The theme of this year’s Alliance for Life conference was “Hope for Life” and that optimism pervaded the three full days of workshops, speeches and social gatherings.
More than 200 delegates, from the over 255 educational pro-life groups within the Alliance for Life umbrella, attended the conference and annual general meeting held in Lethbridge, Alberta, at the beginning of July.
Keynote speaker at the opening session was Ted Byfield, publisher of Alberta Report and Western Report. Í know that 25 years ago I wouldn’t have given the anti-abortion cause any hope whatever, today you have made it one of the most difficult problems facing politicians. That’s progress,” Byfield told an appreciative audience.
Challenging the assumption that today’s society is valueless, Byfield cited the anti-smoking and anti-pollution campaigns as successful role models for winning public opinion.
“We should expect to be opposed, because what we’re saying isn’t fashionable today. And we will be condemned. But we will win,” he said.
Mr. Byfield was presented the 1986 Kurelek, Award by retiring Alliance president, Ed Newell. The award, named after its creator the artist William Kurelek, is presented annually to a Canadian, outside the pro-life movement, who promotes respect for human life. Mr. Byfield is well known for his forthright columns supporting the pro-life movement.
Two days of workshops followed. Major emphasis was given to the Teen-Aid family life programme now spreading across the country. Teen-Aid founder, LeAnne Benn of Spokane, Washington, discussed the concept in general and this was followed by a series of workshops demonstrating how to organize and implement a Teen-Aid programme.
Fund-raising and recruiting and mobilizing volunteers are major concerns shared by all pro-life groups. A fund-raising workshop was led by Alex Banga, president, and Ed Landgraf, executive director of Saskatchewan Pro-Life, and Tom Schinedelka, director of Saskatchewan’s 1985 Celebrate Life project. In addition to providing much-needed funds, major projects provide an excellent opportunity to get people involved and to present a positive image of pro-life to the community. Delegates at this workshop were encouraged to consider major projects by reviewing the organization and success of Saskatchewan’s Run for Life and Celebrate Life campaigns.
Chuck Smith, past president of the Fort McMurray Pro-Life Association, led an equally valuable and informative workshop, discussing how to attract volunteer workers and how to keep them involved.
Douglas Scott, executive director of Human Life in Seattle, Washington, led two workshops, on media versus pro-life and on the abortion and euthanasia connection.
Mr. Scott contends that mass communications have led us to mass abortion. Most pro-lifers fear and distrust the media whose bias is “beyond a doubt” pro-abortion, consciously so, in his view.
“Even the animal rights people receive better media treatment,” he said. Nevertheless, pro-lifers should demand that standards of journalism are applied when reporting issue. “Expose them when they don’t apply standards,” he says. “If we’re wrong, the truth will come out. Are they afraid we might be right?”
In his second workshop, Dough Scott discussed euthanasia and infanticide in the 80s. He traced the abortion mentality, now being applied to handicapped newborns and to the frail elderly.
Mr. Scott detailed the misinformation spread by the media in the Indiana and New York Baby Doe cases, the object of the exercise being to make the public believe that these babies were so severely handicapped that treatment was inappropriate. He showed that this was not true in either case.
The euthanasia movement is mushrooming in the West, says Mr. Scott. The concept of a living will has been been popularized by columnists such as “Dear Abby,” who has been a member of the Society for the Right to Die “for years.” It is important to pay attention to the “verbal engineering” being employed: in California, living will legislation is termed the “Natural Death Act,” the patient who will not hurry up and die is called “biologically tenacious.”
Opponents of euthanasia are not saying that every patient should be subjected to aggressive treatment to sustain life, Scott pointed out. They are objecting to the belief that a terminally ill patient should be actively killed by lethal injection, or passively dehydrated to death through removal of nutrition, water and warmth.
A developing facet of the pro-life movement is the emergence of groups dedicated to helping the women who have had abortions. Tanya Hughson, founder of the Abortion Outreach Centre in Calgary, addressed the problem of post-abortion trauma. She described how groups such as hers counsel women who deeply regret their actions and how they reach out to women who need accurate information and support to help their babies to live.
Dr. Philip Nay, professor of psychiatry at the University of Calgary, presented two workshops, one of the role abortion has played in the destruction of our species, and one on the correlation between abortion and child abuse.
Winnipeg lawyer, Colleen Kovacs, discussed upcoming legal issues, especially those concerning the Charter of Rights, that will have an impact on pro-life. Laura McArthur, president of Toronto Right to Life, brought delegates up to date with activities in Toronto. Mrs. McArthur placed great emphasis on the need to become actively involved in pro-life work because the stress of day-to-day activism is being shouldered by too few. The result is that people get burnt out and leave. The issue is too important, Mrs. McArthur says, we need more people all the time.
Guest speaker at the closing banquet was Dr. Jack Willke, president of the U.S. National Right to Life Committee and of the International Right to Life Federation. Earlier that day, Dr. Willke and his wife Barbara hosted a well-attended session for those looking for answers to the “hard questions.”
In his dinner address, Dr. Willke focused on the achievement of the Right to Life movement in the U.S. Advances made in the country are, in Dr. Willke’s view, largely due to the consolidation of educational, political and service groups into one organization, promoting a unified strategy at all times. Dr, Willke warned against groups diluting their message. He does not think it wise for right to life groups to address issues such as contraception or chastity for teens. This point was not one that had been formally addressed at the conference. As there seems to be a wide divergence of opinion among pro-lifers on just what should be included on the pro-life agenda, it would make an interesting debate at a future conference.
The annual general meeting of Alliance for Life was held during the conference. Newly-elected president is Heather Stillwell from B.C. Regional representatives are Chuck Smith, Alberta; Tom Schuck, Saskatchewan; Stan Kreitz, Manitoba; Linday Wagenaar, Northern Ontario; Dr. Ken Post, Southwestern Ontario; Marilyn Bergeron, Eastern Ontario; Ann Kiss, Quebec; Bonita Kirk, New Brunswick; Nina Ross, Nova Scotia; Mona Doiran, PEI; and Doreen Dawe, Newfoundland.
The 1987 Alliance for Life conference will be in Montreal, July 2 to 5.