By Michael Coren
Merle Terlesky used to kick people. And push them, scream at them and tread on their hands. Why? Because she was a pro-choice activist and for five years was at the centre of the Canadian campaign to defend and extend abortion. His victims were pro-lifers. But after an encounter with cancer and a radical change of life this young man from B.C. has thrown in his lot with the pro-life movement, and has quite the story to tell.
A zealous member of the Canadian Communist Party who even spent three months at a party youth school in Moscow, the diminutive and pale-skinned Terlesky became heavily involved with the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics.
“I was an activist, a protestor and a clinic escort. I would take women through the crowds so that they could have their abortion. I had a dozen women in my front room once, waiting to go into the clinic. They were crying, saying they didn’t want to go through with it. We encouraged them, told them to be brave and have it done.”
He pauses. “Very hard for me to remember that now, the fact that I put pressure on them. That we all put pressure on them to do what I now see was so wrong.”
He travelled throughout the country working for the abortion movement and then went to the United States to help out at demonstrations and protests. He also disrupted parliamentary debates in Ottawa several times. He became, in fact, one of the best-known pro-choice militants in Canada.
At one point he joined with a homosexual group to break up a pro-life and pro-family prayer-service taking place in the middle of Toronto. The peaceful vigil was nowhere near an abortuary but the gay and lesbian organization still decided to cause trouble.
“I was charged for that one,” he explains. “I received 300 hours of community service. But I have to say that most of the protests outside the clinics were just as peaceful as that prayer meeting. In Vancouver there’s a woman now who’s going to prison for giving roses to women entering to have an abortion. The same was the case in Ontario.
“Almost all the violence I saw came from the pro-choice people, including myself. I know there have been some terrible cases of abortion doctors being hurt, but I find it very strange that nobody has been caught. It’s not as though the pro-life community isn’t known, intimately, by the police and by the pro-choice people. Goodness me, all the demonstrations are videotaped.”
Is he saying that the shootings, the bombings, are not done in the name of the pro-life movement? “I don’t know who did them, but I do know that they do the pro-life movement enormous harm and that I, and everyone I know in the pro-life movement, condemns them and all violence over and over again. Thank goodness they are rare, but they shouldn’t happen at all.”
The conversion occurred when Terlesky was diagnosed with leukemia and was given a one-in-ten chance of surviving. The experience did, as they say, focus the mind. “I was forced to consider some issues pretty deeply. I couldn’t escape the fact that this was a life. What kept coming to me was, please prove to me that an unborn child isn’t a life, then I can carry on. But nobody could do that. Because they knew, they know, I know, that life was in there and life was being destroyed.”
He wrote to almost all of his friends and colleagues in the pro-choice movement, people with whom he had become very close. Not one person ever replied to him. “It’s as though I am somehow a disappeared person, that I don’t exist, never even existed. I understand. It can be really difficult to confront something like this, to admit that you’re wrong.”
On Sept. 21, he visited the Toronto Morgentaler abortuary, where he once served as a client escort, to deliver a letter to Henry Morgentaler, his one-time hero. The letter pleaded with Morgentaler to reconsider the morality of abortion. To date, Terlesky has not received a response.
As for his health, he is now in remission and doing well. Regarding abortion, he calls for understanding and peaceful dialogue from all sides. But most of all he wants an end to the destruction of unborn life, and forgiveness for what he did for so long. “Oh God yes,” he says, his voice shaking. “Because I have so much for which I need to be forgiven.”
The following is a transcript of the letter Merle Terlesky delivered to Henry Morgantaler.
Sept. 21, 2000
Dear Mr. Morgentaler:
It has been a long time since I have spoken to you. My name is Merle Terlesky, and I worked with OCAC in the early 90s when you were on Harbord St. In fact my apartment on Harbord was often used as a safe house for woman to wait at ’til local police cleared pro-life people from the entrance to the clinic. I can remember the bombing of the Harbord clinic and attending the wine-and-cheese at the opening of your current location.
During those days you probably would not have met a more dedicated fighter for “choice” than myself. Knowing you and hearing you speak the few times I did I know you are sincere in your belief that you are helping women. I did as well, until now!
Mr. Morgentaler, I can no longer accept abortion as just a “choice” option. When you applauded the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 28 for its overturn of a ban on partial-birth abortion, you said, “partial-birth abortion is not really a delivery.” Delivery of what, though? A fish, carrot, or salami, or what? What is it, Henry, that you hold in your hands during or after an abortion? Please don’t coin the phrase fetus!
I know that preborn baby on the front cover of Life magazine May 2000 is alive and can also be aborted at seven months. How can you kill these voiceless innocents? In the name of all that is just and right and merciful: please stop what you are doing. It’s not to late.
I can no longer ally myself with this slaughter. I pray you will one day soon find peace and comfort in your soul and end the pain you cause yourself.
God bless you, Henry.