Church denies 'bribing' girl, 12 to halt abortion

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The Independent Online

THE ROMAN CATHOLIC church yesterday denied that it has paid a pregnant 12-year-old girl not to have an abortion.

THE ROMAN CATHOLIC church yesterday denied that it has paid a pregnant 12-year-old girl not to have an abortion.

The denial came as it emerged that the girl, who is not being named, is expected to give birth in February and that the father is an under-age school friend, believed to be 13 or 14.

The Home Office said the father may face prosecution for the offence of unlawful sexual intercourse. The final decision rests with the Crown Prosecution Service in collaboration with social services.

The co-ordinator of the church's support service for pregnant women said no money has been given, or will be given, to the girl's family, which asked for help last month. "We never give money to people," said Roseann Reddy, who runs the programme begun by Cardinal Thomas Winning, leader of Scotland's 700,000 Catholics.

"This is not cash for babies. What we offer is emotional and practical support, like a pram, a cot and baby clothes. All these things are expensive and when the time comes we will purchase them on the girl's behalf and continue to support her with things like nappies and toiletries for as long as the girl needs it," said Ms Reddy.

Mr Reddy said the girl's family, who live in England, telephoned the service last month after they discovered she had become pregnant.

"We spoke to them over the phone, first of all going through the emotions they were feeling having found out their daughter was pregnant. By the time they had contacted us she had already made the decision that she was keeping the baby. She was vehemently opposed to having an abortion, having seen the ultrasound scan and having seen her baby's heartbeat. The family are supporting that decision, as are the school and the local social services. She is a well-supported young girl."

"Most of the time when people come to us, they still have to make the decision and even in that situation we never put them under pressure. We simply ask them what sorts of pressures they are under, so we can address those and see what support we can give. They are always told the ultimate decision is their own."

Ms Reddy has so far spoken only briefly to the girl on the telephone and has not yet met the family, who are not Roman Catholics. She said the family had sought help because both of the girl's parents are unemployed and would find it difficult to afford baby clothes and other necessary items.

The help being offered by the church has angered pro-abortion campaigners. Jane Roe, of the Abortion Law Reform Society, accused the Catholic church of "allowing its religious principles to totally override any compassion for the girl and any common sense. It is absolutely clear that it is a disaster for a 12-year-old girl to go through a pregnancy and then not even give the baby up for adoption."

However, some experts warned against forcing even very young mothers into an abortion. Rachel Hodgkin, a children's rights consultant with the UN children's fund Unicef, said: "I am pro-choice. If this girl was my child I would put the arguments in favour of abortion. But if a girl thought she was committing murder by having an abortion, proceeding could be very damaging. The decision must lie with the girl."

Since 1997 almost 200 babies have been born with help from the scheme, known as "Cardinal Winning's Pro-life Initiative". Mothers aged between 12 and 44 have been supported, said Ms Reddy. Generally about £1,000 is spent for each child.