News Analysis

After a 30-year prayer campaign, Britain’s oldest abortion clinic closes


When 40 Days for Life begins in Lent there will, for the first time in decades, be no one praying outside the Calthorpe Clinic. This is not because a High Court judge has declared a “buffer zone” around the Marie Stopes abortion centre in Edgbaston, Birmingham, to prevent people from assembling there, but because it has closed along with four nearby “early medical units” also run by the charity.

The clinic opened in 1969 and was the oldest in the UK, so its closure in December (pictured) brings to an end more than 50 years of abortions on that site.

Initially a private business, by 2007 it was the largest single abortion facility in the country, with an annual caseload of some 10,000 clients. It was taken over by Marie Stopes in 2012 and continued to rank among the top five busiest abortion clinics in Britain.

The clinic, however, has not avoided controversy. It was at Calthorpe that the Daily Telegraph, for example, carried out a sting in 2012 and reported that sex-selective abortions could be obtained if mothers did not want baby girls.  The CPS later decided it was not in the public interest to prosecute the doctor concerned.  However, in 2015, he was suspended for three months by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service, which found that he had falsified documentation to allow the abortion to go ahead.

Naturally, the pro-life movement was delighted to see Marie Stopes close the centre. Many who attended the vigils outside, some for more than 30 years, believe their prayers were answered, especially since a manager reportedly announced the decision to a volunteer on December 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron of the unborn.

Also pleased was Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham, who has joined the prayer vigils on a number of occasions. “With the closure of the Edgbaston clinic it is important to continue to pray for all parents facing difficult decisions, that they will cherish God’s gift of life,” he said.

The archbishop recognises, it would seem, that the closure of the clinic signifies the end neither of abortion in Birmingham nor of the social problems that encourage the practice.

He is right. With the withdrawal of Marie Stopes, the three clinical commissioning groups for the areas affected jointly decided to award their abortion contract to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, the charity that already provides the largest number of abortions in the UK, mostly on behalf of the National Health Service, with additional services provided by a local hospital.

Nor would Marie Stopes ever credit God and the prayers of assorted Christians for its decision to pull out. It has hinted, however, that Mammon has played a role.

Richard Bentley, the managing director of Marie Stopes UK, explained that “with the recommissioning of services in the latter part of 2019, we took the difficult decision to not re-bid for the contract, as we were of the opinion that the level of funding being made available was not sustainable.

“The level of funding has not, in our opinion, been increased to sustainable levels to provide high quality, local services,” he continued. “As a responsible provider we were unable to bid on the new contract.”

In short, Marie Stopes closed Calthorpe because it felt it was not being paid sufficiently for its services.

Within weeks, however, the Charity Commission rebuked Marie Stopes for paying Simon Cooke, its chief executive, a salary of £434,500 in 2018, up from his £300,000 earnings of the previous year, (making him the third highest-paid charity official in the UK, according to the Daily Mail). The Commission was puzzled by the lack of an explanation, documentary or otherwise, for why he might deserve such a large pay package. Commission head Helen Stephenson said: “Issues like CEO pay help the public see how a charity is stewarding its resources, and whether it is behaving in an authentically charitable way.”

In fact, Marie Stopes appears consistently generous to its higher-ranking staff. According to a press report from last December, 39 of them earn more than £100,000 a year.

Almost all of the 70,000 annual abortions performed in its clinics are paid for by the British public through the NHS. In 2018, it also received £48 million ($62 million, €57 million) of government funds to develop abortion and contraception networks in poorer countries. Just how lucrative a business abortion has become can be seen in the cost to the NHS of providing a single early abortion, using a pill, under 10 weeks: £480 ($620, €568). A surgical abortion between 10 and 14 weeks costs the taxpayer £680. The tariff increases to £900 for those between 14 and 18 weeks and to £1,510 for procedures carried out between 18 and 24 weeks.

These are the sums of money lost every time a mother changes her mind about an abortion because of the charitable witness of pro-life counsellors or those attending prayer vigils. Such activities must be inconvenient for the abortion industry. The protection of profits may go some way to explaining the current pressure on the Government both to decriminalise abortion and to inhibit pro-life vigils. The Charity Commission is right, therefore, to question if such organisations are “behaving in an authentically charitable way”.

It can only be hoped that the Supreme Court will ask itself the same question when later this year Alina Dulgheriu challenges the decision by Ealing Council to prevent peaceful assembly around the Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing, west London.