April 25, 2008 Volume 22, Number 03
State of the debate
Twenty years after court ruling, pro-life advocates as vocal as ever
By Emily Wierenga | Special to ChristianWeek
Twenty years after Canada decriminalized abortion, the debate is still very much alive. While some Christians focus on ensuring the pro-life voice isn't silenced, others are quietly working among the women who face difficult decisions of life and death.
Universities, fertile ground for political debate, are the setting of recent clashes over freedom of speech. York University's cancellation of a public debate, organized by a campus pro-life group on the grounds that debating abortion is comparable to debating a man's right to beat his wife, is only the most recent. After some bad press the university intervened, allowing the debate to proceed.
The Canadian Federation of Students recently compared pro-life student groups to the Ku Klux Klan. "Such comparisons are incredibly ignorant and, quite frankly, hurtful," says Margaret Fung, president of Students for Bioethical Awareness.
Andrea Mrozek, manager of research and communications at the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, believes that abortion needs to be debated for the health and well-being of women everywhere.
In recognition of the 20th anniversary of the decriminalization of abortion in Canada, Mrozek founded Pro-Woman Pro-Life, a group that believes strong, confident women are pro-woman when they're pro-life. In other words, being pro-life is a compassionate, pro-woman stance.
Mrozek's goal is to have the conversation from the ground up.
Denise Mountenay of Canada Silent No More (CSNM) agrees. After never fully recovering from her own abortion, she founded CSNM in order to spark debate and urge support for those broken by the procedure.
At 16, Mountenay decided to have an abortion. "I thought, if my mom thinks it's okay and the government thinks it's okay, then it must be... I was dead wrong," she says. "The doctor told me that it was just a 'clump of tissue'-another lie. My baby had a beating heart, vital organs and perfect tiny arms, legs, fingers and toes at nine weeks."
As a result of her abortion, Mountenay suffered an infection, a damaged cervix and a badly scarred uterus. "For years I fought depression, guilt and unresolved grief," she recalls.
Today, says Andrea O'Reilly, director of the Association for Research on Mothering at York University, 50 per cent of teenage pregnancies end in abortion. She may be pro-choice, but O'Reilly believes society can do more to encourage young mothers to keep their children.
"Our culture still punishes and penalizes young people for getting pregnant," she says. "Teen moms are wrongly judged. They need respect, support and compassion. They need to know their lives are not over, and they can continue on with their own dreams."
This February Jessica Ronan, an 18-year-old high-school dropout from Edmonton, gave birth to a healthy, seven-pound baby.
"I just kept picturing my baby as being me," she says. "I couldn't imagine ending his life and his future."
Today Ronan is extremely thankful for little Joey-as are his father and grandmother. "You don't even know how much I love him," Ronan said two days following the delivery. "I never thought I could feel this way. Every time he cries, I bawl my eyes out. I love him so much."
"Motherhood is self-defining," says O'Reilly, who believes women are natural creators and nurturers. "No matter a woman's choice, it will stay with her the rest of her life. Unfortunately, for those who choose abortion, this can mean a lifetime of reoccurring nightmares."
Mountenay recounts the story of Maria, who used abortion as a form of birth control. "Later she tried to commit suicide; [when] she was blessed to have children, she couldn't accept gifts from them. On Mother's Day she would hide in her bedroom in the dark and cry," she says.
"Every day, young women are being lied to and going into clinics, many pressured by boyfriends and parents. Over two million women in Canada have had an abortion in the last 20 years; many suffer in silence. It's time to break that silence," Mountenay says.
Rachel's Vineyard is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping men and women talk about their abortion experiences and find healing.
Founded 13 years ago in the U.S. by Theresa Burke, the grassroots initiative has grown from 18 retreats in 1999 to more than 600 in 2007, including many in Canada.
Burke says "the unhealed trauma of an abortion experience can create a living hell for those who suffer. The quest for true healing, therefore, frequently becomes a spiritual journey."
Rachel's Vineyard provides a place for women and men to gather and mourn the loss of their infants. "Death transfuses our veins with blood-throbbing heartache, anguish and intense yearning for someone who cannot be retrieved," says Burke. "We weep. We recall regrets-our role in what has happened, and the child we will miss."
Rachel's Vineyard offers weekends of healing, as well as 13-week support groups which help individuals acknowledge unresolved feelings, identify the way the loss has impacted them and help prevent post-abortion trauma.
"In trying to understand the mystery of death, we look to God in times of personal distress, trauma and the loss of human life," says Burke.