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My experience outside an abortion clinic showed me how vital pro-life witness really is

Image credit: Heather Mount via Unsplash

I was naively eager to attend my first vigil outside an abortion clinic. Having had little experience of pro-life work prior to this, I finally felt like I was about to do something meaningful; to be actively fighting for the lives of unborn babies when it mattered the most. As I said, I was rather naive and so was very unprepared for the impact being present would have. Yet, this experience only gave reaffirmation for the need of the pro-life witness: this is not just for unborn babies, but for their mothers as well.

It was the summer of 2016, and I had just begun my first of six weeks as an intern for the Society of the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) based in London. Starting with me was another girl who soon became one of my closest friends. One of the jobs we were given over the six-week period was to train to become a pavement counsellor for one of the pro-life vigils organised by the Good Counsel Network that occurred in the city. We were to attend this vigil every Wednesday afternoon until the clinic closed.

Our training for the counselling followed the instruction of Msgr. Reilly where we were taught how to engage with women entering and exiting the clinic. It was also made very clear to us that we were not allowed to set foot on the property of the clinic, nor were we to try and prevent a woman from entering the clinic. Our sole purpose for being there was to offer them our help and support. It was up to them to accept it or not. Only one counsellor was to be allocated to the entrance, and sometimes one at the exit, whilst the rest of the pro-life vigil took place on the other side of the street, where pro-lifers engaged in prayer.

Before my first experience, one of my bosses at SPUC described the street where the abortion clinic stood as a dark, cold and gloomy place. It was after my arrival that I learnt it was not because of the position of the buildings that block the warmth of the sun on those hot summer days. Nor was it the appearance of the clinic itself, which could easily be mistaken for an ordinary residence. The dark feeling was one that struck you at your heart: you could sense it; the cruel reality of what was happening behind those closed doors.

Upon our arrival, the first thing I saw was a young woman with long blonde hair, arriving at the clinic with what looked like to be her partner. With clear unease, she brushed past the counsellor standing on the footpath, and proceeded to wait for the door to be opened to her. As I saw this woman enter the clinic, all that went through my mind was, "she's most likely going in with a baby in her tummy, and coming out without one." This is a reality of what any woman faces when entering an abortion clinic. Realising that this was probably happening at that moment right in front of me, my heart broke, and throughout my time praying at that vigil that day, my prayers went specifically to this woman and her unborn child. I found out afterwards that this had the same impact on my friend, and she prayed for the same intention. 

During the following weeks, we saw women entering and exiting the clinic. Some who left were barely able to walk. As we saw this, our heartbreak became more than just about the loss of the child, but the impact it had on their mothers. The first time I really noticed this was when I saw another young girl with long blond hair exit the clinic with someone who I presumed was her mother. Whilst her ‘mother’ seemed rather bubbly, the girl was quiet and withdrawn. No one can truly feel at peace when taking the life of their own child, so this all the more told me how much these women needed us too. 

As our allocated time for pavement counselling was before the clinic closed, we were never fortunate to witness a woman change her mind during our time there. However, we were often updated on the many occasions where women did change their minds and chose life for their babies. One such occasion had happened the very morning of my first attendance outside the clinic, which gave great hope for the impact our witness there really had.

What is most striking are the reasons behind the change of heart, often coming down to the provision of supports from the Good Counsel Network, or even coming into the knowledge of facts about their unborn child, such as the presence of a heartbeat. It’s a sad state of affairs that women are walking into abortions without being aware of all the facts and supports surrounding their pregnancy, and only come to find this out because of the pro-life vigils outside the clinics. It’s even sadder that for no good reason, buffer zones or exclusion zones are being passed into law, with this recently happening in Ireland, which could prevent women from accessing this information that may lead them to choose life for their baby.  Not only are such laws unnecessary, but they do women no favours.

There’s no point sugarcoating my experience. Witnessing a baby’s life hang in the balance is emotionally distressing, to the point I dreaded going back to the clinic. It's so easy to become immune to abortion, but standing in front of the building where it is actually happening is something else. Despite it being an unpleasant experience, it served for me as a big wakeup call and lit a flame in my heart that all the more reaffirmed to me the importance of such vigils. This is more than just about saving babies; it’s about giving their mothers the love and support they need, and in some cases, information. This is what it takes to rebuild a culture of life, and at the end of the day, life will always win.

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