Who keeps the vigil at the Morgentaler abortuary in downtown Toronto? Are the picketers “religious fanatics” or a part of a “quasi-fascist movement” (Morgentaler, Toronto Star, January 18, 1989). Are they “terrorists” creating a scene like that of “Beirut or Belfast” (June Callwood, Globe and Mail, February 17, 1988)? If so, then who in the world would want to join them?
Perplexed by this kind of media lambasting, even I, a long-time pro-lifer was starting to wonder about the zealous picketers, few of whom I knew. Could they be a new breed of activist, reacting more from the heart then form the head or, as the media suggested, do they get carried away? I didn’t really know; so to set my mind and the record straight, I joined the picket line for visits last December and January, beginning with the twenty-four hour prayer vigil held every year on December 10, to protest the opening of the abortuary in 1984. My story does not include that of Operation Rescue, although many of the picketers I spoke to had joined it and been arrested. Although I started off with skepticism, the more I talked to individual picketers the more I understood them and how the media has misinterpreted their motives and presence. What I saw and heard surprised, stirred and inspired me.
To the uninitiated, the Morgentaler abortuary is situated in downtown Toronto, off Spadina Avenue (considered the garment industry capital of Canada), a bus ride away from the Spadina subway. The street is mainly commercial. It borders a large ethnic neighbourhood of brightly-coloured homes, built along neat rows. Each seems to have a personal patch of greenery, lovingly tended. Incidentally, the neighbours are unperturbed by the happenings at the abortuary (Varsity newspaper, February 1, 1989), contrary to occasional media reports.
On Harbord Street, the semi-detached, rust brick building that houses the abortuary, number 85 on one side and The Way Inn, number 87, on the other, is surprisingly drab in appearance. It almost sits on the sidewalk. The renovated side, the abortuary, has a trendy, translucent patterned window in front, and a heavy brown steel door which guards the entrance with an alarm system. There is a secretive, sterile look to the place, outwardly clean and chic. The clientele must pay upon entering. There is a fee for killing (up to $500, Toronto Star, January 25, 1989).
The Way Inn
On the other side is The Way Inn, with its plain front window plastered with pro-life posters, its rickety brown wooden door constantly banging open and shut, and its tiny yard cluttered with picket signs. Still the place breathes a friendly informal look and feeling, fostered by volunteer hostess Joanne Dieleman, a good grandmother who has managed the In since its opening on Marcy 19, 1986. Although the surroundings are shabby and sparse, the Inn is a haven for cold picketers (who rarely complain about the biting cold or penetrating dampness); it is a place where they can retreat between walks on the picket line; where people joke a lot and chat; and where even a stray cat, “Henry,” is instantly adopted and embraced. The place exudes tolerance and dignity, vitality and life. The playpen inside the front door is usually occupied by one of Joanne’s grandchildren or by another baby. Here all stages of human life are respected. One does not pay a fee to enter. The contrast in premises is striking – a constant reminder of the struggle between death and life.
One Common Belief
While visiting the picket line, I talked to over 30 picketers. All share one strong common belief; that abortion is the killing of a pre-born child, a terrible crime against God and against humanity. These men and women, of all ages, backgrounds and of different faiths, come to the abortuary to personally protest the killing here, which they believe continues unnoticed or ignored by the government, legislators, most church leaders and an indifferent public.
To picket is to publicly protest. Abhorrence of abortion stems from a deep conviction based on biblical or church teaching, civil rights denied the pre-born, or moral concern about the future direction of a country that allows abortion to continue. Picketers mention that the most basic right of all is the right to life on which all other rights depend. For this reason they give it first priority over other important issues such as pornography, disarmament, poverty, hunger, the plight of the ill or handicapped, or the environment. Yet all expressed concern over these issues and some give time and money to them. However, all believed abortion was the most basic issue of all. One picketer summed it up for the others: “What we’re dealing with here is human life. The other issues deal with quality of life.”
Some of the picketers I spoke with expressed their reasons for coming to the picket line in clear, lucid, elegant language; others joked figuratively about “not wishing to stand idly by a ‘House of Dracula;” many felt that by their coming as witnesses and praying, reparation was offered to God for abortion; others worried tat in years ahead their children would ask what they did to stop abortions; while still others simply said their presence was all they could do for the pro-life cause. Some of the most courageous and incisive reflections I heard came form seemingly meek soft-spoken men and women who quietly live out their convictions on the picket line, instead of giving lip service and doing little else.
Call to Action
Many picketers started picketing for different reasons: by first reading about the holocaust and being horrified, and relating it to the holocaust of the unborn; by knowing someone affected by abortion; by reading pro-life literature or hearing a powerful pro-life speaker; by joining a political rally; by attending a prayerful vigil at the abortuary or protesting the opening, two years ago, of the second (Scott) abortuary. For a number the pivotal point was the drastic Supreme Court decision of January 28, 1988, which struck down the abortion law. This event put into question all their previous efforts.
Writing letters, lobbying MPs and working for pro-life causes, which before the Supreme Court decision were seen as restrained and rational activities, were now viewed by some as politically futile efforts.
The picket line felt the blow too. Some faithful picketers who had become a regular mainstay during the week now apparently felt disheartened and stopped coming. Current picketers wish to send a message: although picketing did not change the law; the picketing can still save babies here at the abortuary, and will draw public attention to the killing inside. Please come back to witness. We miss you.
For others, previously unmotivated or uncommitted, the Supreme Court decision inflamed their moral indignation and spurred them into new action. The time had come for them to stop being passive and start being active. To picket is to participate.
The picketer firmly believe that women with untimely pregnancies are entitled to last-minute help. Volunteers counsel at the back entrance to the abortuary, where they try to intervene between these women and the lure of the abortuary, a lure secured by its female escorts. Standing at the back, the counselor will offer any women who pauses to listen, any help – immediate or long-term – to continue her pregnancy. Amazingly, at least 40 babies in four years are known to have been saved by this intervention and counseling – a verifiable number because the picketers have personally followed up these women. (Astonishingly, last August a couple responded to counseling, according to picketers who were there, on almost every weekday.) The counsellor’s offer of help is practical – housing during the pregnancy, financial and medical help, or emotional support as required. Their sincere, last-minute reaching out seems to appeal to women who are uncertain about their decision to abort, but who feel coerced by boyfriend, husband or family. Those who accept help often later confirm this view, admitting a vulnerability because they were immigrants, strangers to the city, poor, unemployed or emotionally desperate. The picketers I spoke to, both men and women, expressed a genuine concern for the women who have abortions and they grieve for both mothers and babies and for the abortion staff, for whom they often pray.
During my visit to the picket line, I found the picketers to be gentle, tender-hearted, serious, fair-minded, compassionate, good-natured, weather-proof (they never complain about the elements), strong-willed and clear-headed about their job on the picket line. Often they will walk and pray (the Rosary is a favorite meditation),, or in groups they will sing hymns or stop for Bible readings – hardly activities that resemble “Beirut” or “Belfast” or that qualify them as “religious fanatics” or part of a “quasi-fascist movement.” Surprisingly, I found regular picketers there on Saturdays (many people can come only then), because the business of killing unborn babies at number 85 cuts into the weekend.
My time with the picketers convinced me that a gospel story is being relived on Harbord Street in downtown Toronto, like a modern Way of the Cross. The picketers, like the courageous, humble men and women of two thousand years ago who kept a vigil for an innocent Man unjustly condemned to die, today keep a vigil in a different time and setting to protest the holocaust of pre-born babies.
Knights bombard Ottawa with pro-life postcards
Ontario Knights of Columbus have embarked on a pro-life postcard writing blitz directed at Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, said Fred Bedard, a spokesman for the Ontario State Board and past Grand Knight of St. Francis Council. Pre-addressed postcards numbering 49,200 are being distributed to councils in Ontario, and members and their wives are being encouraged to send the free postcard to Ottawa to indicate their anger that there is no law in Canada in effect to protect the lives of the unborn. Some enthusiastic councils have reordered the cards and are giving them out in their parishes for other parishioners to sign.
Lutherans for Life
Pembroke, Ontario – The Pembroke, Ontario Lutherans for Life continue to promote pro-life causes by donating books to school libraries and layette sets to the General Hospital for use by needy mothers. Hundreds of Lutheran churches in the U.S.A. and Canada celebrated Sanctity of Human Life Sunday on January 22, in commemoration of the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision.
Toronto abortionist picketed
On Sunday afternoon February 5, some 35-40 peaceful protestors picketed the home of Toronto abortionist Dr. Monole Buriuana in Kettleby Township near Newmarket, Ontario. Buriuana of Jugoslavian origin, commits abortions at Toronto’s Morgentaler clinic. Wednesdays and Saturdays. For the remainder of the week, he works at a Family Clinic on 1767 Eglinton Ave. West in Toronto.
Some of the protestors peeked through the windows when they discovered that Dr. Buruiana was entertaining guests, including a clergyman to whom they tried to speak. At one point Dr. Buruiana stormed out of the house and pummeled one of the viewers on the head without further warning.
A Catholic priest Father Comerford, who was assaulted, has asked Peel police to lay a charge of assault and was told the matter would be investigated.
Moncton, N.B. – Five placard carrying pro-life supporters picketed the house of Moncton gynecologist and abortionist Dr. Robert Caddick in mid-January, Michel Arsenault, one of the group calling itself Lifesavers Moncton, said the protest was being conducted as part of the International Day of Rescue, January 12-14, held in Canada and the U.S.
The peaceful protest lasted seven hours, from 8:30-3:00 p.m. in bitter cold weather. Some 30 neighbours of the abortionist found an “Open Letter to Dr. Caddick and his Neighbours” in their mail boxes. Lifesavers Moncton offers no apology for coming to the neighbourhood, the letter stated., “We are forced to do so by public apathy, government cowardice and the arrogant propaganda of government funded pro-abortion minority groups.”
It was the first time an abortionist doctor had been picketed in the Maritimes.
The Times Transcript of January 16 covered the event together with photos and story on the Toronto Rescue Operation. Ten days later, an editorial denounced both the Moncton picketing and Operation Rescue.
N.B. Health Minister Ray Frenette
The same Lifesavers Moncton addressed an Open Letter to N.B. Health Minister Ray Frenette at the end of January. They formally requested that the promised resistance to Morgentaler be extended to all abortions. Stated the letter:
“We, Lifesavers Moncton, hereby ask Ray Frenette, Minister of Health, and his government to close down the three abortuaries in Moncton, Fredericton and Saint John, and to cut off all abortion related funding, to stop using tax payers money for the killing of the pre-born and to allocate this money for the purpose of saving lives.
We also call upon the New Brunswick government to stop funding organizations that promote killing of the unborn and to bring to justice doctors involved in the killing industry.