Six years ago, Peter Ryan, his wife Suzie and their seven daughters drove across Canada in the family van from Vancouver (where he gave up an executive pro-life position) to his hometown of Fredericton. Because he had heard that a Morgentaler abortuary was opening in his traditionally pro-life province of New Brunswick, he decided with quiet reserve to do something about it.
First, he established a pro-life presence by finding and purchasing an older house next door to the abortuary. With volunteers, he renovated it and opened the Mother and Child Welcome House in the summer of 2000. The building, situated near the University of New Brunswick and its 5,000 students, houses a much-needed pregnancy crisis service and several pro-life offices.
Since its opening, the centre has reached many people in the community and around the province. Remarkably, last year alone, it counselled 197 women. Of that number, 53 were abortion-minded, but changed their minds and kept their babies or gave birth and placed their babies for adoption.
As director of the centre, Ryan is assisted in the office by his able assistant Elaine Flanagan, a crisis pregnancy counsellor, Martha Lakin, and a number of office volunteers.
After obtaining a degree in education, Ryan worked at a L’Arche community in Victoria, B.C., where he met his wife Suzie, a co-worker. During this time, he realized that the needs of the mentally and physically handicapped people were becoming better recognized, but he worried about the voiceless child in the womb. For the next 20 years, he would co-found and head several pro-life organizations. His latest achievement is the Mother and Child Welcome House in his hometown.
To remind himself of abortions being done next door, once a week he pickets outside the abortuary and, with others, endures the hostility of abortuary escorts and the scorn of passersby.
He describes a recent incident that occurred early one morning when he and a clergyman were witnessing. A man in a parked car had just dropped off a woman who had entered and then later left the abortuary, rejoining the young man in the car. Earlier, it was evident to the men that she was contemplating what to do, so they both prayed intensely for her. Twenty minutes later, the couple drove away, apparently with a change of heart.
On these rare occasions, Ryan confides, “I often wonder why it’s so hard to be a witness at the abortuary” – he’s not a morning person, the time when much of the witnessing is done – “but you live to see a difference. I felt privileged to be there that morning and to witness that moment in prayer.” He believes that God was telling him that He wanted him to be there and to rise above his emotions and physical limitations. “The Cross is painful and I used the pain flowing through me to keep going in other moments.”
A co-ordinator of the Women’s Care Centre, one of the pro-life offices in the building, Martha Lakin, tells heart-warming stories about the women she has counselled, ranging in age from 15 to 41 years. A former director of Birthright for three years in Florida (with earlier experience in alcohol and drug counselling), she is well-versed in the facts about fetal development and abortion complications. She finds most women are grateful for this factual information and that they respond favourably to the video, A Matter of Choice. Many of them change their minds about having an abortion and keep their babies. Her valuable experience with both agency and open adoptions, have been joyful events for her and the families she has counselled. (Open adoptions are done between the birth mother and the adoptive parents, through a lawyer, and often, the adoptive parents are present at the baby’s birth.) Ryan says, “Martha has a total heart for giving. Her kindly attitude for helping women and her skills and commitment are also recognized in other New Brunswick cities and out of province.”
Since the centre opened six years ago, Ryan reflects, “It has reached a large number of people in spreading the Gospel of Life – something we are called to do and to bring to others in the street, the community and the media.”
God’s presence is surely in Fredericton, in a renovated building called Mother and Child Welcome House.