A year ago today, on September 9, 1998 at approximately 1 p.m., I was arrested at 157 Gerrard Street in Toronto for picketing in front of the Scott abortion clinic. Since 1994 an injunction imposed by the then NDP government of Ontario, makes picketing, counselling, even praying directly at the doors of the abortion clinic unlawful. This means saving a mother and baby from abortion at the last minute is verboten.
I disagree with the injunction and so I went to jail for two and a half months, joining Linda Gibbons at the West Detention Centre in Rexdale, a maximum security prison.
Today, reflecting on my time in jail, I can only say that I did it by the grace of God. Most of the memory of it has gone. But I am aware of my feelings as I embarked on this venture. My overall concern was this: What would my friends say? Would they understand or would they think my action “extreme”? Actually I need not have worried because my friends did understand, as was most eloquently expressed by the mail that flooded in to me at the detention centre.
Afterwards a friend of mine remarked to me that he had heard me on the radio phone-in show that I was on while I was in jail. He said, “You sounded very good, very reasonable.” I knew he was paying me a compliment, and I thanked him. I knew what he meant: “You didn’t come across as a lunatic, and I don’t mind being your friend.”
I know, of course, that espousing the pro-life position is becoming more and more controversial, if not even irrelevant, and I suppose that any self-respecting citizen by now keeps his pro-life conviction to himself as much as possible. “It’s just between me and my God,” some people think.
I, on the other hand, have broken the injunction, gone to jail and made a public spectacle of myself, of which I am very conscious and totally unrepentant. Still, it did me good for a friend to think that I sounded “reasonable.” That is to say, the longer I thought about the word “reasonable” in connection with abortion, the more uncomfortable I became. Why would anyone even be expected to be reasonable vis-a-vis the destruction of unborn life?
Many years ago I read a book by Farley Mowat, A Whale for the Killing, an account of how the author made a fool of himself in the eyes of the world in his effort to save a whale. I cried when I read the book and I never thought of Farley Mowat as a fool. I was totally with him because I believe that as creatures we have a duty to look after each other.
A friend of mine, an anesthetist, was at one time accused of unprofessional behaviour in the operating room for crying and “losing his cool.” He cried because he discovered that in spite of his explicit refusal to participate in abortions, someone had tried to disguise a surgical abortion as a routine D&C gynecological procedure. In my book he is a thoroughly normal moral man, who understands life and death as serious issues. And to me, the really “cool” ones are just “men without chests,” as C. S. Lewis calls them.
Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was very influential in abolishing slavery in the United States. Reading what she wrote then, one realizes that she must have pondered the issue of slavery day and night. She used all her intellectual prowess, I think, and she must have been considered very “unreasonable” by some of her contemporaries, because she was very insistent. Real harm was being done, lives were being lost – and all as a result of human sin! Her conscience was a heavy burden for her nation.
I suppose in the contexts of our daily lives everything assumes a certain order and priority, which is simply necessary for anyone who wants to lead an ordered life. Even contemplating the latest abortion statistics, 106,000 for 1997, we have to be reasonable in all we say and do. It would just be nice to know that our reason is tempered with urgency and not with complacency. The difference might be to realize that God counts on us to end the injustice done against the unborn in the name of “choice.”
We have lived with the killing of the unborn for 30 years. Many men have not been allowed to become fathers, many women have not become mothers and many parents have not become grandparents.
We have always been urged to think of women, not just fetuses. Since I have been in jail, my consciousness of the suffering of post-abortion women has been raised. I remember especially one young woman’s remarks to me: “I didn’t really want to tell you this: I had an abortion in June. June is the darkest month of my year. It should be the happiest because my son was born in June. But it is the darkest because my other baby died. It will always be that way.”
Becoming a mother is a sacred event. The “freedom” to get rid of a pregnancy is supposed to make women happy and free. It doesn’t and never will. Of the women I met behind bars – 95 per cent under age 40 – 90 per cent had had first- (and second- and third-hand experience) with the Morgentaler and Scott and Buruiana abortion establishments. Almost all of them conceded that if abortion was not legal nobody could have pushed them into it.