Seeks to ‘set things right’ with former pro-life adversaries

This article appeared originally in the B.C. Catholic, and is reprinted here with permission.

If life is a journey, Merle Terlesky has climbed a couple of mountains recently.

Diagnosed last July with leukemia and given only a 10 per cent chance of surviving more than two months, he was told that only a bone marrow transplant could provide hope. With his brother’s donation, Terlesky underwent the risky procedure in September, as well as chemotherapy sessions.

Today, he has a clean bill of health from his doctors and is trying to regain his strength. “I was fortunate I didn’t catch any viruses or have other complications. If I get to next July without relapsing, things will look brighter. I take it day by day.”

In the light of these recent events, Terlesky, who now lives in Vancouver, is doing some pretty heavy soul-searching.

He says he especially regrets the years he spent promoting abortion as a high-profile and zealous activist for the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics in Toronto.

At the time of his diagnosis, Terlesky was already dealing with a change of heart about the way he had lived much of his life, including some addictive behaviours.

Just before learning of his illness, Terlesky lost a close friend to the casual use of cocaine. “I consider that I’ve been given a second chance there as well. It could have been me.”

Today, he says, he often reflects on the early years he spent as an active and very vocal member of the Canadian Communist Party, now realizing that much of his ideology was born out of a rejection of his roots.

The Kamloops native, who was born and raised in an evangelical home, says that he knows his healing involves an effort to “set it right with my Christian brethren,” especially for his pro-abortion activities.

The rebellious youth quit school in Grade 9 and moved in 1984 to Alberta, where he got involved with the socialist movement. He joined the youth arm of the Communist Party and began writing for its newspaper.

Part of the drill, he told the B.C. Catholic, was to be radically “pro-choice,” and he joined other youth in paint bombing pro-life billboards around Edmonton. When he moved to Toronto in 1988 he continued his involvement by writing articles for the Canadian Tribune, the national Communist paper.

“We had one fellow try to join the party who talked about Christianity, but I pretty much ran him out. We would just shut him down when he tried to speak.”

As a vocal and committed Communist, Terlesky travelled to the Soviet Union on two occasions.

“We had a party school and a youth school in Moscow where I went for three months, studying Marxism and Leninism, the doctrine and philosophy of Communism, and the history of the Revolution.”

Terlesky’s involvement with Ontario abortuaries began when he unknowingly moved a couple of blocks from the Toronto Morgentaler Clinic.

In those days, he said, Operation Rescue was gathering momentum. One morning, he was surprised to hear the strains of Amazing Grace coming from the direction of the clinic. He quickly decided to join the abortionists, and, jumping over the fence, he began to assist in escorting women through the protesters’ barricade.

“Things were really heating up in those days. The Mulroney government was looking at the law. We went to Ottawa … and disrupted parliamentary debates. When Operation Rescue came from Wichita, Kansas, to Buffalo, I went to rallies.

“I really stayed involved until Operation Rescue simmered down, Morgentaler got a new clinic, and the law changed. We all had feelings of victory.”

In 1993, Terlesky returned to Vancouver, leaving the Communist Party with some others after a split about whether to support Mikhail Gorbachev.

“Some of the members wanted a more democratic approach within the party. The Eastern Bloc falling apart had ramifications as well. We felt that if we didn’t learn something from this, we never would,” Terlesky noted.

Discovering he had cancer, he says, led to his own “Saul of Tarsus” experience.

“It was rather sudden. Why it has happened now, rather than when I was most active against Christians, I don’t know. Now I question everything I did during those days. I wasn’t just a stand-by activist. I was verbal and ‘in your face.’ I had no sympathy or tolerance whatsoever for the other side during that time.

“My actions cannot be justified. I led … songs of intolerance, changing the lyrics to insult Christians. It was uncalled for.”

Asked if he feels he has found a measure of forgiveness, he says, “I don’t know whether I will ever be a front-line activist for Campaign Life, because I still struggle with my past.”

For now, Terlesky is continuing his spiritual journey by taking a course on Christianity and studying the teachings of Jesus with an evangelical congregation.

He says he feels he would like to be a voice for tolerance for the two sides of the abortion issue.

Violent attitudes are counter-productive, he says, referring to charges that pro-lifers bombed the Morgentaler clinic, and that people in the pro-life movement were responsible for the recent attacks on abortion doctors in New York and Vancouver.

“I also feel that if Jesus were here today, he wouldn’t be standing in front of a clinic yelling ‘killer, killer.’

“People can learn, they can change. It was a pretty intolerant movement I was involved with, and my role in it was quite strong, but I have changed in my heart and I have to believe that others can do so as well.”

His mother and siblings (one a Baptist minister) never stopped loving him, he said, despite how difficult it must have been.

“Certainly, all the prayers which were said for me while I was in the hospital had their effect. I’ve a lot to be grateful for. If I can put some of what I’ve learned to use, I’m going to do everything I can to do it.”