Margaret Forrester: Not a Christian Martyr

Another week, another bullshit story of the alleged persecution of Christians hits the headlines at the Daily Torygraph:

Christian sacked after abortion leaflet row

A Christian mental health worker has been sacked after passing colleagues a booklet warning of the physical and psychological damage some women suffer after an abortion.

The mental health worker’s name is Margaret Forrester and the booklet is one we’ve encountered before at the Ministry through the efforts of Nadine Dorries to promote both it and the organisation behind it, a small Taunton-based offshoot of a ‘Charismatic’ Christian church masquerading as a post-abortion support service, so before we proceed any further with this squalid tale of a tawdry bid for pseudo-martyrdom it’s well worth reviewing what others have said of the contents of the booklet, starting with Richard Bartholomew:

Having seen the book, there is no way that it can be described as ”neither pro-life nor pro-choice” – it is blatantly anti-abortion, with two very obvious aims: (a) to make women contemplating abortion feel that they shouldn’t do it; and (b) to persuade women who have had abortions to convert to Christianity. The stories abound with sentences such as “As I prayed, I felt a weight lifted from me”… “I had a new calling in my life – God”… “My son is in the arms of God”… “God has forgiven me, that’s his promise to us all”… “Tears of joy rolled down my cheeks as I realised that they forgave me and so did Jesus”. Interspersed are poems, including one in which a fetus remarks on how the womb is “so wonderfully designed by my Creator”. There’s also a lengthy New Testament quote, from 1 Timothy 1:12-17:

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent (wo) man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

The book ends with some short Appendices, outlining “Post Abortion Syndrome” and supposed risks to physical health, and giving the contact details for Alternatives, a counselling service linked to the same church as Forsaken (the Living Light Christian Church, a local moderate Charismatic church).

Richard, for anyone who knows him and his blog, is not given to exaggeration on these or any other matters but as we’re dealing here with a rather polarised debate in which allegations of bias are often common currency, Melanie McDonagh – writing at the Spectator’s CoffeeHouse blog, was no less frank in reporting some of the booklet’s content when commenting on this very issue:

To begin with – no problem. Her colleague didn’t seem offended. But a few days later her manager told her she was being sent home on ‘special leave with full pay’. She was ordered not to see any patients and to stay away from any NHS site. She has since been allowed to return to work, but Claire Murdoch, chief executive of Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, said:

‘It is clear that the booklet Miss Forrester distributed offers a seriously unbalanced and one-sided view of abortion and that it is offensive to NHS staff. The booklet implies that abortion can lead to alcohol and drug abuse, suicidal thoughts and increased risk of cancer. This could be very worrying and deeply offensive for women who may need an abortion and want balanced, sensible advice. We simply cannot allow NHS staff to distribute material that we know to be seriously unbalanced.’

Well, there are free speech and control freakishness issues here but there’s also a question of truthfulness. Was Margaret Forrester right in suggesting that abortion may lead to depression and suicidal feelings, let alone the raft of other symptoms?

So far as the rest of McDonagh’s article goes, you can safely disregard the comments of both Patricia Coleman and Patricia Casey as neither is a reliable or unbiased source of information in this debate: Casey has form for blatantly misrepresenting research evidence, while Coleman routinely peddles her own bad science in addition to misrepresenting the work of other researchers.

The key to understanding what actually happened is to found when one places the NHS Trust’s assertion the contents of the booklet could be very worrying and deeply offensive for women who may need an abortion and want balanced, sensible advice with the Telegraph’s description of the context in which Forrester was peddling it to colleagues:

Margaret Forrester discussed the booklet with family planning staff at the health centre where she worked because she felt that the NHS was failing to give patients information about the risks and other options to terminating a pregnancy.

I do wish the Trust hadn’t fallen back on the argument that the booklet could be deemed offensive by women seeking advice about an abortion because that isn’t where the real concern lies. The problem with the booklet is that it promotes an entirely biased series of tendentious myths about abortion, all of which have emerged from ‘research’ undertaken by known anti-abortion activists, pretty much all of which breaches the guidelines issued by RCOG and RCPsych on the provision of pre-abortion counselling to women. Had Forrester, as a mental health worker, sought to use the booklet with any of clients this would have amounted to a clear breach of professional ethics and, as such, the Trust were fully justified in both investigating her conduct and in taking pre-emptive action to prevent a breach of ethics occurring, even if this meant suspending Forrester from any front-line duties during the course of the investigation.

Let’s be clear, Forrester’s effort to push the booklet onto colleagues raises serious questions not only about her future conduct but also, potentially, about her past conduct. The Trust simply has to ask just what exactly she may have been telling clients during past consultations, if only to reassure themselves that she hadn’t previously abused her position of trust by giving clients false and misleading information about abortion in breach of established clinical guidelines.

That said, the plot thickens even further when we come to the assertion that she was sacked as a disciplinary sanction given the following report from January 2011:

Victory for Margaret Forrester, a Christian mental health worker who has been told today that she will be restored to work and even offered a better job, following her suspension for expressing her private views on abortion to colleagues.

Margaret Forrester, aged 39, was suspended by her NHS employers after she mentioned privately to colleagues her concerns about the information women were given prior to having an abortion. She shared with colleagues, not members of the public, a booklet containing stories of women who have struggled with post-abortion syndrome in order that they might have the full picture when advising women discussing their unexpected pregnancy.

The source of that report is the Christian Legal Centre’s website, an organisation that is certainly given to exaggeration on many things but which, in this case, can probably be relied upon at least in so far as its statement that Forrester has been offered a ‘better job’, albeit – one suspects – one that would not involve working with female clients who might request information about an abortion.

If nothing else, the CLC’s report appears to support the NHS Trust’s account of the reasons for Forrester’s dismissal:

Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust “totally refuted” any suggestion that it had unfairly dismissed Ms Forrester or attempted to “silence” her. The sole reason for her dismissal was that she “refused to come to work” in the new role that she had previously agreed to take, and for which training was in place, it said in a statement.

It said she was dismissed because she “failed to undertake the duties of her post, she failed to follow a reasonable management instruction to attend work and her absence from work was unauthorised”.

There is one last piece of particularly ripe bullshit to deal with here and that’s this:

But a week later, after her managers found out, Ms Forrester was suspended from her duties at Central North West London Mental Health Trust. Last month, after a series of lengthy hearings and an unsuccessful appeal, she was sacked.

“There is a conspiracy of silence in this country on the issue of abortion,” she said. “If we are professionals, we really must listen to patient experiences.”

There is no room in the “dysfunctional” NHS even for a conversation between colleagues that respects a traditional Christian viewpoint, said Ms Forrester, a Roman Catholic. “Christians are an easy target. There are frankly so few of us who are trying to practise our Christian faith that we become a minority.”

The NHS does not operate a uniform code of ethic, rather it recognises the ethical codes of the various professional bodies that represent and regulate the conduct of health care professionals, such as the GMC and BMA, RCN, BPS and, of course, RCOG and RCPsych. Without knowing Forrester’s professional affiliations, if any, the default position in most NHS mental health service settings for staff involved in the provision of counselling and other mental health support appears to be that of relying on the ethical code of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, which has this to say on the subject of client autonomy:

Autonomy: respect for the client’s right to be self-governing

This principle emphasises the importance of the client’s commitment to participating in counselling or psychotherapy, usually on a voluntary basis. Practitioners who respect their clients’ autonomy: ensure accuracy in any advertising or information given in advance of services offered; seek freely given and adequately informed consent; engage in explicit contracting in advance of any commitment by the client; protect privacy; protect confidentiality; normally make any disclosures of confidential information conditional on the consent of the person concerned; and inform the client in advance of foreseeable conflicts of interest or as soon as possible after such conflicts become apparent. The principle of autonomy opposes the manipulation of clients against their will, even for beneficial social ends.

If certain Christians are as ‘easy target’ then it only because, in placing their personal beliefs ahead of their’s client’s right to personal autonomy, they too easily disregard their ethical duties to provide accurate, non-biased, information, operate under a conflict of interest which they, sometimes, fail to disclose – very few Christian-operated ‘crisis pregnancy centres’ openly disclose either their religious foundations or their position on abortion before soliciting clients and, in the worst cases, exhibit a complete disregard for their clients’ autonomy.

Remember Richard’s description of the Forsaken booklet?

it is blatantly anti-abortion, with two very obvious aims: (a) to make women contemplating abortion feel that they shouldn’t do it; and (b) to persuade women who have had abortions to convert to Christianity.

That’s why the booklet has no place in a professional mental health setting and why no mental health professional has any business trying to introduce it into such an environment.

6 thoughts on “Margaret Forrester: Not a Christian Martyr

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  3. I work in the same Camden building where the NHS trust in question is based, and this morning there was a man dressed as a devil holding up a placard in support of Margaret Forrester. I’m not sure if his outfit was supposed to resemble Mrs. Forrester or the NHS.

    1. It was me, and it was supposed to represent certain National ‘Health’ Service authorities. Obviously killing the healthy is not something performed by real health practitioners. But the main quibble I have with Claire Murdoch’s quote above is that she misuses the critical word ‘balance’. Abortionists are so laughably unbalanced in their coverage that one can talk to them for hours without ever guessing that a young human being is involved or that all biologists know that the life-cycle of a new individual of the human species (identified as such by his/her unique DNA) begins at conception (which is a word meaning ‘beginning’). They then try to gag those who are on the side of science. 🙁

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