Showdown on the Corner

Pro-Choice and Pro-Life Groups Set Up Camp in the Mile End

The abortion debate is back again—specifically, in the park on the southeast corner of St. Laurent and St. Joseph Blvd., where an access showdown between pro-choice and pro-lifers is currently being staged outside of Montreal’s Morgentaler Clinic.

The first to offer compassionate surgical abortion services in Canada, the clinic is routinely a site of protest and prayer by the Quebec Life Coalition. But this year, the QLC’s ‘40 Days for Life Vigil to End Abortion’ was met with pro-choice resistance from the local community.

On one side of the grassy park, five members of the QLC stand with their eyes closed, holding placards. Some members hand out rosaries and promotional material to passersby on the busy Mile End corner. On the other side, a pro-choice picnic of local activists, dog walkers and folks from the neighbourhood have been showing up every day between noon and 4 p.m. to stage a counter-protest with music, dancing and good times.

Standing off over the last few weeks, the two groups have very different ideas about the unborn.

“I’ve been a missionary for 10 years and decided to come here and show people who we are,” said a member of the QLC named André, who spoke passionately about his Catholic beliefs.

“Some people say we’re crazy. Oh yeah, they freak out when we approach them. But people are on the dark side and when they see the light they hate it. They hate it! These people are influenced by the devil, because, you know, abortion is killing. If you can’t see that, you gotta be blind somewhere,” he said, gesturing to one of the male pro-choice advocates, who was holding a sign that read, “Abort the Toronto Maple Leafs.”

With little plastic fetuses lining the beads of his rosary, André—the self-proclaimed ‘plus demonstratif’ of the group—explained that the standoff has been relatively civil, and at certain points even playful.

“I will play rock and roll over their music [to get attention], as long as it’s not devil music,” he explained, adding that blaring Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” on the corner has proved to be an effective method of spreading the word.

“There are gays and lesbians on the other side, wearing upside-down crosses,” he added, solemnly. “I know that they haven’t met God yet, and that their ideas are wrong, but that doesn’t mean they can’t change. I talked to them, and even joked with them sometimes and keep telling them to try to be with the Lord. I’m trying to get them to join us.”

But the other group, mere meters away, isn’t interested.

“We keep telling them that Freddy Mercury is on our side, but I’m not sure they’re getting it,” said Danielle, one of the pro-choice demonstrators, with a smirk. Danielle explained that the communication between the two groups has been decidedly minimal—though the police did intervene earlier in the week to tell the pro-choicers not to block the pro-life placard, and there was an incident involving the sprinkling of holy water.

“In terms of the public [interaction], there’s been a lot of support, people seem generally happy that we’re out here,” she continued, explaining that “a broad range of people with a broad range of politics and interests, young and old,” have come out to support their cause.

“Last weekend there was well over 100 people who came out to sit with us. We had games and delicious food, and it was really fun. Our side is always the sweet gay party. Their side is always miserable looking.”

Gauging popular opinion by intermittent honks of encouragement and thumbs-up from the passing busses and cars on St. Joseph, Danielle explained that the neighbourhood has really embraced the pro-choice group, who set up organically through Facebook and word-of-mouth.

“A lot of women come by, and they’re 60 years old and they tell us, ‘I was doing this 30 years ago.’ And that sucks [that access to abortion is still an issue we have to demonstrate for],” explained Tave, another member of the pro-choicers, holding a sign that read, “My cunt, my choice.”

“Abolishing abortion is just never going to happen. And yeah, I would also like it if fewer people had abortions, but I have a more realistic approach, which includes safer sex education and access to contraceptives. But these are solutions the other party wants nothing to do with.”

Explaining that the conservative, anti-choice movement in America is certainly present in Canada too—as evidenced by the “Unborn Victims of Crime Act,” the private members’ bill that passed a second reading in the House of Commons in 2009—the pro-choicers believe that the real threat for women and their reproductive rights comes down to access.

“It’s not that abortion will be taken away [with legislature],” said Danielle, “it’s the safety of the abortion that could be taken away.”

“I feel like it’s really fucked up, but we aren’t really secure in our access,” added Tave.

The pro-choice group in Montreal is organizing a rally on April 17 in the park between noon and 5 p.m.