Linda Gibbons, the pro-life activist who has been jailed repeatedly for picketing outside a Toronto abortion clinic has found that her personal sacrifice has proved a blessing to some of Ontario’s most hardened female criminals.
“When one of the inmates says that they’re going to have an abortion, the girls say ‘uh oh’ Linda won’t like that,” Gibbons explains from her sterile ‘home’ at Brampton’s Vanier Centre for Women, “then they come talk to me.”
She modestly estimates that she has been able to save five or six babies during her incarceration. The guards have also commented to her that the inmates aren’t as likely to consider abortion while serving their sentences as they did before she arrived.
One of the success stories from her counselling was a pregnant Jamaican woman who felt pressured to abort because another child would be an economic burden. With the help of Aid to Woman director Joanne Dieleman, it was arranged that an aunt who was unable to have a child of her own, would adopt the new baby.
“Jamaican women, who have been brought up in Catholic school, know the simple face that the womb is not a graveyard,” Linda says.
Linda’s age, morality, and knowledge of the scriptures have led some of the prisoners to see her as a Sunday school teacher. Many inmates refer to her as “Miss Linda.” This allows her to use the few pro-life materials that aren’t censored by the guards to teach women about abortion.
She has also been able to start a Bible study group to share her deeply held Christian beliefs with the other women. A remarkable feat, considering that Linda is placed with chronic re-offenders who are mostly drug addicts and prostitutes.
Despite her accomplishments, many people, including solid pro-lifers have questioned whether her civil disobedience hurts the greater pro-life movement. Linda disagrees, “To say I’m ‘pro-life but …’ makes you totally inactive.”
Her persistence is starting to break up the legal logjam that has existed since the 1994 Ontario injunction against pro-life picketing at abortuaries.
“I’m certainly not going to put you in jail for your beliefs,” Mr. Justice Scullion told the Reverend Ken Campbell who stood with Linda when she was last arrested. Scullion handed him a meagre $100 fine.
At Linda’s last sentencing on April 28, 1997, Mr. Justice Fairgrieve recognized that “She considers herself to have a higher moral obligation that supersedes her duty to comply with … an injunction.”
Linda remains upbeat as support for her cause pours in from across North America. The bulk of her letters are from the Maritimes, British Columbia, and small town Ontario. She spends hours each day trying to personally respond to each, but can’t keep up with the volume.
“People see my commitment to the unborn and say to themselves ‘Well, if she’s willing to do this, there must be something more that I can do.’ Silence is assent to the killing.”