A Co Down man who was born with a cleft lip and palate is urging people to back a national campaign to close a loophole in the law that allows babies with the same birth defect to be aborted.
Lawyer and charity boss David Smyth (37), a father-of-three who lives near Hillsborough, says it is unthinkable that babies are being aborted due to having a cleft lip or palate.
David, who practised as a lawyer for several years and now heads up the Evangelical Alliance in Northern Ireland, believes many people will be unaware that something so minor and correctible is regarded as a serious disability in the current abortion laws.
"I have a scar on my lip which I believe has helped to make me into the person I am today and I wouldn't want to change a thing," he says.
"I don't consider myself as disabled and receive no Government disability benefit, and yet the condition I have - cleft lip and palate - is serious enough in the Government's eyes to allow people like me to be aborted up to birth.
"I am astounded that in 2020 we still allow abortion right up to birth for babies who have the same condition I was born with.
"This outdated law is a throwback to when people with conditions like mine were not treated as equals.
"Society has moved on. It's time that our law was updated to reflect this. This law change is well overdue."
David is speaking out in support of a campaign for a new Abortion (cleft lip, cleft palate, and clubfoot) Bill 2020 being led by Fiona Bruce MP, who herself was offered an abortion for her unborn son, who had a clubfoot.
MPs from the three largest parties in the UK have joined together to bring a new Bill to close the loophole and it will have its first reading in Parliament next week.
Currently, abortion is legal up to birth based solely on a primary diagnosis of either cleft palate, cleft lip or clubfoot.
The Bill would change the law to clarify that cleft palate, cleft lip and clubfoot are not grounds for abortion in the UK, and that terminations cannot occur when the baby's principal/primary condition is one of these conditions.
A Stand Up And Smile campaign in support of the Bill has been launched by the charity Right to Life urging people to write to their MPs to express their support.
Cleft lip/cleft palate is the most common facial birth defect in the UK, affecting around one in every 700 babies.
Clubfoot affects about one in every 1,000 born in the UK.
All three conditions can be corrected by surgery, and corrective therapy for clubfoot is successful for the vast majority of patients.
David, who is married to midwife Jude (32) and has three children - Maeve (6), Finn (4) and Isaac (18 months) - says he is horrified by statistics that reveal babies are being aborted with cleft lips and palates every year in the UK.
There were challenges with it when I was a child but it is not a major condition and in no way would I have ever considered myself to be disabled
Talking frankly about his own experience growing up with a scar on his lip, he admits that it was challenging, especially as a self-conscious teenager, but is now something he never notices.
"A cleft lip and palate occurs in the womb when the palate and lip don't join up in a way that it does for most other people," he explains.
"It meant I was born with a split on my lip which was quite distressing for my parents but I had surgery quite soon after I was born to correct it.
"There were challenges with it when I was a child but it is not a major condition and in no way would I have ever considered myself to be disabled.
"As a child in late primary school I had to go to speech therapy, which I did find frustrating, and I had two corrective surgeries, one as a child and one as a teenager.
"When I was in my teens, every day I was very aware that I had a scar on my face and was self-conscious for a while when I was meeting new people.
"But I did eventually realise that most of my friends were self-conscious about something and that it was part of growing up.
I think it taught me resilience. I don't let things hold me back or get me down. Now I wouldn't choose to be any other way
"Now when I look in the mirror I don't even see it. I was lucky to be brought up in a very loving home where I was never made to feel different.
"My speech would be quite nasally because of it and I always said I would never do a job that involved public speaking.
"Now I often have to speak in public meetings or in church, and I don't give it a second thought.
"I think it taught me resilience. I don't let things hold me back or get me down. Now I wouldn't choose to be any other way."
David has continued to work from home during lockdown providing support for members of the Evangelical Alliance, churches and charities working with vulnerable people in their local communities.
Although he studied law and worked as a solicitor for several years specialising in road traffic litigation, he always had a fascination for where our laws come from.
So, when a role came up with the Alliance in the public policy office eight years ago he jumped at the change to apply.
In January of this year he was promoted to head up the organisation here.
"Our main role is to provide resources and support for our members and we have many organisations working with vulnerable people and many of our churches do a lot of work with the elderly," he says.
"With lockdown I have had to work remotely, which is difficult as in Northern Ireland we do a lot of face to face meetings.
"Many of our members have been working hard to support their communities during the Covid crisis and before the Government stepped in with free school meals churches were working to fill the gaps.
"One of the resources we have put out for members is a list of short prayers they can say on their daily walks outside schools and nursing homes.
"It is a simple way for people to connect with their community at this time and to remind them that the church is still here. We might not be able to use our buildings but the church has always been about people and we are excited for when they do open again."
David is hoping that by supporting the current campaign for the new Abortion Bill that people will get behind him and email their local MLAs to help stop abortions of babies with cleft palate, cleft lip and clubfoot.
Ms Bruce brought forward the Bill after many years of parliamentary work on the issue and it is also of personal significance to her as her son was born with clubfoot.
She says: "The Bill will clarify that cleft lip, cleft palate and club foot are not grounds for abortion.
"This is a sensible law change that I am inviting all MPs, regardless of where they stand on the wider issue of abortion, to get behind and support.
"My older son was born with a clubfoot.
"He had physiotherapy every day for the first year of his life and had two operations, but now no one would ever know, apart from the most experienced clinician in this field.
"So I know how such a condition can be corrected. It is hard to think that such a treatable disability could have deprived my son of life which, now in his mid-20s, he lives to the full.
"Being born with this condition has not held him back - rather the opposite. I think it has given him a depth of understanding about the value of every human life."
Many famous people including footballer Steven Gerrard, writer Sir Walter Scott and actor Dudley Moore were born with clubfoot, and others such as actors Joaquin Phoenix and Tom Burke were diagnosed with cleft lip. They have all spoken about how these conditions have not affected their lives or held them back from going on to great achievements.
David adds: "I think many people will be pretty shocked that something like a cleft palate is considered a serious disability and grounds for abortion.
"As the abortion law has just been brought in here I would have real concerns that Northern Ireland could follow what is going on in the UK.
Babies are the most precious thing in the world and to allow babies like me to be aborted right up to birth is something I find shocking
"Department of Health statistics show that 95% of abortions have nothing to do with health worries and are carried out for social reasons.
"Of the small percentage that is done because of serious disability, a small number of those are because of cleft lip and palate every year.
"Babies are the most precious thing in the world and to allow babies like me to be aborted right up to birth is something I find shocking.
"And I've just heard that the NI Assembly is due to debate a motion on Tuesday which is being brought in an effort to prevent abortion on the grounds of Down's syndrome - this would be provided for in the same clause of 'serious disability' which could allow for abortion in cases of cleft lip and palate.
"During this Covid situation, when so much is being done to protect the most vulnerable in society, a really small thing people can do is to register their concern and that's how things change. I would urge people to drop their local MLA an email expressing their support for the new Bill."
You can find out more about the new Bill and the Stand Up and Smile campaign at righttolife.org.uk/standupandsmile