ABBOTSFORD—A woman who regrets her past abortion is working to help women make a choice she wasn't encouraged to make.

"I was on a treadmill towards the abortion and there was no one there to push the pause button," said Elizabeth Sutcliffe, now a pro-life activist and director of client care at Hope for Women crisis pregnancy centre.

Thirteen years ago, Sutcliffe was unmarried and working when she found out she was pregnant. She was too terrified to tell anyone, including her devout Catholic parents.

"It wasn't just about getting pregnant. It was about not being chaste and not waiting until marriage. It was about how I would disappoint them and what people around me would say."

Her fiance told her he'd support her decision, whatever it was. Without telling anyone else, Sutcliffe went to a women's centre she looked up in a phone book.

"I remember going into the office and thinking they will probably give me other information. They never did," Sutcliffe recounted sadly.

She received two pills: methotrexate to stop cell growth, to take immediately, and misoprostol to cause contractions, to take a week later. Sutcliffe was alone in a corporate bathroom when her baby was aborted.

After the abortion

"I still remember the pain. I remember looking in the mirror and checking my face and having to go back to work and not let anyone know what had just happened," she said. "It was a secret. It was in the past. But it wasn't."

She said it didn't take long for regret to sink in. "I was angry. I was sad. I didn't feel comfortable around babies or friends who were having babies. It pushed me away from my faith, because I believed the lie that I had gone too far and God wouldn't want me."

Sutcliffe didn't seek counselling and didn't bring it up with her fiance, preferring to keep the pain and regret to herself.

Eight years passed before she told anyone else about the abortion. Sutcliffe was at a Christian conference in Florida when she admitted to a woman there that she didn't feel comfortable with prayer.

"She said: 'What? Why do you think that? Look whom Jesus surrounded Himself with. Why wouldn't He want you?'"

Sutcliffe, encouraged by the woman, who admitted she had undergone two abortions, went on to tell three close friends that day.

"Their reaction was complete compassion, love, and understanding," Sutcliffe said. "Talking it out and having that faith background is what brought me to healing."

She started going to Mass, told her parish priest, met with a counsellor, and consecrated her life to Mary. Despite the odds, which say that 90 per cent of relationships end after abortion, Sutcliffe married her fiance. The couple now have a son, 11, and a daughter, 8.

Sutcliffe spends two or three days a week at Hope for Women, counselling women with crisis pregnancies, and sometimes sharing her experience.

Hope for Women

"Every time I tell my story, not only do I honour my daughter, who is now in God's arms, but I'm really hoping that someone will hear it and I can be that pause button for them."

Jared White, director of Hope for Women, said Sutcliffe's ability to relate with women in difficult situations is extremely helpful.

"There's nothing that can compare to relating on that level, so women aren't going to feel judged," he said. "She can say, 'I regret it, and these are the reasons why.'"

The crisis pregnancy centre first opened in the Abbotsford Right to Life Society office in September. The pro-life group then bought a larger space for the centre and moved in January.

Sutcliffe is one of two peer counsellors who have experienced an abortion, White said.

"I think women who have had abortions being a part of the pro-life movement is probably one of its most effective weapons," he reflected.

Hope for Women offers free pregnancy tests, options counselling, post-abortion counselling, and essential items like diapers and formula for women in crisis situations. White said, on average, one woman a week visits the centre.

"Some of these women do have abortions after we talk to them and tell them their options. That, I think, was the most challenging thing for me," Sutcliffe said.

Saving lives

In the fall, one woman came to the centre with her mother, demanding a free pregnancy test so, if she was pregnant, she could abort right away. Sutcliffe gave them some information, revealed her past abortion, and let them on their way.

"She came in a week ago. She's still pregnant," Sutcliffe said with tears in her eyes. "She said, 'If it wasn't for you, I would have had the abortion.' To hear that we're making a difference, it's the best fuel. We're saving lives."The pro-life activist also speaks with the Silent No More Awareness Campaign and shared her testimony at Victoria's March for Life in 2014.