It’s not too often you get to be in a conference room with close to 200 people who agree that life should be protected at all stages. That’s just the scenario I got to be in earlier this month, when I attended the National Pro-life Conference in Ottawa put on by Life Canada and Action Life Ottawa.What is the purpose of a bunch of like-minded people coming together from across the country? Besides the value of the speeches given by leaders in the pro-life movement, it is good sometimes to let down your defenses and simply be encouraged to keep going. This conference is an opportunity to get on the same page, to recognize the value in each other’s work, and to focus on working toward a common goal, even if many of us do it from a different angle or in a different way.
One message that stuck with me came in different forms from both John Carpay, President of the Justice Center for Constitutional Freedoms, and John Sikkema, lawyer with the Association for Reformed Political Action. Both of these individuals spend much of their time in the law, and go to court to defend constitutional freedoms. Yet both stressed a need to keep our hope in the courts realistic: the courts are not meant to be our nation’s lawmakers, Parliament is. To expect the courts to defend our cause is to allow our government to deflect their responsibility as lawmakers.
In line with that was support for actively engaging in the political world, and being willing to take incremental steps in legislation. A sweeping ban on abortion is not forthcoming, but there are places within the abortion debate where we can find common ground with most Canadians. It is those areas where we should focus our efforts. These include things like sex-selective abortion and late-term abortion. There was a clear appreciation for a shift in the pro-life movement that recognizes saving some as better than saving none, and a genuine feeling that change is coming in Canada.
Carpay cited the example of William Wilberforce, famous for his work in abolishing slavery. Wilberforce started, Carpay said, by targeting the slave trade. Most people agreed that the terrible conditions faced by slaves on ships en route to England were deplorable. While his end goal was to abolish slavery, Wilberforce recognized the wisdom in choosing a winnable battle. Not an easy battle – it still took about 25 years of work to make it happen – but a winnable battle. With that win came excitement and increased support, and with that momentum Wilberforce tackled slavery in its entirety, and remains known as a leading figure in bringing about the abolition of slavery.
This example should stop us from wallowing any time we feel disheartened after years with little progress. Successful social reform movements never see change overnight, and are led by people unwilling to let success define their willingness to act.
Social reform also depends on engagement with society – talking to your neighbours, co-workers, and friends, finding common ground, building rapport and support. One-on-one conversations and ongoing personal dialogues might not be a quick way to effect change, but it is the way to ensure lasting, meaningful change. Similarly, a single letter to your MP will not change the status quo on abortion. But multiple letters, over multiple years, from you and everyone you can convince to do the same, do make a difference. Consistent personal lives and consistent public talking points get noticed.
I came away from the conference encouraged. Encouraged by diverse ideas and a common passion to end the human rights injustice of abortion. Persistence, perseverance, and being on the right side of true justice will prevail in the end, whether I live to see it or not.