To coincide with the 43rd anniversary of abortion becoming legal in Canada, thousands of anti-choice supporters gathered on Parliament Hill before marching down Elgin St May 10 to protest a woman’s right to choose.
Organized by the Campaign Life Coalition (CLC), the March for Life’s theme this year was “Abortion hurts everyone.” The event featured several current and former members of Parliament as speakers, including Kevin Sorensen, Jeff Watson and Stephen Woodworth.
Woodworth, a Conservative who represents the riding of Kitchener Centre, recently put forth a motion to create a special committee of the House of Commons to examine whether an unborn child is or is not a human being before birth.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has publicly stated he will oppose any attempt to reopen the abortion debate in the House.
Former Liberal MP Pat O’Brien hosted the event and frequently invoked religion as an oppositional force against choice.
“We are here to bear witness to the truth, the truth being that all life is precious and that God’s creatures, from the womb to the end of their natural life, are all of value regardless of their physical abilities. We are here to tell Canada and the rest of the world that we will not cease in our struggle to protect life. No matter how big or how small. We march today to give voice to those who cannot speak and to those who should have a voice,” O’Brien said to the crowd. “God bless.”
When Conservative MP James Lunney took to the stage, he spoke of his background in zoology and fetal development, citing a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that addressed surgeries performed on unborn children. Lunney ended his speech with words that could easily be used to support a pro-choice or anti-choice point of view.
“Illusions ultimately lead to disappointments, and falsehood is absolutely the worst foundation for public policy,” Lunney said.
The CLC claimed there were more than 19,000 people in attendance. Uniformed RCMP officers on site told Xtra
there were between 7,000 and 8,000 present. The contingent included numerous teenagers, as several Roman Catholic schools gave students the day off and encouraged pupils to attend.
“It’s important because everyone deserves life. Every person deserves a chance to live before they are even born,” undergrad Brian Walsh said.
This is not the first instance of Catholic schools attempting to influence students’ actions regarding abortion rights.
Melanie Jueinville-Stafford, a member of the Pro-Choice Coalition of Ottawa (PCCO), says this type of behaviour by the Catholic school system is something the PCCO is concerned by.
“I’ve supported the defunding of Catholic schools for a long time; not only in regard to this issue but also around gay-straight alliances. As we’ve recently seen, religious groups are busting GSAs around anti-bullying
,” Jueinville-Stafford points out. “They are not actually reading what we are trying to do around GSAs. These issues are parallel — bodily integrity and self-determination. It’s tricky because I strongly believe in freedom of expression. I think they would also argue that funding abortions and tax dollars are in conflict with their values, and I think my taxes and public funds shouldn’t be used to support hate or lobbying against women’s rights and queer rights. So it has to be an ongoing conversation.”
Carole Lebel is fully engaged in this contentious conversation. Lebel volunteered to act as a marshal for the march and stated her case when asked why she chose to participate in the day’s events.
“Many people have lived in poor health status with joy, with acceptance, with love for one another and accepting the love of other people. That’s what life is to me — we give to one another,” Lebel said. “We don’t live a perfect life. Nobody does, and this life on Earth isn’t meant to be perfect. But we’re meant to love one another and we do that by providing. We’re all in need of one another; we can’t live alone and we’re not an island. From the womb to the tomb summarizes it all because we’re all important.”
A small yet dedicated group of pro-choice advocates was fenced off from the protesters. The choice-minded congregation chanted “My body, my choice” while brandishing homemade signs and displaying measured restraint.
“I think women should have autonomy over their own bodies,” Benjamin Diaz, a Pink Triangle Services volunteer, said. “I think it’s disgusting that the majority of the leaders here are men. They’re never going to get pregnant, yet they are trying to enforce their views onto women’s bodies, and that’s not right.”
Woodworth’s non-binding motion was debated in the House for one hour in April and is expected to be revisited in the future.
In addition to her ties to the PCCO, Jueinville-Stafford works at a women’s clinic and says the decision to end a pregnancy is never something a woman takes lightly.
“The reality is the women I see at the clinic are generally not activists, and they do not want to be there. They are there for all sorts of reasons, but I always trust their own decision-making abilities.”