They are articulate and young. They are educated and outspoken. They are a few of the young women of the pro-life movement in Canada. They represent different parts of Canada, and the pro-life movement, and have come to the cause in different ways. The three women profiled below spoke with The Interim about why they are pro-life, about their experiences as activists, and what is right, and wrong, with the pro-life movement in Canada.
In the last few years Hilary White moved from Vancouver to Halifax and from pastry chef to full time pro-life activist. The journey that has taken her from the mountains of the West Coast to the snug harbours of the East is inextricably woven with a walk into the heart of Catholicism. The woman, who was once “a dedicated liberal feminist pro-choice person,” works full time for the Nova Scotia headquarters of Campaign Life Coalition (CLC).
“I had a fifteen-year journey struggling with the tenets of the Catholic Church. I had a cancer scare that turned out to be a Holy Spirit fluke,” explains Hilary. “It led me back to the Church. I realized I had come to agree with the tenets of the Church. Having given my full assent to Christianity, I also became pro-life.”
Hilary has stopped making eclairs and started making trouble. “This pro-life work is the beginning of a long road in activism for me; of public trouble-making of various kinds. Even before I was a strong Catholic I knew I had only one life and that I had to do something worthy of being born. We have serious obligations to society,” she says. “It wasn’t until I found my faith that I realized what the most serious problems were, and that I had to do something about it.”
Right now Hilary’s work is whatever CLC requires her to do. “I am the person who runs around and does all the footwork.” She believes her previous pro-choice position equips her to be an effective force for the pro-life movement. “I bought the line that feminism was good and the Church bad. That makes me a powerful force because I can understand where pro-choice people are coming from. I know the arguments and I know where the holes are.”
Hilary has also spotted some gaping holes in the pro-life cause in Canada. She believes the pro-life movement lacks the necessary support of some Catholic clergy. She wants to see more clergy willing to risk being unpopular in the culture by having an obvious and clear pro-life position.
She also sees a fractured fellowship in the movement between pro-life groups who do not work together. “We repeat each other’s work, some groups do not even speak to each other. We publish similar newsletters in the same towns,” argues Hilary. “There is a risk of the majority of Canadians who sit on the fence on this issue looking at the movement and seeing people who come across as self-righteous and preachy. They do not take us seriously. We need to come together. You can’t do politics without education and there is no education without politics. If you understand what the feminists say, everything is political.”
For Hilary right now, everything is pro-life. “This is my whole life right now. I need a hobby. My preferred literature is Greek tragedy. Perhaps I need to find something more cheerful.”
She may need more cheerful reading material, but Hilary White is completely satisfied with her work: “I have climbed into the stream of God’s will. Everyone is called to do something. This is what I am called to do.”
Some family treasures are ornate silver spoons and faded photographs of great uncles long deceased. In Denise Black’s family, pro-life activism is passed down from generation to generation. “It is a family heirloom; you just pass it on,” laughs Denise.
The 22-year-old president of the National Campus Life Network (NCLN) has been active in the pro-life movement since junior high school on Prince Edward Island. Her family has been involved for as long as she can remember. Denise has founded pro-life groups, sent busloads of kids to pro-life conferences and now heads up the organization that connects over 20 pro-life student groups across Canada.
Denise believes it is essential that pro-life individuals and groups not be left to flounder alone. “You get to a point where you just have to be with someone else to go on in pro-life work. When I left home for university I hoped to leave the issue behind me. Then I attended an NCLN conference and realized that there were university students still standing up for this issue,” she remembers. “I realized I had peers facing persecution on campus for their pro-life beliefs.” Denise re-committed herself to pro-life work and is currently on the board of four different pro-life organizations.
Involvement in national pro-life groups has given Denise an aerial view of the pro-life landscape in Canada. It is not always a pretty picture. “It is very evident to me that groups are not working together as they should. A rift has developed between the educational and the political groups,” says Denise. “Everyone has a certain view of how it should be done. We will never have only one pro-life group in Canada, nor should we, but we could work together more.”
Part of Denise’s mandate at NCLN is to bring pro-life student groups together for strengthening and encouragement. “On a university campus it takes a lot of courage to be a pro-life activist. There are a lot of extremely different views and people are not afraid to express them. But my generation is open to the debate.”
And the debate isn’t just about abortion, according to Denise. “It is not just necessarily about changing a woman’s mind about abortion. It is to change the perception of what it means to be a human being. We want to make someone see that all life is precious. A lot of the time you never find out the impact you may have had.”
Stephanie Gray remembers her worst moment as a pro-life activist. In the instant it took her to turn her back on an information table set up on the wooded campus of the University of British Columbia, pro-choice students tore the display apart. Media attention, lawsuits and better moments followed.
Stephanie’s best moment as a pro-life activist is harder to distinguish. There has been a lot more of them. “Recently I met someone who heard me speak at a conference and was inspired to begin a pro-life group. That was a good moment.”
At 20, Stephanie is a veteran of the pro-life movement in Canada. She peeks out of pictures in family photo albums: a young child attending pro-life conferences with her parents, both long-time activists. The activist mantle passed to Stephanie when she watched the video, The Silent Scream. “That really affected me. We always had pamphlets around the house and knew what abortion was. When I was in grade 8, I started to take the initiative on being involved.”
She has written to Jean Chretien ten times. She has been the president of high school and university pro-life groups. And when she graduates from UBC with a degree in political science, she intends to become a full time pro-life worker.
“I am pro-life because life is the greatest gift. I am particularly pro-life for the unborn because they have no voice. If we can’t protect them, who can we protect?” asks Stephanie. Although she credits her strong religious faith for giving her the courage to speak out for the unborn, she is weary of her opinions being dismissed by those who disagree, because of it. “To dismiss a view because someone is religious is intolerant. I could dismiss theirs because they aren’t religious, but I wouldn’t do that.”
Stephanie does not often bring religion into conversations with interested students on the UBC campus. “We talk about fetal development. There is some ignorance about this. Many people focus on the first trimester fetus and dismiss it as insignificant because it is so small,” says Stephanie. “Even if they do recognize the genetic humanity of the unborn they will not recognize the personhood. But, when we compare the personhood of the unborn child to a newborn, they usually cannot find a response.”
Stephanie’s pro-life group, Lifeline, displays graphic photographs of aborted fetuses at their information tables. This has ignited the wrath of pro-choice students and the disdain of the student newspaper, which criticized the group in a scathing editorial. But Stephanie believes using such images is necessary, and the next logical step for the pro-life movement in Canada. “It is time to be bolder. Enough is enough. Using more graphic images is a step in the right direction.”
And now is the time for the Church to be bolder, according to Stephanie. “The Church needs to become a stronger voice in the movement. It needs to reach out to its members and challenge them as to why they are not pro-life. And if they are pro-life, why are they not active? The Church needs to lead the way.”
And if the Church is unwilling Stephanie Gray knows some people who are. “Call me an optimist but I feel positive changes. There are many pro-life leaders my age across the country who desire a more virtuous world.”