Thousands took to Parliament Hill and the streets of Ottawa for the annual National March for Life May 9. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

March brings out voices for life

  • May 16, 2019

Ottawa -- Despite new logistical challenges and competition from a new march in Toronto, the 22nd National March for Life drew thousands to Parliament Hill May 9 to protest the 50th anniversary of abortion in Canada.

Campaign Life Coalition, organizers of the March, faced several obstacles. For the first time, they were denied permission to use the steps in front of Centre Block and to park EWTN’s satellite truck on the lawn during the pre-March rally. Access was restricted to just half the lawn, which also accommodated about 50 to 100 counter demonstrators in a far corner.

The changes meant organizers had to set up a riser at the foot of the steps for speakers, making it harder for the crowd estimated at between 6,000 and 20,000 to see the speakers. Following the rally, the crowds marched in a respectful protest along a planned walking route through downtown Ottawa.

Cardinal Thomas Collins spoke of the “profound preciousness of the gift of life” threatened by abortion in its first stages. “But increasingly, the cold hand of euthanasia is upon our country as well,” he  said.

He urged people to pray for “those seeking to follow their consciences and not follow the path that leads to death,” and for protection for conscience rights not only for medical professionals but for everyone.

Collins was joined by the Papal Nuncio Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, representing Pope Francis, and six Catholic bishops: Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa, Archbishop Christian Lépine of Montreal, Archbishop-emeritus Brendan O’Brien of Kingston, Bishop Ronald Fabbro of London, Bishop Guy Desrochers, Auxiliary Bishop of Alexandria-Cornwall, and Bishop Bryan Bayda of the Ukranian Catholic Eparchy of Saskatoon. 

The counter-demonstrators unsuccessfully tried to drown out the speakers by chanting slogans. Police kept them away from the marchers and this year counter-protesters did not block the March and force it to reverse course, as happened a year ago.

In addition to the Toronto march, which drew several hundred people, a few thousand more people attended events held the same day in Victoria, Edmonton, Regina and  Winnipeg.

In Ottawa, former Planned Parenthood director Abby Johnson, the subject of a new feature film called Unplanned about her conversion to the pro-life cause, urged people to ignore the protesters and their “vile signs.”

“This is the story here,” she said, gesturing to the pro-life crowd. “It is cowardly to support death. It is courageous to support life. ... Don’t pay attention to the 100 people over there, when you’ve got 20,000 in front of you.” 

She also challenged religious leaders to help launch “a radical conversion in Canada” to end abortion.

“We are waiting for your voice from the pulpits,” Johnson said. “We are waiting for you to lead on this issue.”

Prior to the March, Canada’s Catholic bishops issued a statement of support for marchers across Canada.

“Events such as the annual and regional Marches for Life are meaningful opportunities to unite thousands of people speaking with one voice to proclaim the dignity of all human life,” the statement said.

“The bishops of Canada have and will continue to advocate and collaborate with organizations across the country, many of which are not Catholic, in endeavours to bring together people from different perspectives who believe in the sanctity of life.”

The event was also attended by about 15 present and former Members of Parliament and at least one Senator. 

“Every person has a set of beliefs that informs them where they came from, where they are going and who they are,” said Conservative MP David Anderson, speaking on behalf of the parliamentarians present. “Your beliefs tell you that life is precious and should only end in natural death.”

The pro-life cause includes standing with women who choose to keep their babies, protecting freedom of conscience, supporting palliative care and defunding money promoting abortion overseas, he said. 

“We are not called by conscience to condemn others, but to show a love that transcends us,” Anderson said.

He also mentioned his private members’ Bill C-418 defending conscience rights for health professionals that is coming up for debate in the House of Commons later this month. It is meant to protect people from threats, intimidation and coercion, he said. 

Anderson, who is retiring from politics and will not run in the next election, said if his bill does not pass in this Parliament, other MPs will take it up in the next.

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