In The Interim’s March issue, Grace Kelly set the scene and sketched in the characters of the picketing at Toronto’s Morgentaler abortuary (“Who keeps the vigil, pgs. 26-27).  In this issue, she discusses by the name some of the picketers who have been there from the beginning.

On the Toronto picket line, I spoke to men and women of different ages, backgrounds and faiths.  I asked them three questions: When and how did you get involved in the pro-life cause and why do you picket?  Lack of space prohibits me from describing each person I met and all I heard, so I have selected some people to speak for others I omitted.  Their keen insight and practical actions are a joy to describe.

Original picketers

Original picketers are those who have picketed since the opening of the abortuary four years ago, and who continue to do so regularly.  Leo is a retired law clerk who comes “as a witness to give back humanity to the unborn child.”  Leo’s mother died when he was just eleven days old and he feels so sorry for the aborted babies and their mothers.  To compensate for abortions being done inside and for the people involved, he prays fifteen decades of the Rosary daily, often joined by Mike, also a bachelor and a retired steelworker.  Mike pickets and prays early every weekday morning. He believes abortion is “a monstrous problems that every Christian ought to be involved in and that picketing is the most effective means of protest, along with prayer.”

Peter, a witty philosophical dock worker and widower who pickets because “the social system doesn’t look after the girls.  Besides, I’m not Dracula; I can’t stand outside this House of Horrors and do nothing.”  Generous to a fault, others tell of Peter handing out two dollar bills to the homeless for a cup of coffee, or of his support for good causes “as a financial missionary because I can’t be there to help.”

Tom, a dapper, middle-aged businessman, father of four sons, pickets and counsels at the rear of the abortuary where he has helped several women to change their minds about abortion. Tom wants to be active in the pro-life cause and believes that picketing is the most visible and effective way to protest abortions and to save babies.

Marilyn, his articulate and gracious wife, joined the pro-life cause in the 1970s, after reading a book on the wartime Holocaust and being horrified.  She was equally horrified when the Morgentaler abortuary opened and since then, has picketed twice a week for four years.  She sees abortion simply and clearly as wrong: “God creates life at conception and nobody can interfere with that life.”  Marilyn believes their family’s priority on the pr0-life cause has blessed their lives and deepened their faith, citing the example of their adopted teen-aged son once ill, who is now hale and hearty. (He was arrested in one of the rescues at the Morgentaler abortuary).

Other original picketers include Bob, a handsome unmarried university graduate who pickets and counsels at the back of the abortuary, often with Craig, who says, “Abortion is a matter of simple justice. Human life is not only precious, but sacred and they are making garbage out of human lives at the abortuary, which is not what God intended.”  He gives priority to the abortion issue because “What we are dealing with here is human life; the other issues deal with quality of life.”

Bernard, a supply teacher who says, “picketing has made me active and a participant in the pro-life movement.  It has also caused me to reflect on the deeper aspects of my faith.  “Two original picketers, Helen and Dan, are now forbidden by court order to be at the abortuary.  They and other witnesses believe their arrest, two years ago, was a “setup” to dispose of their effective presence.  They are sorely missed.

Ita, is a retired nurse, mother and grandmother, who first encountered abortion as a student nurse in England.  Although she has seen the London Blitz and soldiers returning from war, “Nothing has ever stayed with me as much as the babies I aborted in the hospital where I was trained.”

Father Al pickets, he says, basically to give the public a witness that we have not ceased protesting the total unacceptability of abortion.  Therefore, I stay in front along Harbord Street, and like to carry a clear red sign visible from a long distance.”  Picketing is not his favourite pastime and he has to convince himself every Friday morning to do so.  He says, “As a priest, I want the picketers to know that the clergy is with them and I want to encourage them in their difficult task.”

Next is a couple who has lovingly logged, together, for the unborn, over 300 hours on the picket lie.  Typically, they insist “This is little compared to others.”  Hugh is an eloquent high school English teacher who pickets because “morality is both public and private.”  He believes there has to be a witness against abortion, which is “the central scourge of our time and must occupy everyone’s attention.”  He says simply, “I’m here because Christ wants me to be here.”

Lorraine, Hugh’s wife, and a retired English teacher, pickets because, “:It is not enough to give lip service to human rights.  Abortion is violence in the womb and violence is not a foundation for any right, including women’s rights.”  For those who wish to be at the abortuary but who are unable, this couple suggests they spiritually adopt a pre-born baby threatened with abortion, and pray for him or her.

Most original

Of all the inspiring original picketers, I spoke to, probably the most original is Fernanda, a lively Portuguese immigrant mother, grandmother and neighbourhood resident.  Her husband Amandio urged her “to do something” when the abortuary opened.  She has picketed daily for four years, often with grandchildren in tow.  Appalled by our country that “kills babies,” Fernanda wants to be able to tell her grandchildren that she tried to stop abortions.  She recalls “that Jesus choose only twelve to change the world so we, too, can change this abortion.  Jesus can give us the power.”  She muses, “When I go home (to heaven), God won’t ask me if I keep a clean house but if I do His job. Thanks God for choosing me for this job.

Full of anecdotes about abortuary happenings, Fernanda recalls that one day last year, she was at the back of the abortuary holding her infant grandson when an attractive couple came to the abortuary.  Tongue-tied but desperately praying for the right words, she asked the woman, “Why you want to kill your baby?”  Shaken, the woman said she didn’t want an abortion, but her boyfriend did – an accusation he denied, saying that his parents didn’t want the baby.  Shocked, Fernanda protested.  “But that’s the best gift you can give your parents – a baby like my grandson.”  The couple entered the abortuary but soon came out, and accepted Fernanda’s referral for help and the telephone number.  A week later she received a short anonymous phone call from a man who simply said “thank-you.”  She recognized his voice.  Then she confided “See my grandson saved a baby; God saves babies.”

Fernanda feels blessed by this incident, as well as within her family.  In the last four years, her son was married and now has three children.

Yet another time, while at the back of the abortuary, Fernanda recalls, “One day I talk to Dr. Morgen (that’s what I call him).  I say, Dr. Morgen, why you kill those babies and so many of them. He answers me, “it’s not the babies that bother me, but you and your signs.”  She persisted, “Although I don’t mean to maybe I offend him, I say, “Dr. Morgen, why you kill so many innocent people – that’s what they do to the Jews in the Holocaust.”  He look at me and says ‘Ah, shut up.”