To picket at an abortion clinic is an unpleasant task at the best of times. Without exception the men and women who take part in these demonstrations would prefer to be elsewhere, doing what they themselves would all consider to be “something more constructive.” But they picket out of a sense of duty and with the somewhat grim realization that things have deteriorated to such an extent that physical, personal, witness is almost the last resort left to opponents of abortion.
Picketers are not surprised at the hostility of the media. Over the last fifteen years, the Pro-life movement has been opposed by editors and vilified by columnists. The current Morgentaler crusade for abortion on demand has given new stridency to the attacks. But none of this is either new, surprising or upsetting. Pro-lifers have come to expect suck treatment.
More painful and more difficult to bear are the lies which are spread about the picketers themselves. At the 3,000 strong, Toronto, Pro-life mass picketing of Thursday, February 21, three people were arrested (and immediately released), when they sat down on the street to protest in passive resistance the rather overwhelming and intimidating show of police strength on behalf of Morgentaler (dozens of barricades; over 80 policemen plus half a dozen police on horseback). The Canadian Press saw fit to tailor its news report in such a way that this entirely peaceful picketing by people of many faiths was headlined outside Toronto as “3,000 attend rowdy RC abortion rally” (Kitchener-Waterloo Record); “Abortion protest turns rowdy” (Ottawa Citizen); “police drag away three protesters as anti-abortion rally turns rowdy”. By the time the story reached Vancouver the three protesters had become “thugs.”
Add to this other falsehoods such as the stories that neighborhood storekeepers are losing business (even facing bankruptcy!), or that pedestrians are being harassed, and one has all the ingredients for a hate campaign.
However, the most painful aspect, for Pro-life picketers, not only in Toronto but throughout the country, is the disdain they incur from people one might have presumed to be on the Pro-life side. Some accuse the picketers of “being childish,” of “playing games,” of “accomplishing absolutely nothing.” Others speak of “extremism,” and uncalled-for “polarization.” While such critics usually profess to be opposed to abortion, at least in principle and in theory, they deeply resent actions which have the effect of bringing the reality of the issue before their eyes and minds. Picketers should not be discouraged by them. Instead, they should continue to bear witness in patience and perseverance until such time that picketing is no longer needed.