“Boldness” is a word that might describe Jennifer O’Neill well – it is a quality she has exhibited throughout much of her life. She recently came to Canada to exhort pro-life advocates here to similarly take courage as they go about working to combat the culture of death in this country.

“Let’s be bold … can we be bold?” she asked. “There is nothing more important than telling the truth in boldness.”

The 59-year old actress, film and television star, composer, author, cover girl and artist was in Oakville, Ont. on Nov. 9 as the featured speaker at the annual Respect Life Dinner Fundraiser in support of the Halton Pro-Life organization. The event, which attracted more than 300 people, raised about $15,000.

O’Neill first became a household name through her role as the young widow of a soldier killed in World War II in the 1971 movie Summer of ’42. But she spoke in Oakville mainly as the U.S. national spokeswoman for the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, a joint project of Priests for Life and Anglicans for Life that seeks to make the public aware of the devastation abortion brings to women and men. It also aims to expose and heal the secrecy and silence surrounding the emotional and physical pain of abortion.

That pain was something O’Neill experienced herself, having undergone an abortion in her early 20s under pressure from her fiancé at the time. “I was devastated,” she said. “I folded. I hated myself profoundly.”

She noted that during debates with representatives of Planned Parenthood, the abortion-promoting agency has claimed that abortion is simple and as easy as going to the dentist. “I say to them, ‘Experience overrides theory.’ I have been there, done that and did not get a T-shirt for it.”

In fact, she said, the aftermath of abortion is devastating. O’Neill went through years of depression and nine miscarriages before coming to a place of healing, mainly by becoming a Christian at the age of 38. Notably, although it was the main cause of her problems, psychiatrists she had gone to see prior to that point had never asked her whether she had undergone an abortion.

“It wasn’t on their radar screen that it was a problem and could be an issue in someone’s life. The aftermath of abortion is depression, higher rates of suicide, higher rates of cancer … We’re not designed to kill our babies … It is not a safe procedure. The average veterinary clinic is more sanitary than the average abortion mill. That is a fact.”

Although she initially felt she was being punished for her “heinous” act, O’Neill later credited God with doing a “fascinating” thing in her life, to the point where she has now been happily married for 11 years and has three children. “God is not going to be defeated on the life issue. God raised Jesus from the dead … There is reconciliation, not recrimination, in heaven.”

In her work with Silent No More, she has envisioned her deceased babies looking down from above, saying, “Go, mom! Tell the truth!”

“We want to get to a point where abortion is unthinkable,” she added. “God has given me a ministry and platform to deal with tough issues.” O’Neill counts as her biggest heroes the women who bring a new child into the world despite the challenges of an unplanned pregnancy.

For the pro-life movement at large, O’Neill said there has to be a greater degree of unity and the realization that a difference can be made if everyone acts in one voice. “Our youth are 75 per cent-plus pro-life. Isn’t that amazing coming from a culture of death? … I believe youth are pro-life because they’ve turned around and realized they’ve lost one-third of their generation – brothers and sisters, friends. Gone.”

She urged pro-lifers not to become weary in doing good, but to “give until it hurts. We can volunteer and make a difference. God is not interested in our fence-sitting. He wants us to be bold because, every 24 seconds (in the U.S.), a baby is lost to abortion … We’ve got to get over the division in the body of Christ and come together on this life issue. We will not be defeated if we call upon the power of the Holy Spirit and in one voice, be bold.”

O’Neill was greeted with standing ovation at the end of her address and a large crowd at the subsequent book signing in the conference centre foyer. She had spoken in St. Louis, Mo. the previous week and departed from Oakville for a Care Net Pregnancy Centre fundraising banquet in Olympia, Wash.