Saved by sidewalk counsellor 5 years ago, child returns to say ‘thank-you’

When Sabah’s four-and-a-half-year-old son Abell burst into their North York, Ont. apartment, he was clutching a piece of cardboard that his kindergarten teacher had given him.

“Mummy, mummy, we put money in here to help kids.”

Sabah took the flat cardboard and helped her son fold it into a box to collect change at Halloween. Sabah nearly fell over when she saw the name on the box: Aid to Women. She checked the address – 300 Gerrard St. E., Toronto. Yes, it was Linda’s place.

Five years earlier, Sabah had gone to Aid to Women for advice when she was considering aborting the very child who now stood excitedly in front of her.

“These people saved your life,” Sabah told Abell. (Abell and Sabah are pseudonyms being used in this article to respect the privacy of mother and son.)

He didn’t really understand, but he eagerly dressed up for Halloween and collected coins for the very group that had rescued him.

Meanwhile, Sabah phoned the number on the box. “Is Linda still there?” she asked.

“No,” came the reply. Linda Gibbons was in jail, and had been for the better part of four years. In 1994, the Ontario government forbade picketing and sidewalk counselling outside abortion centres in Ontario. But Linda had continued to peacefully protest abortion and to offer counsel to women like Sabah, even at the cost of her freedom.

Sabah asked if she and Abell could visit Linda in jail. “Yes, she would love that,” answered the Aid to Women worker.

Sabah was born in Eritrea, but during her country’s long war for independence she fled to the Sudan. At 19, she emigrated to Canada. During the 1980s, she raised her sister’s two children, because her sister was dying of cancer.

In January 1992, Sabah was 30, single and pregnant. The baby’s father offered her no support. Since she was already caring for her niece and nephew, Sabah felt she couldn’t handle another child.

Sabah had been referred to the Cabbagetown Women’s Health Clinic at 302 Gerrard St. E. Next door was Aid to Women.

As she approached the abortuary she saw several women and a man picketing outside. A woman showed Sabah a model of a tiny, preborn baby. “Don’t kill the baby. It’s alive in you,” she urged.

“I closed my eyes. I didn’t want to see it. Instead I rushed into the clinic.”

Sabah will never forget what happened next. As she lay on the operating table crying, four nurses hovered over her. Only one of them comforted her.

“She held my hand and said, ‘It’s going to be okay,’ but she didn’t seem very happy either. When the doctor arrived, he didn’t say a word to me, not even ‘Hello.’ He only spoke to the nurses. That’s what disgusted me. Although I was crying the whole time, no one stopped to ask me, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ I do love kids. They just went ahead.”

The abortion took 10 painful minutes. Afterwards, Sabah rested for half an hour, then took a cab home, because her boyfriend didn’t bother to pick her up.

“Later he wanted to get back together, but the way he treated me – forget it! I realized what a mistake I’d made. I cried the whole day of my abortion. The guilt bothers you.”

In August 1993, Sabah was 32, still single and pregnant again. She considered whether to have another abortion.

She was walking along Gerrard Street on her way to the Bay Centre for Birth Control, where she was planning to get an abortion referral.

“I felt very empty. Then I saw Aid to Women and remembered the little baby in the woman’s hand. I thought, ‘Maybe if I talk to them, they will help me have this baby.'”

Inside Aid to Women, Sabah met the same sidewalk counsellor who had spoken to her earlier. It was Linda Gibbons.

“Linda really comforts and encourages you. She hugs you and treats you like a daughter. She has a very good heart and is very kind. And Aid to Women gives you lots of choices.”

If she needed it, Aid to Women would find her accommodation, and if she wanted to place the child for adoption, they could provide contacts.

Sabah had housing and planned to keep her child. Nonetheless, she did return several times for baby clothes.

Abell’s collection box was one of 21,000 that Aid to Women distributed to Toronto separate schools this year.

The funds raised will go to purchase sleepers, undershirts, blankets, booties, bibs, and outfits for layettes, as well as diapers and vitamins.

Aid to Women estimates that during it’s 12 years of operation, it has saved 1,000 children like Abell.

“My son changed my life,” says Sabah. “I stopped smoking when I was pregnant. I didn’t want to harm my baby.

“If you see my son, he’s beautiful, so handsome. He’s brought a lot of joy, not sorrow, into my life.”