Pro-lifers in Birmingham rejoiced today as over 30 years of persistent prayer were answered. The Calthorpe Clinic abortion centre in Edgbaston closed its doors for the last time as their business came to a halt after performing terminations for 50 years. Originally run as an old people’s home, in 1969 the centre became the first in the UK to exist exclusively for abortions.
‘People have been praying there for decades’ said Stephanie Pyne who, along with many other dedicated Christians, has herself participated in peaceful vigils for nearly 30 years. For over 8 years the international prayer campaign 40 Days for Life has been running a witness twice a year outside the gates of this centre, offering alternatives and helping over 100 women to choose life. Some of the women told volunteers immediately of their change of heart and asked for support to continue their pregnancy whilst others returned years later to give thanks. Campaign director Isabel Vaughan-Spruce recounted the story of a lady who pushed her toddler in a pram towards the volunteers praying there and told them ‘For a long time I’ve been meaning to come this way to say thank you. My daughter came here 3 years ago to have an abortion but changed her mind after seeing you. She never told anyone on the day why she left but I want to say thank you because without you my grandchild wouldn’t be here’. An abortion minded couple said ‘We prayed for an angel to stop us having an abortion. The volunteer we met that day was our angel’. Another has become firm friends with the volunteer who encouraged them to choose life ‘If it wasn’t for you we would have had an abortion’ said one couple ‘You are our family now. We are calling our baby girl “Miracle” because that is what she is.’
News of the centre’s closure was announced by the manageress who came out of the facility on 12th December to speak to a prayer volunteer, Patrick, outside. She handed Patrick a doughnut and told him that the centre was closing down at the end of the month and that consequently staff would be looking for new jobs. It was a particularly special moment for Patrick, a Catholic, as on Dec 12th Catholics celebrate the feast day of ‘Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the unborn’. Patrick had been born on the feast day of St Juan Diego who was the Mexican who saw ‘Our Lady of Guadalupe’ depicted as a pregnant woman, an event which converted some 9 million Aztecs to Christ and turned them away from their practice of human sacrifice.
During campaigns there was a Catholic priest outside the centre every day offering up prayers of deliverance (sometimes referred to by Catholics as a minor exorcism). Young men training for the priesthood, nuns, students, lawyers, doctors, nurses, teachers, truck drivers, mums and dads, young and old all came together in solidarity. Archbishop Bernard Longley, who had himself prayed outside the facility, on hearing the news said: ‘For a number of years I have joined the 40 Days for Life group praying in Edgbaston for those affected by the issue of abortion. 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.’
The campaign was by no means exclusively Catholic with people from various Christian denominations uniting in a common cause. On occasions Muslims showed their support in various ways, if not by joining in themselves then by offering gifts to those who witnessed there. ‘It really was a community effort’ said Isabel ‘I became good friends with many passers-by and local residents who stopped to give a kindly word of encouragement or bring us refreshments.’
The private business, Calthorpe Clinic, was reported in 2007 to be the single largest abortion facility in the UK with an annual caseload of around 10,000 clients. In 2012 it was taken over by Marie Stopes an international abortion provider and even recent statistics have shown it to still be in the top 5 busiest abortion centres.
The abortion centre has a chequered history having made the news on more than one occasion. In November 2000 when operating as a private centre, one of the abortionists there, Dr Andrew Gbinigie caused horrific injuries, on his first day at work, to a young woman seeking an abortion. Whilst performing the operation on the 21 year old he tore a hole in her womb, removed an ovary, ripped away part of a kidney and pulled down a piece of her bowel before questions from the assisting theatre nurse eventually caused him to realise his catalogue of mistakes. The suffering woman needed five hours of emergency surgery to save her life. Father of 3 Dr Gbinigie was found guilty of professional misconduct but was kept on the register, still being allowed to practice under certain conditions.
A further 35 women eventually came forward claiming to have suffered at the hands of the abortionist. 15 of these women gave evidence but Dr Gbinigie was still allowed to keep his place on the medical register.
In 2008, whilst Calthorpe Clinic was still a private centre, a nurse failed to check a client’s personal details and consequently gave a chemical abortion to the wrong woman. The nurse later realised her mistake and contacted the client but the drug had already taken effect.
More poor conduct came to light in 2012 when Dr Palaniappan Rajmohan, whilst working at Calthorpe Clinic, was caught on camera in an undercover sting offering to carry out abortions on the grounds of gender. Although Dr Rajmohan himself admitted ‘It’s like female infanticide, isn’t it?’ he still agreed to state on the forms that the woman was too young for pregnancy so as to avoid legal problems. Pro-life activist Aisling Hubert, supported by the Christian Legal Centre, launched a private prosecution of the doctor but was left with a bill of £47k after the Crown Prosecution Service used its powers to quash the case saying it ‘would not be in the public interest’ to pursue the case further.
Also in 2012 a routine inspection at Calthorpe Clinic revealed doctors were presigning abortion forms which certified that women could have their pregnancies terminated. Legally, accept in emergencies, a decision to abort a baby must be agreed by 2 doctors but at this location one doctor signed forms without ever having even met the women, leaving the second doctor to effectively make a solo decision.
Later that same year the centre changed hands and became Marie Stopes International but the problems hadn’t ended. In 2016 MSI Birmingham along with other MSI centres around the country had some of their ‘services’ suspended due to concerns raised by the Care Quality Commission (CQC). These included concerns that the right protocols weren’t in place to ensure girls under 18yrs old and vulnerable women were able to give informed consent to their abortion as well as concerns relating to all surgical abortions after 12weeks. Consequently any terminations carried out under general anaesthetic or sedation after 12 weeks were suspended. Recent inspections revealed that between March 2018 and Feb 2019 there were 18 incidents where patients had to be transferred from the location to an NHS hospital. Volunteers praying outside stated it was not uncommon to see 2 or 3 ambulances lined up outside the building.
Thankfully no one has to worry about any more horror stories from this location. Rachel Mackenzie who herself once had an abortion at this centre went on to become a regular prayer volunteer outside the gates as well as running ‘Rachel’s Vineyard’ in the Midlands (an organisation to help people find healing after involvement in an abortion). She stated ‘I am so relieved that no more children will have their lives ended here as my son once did.’ Linda Hope who also became part of 40 Days for Life Birmingham said she regretted her decision to have an abortion at the centre, ‘I want other women to know there’s a better option than that pain. No one told me, so I want to be the voice that tells them’.
Isabel Vaughan-Spruce said ‘We have faithfully waited many years to hear this news. We are so grateful to God for letting us see the fruit of our prayers.’ She went on to recount how ‘On my last day of prayer during the 40 Days for Life a beautiful white dove walked out of the drive from the abortion centre and sat at my feet for 2 hours, I felt it was a symbol of all the pure, innocent lives which had been snuffed out there and I dared to hope it might be a sign of peace to come. Now this place has closed it’s time for us to move on to another abortion facility. While abortion is happening in our city we will never be silent.’