Seventy-year-old Florence Bouchard is extremely candid when asked why she became active with Manitoba Campaign Life Coalition. “When my husband and I were married, we did practise contraception and I felt bad about it,” says the Francophone widow from Winnipeg. “So I wanted to do reparation. I thought one good way was to get active in the pro-life movement.”
Florence was 60 years old when she first began picketing in front of Henry Morgentaler’s Winnipeg abortuary. She had always been pro-life in her heart; however, her family duties kept her from becoming active as a pro-lifer. Things changed when Florence’s husband passed away. Their four children had now grown up and moved on in their lives and she found herself with extra time on her hands.
So she and another widow from her Catholic parish picked up a sign and made their way to the sidewalk in front of the abortuary.
Ten years later, Florence can still be seen picketing each week, although she is looking for a new partner with her previous one having just moved away.
Florence was drawn to picketing because it afforded her the opportunity to pray quietly while bearing silent witness to the sanctity of life. She had heard of Campaign Life Coalition, but was reluctant to become active in the organizational and political lobbying aspects of the pro-life movement. “I was scared of meetings,” Florence told The Interim. “I wasn’t very well educated and I thought all these people would ask me questions and I wouldn’t know the answers.”
Yet picketing has its drawbacks at times. “Sometimes we get eggs thrown at us,” Florence said. “We just pray for them. You don’t retaliate or anything.”
As her confidence as an activist grew, she began to help out around the office with CLC Manitoba’s monthly newsletter. She would stuff them into envelopes, stamp them and then bring them to the post office.
She also, after much hesitation, accepted a position on CLC Manitoba’s board of directors. This happened because of the warm welcome she felt among CLC Manitoba’s leadership. “I got to know them and they were all like me,” Florence said, who added that it is important pro-life veterans make pro-lifers new to activism feel welcome.
Yet, prayer and concern over the widespread use of contraception is at the heart of Florence’s activism.
This past June 15, in conjunction with the International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City, Florence organized prayer groups to circle the city of Winnipeg in cars and pray for an end to contraception.
Abortion and contraception are clearly linked, Florence said. “Abortion is about killing babies and contraception is about preventing babies.”
The symbolism of circling Winnipeg in prayer is particular strong on two fronts: first, God struck down the impenetrable walls of Jericho in the Old Testament after the Israelites circled the city in prayer and worship.
Second, Winnipeg is the city were Canada’s Catholic bishops signed the controversial Winnipeg Statement – a tract that led to confusion among many Catholics over the church’s moral teachings, Florence said.
In fact, the moral confusion affected her own marriage. While she believed the church’s teaching that contraception was immoral, her husband disagreed. So the couple approached their priest for clarification. The priest told the couple to use their own consciences.
“I was mad because my conscience was different from my husband’s conscience,” she said. “I knew (contraception)was wrong.”
Nevertheless, to keep the peace in her marriage, Florence found it easier to give in and go along with her husband’s wishes.
Yet, she never felt comfortable doing so and wished her pastor would have backed her up with official church teaching. “My husband said the priests and the bishop don’t say anything, so it must be okay.”
Florence notes that the popes have consistently spoken out strongly about the moral problems caused by contraception and she feels her incident is an example why the priests and bishops must also take a clear stand. “People contracept left, right and centre – like 99 per cent of the people practise contraception,” Florence said. “If the bishops would clarify the church’s teaching and speak out about it, (contraception) would be rooted out.”
CLC Manitoba president Maria Slykerman has volunteered alongside Florence for nearly eight years. “Florence is very quietly involved in the Manitoba pro-life movement,” Maria said. “She does not want any recognition … but I can always count on her.” She added that Florence never fails to show up for her weekly picket and prayer vigil at Morgentaler’s Winnipeg abortuary. “Rain or shine, it can be very cold – she is still there,” Slykerman said.
Slykerman considers Florence a great example to other pro-lifers in the movement. Not only is she a faithful picketer, but she has been instrumental at recruiting other picketers to come out and pray for an end to abortion. “It is hard to get people involved in picketing,” Slykerman said. “People don’t like to be seen in front of the clinic with a sign, but Florence makes sure they’re out there.”
Florence’s belief in the importance of the pro-life message comes from a strong recognition that the child in the womb is a human being, Slykerman said. The CLC Manitoba president also noted that Florence’s pro-life activism was rooted in Christian prayer. “She is a Catholic and a very prayerful person,” Maria said, adding that Florence’s concern for children in the womb “comes from the heart.”