Last year I carried out an investigation into how anti-abortion protesters were confronting women using Belfast’s Marie Stopes Centre. The article received a lot of feedback, with most shocked at the tactics used by some’pro-life’ campaigners. Following this month’s High Court case involving one activist challenging a harassment notice served on her by the PSNI, I thought I’d republish the piece, which appeared in Sunday Life, again.
A link to the camera footage is available at the bottom of the article.
Followed down the street and told my unborn baby had been ‘christened’ James, an anti-abortion protester pulls out a tiny plastic foetus doll from her pocket and tells me: “This is what your baby looks like”.
I was told I would become suicidal, that I would regret the decision for the rest of my life.
I was also told that if I’d been raped, I’d get over it – but I’d never get over terminating my pregnancy.
I’m not pregnant, but the vast majority of women who use Marie Stopes Centre in Belfast are.
They include women who have serious mental health issues,women who have fallen pregnant through rape or incest. And then there are the women who have a very much-wanted pregnancy, but who are faced with the devastating diagnosis of severe foetal abnormality.
I went undercover to experience what they do every time they visit the Great Victoria Street clinic.
And each time I went there I was chased down the street, had graphic images of dead foetuses pushed into my hands and was offered ‘help’ from pro-life group Precious Life.
My last visit laid bare some of the tactics used by anti-abortion activists.
I’d been clocked by the protesters, who have a permanent presence outside, entering the building just after 2pm. Two women stood outside with ‘abortion is murder’ posters, while another stood at the door with a clipboard.
When I left 40 minutes later, there were two women waiting at the door.
“You are going to be a fantastic mother, please don’t be afraid, we can help you with anything you need,” one said, as she walked after me.
“No matter how difficult it is you’ll never be able to undo this, this is going to be the happiest moment of your life.”
After declining her help, the protester, said: “Were you raped? We can help you, we can give you counselling, don’t be worrying.
“Whoever done that to you is going to be doing it to you all over again, because you are not going to get over the abortion, you will be able to get over the rape.
“And the beautiful love of your baby will help you do that, please take our information, please let us help you.”
I declined, once again, but it didn’t put this activist off. In fact, it made her worse.
“We’ve called your baby James, we’ve called him James,” she said.
“You can’t bring your baby back darling, you will go through a much harder time than this.
“All this is us reaching out to you, we want to help you.
“I love you, I know your pain. We’ve been through this before.”
Directing me to Precious Life’s new offices – a stone’s throw from the Marie Stopes Centre – I was told I could be taken there now, and given ‘help’.
“Those people up there (Marie Stopes) don’t care about you, all they want is your money. You can never bring your baby back.
“I had a girl in my house and she was so distraught that we were frightened for her taking her own life, and she said she wanted to take her own life, because she wanted her baby back, and we couldn’t do that for her.
“We offered her help and support after, but she said you can’t help me, all I want is my baby back.
“I have a counsellor that is down here and can speak to you now, and she can offer you every support, that you need mentally.”
By this stage, I’d been trying to shake-off this protester for five minutes. I’d attempted to cross the road using the traffic lights, I’d walked up and down the same stretch of footpath twice.
As this was all happening two PSNI officers were walking up and down the street.
The PSNI now keep a regular watch on the centre, following the high-profile conviction of Precious Life organiser Bernadette Smyth for harassment (later overturned on appeal) against the centre’s director.
The officers watched this woman follow me from the doors of the centre, as I tried to cross the street to get away, and as I continually declined her ‘help’. They did not intervene, but they did ask our photographer why he was taking pictures in the area.
Then, in a parting shot, the protester reached into her pocket and pulled out a tiny plastic foetus doll.
“This is what your baby looks like,” she said. “Arms and legs and fingers and toes, its heart is beating – from 21 days, and you are actually going to be killing a human being, a baby. Your baby.”
I finally escaped her attentions, safe in the knowledge that I would not have to run the gauntlet again.
But many women – some desperate for help – don’t believe they have any choice.
You can watch the video here.