Rank and file pro-lifers are of mixed emotions regarding progress in the movement in the new year. Some are cautiously optimistic that the respect for life message will gain a more receptive audience in 1997, while others speak of further inroads by the culture of death and dwindling base of front-line pro-life support.
In a random sampling of opinion from across the country, ordinary pro-life supporters believe that while politicians and opinion leaders remain largely indifferent to pro-life concerns, the right to life message is slowly percolating into a wider public consciousness. This increased awareness had been prompted in part by the partial-birth abortion debate in the U.S. and by Canadian court cases showing the lack of protection afforded unborn children.
Despite some optimism, ordinary pro-lifers recognize the resilience of the abortion/contraception mentality. This resilience is fostered by an uncritical secular media which is predominantly pro-choice in its outlook and which casts pro-lifers in a less than flattering light. Many suggest a return to prayer, hard work and sacrifice is needed to bring about a renewed commitment to life.
Neil Slykerman of Winnipeg, for example, expressed concern over the glowing climate of acceptance not only for abortion, but also for euthanasia and assisted suicide. “The idea of assisted suicide has been gaining ground, as can hardly be surprising to find acceptance for selected killing in a society whose citizens have accepted the killing of its most vulnerable minority, the unborn.”
His views were echoed by Joe MacLellan of Antigonish, Nova Scotia who described the prospect of favorable treatment in the media as “depressing.” MacLellan, a member of Campaign Life Coalition Nova Scotia, said unity among pro-life workers is key to achieving future success.
Slykerman, who was on of the pallbearers at the funeral of pro-life champion Joe Borowski, cited faith as unifying force for overworked, dispirited pro-lifers. “(‘Faith) has the added benefit of knowing that you are not al9one, as it makes you feel part of a network in solidarity with a just cause.” He said.
He added however, that even small actions, such as attending a vigil, writing a Member of Parliament, or simple prayer can have positive results.
The emphasis on faith also struck a responsive chord for Thadee Renault of Fredericton. Renault, the pro-life liaison representative for the New Brunswick Knights of Columbus, helps organize regular pickets outside Henry Morgentaler’s Fredericton abortion clinic.
“My hope is to see an increase in prayers from all involved in the movement.” He said. “There might not be much progress elsewhere, but we should make a difference if we storm heaven with out prayers.” Renault also said prayer will help pro-lifers guard against burn-out or “stagnation” in their daily efforts.
Ontario pro-lifers Harold Mitchell of Cobourg, and Ted Masterson of Toronto, emphasized the need to persevere in an often difficult struggle. Mitchell and Masterson have been involved in pro-life work for a number of years and both actively support Campaign Life Coalition’s annual Christmas cake sale fundraisers.
Mitchell believes that while most politicians would sacrifice protection for the unborn to advancement in the party hierarchy, the average person in the community is more open to the humanity of preborn children. “In one sense we’ve turned the corner with the average person in the street becoming more in line.” Mitchell said. “But we’re still struggling when dealing with politicians who seem sensitive only to party policy.”
Masterson meanwhile, said to the ongoing debate over partial-birth abortion in the U.S. should continue to attract attention in 1997. He suggested the brutality and extremism associated with partial-birth abortion could galvanize public opinion squarely against procedure, and could in turn lead to a new appreciation for the rights of the unborn.
He also believes a push for greater chastity education could work wonders for pro-life work. “If we’re going to succeed in this battle, it will have to include the chastity area,” Masterson said.
The chastity message is also of concern to younger pro-lifers, who find a startling lack of awareness about pro-life concerns among high school students. Emma Maan,
organizer of Ontario Students for Life, said her hope for l997 is to become better educated and more active about life issues.
“Indifference is a manor problem among younger people in Ontario,” Maan said. “They often aren’t aware of what’s going on and that makes it difficult to motivate them.”
Maan said a top priority for l997 is to establish pockets of young dedicated students who can inspire their peers to the respect for life message.
Pro-life hopes for l997 are similar in western Canada. Denise Hounjet-Roth, president of Campaign Life Coalition Saskatchewan, emphasized prayer activism and education as key objectives for the new year. “I hope the message of the connection between breast cancer and abortion will be advertised in all doctors’ offices,” she said. “I hope too that there will be a renewed interest in active political action from the grassroots as we approach a federal election. For Saskatchewan, I hope for cooperation as we send out questionnaires to candidates of all political parties.”
Patty Nixon, president of the Alberta Pro-life Alliance Association, said Ontario and Manitoba court cases involving harm to unborn children have brought greater prominence to the right to life issue. She said Alberta pro-life groups have been successful in keeping respect for life on the public agenda, but expressed concern that provincial leaders are reluctant to take up the issue.
Henny Vander Gugten, also active with the Alberta Pro-life Alliance Association, said her group is working to making the province abortion-free by the year 2003. She said despite politicians’ reluctance to deal adequately with the pro-life issue, most understand that the abortion/contraception mentality has serious implications for future generations.
Generation at risk
“Even our provincial and federal leaders have to admit that we can’t continue to eliminate the next generation through abortion and contraception,” Vander Gugten said.
For Cecilia Van Dehn of Vancouver, l997 is a time for pro-lifers – and church leaders – to rededicate themselves to public witnessing against abortion. She said “bubble zone” legislation and other efforts to discourage public protest should be resisted.
“People can be roused to protest practically any issue today, so we shouldn’t lose our nerve when demonstrating against abortion,” Van Dehn said. “The church shouldn’t be timid about using the streets as our best medium.”
Van Dehn also believes l997 is an ideal time to make the link between abortion and violence. “The feminist call for zero tolerance for violence against women is meaningless when you consider the assaults against the unborn. Perhaps it’s time for people to treat abortion as domestic violence in the womb.”