardinal Winning told the Scottish conference of the anti-abortion pressure group, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, that "help" in the form of pregnancy tests, counselling, raising a baby, adoption and financial assistance would be offered. He urged women to contact the archdiocesan office in Glasgow from today before making "one of the biggest mistakes of your life".

However, he failed to give details on exactly what help would be available, how aid to pregnant women would be financed or how to get in touch.

The Catholic church in Scotland gets all its funding from its flock or from private donations. Cardinal Winning's spokesman, Father Noel Barry, said a donation had already come in of pounds 50,000 but he admitted no special fund had been set up to support any pregnant women who might come calling on the church after the offer of help.

He said the cardinal had not produced a budget or estimates to cope with an influx of pleas for financial assistance. "How much we give to each woman will depend on the individual's circumstances," Fr Barry said. "The church is not in the business of needs means-testing."

He appeared confident that if the cardinal's offer does prompt a flood of calls, the money would come from somewhere. "That is one of the greatest challenges in an initiative like this," he said. "We will rely on God. God will provide. We are a people of faith."

Ms Keary said: "Is Cardinal Winning seriously saying that the Catholic church is going to be able to support women financially so that they can continue with unwanted pregnancies? I think not."

She added: "What the cardinal is saying is let's have a quick fix, but having a baby and being a good parent - there's no quick fix to that. Having a baby is very expensive. I worry about any woman who heard his speech." The Birth Control Trust said: "These bribes are an empty gesture which ignore the reality of why women need access to abortion services and why women have abortions."

But Ian Murray, general secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said the offer of financial help was "a question of interpretation".