Canada’s pro-life community is mourning the passing of Joe Borowski, possibly the
Country’s greatest champion of unborn children
Borowski, 63, died at 9:05 a.m., Manitoba time, September 23 after a one-year battle with cancer. He is remembered as a man who gave up a rising political career to devote his time and energy to the unborn.
Borowski faced a crisis of conscience in 1971, when as a member of the New Democratic government of Manitoba, he found he could not support government funding of abortion. The issue came to a head when he learned the Manitoba government was paying for women to travel to the United States to obtain abortions. Borowski promptly resigned from cabinet and devoted the rest of his life to defending the rights of unborn children.
“Joe was certainly the leader of the pro-life movement in Manitoba, if not the entire country,” said Father Patrick Morand, Borowski pastor at St. Vital Church in Fort Garry, near Winnipeg.
“He was widely respected not only for his commitment to the unborn, but for his strong faith. Joe had a special devotion to Our Lady and lived that devotion to the very end.”
Friends, former colleagues and pro-life leaders across the country also offered tributes to Borowski and his 25-year campaign against abortion.
Former Governor-General Edward Schreyer was Premier of Manitoba at the time Borowski resigned from cabinet. Although he did not share Borowski’s views on abortion, the two remained good friends over the last 25 years.
“I was always impressed with Joe’s extraordinary zeal in pursuing a cause he believed in,” Schreyer said. “He had an incredible stubbornness to his beliefs – and I don’t say that in a pejorative way. He certainly had the courage of his convictions.”
Schreyer delivered the eulogy at Borowski’s September 25 funeral Mass.
Jim Hughes, president of Campaign Life Coalition, described Borowski as
a heroic, pro-life activist, a genuine hero, a strong family man, highly principled, resolute and loyal.”
Hughes said Borowski played a key role in the growth and survival of The Interim newspaper, particularly in western Canada. On several occasions, Borowski purchased thousands of copies of the newspaper for distribution among Winnipeg readers. Only later was it discovered that many of the papers purchased by Borowski were trashed or abandoned by parties unsympathetic to the pro-life message.
Hughes visited Borowski in September and was impressed by the pro-lifer’s fighting spirit in the face of constant pain and severely limited mobility.
Pat Soenen, president of Manitoba League for Life, called Borowski the pre-eminent pro-lifer in the province and throughout the country.
“Joe had a special place in the heart of Manitobans for his long commitment to the unborn,” Soenen said. “He was someone who put his money where his mouth was in terms of dedication. Joe is someone who isn’t replaceable, but I think we can honor his memory by carrying on in the struggle that he gave his life to.”
Larry Henderson, former publisher of the Catholic Register, worked with Borowski since the early l970’s. Henderson said the entire pro-life community is stricken by the news of Borowski’s death. “For so many of us, Joe galvanized the pro-life movement in this country,” Henderson said. “I’m sure that the results of Joe’s work are yet to be seen.”
For Betty Green, president of Vancouver Right to Life, Borowski drove to the heart of the abortion issue, namely that as distinct human beings, the unborn are entitled to full legal protection. “He was a man who sacrificed his career and his personal comforts to have the Supreme Court consider the humanity of the unborn,” Green said. “It was frustrating how in all that time the courts and the federal government did everything they could to avoid answering that question.”
Jakki Jeffs, executive director of Alliance for Life (Ontario) met Borowski in l985. “Even back then, I regarded him as a hero and a major force for the unborn,” Jeffs said. “A great voice has been silenced with his passing. He was a great defender of the little ones through his words and actions. Perhaps we can take some comfort in that he will be working for the protection of the preborn from a better place.”
In l978, Borowski initiated a court challenge of Canada’s l969 abortion law, arguing that unborn children were entitled to full legal protection. After expending tremendous personal and financial resources, the case finally reached the Supreme Court of Canada in l989. Before a decision could be rendered, however, the Supreme Court struck down the l969 abortion law. In the absence of a law on abortion, the court dismissed Borowski’s challenge on the basis that there was no longer any law to which it applied.
Despite the setback, the Borowski challenge served to emphasize the humanity of the unborn child and it brought national prominence to the abortion issue.
In addition to his Supreme Court challenge, Borowski created a stir in l97l by refusing to pay income taxes to protect against government support of abortion. The case would fester until l980 when Borowski was sentenced to three months in jail for tax evasion.
Up until his final days, Borowski continued to work for the unborn. When his illness became too debilitating for active work, Borowski continued to pray the Rosary and attend Mass as often as possible at his home parish, St. Vital Church in Lasalle, Manitoba.
In a June interview with The Interim, Borowski put on a brave front about his battle with cancer. He compared cancer with the struggle against abortion. “Instead of attacking the individual, (cancer) is a disease that attacks an entire nation,” he said.
Borowski’s funeral Mass was held September 25 at St. Vital Church. The family also scheduled a memorial service September 27 at Wishert, Saskatchewan, Borowski’s birthplace.
Borowski leaves his wife Jean and daughters Deborah, Karen and Sandra.
The Interim plans to publish a full retrospective of Borowski’s life and career in its November, l996 issue.