Earlier this month, anti-abortion activist Mary Wagner was arrested — once again — for illegally entering a Toronto abortion clinic. The 43-year-old has, up to now, spent almost five years in jail for repeatedly violating court orders and harassing vulnerable women in waiting-rooms by handing out anti-abortion cards and models of embryos. It all takes up a great deal of police and court time, and it’s painful and disruptive for the doctors, nurses, and patients involved.
Wagner is not alone in her approach. Another activist, Linda Gibbons, has spent 11 years behind bars for illegal protests outside abortion clinics. Unlike Wagner, she doesn’t enter the buildings but violates the so-called bubble zones that surround them — zones the Ontario government put in place to protect women from activists’ intimidation tactics. (In October, the government extended the legislation, creating demonstration-free zones of between 50 and 150 metres around all eight abortion facilities in the province.)
It’s led some pundits to complain how unjust it is that people such as Wagner and Gibbons must spend so much time in prison for expressing their beliefs. Never mind that judges have repeatedly explained to both women that they don’t want to imprison them, but that their repeated breaking of the law — and their obvious contempt for it — must have consequences. So here is the rub: they want to go to prison. Martyr complexes are rife in anti-abortion and extreme religious circles, and nothing makes someone a hero within these circles like being incarcerated by the God-hating Canadian state.
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The reality, of course, is that people are allowed to speak out against abortion, they are allowed to picket, and they are allowed not to have abortions. But women have the right, under law and with the support of the vast majority of Canadians, to use Canada’s health-care system to control their own bodies and to safely and freely access abortion facilities. Imagine, for a moment, how a woman feels when a zealot stands inches away from her, shouting that “killing babies” is wrong. It’s unacceptable.
Yet the anti-abortion movement has worked hard to advance the notion that Wagner and Gibbons and others like them — who seem to have a great deal of time on their hands — are the ones being persecuted. It ignores that, in the past, women were abused and assaulted on their way into abortion facilities. It ignores that abortion-clinic staff have been attacked and even killed. It ignores that abortion clinics have been bombed. The image of the peaceful anti-abortion protester being persecuted by the all-powerful state is a mere fantasy.
And it’s not just “godless liberals” who take issue with Wagner and her ilk. Truth be told, many in the Roman Catholic Church in Canada, despite the institution’s opposition to abortion, find the ultra-Catholic Wagner embarrassing. In evangelical circles, many who are steadfastly opposed to abortion also believe that Wagner’s grandstanding is all about personal notoriety — and that her actions actually damage their cause.
The hard right, however, is solidly on-side. For example, Wagner told LifeSite, her most strident and dependable media ally, “I don’t think I could continue this path, and I don’t know if I would have even begun it, without the gift of faith and the grace that God — many graces, grace upon grace — that He has given me.”
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Last year, LifeSite described Donald Trump as the new Constantine (the Roman emperor who gave Christianity his official blessing). It has claimed that “The entire world owes a debt of gratitude to the president”; it has described Trump’s opponents as “satanic.” The site peddles the usual right-wing conspiracy theories about sinister cabals and behind-the-scenes controllers. In February, for instance, it argued that the opposition to Trump was orchestrated and funded by “the several decades-old movement for an aggressively secular, borderless, de-populationist New World Order and world government.” LifeSite is also obsessed with what it sees as the pernicious influence of homosexuality and is constantly running vicious articles critical of LGBTQ people and causes.
One of the ironies in all this is that there are moderate people have reservations about abortion — people who view it as a fundamental right but would also like to see rates decline. This can be achieved if contraceptives are made freely available, if a modern sex education is provided in schools, and if attempts are made to eradicate poverty and empower women. The thing is, most hard-core abortion opponents are vehemently opposed to all this, too. In fact, it was they who led the charge against Ontario’s new sex-education curriculum, and it’s they who believe contraceptives are immoral. Many of them see feminism and gender equality as antithetical to a healthy society.
What much of this comes down to is the misapprehension that these activists and their supporters are pro-life. They’re not. Indeed, they have very little to say about genuine life issues such as poverty, racism, peace, and justice. If anything defines them it is that they oppose choice. That’s up to them of course — but the law applies to us all.
Michael Coren is an author, columnist, radio and TV broadcaster, and public speaker.