Belfast Telegraph

Bernadette Smyth: 'I've dedicated my life to anti-abortion campaign... I'm not going away'

By Deborah McAleese

The vociferous anti-abortion campaigner and director of Precious Life defends her organisation's robust tactics and vows to resist any attempts to overturn the ban.

Q. The tactics of Precious Life are seen as controversial. Have you caused more harm than good to your cause?

A. Absolutely not. How much more aggressive or controversial is the choice to have an abortion than Precious Life going out and saving lives? The whole perception of Precious Life is completely wrong – just because people stand outside referral centres. It is vitally important we are outside these agencies reaching out.

Q. When you have a group of campaigners outside the Marie Stopes Centre, stopping vulnerable girls and women as they go in, you don't see that as harassment?

A. Absolutely not. When I'm there or any of my colleagues, who are fully trained to do that as street counsellors, we have an approach. We reach out to those women. We offer them support. They don't know there is another alternative.

When it is a life and death situation, which abortion is, it is vitally important for people in the pro life movement to be there where that woman may feel that she needs help and support. I have no regrets in any of the campaigns I have instigated, orchestrated and ran here. I see the results.

I see the babies. I see the women being supported. If someone was to come and protest outside my building, I wouldn't find that harassment.

Q. You think it's acceptable for your campaigners to shout their opinions in people's face?

A. Who shouts? The only people who are engaged with the women are street counsellors and they are there to give the women a choice. Compare what we are doing to help save lives with what the abortion industry and Marie Stopes are doing. They are violently destroying unborn children. When you talk about tactics that are aggressive how much more aggressive can an innocent unborn child feel when their mother is being taken there to have a violent intervention like an abortion? We will reach out and talk to the women but to say we shout or use aggressive tactics is completely misleading and wrong.

Q. What good does it do standing outside these centres or handing out graphic images of foetuses in the city centre?

A. Last night I went to see a saved baby. This wee child was going to be aborted. His parents had gone to Marie Stopes thinking abortion was the right answer to a problem. But because they picked up information and material from us, they kept their baby. My colleagues met them in Marie Stopes.

Q. Your colleagues stopped them outside the clinic?

A. Yeah, we have an ongoing presence outside Marie Stopes. The main reason for being there is to reach out to women in crisis pregnancies. To offer them life-affirming choices. But if the woman chooses to have an abortion we are still there for her as well.

My colleagues talked to the couple as they went in. They said they would like to help them. We are not there to stop people, we are there to say we are their second thoughts. In this case they just decided they would reconsider, they followed up our offer of support and they didn't book the abortion. The little guy is now three months.

Q. In other cases, do you not think you are adding to a vulnerable woman's distress by trying to make her feel guilty about her choice?

A. Let's turn this around and look at child abuse. If there was a child abuser in a community is that not the responsibility of people in society to highlight how horrible child abuse is.

Abortion is the ultimate child abuse and for a woman in that situation it couldn't be made worse because there is nothing worse for a woman than to have an abortion.

I have sat with women who were suicidal because they had an abortion because there was nobody to say to them beforehand there was another way.

Q. What about the young girl or woman who is suicidal because she doesn't want to go through with the pregnancy?

A. Well what do we do when people are suicidal? Take a woman who has just given birth and she has postnatal depression. I suffered from severe postnatal depression and like many women I needed someone to help me through that difficult stage.

Would eliminating that baby, killing that baby have prevented me from being suicidal? I needed medical intervention. In some cases women who are suicidal during pregnancy may even need to be institutionalised in some cases.

You provide help and support, love and care. Eliminate the problem, don't take the life.

Q. Are you saying a woman who is feeling suicidal about their pregnancy and doesn't want to continue with the pregnancy should be institutionalised?

A. Well if her life is at risk.

Q. So you would do this against her will?

A. Not against her will, but if someone's life is in danger we immediately have to offer medical intervention. Abortion does not eliminate suicidal thoughts. Abortion causes suicidal thoughts. I don't believe aborting a child for any reason is in anyway beneficial to that child.

Q. What about the young girl in the republic, raped and suicidal. Was it not cruel to force her to continue with her pregnancy?

A. Well how much more cruel would it have been to rip that child from her womb. A loving society offers support and help to women. If she was suicidal she should have received immediate psychiatric care and sometimes that involves medical intervention that would include hospitalisation and the proper medication. The right decision was made in this case not to abort the baby. She'll never regret giving birth to her baby but she would have regretted an abortion.

Q. What about cases of fatal foetal abnormalities?

A. The reality is that better care and support throughout the pregnancy is needed. One of my colleagues, her baby was diagnosed with Edwards Syndrome. During the scan the baby was thriving but she was told her baby wouldn't survive.

But Clodagh was born and she lived for 33 days. They spent 33 days as a family loving and caring for her. We can't eliminate these special needs children whether they are going to live minutes or not survive. They have a right to life. Destroying them doesn't alleviate that mother of any of the grief or pain.

Q. But does the woman not have the right to decide? Is it not cruel to force a woman to go through with a pregnancy knowing that her child will not survive?

A. Well, you know we have cancer units, how do you alleviate the trauma of a child who has just been diagnosed with cancer and has to go through a year of chemotherapy?

Q. That is not what we are talking about. Should a pregnant woman who knows her child is going to die not be allowed to chose whether or not to continue with the pregnancy?

A. If you have a sick child, what would be the choice there, would we give children lethal injections because we can't watch our children suffer? We cannot destroy children in the womb or out of the womb. It is very, very difficult to go through a pregnancy like that and I have every sympathy. What do we do in those cases? We don't kill, we offer support to that mother.

Q. Have you ever walked in any of these women's shoes?

A. I don't think that is a question I need to answer. I have been there for those women. I fully understand the situation. Nobody can tell anybody whether their child is going to live or die. They may have this diagnosis but some of these children do live and survive. We are discriminating against children in the womb because of their disabilities. But not just discriminating against them, killing them because of it.

Q. So what would you say to the woman who would say to you 'you have no idea what I am going through so who are you to judge?'

A. I would say to that woman I want to help you walk in your shoes, I want to be there for you. I want to make sure you get the best care for you and your unborn baby and when you do give birth that support is there on demand for you.

Q. There are two reviews being carried out. If the laws are changed...

A. That won't happen.

Q. How do you know that?

A. Because the population of Northern Ireland will speak. The public in Northern Ireland has spoken time and time again. The politicians know the views of the people. There is no will to change the law in any circumstances.

Q. You were just as adamant that Marie Stopes would be shut down but it is still open.

A. That's because Sinn Fein used a petition of concern. But during the debate it was made clear there was a unanimous opposition to Marie Stopes.

Q. Well let's say your prediction is wrong and the law is amended. What is your plan of action?

A. I have committed my life to this cause. Seventeen years of relentless campaigning. I'll keep doing this as long as I live. If it means fighting abortion through the courts, on the streets, or at Stormont, that's exactly what I will do. It is important that we continue to influence the government. If this government does not uphold the rights of the unborn child then we will work to ensure there is a party to work along with the other politicians.

Q. You are setting up a political party?

A. That is something being discussed. There should maybe be a new party that would go in on a pro life ticket. I'm not saying I would go in as a politician but I would be willing to campaign and work for a party that is willing to uphold the rights of the unborn child.

I've no idea if that party will materialise but I am willing to do everything within legal means to be a voice for the unborn child.

Q. Is it not inevitable the abortion law will be amended?

A. Absolutely not. I am very confident that those in leadership will continue to uphold the rights of the unborn child. I will continue with a lobby campaign. I do not foresee any changes.

Q. When did you become a pro life campaigner?

A. I used to work in retail. I went to a conference 17 years ago and I picked up a number of leaflets and inside were images of a baby being aborted. I went into shock.

Until then I never knew this is what abortion was. I have two friends who had abortions when they were young.

I knew the affects of those abortions. I dried their tears every weekend. Most women are forced through circumstances to have an abortion.

Q. Picking up that leaflet changed your life?

A. Yes. Whenever I looked into the bodies of those babies I could not believe a society would sit back and allow this to happen.

It was an immediate transformation in my life.

When I saw those images I realised that I didn't want to wake up one day thinking I had turned a blind eye to children being murdered in their mothers' wombs. I wanted history to remember that the greatest holocaust, today's holocaust, the silent holocaust, that takes the lives of 50 million unborn children every year, that I wasn't part of that. I gave up my job and set up Precious Life with my savings.

I am working to save lives and I will rise to that challenge every day.

History will look back to a time like this. History books will quote what people were doing in Northern Ireland at a time when we were threatened by abortion. I would like to think history books will say there was a group of people, Precious Life, who stood up, who were relentless.

Q. So what do you think of a woman who has had an abortion?

A. I love her before she has had the abortion and I love her after she has had the abortion. But I can't give her back her baby. I find it very difficult to sit with a woman who is broken, who just wants her baby back.

Q. So you don't judge a woman who has had an abortion or who is considering a termination?

A. Why would I judge someone who has had an abortion? I feel sad for that woman. I feel that one day she will wake up and regret it.

I would like her to know that I will be there for her. I am here because I want to help people who find themselves with no other option.

Q. So you disagree with activists who shout at women outside clinics and call them murderers?

A. Absolutely. I don't know how anybody would ever call a woman a murderer. I see women as victims.

I don't know any woman who goes into an abortion with the full knowledge of what an abortion is. I certainly would never be part of an organisation or have anybody associated with me that called any woman a murderer.

Q. What about the doctors who carry out the procedure?

A. I would want to pray for doctors who destroy unborn children that they would have a change of heart. I don't know how anyone could be happy in their career as an abortionist. I just want to protect women from abortionists.

What they do is wrong and should be struck off. It is horrific. I want to protect every woman and child from abortionists. I want to be there for those women who think this is the only way. I want to show them there is another way.

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