CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

Is it about the unborn?

  • January 15, 2015

I’ve spent 25 years in the pro-life movement. I’ve been physically attacked, had soiled underwear pushed in my face, been insulted, speeches picketed, family abused, jobs denied. I’ve also been one of the most public faces of the battle against abortion in media. So I feel a little qualified to pass comment on the issue and its participants.

Which brings me to Mary Wagner, who has become something of a heroine to many in the pro-life movement. The 40-year-old has been arrested yet again for entering an abortion clinic to ask the patients, quietly and of course non-violently, if they want any information about alternatives to abortion. She also hands them roses or small ornaments and she prays.

Hardly a terrible crime but it is still a crime. Her presence is not wanted by the owners of the clinic. They claim she causes a disruption and makes the women in the waiting room feel uncomfortable and distressed. I fully understand the gripping juxtaposition — feelings of distress compared to aborting babies — but in that Wagner surely enters the clinic with the sole purpose of being arrested I am not sure why her supporters become so angry when it happens. There is certainly a heavy dose of contrived disingenuousness in all this.

She is then announced as a prisoner of conscience but this is a misnomer. Prisoners of conscience are generally people who are persecuted and incarcerated for their opinions rather than their actions. While one might support what Wagner does, her arrests are a direct consequence of her actions and her actions are illegal. Turkey, for example, arrests journalists on a regular basis because of what they have said or written; Catholic states once imprisoned or even killed people for their opinions. These were prisoners of conscience.

The law may be wrong but surely the solution is to change rather than break it. The police or the courts cannot suddenly declare that the law doesn’t matter and in spite of what some people might think, officers and judges are invariably simply doing their job. Canada is a democracy with a respect for the separation of powers and the rule of law and a country in which minority views are respected and laws can certainly be reformed. It is certainly not, as some of Wagner’s supporters have claimed, a fascist state that oppresses pro-lifers.

I also have to ask — and do so with the utmost respect — what the motivation for all this actually is? The abortion laws will not be changed by Mary Wagner’s actions, the culture around abortion will not be diminished, public opinion will not be convinced and activated and there is a very real danger that such activities will further marginalize the pro-life cause from mainstream Canada. I know she claims that clinic patients have changed their minds and fellow prisoners have been converted to the pro-life cause, but the cynical journalist in me wonders if this is absolutely true.

Could there be something personal, even needy, about all this? I know Mary Wagner’s supporters will react strongly to what I have said and I have already been rudely condemned for gently questioning her stance on my television show, but the question has to be asked: is this about the unborn or about Mary Wagner?

Spending so long in prison cannot be enjoyable but it might be fulfilling. There are many wrongly arrested and convicted people, especially young people from poor and minority backgrounds, who would dearly love a support campaign around them. Alas, it doesn’t happen. It could also be argued that raising a family, paying bills, sacrificing for one’s children, working long hours is far more pro-life and far more difficult than developing a fairly comfortable aura of martyrdom and abandoning responsibilities while in prison.

So, I have said the unforgivable, uttered the unpardonable, asked questions about a profoundly important issue with no easy answers or facile solutions. Not all supporters of abortion are bad, not all opponents of abortion are good and, as important as it may be, abortion is not the only issue that should concern Catholics. Martin Luther King and Dietrich Bonhoeffer had no choice Mary, but you do. The world is not such a dark place; after all, it’s God’s creation.

(Coren’s new book is Hatred: Islam’s War on Christianity. His web site is www.michaelcoren.com.)