Winnipeg pro-choice and pro-life supporters demonstrate side by side

An unlikely peacefulness reigned over a demonstration attended by both pro-life and pro-choice supporters, each rallying for their cause outside the Women’s Hospital on Notre Dame this past Saturday.

“Nobody’s out here to hurt anybody else. We’re just here to do our civic duty according to what our beliefs are. Just because our beliefs don’t match doesn’t mean we aren’t on the same playing field,” said Ray Eskritt, a pro-choice demonstrator.

The pro-choice demonstration was organized in collaboration between the womyn’s centers at the University of Manitoba and University of Winnipeg. It was planned for Saturday because abortions are not performed on the weekend.

“We don’t want women who are going through a difficult period in their life. [ . . . ] We don’t want to increase their difficult choice by throwing them into this firestorm of political choices because it’s not a political choice, it’s a health and a life choice,” said Eskritt.

“They should feel calm and collected and secure in their choice and shouldn’t feel as if they’re in danger or being looked at.”

Lauryn Pizey-Allen, one of the organizers of the pro-choice demonstration, said that they began planning the event three weeks ago in response to speculation that pro-life supporters had been approaching people going in and out of the hospital.

One of the issues they were looking to raise awareness about was the availability of abortion services in Canada.

“I believe maybe there’s services in Brandon, but for women living up north in reserve communities or in rural communities, they have to travel down to Winnipeg, and if you’re wanting to keep your choice a secret and not tell anyone or you’d feel unsafe, that puts women in really difficult situation.”

The pro-life demonstration was part of the 40 Days for Life campaign, which uses prayer to draw attention to the pro-life cause. Xenioes Marcks, a pro-life demonstrator, explained that the 40 days for Life demonstration was less of a protest and more of a prayer vigil.

“What we’re trying to do is say that there is a lot of damage being done to human hearts, and pray that we would be brave enough and strong enough as a society to embrace those wounds and to resolve those problems,” said Marcks.

Marcks said that the 40 Days for Life supporters decided to come out on Saturday after word had gotten back to them that a pro-choice demonstration would be taking place.

“There was a desire to respond to whatever might be coming from the University of Manitoba.”
While most of the demonstrators found the event non-confrontational, some still felt that there was a certain of animosity between the two groups.

“Most of us are prayerful and we’re not jumping up and down cheerleading, and we’re not trying to block anyone, because we’re all about a yes, and abortion is about a no,” said Miriam, a pro-life supporter commenting on the presence of the radical cheerleaders, who declined to give her last name.

“We’re about yes, and about truthfulness and about deep and profound caring for all life, and so that’s a misunderstanding between the two groups and we always lament that there’s so such much animosity coming from the people who think that we are down on women somehow.”
Some dialogue did occur between the two groups, and although some felt common ground was found, the two sides ultimately still have very opposing viewpoints.

“One of the things that’s important to stress is that this isn’t a moral debate on what value you place on the fetus, and that’s what the discussion usually came down to when we’ve talked with anti-abortion protesters,” said Pizey-Allen.

— With files from Laura Blakley.