Anti-abortion crusaders see hope in their sneaky new strategy

PROVINCE by Kelly Malone

Some people go to bars on Friday nights. I drive to Regina to crash anti-abortion events.

I don’t have any regrets, but if the organizers of LifeTour get their way, the women who seek this legal and often needed medical procedure might.

As the federal election creeps closer, Canada’s anti-abortionists have been making their way across the country in the LifeTour campaign. On Oct. 9, along with a few Prairie Dog tag-alongs, I joined 20 or 30 people at Regina’s Harvest City Church for the first of three Saskatchewan LifeTour events.

The evening started with a crisp PowerPoint presentation in which the audience learned questionable “scientific” facts and saw graphic drawings of late-term abortions complete with dismembered bits and fetal skull-crushing.

The event continued with a presentation by Devorah Gilman, a LifeTour speaker who described how she’d miraculously converted pro-choicers by showing them gruesome pictures of aborted fetuses. The crowd ate it up. Prairie Dog was skeptical.

The event got serious as Mike Schouten, the director of — the group behind LifeTour — took the microphone to describe a new strategy to make our small room’s anti-choice voices resonate much louder in the outside world.

LifeTour’s goal is twofold. In the short-term, Schouten and company want to drum up votes for anti-abortion candidates — a casual count on Campaign Life Coalition’s website reveals 83 in the Conservative party alone (a party which, incidentally, only has 60 female candidates).

But long term? Schouten wants a calculated, step-by-step assault on Canada’s current abortion regime to bring about incremental, but eventually decisive, change.

“We need prudence as we move forward,” says Schouten. “We need to realize Canada is a pluralistic nation and not everyone thinks the same way many of us here this evening do.”

Rather than fighting for a “perfect law” that would ban all abortions, Schouten outlines three laws he thinks could realistically be passed: first, a ban on late-term abortions (which the presentation didn’t mention are uncommon and only performed when the woman’s life is at risk). Second: a law against sex-selective abortions.

And last but not least? A law for the so-called “pre-born” victims of crime that, conveniently, would enshrine fetal “rights” in law.

The New Fetus Fetishists

Schouten represents the new anti-abortion movement. He understands that slippery slope legislation is far more likely to be successful than the all-or-nothing propositions of yesterday’s shrill pro-lifers.

The key, he says, is to come across as moderate — which makes it much easier to get Canadians and politicians on-side.

“None of [the three proposed laws] would end abortion in Canada,” says Schouten. “Even if all of them were passed within eight years, abortion would still be legal. [But] they are steps in the right direction. They are realistic, because the majority of Canadians already support them.

“We can work along with the changing public opinion and, step by step by step, begin to change the laws in our country,” he adds.

How will legal restrictions be added to abortions? Schouten says that if pro-lifers head online and into the streets armed with reasonable language and these new tactics, Canadians will get behind the little steps of the long-term strategy.

Basically, they’ll fall right into the anti-abortionists’ trap.

After the presentation, Schouten opened the floor to questions. One attendee asked how it was possible to get politicians to talk about abortion “…[when] even [Prime Minister] Harper says he’s not discussing it”.

Schouten responded that with the new strategy, anti-abortionists are already making progress.

“For many decades now governments have been dismissing us as a bunch of extremists,” he says. “Now, we are registered lobbyists. We go into their offices… [and tell MPs] ‘we do know there is a majority of support to address things like sex-selective abortion [and] pre-born victims of crime. So can we work with you to that effect.’”

Down The Rabbit Hole

I spoke with a few attendees after the presentation.

“My MP is Andrew Scheer and I know he is a pro-life, pro-family candidate so he has my vote,” says Tracey Sparrowhawk. “As far as the other ones go, I think if we keep engaging them and letting them know our opinion, things will change because, as they said, if everyone starts doing that and they see there is pressure — the public saying this is wrong — then eventually, they will have to do something.”

“I am pro-life but I didn’t know a lot about the issue,” says Candy Klaudeman, before challenging my pro-choice stance. “If your mother had chosen to not have you because she had this right and you — in her womb— didn’t have a right, you wouldn’t be here.”

That’s one way to look at things. I ask if there are any situations — say, if the woman’s life or health is at risk — when she’s support an abortion.

“You see that science clearly shows that is a baby, a living human baby. You have no problem ending its life?” Sparrowhawk interjected.

I’m not getting anywhere and it’s getting late for spelunking down bottomless rabbit holes. But it is clear that the anti-abortion activists who might succeed with this new approach weren’t the ones attending the church event. The future of this movement is with the LifeTour’s young, friendly and unassuming volunteers.

The five women, four in their late teens and one 21-year-old, all wearing cheerful, pink pro-life T-shirts, spent much of the night tweeting and Facebooking away with their generation’s trademark technological aptitude. They’re the ones who, if they’re smart and patient, might bring restricted abortion access back into the political conversation — if not in this election, perhaps the next.

“[People] seem to like the new strategy: instead of trying to polarize this debate, let’s talk about abortion starting where we have common ground with most Canadians,” says presenter and lawyer Andre Schutten of the Association for Reformed Political Action after the presentation.

Depending on where you stand, one law is too many — or just enough to get an anti-abortion rampage rolling in Canada.