Peter Ryan and Henry Morgentaler were sitting in the “counselling room” of Morgentaler’s Frederiction, N.B. abortuary, when Ryan pulled out from his pocket a plastic model of a 12-week-old pre-born child.

“So you’re saying that at this stage, it would not be a baby?” said Ryan to Canada’s most prominent abortionist.

“Oh no, that there looks like a baby,” Morgentaler replied.

Surprised at the response, Ryan pressed further. “You realize that this is of 11 or 12 weeks’ gestation?”

Incredulous at the claim, Morgentaler took the model from Ryan’s hand. “No,” he said. “Give me that.”

Morgentaler eyed the model for a moment and turned it over in his hand, before handing it back to Ryan without saying anything further. Ryan was again met with silence when he pointed out that abortions are committed at Morgentaler’s abortuary past that point of fetal development.

And so concluded one of many remarkable exchanges as Ryan, executive director of New Brunswick Right to Life and president of Campaign Life Coalition New Brunswick, went tete a tete on Oct. 23 with a man regarded by both friend and foe alike as Mr. Abortion in Canada.

Morgentaler was in Frederiction that day to stage a press conference publicizing his planned court action to pursue full public funding of his abortuary in that city. As he emerged from his facility at the conclusion of that conference, Ryan approached him.

“I’d been wanting to meet him for several years, but never had a chance to do so,” Ryan told The Interim later. “I was simply looking for a chance to see him and speak to him. He was receptive to that. Initially, he seemed a little surprised and asked why I would want to meet with him. He kind of joked, saying, ‘What do you want to do, convert me to Christianity?’ I smiled at that and asked him for a few minutes of his time. He invited me to go inside the abortion centre.”

Ryan wasn’t totally taken aback by the invitation, since Morgentaler had invited pro-life demonstrators – who were present at the opening of his Frederiction abortuary several years ago – to go inside and view the premises. On that occasion, they refused. But Ryan wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity this time.

He was first taken on a tour of the facility. “Morgentaler’s clinic staff were quite amazed that I was there,” said Ryan. “They asked him incredulously, ‘Are you sure you want this guy to be in here?'”

He noted that the abortuary had the appearance of a common medical facility. “They tried to give it that look. It was only the realization of what goes on in there that put it all into perspective. That was especially true of the ‘operating theatre’ “with stirrups for a woman’s legs, similar to what happens in a delivery. There was a table and what may have been a suction machine.”

Ryan said there was no evidence that abortions had actually taken place. The abortuary commits the procedures only about once every two weeks because doctors do not seem to want to work in Morgentaler’s facility.

Later, Ryan had a look at what passes for a counselling room. “It was interesting that one of the things they pointed out was that they have information for all kinds of people, including Catholics. My hunch is what I would have seen there was something from Catholics for a Free Choice.”

He and Morgentaler then settled down for about 15 minutes of discussion. The abortionist immediately asked Ryan why he was involved in the pro-life cause.

Ryan replied it is because he believes in the sanctity of life, that life is a gift from God and that as a Christian, he is called to defend innocent life.

Morgentaler seemed curious about the response and went on to probe further. “Why do you call it a baby? It’s not a baby when there’s an abortion. There’s no real baby.” He then lectured Ryan briefly, claiming that the preborn child is “just a bunch of cells.”

It was at that point that Ryan produced his model of the 12-week-old preborn child.

Ryan then apprised Morgentaler of a petition being distributed across Canada that thousands of people have signed. It bears a message of good will towards those involved in committing abortions, while at the same time, enunciating pro-life principles, articulating the sanctity of all life and noting the fact that preborn humans are our brothers and sisters. Implicitly, it expresses a hope for the conversion of abortionists.

“I asked him whether I could bring it to him in the near future, and he agreed to receive it,” said Ryan. “I explained to him that it was because we, as Christians, love everyone, including himself, that we were not only concerned about little children in the womb and their mothers, but also about him. I said that we were concerned about his eternal soul.”

Morgentaler responded with somewhat of a puzzled look, claiming, “But I help women.” Ryan told him he knows quite a number of women who have regretted their abortion experiences, and suggested that Morgentaler does, too. Morgentaler nodded slightly.

Ryan then moved to discussing how the unborn child is genetically unique and separate from his or her mother. But Morgentaler attempted to evade the issue by asking again, “Why are you people so militant in denying women access to abortions and calling them names and saying they’re evil?”

Ryan replied that Morgentaler’s information about pro-life advocates was wrong. He pointed out that demonstrators outside the abortuary that day were gentle, peaceful and simply trying to present women with another alternative. Morgentaler said he was glad to hear that. The discussion concluded with Morgentaler reiterating his position that women should have the “right” to an abortion.

The two then stepped outside the abortuary, where a crowd was still milling about in the wake of the press conference. Morgentaler appeared pleased about the meeting and was telling people about the encounter. He also sought someone to take a picture of he and Ryan together.

The pair then each gave a summary of their positions, at which point Ryan turned to Morgentaler once again and pointed out that the Canadian Medical Association refers to the preborn child as a “baby” from the point of conception on.

“No, they don’t say that,” the abortionist responded.

“Yes, they very much do,” Ryan retorted, offering to obtain the relevant documentation.

“Well, if they say that, then they’re wrong!” Morgentaler exclaimed, before the two parted ways.

Ryan concluded that the encounter was “a very interesting exchange. I hope that perhaps it has given him some food for thought. Time will tell, I guess, whether there’s any change in his thinking.”

He credited spiritual preparation for his ability to turn what could have been a tension-filled encounter into one that he handled with a measure of ease. “I just felt a great calm, strength and peace. My emotions weren’t churning the way they normally might if I had just walked in there on a normal day. I attribute that largely to a lot of prayer on my own part and also by many other people, who were asked to pray not so much for a meeting, but for the whole occasion and the fact we were having a pro-life presence there.”

Ryan hopes that his encounter with Morgentaler is not the last one. “He agreed to receive the petition, which I now plan to present to him. I’m not sure when or how I will do that, but there will be some further effort on my part to contact him. I expect he will be in court in New Brunswick at some point in the future, so perhaps we’ll see him then.”

Ryan’s meeting with Morgentaler was surprising in another respect. Several years ago, B.C. pro-life activist Merle Terlesky, while in Ontario, tried to meet with Morgentaler at his Toronto abortuary, but was rebuffed. The two had shared a camaraderie as pro-abortion activists before Terlesky converted to the pro-life