Magdalene, 6, Xavier, 4, and Charlotte, 2, know their Oma’s in jail. Why? “Oma’s saving babies.”

Their Oma, or grandmother, is Anneliese Steden, 61, of Cambridge, Ont. Instead of playing with her grandchildren, Anneliese is locked up in Toronto’s Metro West Detention Centre. She even turned down bail conditions that would have allowed her the freedom to hug her family.

“My wife, who has no criminal record, is in prison for walking with a picket sign,” says Klaus Steden, 63. “Picketing is a legal activity in Canada.”

In 1994, however, the Ontario NDP government imposed a 30 to 60-foot “bubble zone” around three Toronto abortion clinics; Scott Clinic, Cabbagetown Women’s Clinic, and Torcan Women’s Reproductive Health Clinic, Inc., operating as Choice in Health Clinic. Inside that bubble, babies could be aborted but no pro-lifer could carry a picket sign peacefully protesting the slaughter. Before the injunction, Anneliese would travel to Toronto once a week to picket.

She says she waited for the Conservative government to drop the injunction or make it permanent, and that she waited for grassroots pro-lifers to defy the injunction en masse. But nothing happened.

On Good Friday, while listening to Bach’s moving Mass in B Minor, Anneliese sensed God was saying to her, “You won’t have peace until you go to jail.” She was shocked and cried. When she told her daughter Bettina, she cried, too. “Mum, if He tells you to do it, you have to do it.”

When Anneliese told Klaus, he knew it had to be done, although he admits his life hasn’t been the same since. Her spiritual advisor agreed, saying, “This is what needs to be done.” Her parish priest did not try to dissuade her.

Anneliese knew she had to act responsibly. Until January, she had a son living at home. Only after he left did she feel free to risk going to jail. “God never asks the impossible; He does ask the sacrificial.”

On Sept. 9, Anneliese travelled to Toronto to join a peaceful picket. When she picked up her sign, “Abortion is the taking of a human life,” a peace settled on her that was “out of this world.” It has remained, although she has moments of panic.

Anneliese was arrested outside Scott’s abortuary on Gerrard Street along with Rev. Ken Campbell. Linda Gibbons had been arrested earlier that day. Rev. Campbell was released on the condition that he would stay away from the abortuary. All three were arrested while breaking the injunction, but they were eventually charged with a different offence, obstructing a peace officer.

The protesters believe they were charged in this way because officials fear the injunction couldn’t withstand a direct court challenge. Also, by charging them with only obstruction, the activists are denied a trial by jury.

“Scott’s clinic is not designated an abortuary so nobody knows they’re killing babies there for profit. I am in jail because Dr. Scott isn’t. We like to forget there are babies dying.”

“The government could wave off one person as a lunatic. Two in jail is more embarrassing,” says Anneliese. “Don’t say, ‘Free Linda,’ say, ‘Join Linda.'”

Anneliese believes the injunction is unjust and must be dropped, so “we can visibly protest the evils of abortion. Sending letters is too hidden. The injunction obstructs my freedom and obligation to protest abortion publicly.

“Peaceful civil disobedience is the last resort in a tyranny. This is a tyranny. The abortion stats keep climbing. The government has sanctioned abortion on demand and is protecting the abortionists with police power which we pay for with our taxes. All I ask for is a level playing field to draw attention to the evils of abortion.”

She urges fellow pro-lifers, “Don’t waste my time in here. Do something visible. Picket MPPs’ offices and get Premier Harris to drop the injunction. The judge can let me go free, but the government is in charge of the injunction.”

In jail, Anneliese’s convictions about abortion have only been confirmed. Most of her fellow inmates are young, under 40. Many are drug addicts and prostitutes; their earnings support their habit. When they ask her, “Why are you in?” she tells them, “I picketed an abortion clinic.” Most tell her they have had an abortion – some three or four.

“It didn’t make them happy. I’m getting to know the walking wounded. Many are immigrants from countries where abortion is illegal or has only recently been legalized. They tell us, ‘It shouldn’t be legal. I got pushed into it by a boyfriend. They made it sound so easy. I wouldn’t have done it if it were illegal.'” They assure Linda and Anneliese, “You’re doing the right thing.”

“When you tell inmates who want to go home in the worst possible way that you refused bail, it blows them away. They can’t believe you would stand up for someone you don’t even know. These women felt nobody cared, that they had no choice but to kill their babies. They see we care more than those who sent them into the abortuary. My message is directed at the government but I’m willing to give witness in here as well.

“They used to ask Linda, ‘Are you the only one?’ Now there are two of us, a 100 per cent increase. Linda has spent 4 years in Ontario jails, so she is well known. They treat her with respect. They ask her, ‘Would you pray for me?’

“Everybody tells them, ‘God loves you.’ They are more surprised when you tell them that you love God. It’s a tremendous opportunity. Linda is usually sitting at the table in the day room with somebody studying the Bible. She never misses an opportunity. She always gives witness to her faith. I get great courage from Linda’s holiness. I don’t know how she did it alone.”

While Linda is an evangelical Christian, Anneliese is a devout Roman Catholic. She can walk and say her Rosary and be very private in a very noisy environment.

“You can be invisible here and nobody bothers you. You don’t have to talk.” Prison officials took away her little plastic Rosary and crucifix and Sacred Heart medal. Now she says the Rosary on her fingers.

She’d rather be home, but she had no peace there. She has peace now. “When you do God’s will, He gives you peace. Peace is not the same as happiness. After four weeks in jail the euphoria has worn off. I’ve discovered that my spirituality is quite superficial, and I need to be much closer to God and cling to Him a lot harder.”

A nurse and homemaker, Anneliese has raised three children with her husband Klaus. She is a former president of Cambridge Right to Life and ran in two provincial election campaigns for the Family Coalition Party. During the 1980s, she and other Cambridge pro-lifers successfully picketed the offices of two local abortionists. Today, no abortions are performed at Cambridge Memorial Hospital.

“Killing babies is outrageous. How can I have peace while my brother, my neighbour, is being dismembered? I’m not a hero or an extraordinary person. We live in extraordinary times when this type of behaviour will become normal.”

Although stripped of her possessions, strip-searched, and dressed in prison garb, Anneliese has not lost her identity. “In prison, nobody knows how big my house is. They only know I’m dedicated to this cause. It’s a very simple life.” She has more food in jail than she had as a child during the war in Germany.

People often ask her how the Holocaust happened. “In 1932, ordinary citizens turned their faces from the early atrocities until it was too late and they would be killed for speaking out. We are nowhere near that point here. No one is holding a gun to my head.

“You can all come in here. The more the merrier. It would put a monkey wrench in the system. With the injunction, they’ve wiped out pro-life opposition across Ontario. We’ve not said a peep since. The injunction is about business; picketing interferes with the abortion business.

“How can there be charitable status for a place that kills babies?” Anneliese asks, referring to the fact that Everywoman’s Health Centre in Vancouver has charity status.

“Unless we make a great sacrifice, we can’t have victory for Christ. We think we’re good prolifers for paying $15 a year to eat rubber chicken at a banquet. I’m not the only one who should be doing this. We haven’t done enough.”

Does she miss her family? “I don’t go there! I don’t think about that. I’ve put my life on hold. I’m grateful my husband has been willing to let me do this. I’m not deliriously happy, but I have moments of joy, even ecstasy, that God chose me to do this.”

She says she sees more sky than St. Thomas More did in his dungeon. She loves the outdoors and when she’s allowed her daily 20 minutes in the yard it really hits her: “‘Lord, I hadn’t remembered how beautiful your sky is.’ I’m overwhelmed by the sky.”

Anneliese and Linda’s case may not be heard until after Christmas. It may be months before they can hug their grandchildren and families again.

Sue Careless interviewed Anneliese Steden at the Metro West Detention Centre at Thanksgiving.