The anti-abortion lobby group that launched Kate Forbes’s political career
Explainer: The evangelical group supporting an SNP candidate that wants to replicate US anti-abortion movement in UK
SNP leadership contender Kate Forbes is facing questions about her position on abortion following revelations that an anti-abortion Christian lobby group sponsored her early political career.
openDemocracy revealed this week that Forbes’s first job in the Scottish Parliament had been funded by Christian Action, Research and Education (CARE), known for its opposition to abortion, sex education and LGBTIQ+ rights.
The findings have put a spotlight on the group, which claims it has placed more than 300 interns trained to take a “biblical approach” to political issues into MPs offices.
Last year, our analysis found more than 20 MPs had taken interns since 2010 from CARE’s Leadership Programme, which offers 11-month placements in Westminster – and all-access Commons passes – to recent university graduates.
Help us uncover the truth about Covid-19
The Covid-19 public inquiry is a historic chance to find out what really happened.
The group has said its internship scheme puts participants in “real positions of responsibility”, and boasts that former interns have gone on to become cabinet ministers and senior civil servants. Tory MP Stephen Crabb, an alumni of the scheme, credits it with giving him “a grounding of the Commons, politically”.
Secular and abortion rights campaigners have raised concerns about the influence and access to power that it grants the group. Kerry Abel, chair of Abortion Rights UK, told openDemocracy she believed the organisation was “actively trying to change our law on abortion in an ideological way that ignores evidence-based health advice and access needs for women”.
She added: “These organisations should not have an undue hold on our democracy and a full independent investigation should be held as to who is trying to court our elected representatives.”
CARE insists that graduates on the programme “are neither asked nor permitted to lobby on [its] behalf”.
CARE, which has existed since 1983, has repeatedly lobbied for restrictions to abortion rights in the UK.
Last year, the group’s media adviser told openDemocracy it would “absolutely” seek to replicate the US anti-abortion movement, which has claimed the Supreme Court’s decision to repeal abortion rights in July 2022 as a victory.
That same year it boasted about funding ‘crisis pregnancy centres’ in Northern Ireland in its annual accounts published by the Charity Commission.
‘Crisis pregnancy centre’ (CPC) is a term used to describe public-facing operations run by organisations whose primary goal is to dissuade people with an unplanned pregnancy from accessing abortion care.
These centres attract clients by offering free pregnancy tests and scans, childcare equipment and counselling, alongside an anti-abortion message.
“In our experience, so-called ‘crisis pregnancy centres’ mislead and delay people who are looking for impartial non-directive pregnancy counselling on all their options,” Danielle Roberts of Alliance for Choice Belfast told openDemocracy.
“We have repeatedly been contacted by people who have visited these organisations only to be told harmful myths about abortion, be given ultrasounds outside of a medical setting, and shockingly called back for repeat appointments as a delaying tactic to ensure people cannot receive abortion on request under the NI law.”
Accounts for the group published on Companies House show that it received a donation of £25,000 towards its Northern Ireland Fund in 2022, which it said was to “train volunteers and establish pregnancy crisis centres” in the country. CARE does not disclose who provided the funding.
The filing also shows that CARE received £974,753 in regular donations, £876,458 in individual one-off donations, and £65,102 from legacies that financial year. An additional £4,165 was received under the UK government’s furlough scheme. According to the accounts, the group spent £825,000 on “influencing public policy” in the year ending 31 March 2022.
In 2022, CARE said that it “rallied several parliamentarians” to oppose plans to make permanent a temporary scheme originally set up under Covid, offering tablets to end a pregnancy through the post.
In March 2022, MPs voted to extend the service, which was due to be scrapped in September, indefinitely.
The group also campaigned against an amendment to the government’s Public Order Bill that would place so-called buffer zones around abortion clinics to prevent women from being harassed by anti-abortion campaigners.
The amendment, which would make harassment of women by protesters a criminal offence, passed in October 2022, but the bill itself has yet to make it through the house.
The organisation has also been criticised for lobbying against LGBTQ+ rights in the past.
Most recently, CARE opposed a bill passed by the Scottish government in December 2022 that would make it easier to change the legal sex on a person’s birth certificate, claiming that “God himself would be aggrieved” by the change.
CARE has also lobbied for changes to the proposed ban on anti-LGBTQ+ ‘conversion therapy’. It told openDemocracy last year it did not oppose or approve the ban, but insisted any change should not “restrict orthodox Christian teaching on repentance (that is, a turning from those thoughts and behaviours which the Bible identifies as wrong) as a necessary step for those who freely choose to identify themselves as Christians”.
CARE was one of a number of evangelical groups that campaigned against the repeal of Section 28, a series of laws that prohibited the “promotion of homosexuality” by local authority staff – including schoolteachers, who were effectively barred from delivering inclusive sex education – in 2003.
In 2012, it emerged that CARE had sponsored a conference about homosexuality that promoted gay ‘conversion therapy’ and included sessions on “mentoring the sexually broken”.
In 2015, CARE for Europe, the group’s European branch, was part of a coalition that campaigned for the European Union to reverse its recognition of gay marriage and define a family exclusively as a heterosexual married couple and their descendants.
The other backers of the unsuccessful Mum, Dads & Kids petition included the co-founder of Polish ultra-conservative Catholic group Ordo Iuris, which played an influential role in the government’s complete ban on abortion in 2020.
We’ve got a newsletter for everyone
Get our weekly email
CommentsWe encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.