My interest was piqued upon receiving the June issue of The Interim. Before settling down to an absorbing evening’s read, I scanned the pages quickly, noting the article, “Newfoundland caves in on abortion funding.”

I wish to expand on that article, since I wrote the petition objecting to the province’s decision to extend full funding to the Morgentaler abortuary in St. John’s. The petition originated in Marystown, and was a combined effort of the Right to Life Association and Campaign Life Coalition, of which Margaret Hynes is now provincial president.

It was January 12, 1998 when health minister Joan Marie Alyward announced on the CBC evening news the provincial government’s decision. We were told that unless the province complied with the federal government’s view of abortion as a “medically necessary service” which must be publicly insured, Newfoundland’s healthcare transfer payments would be reduced. Indeed the news was a surprising and devastating blow.

As a result, after the election of officers at our mid-February Right to Life meeting here in Marystown, the first item on my agenda as the new president of our association chapter was to encourage the members to act on the full funding issue.

The idea for the petition emerged at that meeting. It presented an opportunity for Marg to get her feet wet in her new role with Campaign Life Coalition. Although I recognized that petitions do not hold the weight they once did—the governing Liberals do as they like here in Newfoundland at the taxpayers’ expense—I believe petitions are still useful tools to create awareness.

With the encouragement of Lorraine Cole, our provincial Right to Life president, the petition was circulated province-wide. Incidentally, Lorraine was initially denied equal time on the CBC to comment on the full-funding announcement. After a great hue and cry, she was given time to express the views and concerns of pro-lifers in Newfoundland.

Collette Fleming of our Right to Life office in St. John’s was a great inspiration, too. In addition to the mountain of work she had at the St. John’s office, she still found the time to fax copies of the petition to many contacts around the island. I believe Collette has an extra pair of hands tucked away somewhere – perhaps a set of wings too!

Funding reflects priorities

Apart from objections to abortion, it’s important to note how people saw the funding decision as reflecting the provincial government’s priorities. The fisheries have always been the backbone of the economy in this province, so with the collapse of the industry several years ago and the uncertainty of the new industries starting up, Newfoundlanders are living on the edge of a shaky economic precipice. We are constantly hearing of people dying waiting for kidney dialysis, or cardiac surgery. I know six women suffering from breast cancer, four of whom have had radical mastectomies—and the government has the nerve to announce Henry Morgentaler will get a financial boost at the taxpayers’ expense!

In this context, we began circulating the petition in early March, and it was decided the presentation would take place on Thursday, May 14, in conjunction with the remembrance of the May 14, 1969 federal omnibus bill legalizing abortion for the first time in Canada. Our Respect for Life week activities were then coordinated to begin on Mother’s Day, May 10, and end May 16, with our first Celebrate Life banquet.

There was a grand sum of $9.81 in our association chapter bank account, a banquet facility booked and no guest speaker. At that juncture our little group here in Marystown realized it was time to quit relying on ourselves and give the whole organization of events over to God Almighty. Recognizing that we needed a hearty boost here in Newfoundland, the thought occurred that Fr. Ted Colleton would be a wonderful guest. That was on Thursday, March 12.

Two days later, I called Laval House in Scarborough and left a message for Fr. Ted, not really expecting to hear back from such a celebrity. On Sunday evening, March 15, while I was in the kitchen mixing ingredients for a St. Patrick’s Day cake, the phone rang, and, lo and behold, it was Fr. Ted. I was so surprised to hear his voice on the other end of the line that after the conversation ended, I put the unbaked cake in the refrigerator! God Bless his heart, he accepted with delight the invitation to speak at out banquet, and agreed to attend the petition presentation with us at the House of Assembly in St. John’s.

Now we had approximately four weeks to raise two thousand dollars and get the signatures on those petitions. The following weeks were very busy indeed, with two fundraisers and two garage sales.

Selling banquet tickets and canvassing signatures in the malls turned out to be an enlightening experience. People were upset about their tax dollars being used to fund abortions, and many of them related horror stories about a relative or friend waiting for life-saving surgery or an urgent medical treatment. The majority of people canvassed were also against abortion itself. “It should never be allowed!” “Where do I sign?” and “God bless the dear little babies!” were common responses.

Although we now had enough money in the bank to pay for Fr. Ted’s air fare, he informed us that his “payment” would be three Hail Marys. As a result we had the funds to cover the special guest dinners at our banquet, our Mother’s Day radio ads, and the trip to St. John’s to fetch Fr. Ted and present the petition.

Eloquence and courage

One detail still remained: who would we get to present the petition to the legislature? Mary Hodder, our local MHA representing Burin-Placentia West, agreed to do so. At the end of question period on May 14, she presented the petition, eloquently and courageously affirming her own pro-life beliefs, and expressing concern for the preservation of the family. We had no banners and no media coverage, but when Mary completed her speech in the House, you could hear a pin drop. The Holy Spirit was present in all His power and glory.

Our first “Celebrate Life” banquet on May 16 was a great success thanks to Fr. Ted Colleton. During his visit to our church, he sold many copies of his books, and donated the proceeds to Marystown Right to Life Association. Because of that gesture, we will be able to afford the cost of more educational material to be placed in the schools, and pairs of warm socks to be donated to residents of nursing homes in neighbouring communities. Fr. Ted’s visit made a tremendous impact in our small town, and the feedback has been extremely positive.

Although we haven’t yet finalized plans, it is our hope to provide an ongoing award to students in Marystown who show commitment to the pro-life issues. This is to be done in memory of our dear friend and faithful member Shiela Marie Coady, who died suddenly in early April this year.

It was a very difficult time for all of us when Shiela passed away. She faithfully dedicated her time to sell Lifesavers at the schools to raise funds for the pro-life cause. As sad as it was, Shiela’s passing provided the incentive to forge ahead with the petition along with plans for the banquet. Suzanna Kilfoy is president of the Marystown Right to Life Association.