Defenders of the Unborn, Never Give Up — I Became Pro-Life Because of People Like You

The awakening of our country’s conscience is a slow process. Do not lose heart.

Bernadette Smyth (2nd from right) of the pro-life group Precious Life stands in front a billboard truck alongside fellow protesters outside Belfast High Courts on May 26, 2021, in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Bernadette Smyth (2nd from right) of the pro-life group Precious Life stands in front a billboard truck alongside fellow protesters outside Belfast High Courts on May 26, 2021, in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (photo: Charles McQuillan / Getty Images)

The clouds above concealed Brother Sun’s face like a veil. Patches of crusted snow dotted the grass and soil around me. I was walking westward on the sidewalk of North University Avenue, in Ann Arbor.

What was on my mind while I took those steps?

I don’t really know. It may very well have been some girl in one of my classes. Or perhaps it could have been some classmate whom I found to be annoying, or the recent Space Shuttle crash, or that an invasion of Iraq was looking imminent, or plenty of other things. Far removed from any of my thoughts was the great moral crisis of our day.

I was only 20 years old. I had yet to have anyone tell me, directly, that they’d been involved in an abortion. All I had was a relative, whom I’d strongly suspected was the “friend” he’d once told me about, who’d gotten a past girlfriend pregnant and had agreed with her to have the child aborted. That was it. For me, abortion was a topic “out of sight, out of mind.”

I’d heard that during earlier stages of pregnancy, a fetus was merely a “cluster of cells.” I’d heard that our nation’s crime rates had reduced significantly in the decades since the Roe v. Wade decision because so many unwanted children, who presumably would’ve been more prone to committing crimes when they grew to be juveniles and adults, simply hadn’t been born. Arguments such as these were enough to reinforce my own obliviousness. 

My conscience was about to be stirred in a single unanticipated moment. 

A truck in the near distance, driving around campus as a mobile billboard, suddenly caught my eye. The images on the side of the truck were getting nearer, and ever clearer, as it drove northward on State Street. I stopped dead in my tracks. My eyes were suddenly glued to those gruesome images, of dead children who’d been victims of abortion, with torn off limbs or gaping holes in their skulls. Those so-called “clusters of cells” had facial features, and they looked all too … human. I kept on staring at those images as the truck hooked right, onto North University Avenue, and then passed me by. I turned to keep on looking at those poor children, until the back of that truck faded from view.

“How can anyone support that?” I wondered to myself. Regardless of whatever it was that had been occupying my thoughts in the moments prior, I suddenly couldn’t think of anything else. I became pro-life, right then and there, and at the University of Michigan of all places.

This realization that abortion is evil came to me very suddenly. It came to me before I had time to reflect on it. But I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on it since. 

Of all of the common arguments made for abortion, I cannot think of any as ridiculous as “if it’s not kept legal, it’s going to happen anyway.” Isn’t the same true of stealing, rape and every crime we can think of? 

This truck incident had occurred while the case of Grutter v. Bollinger, concerning the University of Michigan’s (rather sloppy) affirmative action policies at the time, was merely weeks away from being argued before the Supreme Court. Discrimination, the effects of past and present discrimination, and measures which ought to be taken to “fix” it, were trending topics on campus back in 2003. You and I both know that these have grown in the years since as hot topics throughout our country, and that many of our fellow countrymen have even become ideologically possessed. 

There is a great overlap, very much common among those whose political sentiments do lean leftward, which I find to be rather peculiar. Dehumanization, in one form, has become scrutinized with vigilance that is often so over-the-top that even a character as benign as Apu was written off from The Simpsons. And yet, at the same time, so many of those who claim to abhor dehumanization in one form, cherish dehumanization in another form, as a “right” that must be guarded and revered.

Roe v. Wade will, eventually, be counted along with cases such as Dredd Scott v. Sandford and Plessy v. Ferguson as among our highest court’s historical blunders. In that day, posterity will look down upon our own generation for having expediently dismissed developing children as mere “clusters of cells,” just as we today look down upon the generations of our ancestors who expediently dismissed persons who had a different shade of skin as being the equivalent of “farm animals.” And for all of the popular discussion concerning the “legacy of slavery” that has been put forward in our day, why is it that the dehumanization necessary to make both slavery, and abortion, tolerable is largely ignored? 

Does the label “pro-choice,” which is packaged to sound rather happy-go-lucky, even begin to hint at any of the long-term physical and emotional consequences which countless women have faced after having had an abortion? 

Exceptional scenarios, such as pregnancy resulting from rape, or a pregnancy which puts the mother’s life at elevated risk, which do often trigger strong emotional responses whenever they’re brought up, are very rare. Is it not a fallacy to insist that the general rule ought to be defined by the emotionally-triggering exceptions? Doesn’t that mean that the dire choice to have an abortion is, in the very vast majority of cases, a choice to thwart the natural result of a previously-made choice?

That previous choice may very well have been made while a couple was intoxicated, or during a moment in which one or both parties felt particularly vulnerable, or under plenty of other circumstances that would result in the unexpected to happen. That previous choice may have been made before the father and mother felt that they were “prepared” to be parents (my relative had told me that his “friend” explained that to him). 

A listing of the many merits of choosing abstinence outside of marriage probably belongs in a separate article. Yes, those of us who are pro-life can also do much more to reflect on what can be done to address the circumstances surrounding so of the many women who feel that resorting to an abortion is their “best option.” And most all of us can understand, perfectly well, that the temptation to give in to a natural yearning is very much human.

But what if we must consider whether that child in the womb is, in fact, already a human being? Can evading responsibility from the consequences of a previously-made choice ever justify the termination of a person’s life? 

Or how much truth is there in a dystopian fantasy such as A Handmaid’s Tale? Are there not sound reasons for objecting to abortion which have nothing to do with some misogynistic desire to control all women? Isn’t it a stretch to assume that opposition to abortion is equivalent to opposition to the 19th Amendment? Will governments somehow become sinisterly authoritarian if they were to pass laws intended to curb abortion, as the states of Texas and Mississippi recently have?

I was still living in New York when the Reproductive Health Act was passed by state legislature, and signed into law by then-governor Andrew Cuomo, on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade in 2019. The State of New York had expanded abortion “rights” so much that the next truly sinister step had been taken: graduation to outright legalized infanticide in cases (however unlikely they may be) in which a child survives being aborted. How far will this go?

When does life begin? Does life begin at the moment of conception? Does it begin only after birth? Or at some point in between?

Putting aside all convictions for just a moment, if the most we can honestly do to answer such questions is humbly concede that none of us, pro-life or pro-abortion, can yet provide a precise answer which is definitively verified by science, then doesn’t that mean that, at the very least, we must also humbly concede that abortion might be murder? 

One of the many reasons I chose to be received into the Catholic Church, in 2012, was that I had been very impressed, for several years, by the Church’s consistent pro-life teaching (which embraces her opposition to capital punishment as well), and the magisterium’s efforts to make sure that her teachings remained consistent throughout the world. 

But all such reflections germinated from a seed, planted several years before I’d even become a Christian. That seed was the moment in which I’d seen those grisly images on the side of a truck. What I never saw was the truck driver. 

I have no clue whether that driver was a man or a woman, what his or her ethnic background may have been, or whatever his or her religious convictions (or perhaps even lack of) were. All I’m fairly certain of is that this person was at least 16 years old. I do wonder if that driver had returned home that evening, wondering whether it had even been worth the effort. I regret that I’ll never be able to thank that truck driver personally, on this side of life. 

But there are many people who, like that driver, freely give some of their precious time to help stir the consciences of our fellow countrymen. The faces and names of these people remain unfamiliar to the majority of us. There are those who picket in front of abortion clinics. There are those who attend their local March for Life rallies, and those who travel from across our country to attend the March for Life in Washington, D.C. There are those who use their technical skills to provide ultrasounds to women who are contemplating an abortion, and only need to see their child to choose life. These people, and the many others who are fighting the good fight, merit thanks.

The awakening of our country’s conscience is a slow process. It would be no surprise that many would get discouraged along the way, while wondering whether their efforts are fruitless. To those who feel discouraged I would assure to them that someone, somewhere, may have already taken notice because of what they’ve done. I can assure this with confidence because I was once that one who just happened to take notice. And, above all, God takes notice of all that we do. 

Duccio’s ‘Pentecost’ (1308)

Pray the Pentecost Novena

The prayer recalls and invites Catholics to participate in the nine days that the Blessed Virgin Mary and the apostles spent in prayer after Christ ascended into heaven.