OTTAWA (CCN) — A pro-life organizer in Ottawa disputes claims that pro-life demonstrators are guilty of harassment, spitting and aggression.
Reports of these activities have prompted the tabling of bubble zone legislation in the Ontario legislature to keep protesters away from abortion facilities.
Wanda Hartlin, co-ordinator of the 40 Days for Life prayer vigil outside the Morgentaler abortion facility in Ottawa, said it is those praying who have been “spat on, sworn at, and yelled at.”
“I have never seen anyone do anything to the people going into the abortuary,” she said.
The annual 40 Days campaign that runs this year from Sept. 27 to Nov. 5 has a permit from the city, uses non-graphic signs urging people to pray for an end to abortion, and its participants sign a “statement of peace” that they will “abide by the rules, pray silently and not be confrontational,” Hartlin said. They also agree to pray across the street from the facility.
There are others, however, who are not part of the official campaign, who come as individuals, said Hartlin, who is affiliated with Campaign Life Coalition.
Earlier this year a young man, whom Hartlin described as “young, passionate” and “very enthusiastic,” entered the clinic twice and sprinkled holy water there. “He thought it would help the cause. He did this on his own without any prompting from us.”
Another regular at the facility is Cyril Winter, 70, who wears a sandwich board with graphic anti-abortion signage. He stands right next to the door of the Morgentaler facility. Hartlin says he is not part of 40 Days for Life.
“He states his own opinion,” Hartlin said. “People do speak with him. I’ve seen people shout at him.”
Winter said he has experienced a “hail of spit” since an April column in a Toronto newspaper talked about aggressive, sandwich-board wearing protesters. But Winter said he is the only protester on the same side of the street as the abortion facility, and has been coming at least three times a week for the past four-and-a-half years.
He said he has never spat at, shouted at or harassed people coming and going from the abortion facility.
He said he does not initiate conversation with the clinic’s clients, though he does have a mantra, “Love the babies in Jesus’ name,” and if they talk to him he will respond.
Winter, a retired tradesman, was spit at twice during the course of a five-minute CCN interview with him Oct. 10, first by a woman who aimed at the sidewalk near his feet, then by a man, whose spit connected with Winter’s body. Winter shot after him, yelling he had committed assault and calling him a coward. A man also shouted and swore at him during that time.
Not all reaction to Winter or to 40 Days is negative, Hartlin said. People do come to talk with them and thank them and “tell us we are doing a good job.” Some even come to tell their abortion stories because “they need someone to talk to.”
On Oct. 4, Ontario’s government introduced legislation that would create a “buffer zone” around abortion facilities, hospitals of at least 50 metres and up to 150 metres, and 150 metres around abortion providers’ homes.
The Morgentaler people have called police from time to time, but so have the pro-life groups.
“We have had the same response from the police the people in the clinic have had,” Hartline said. The police tell them, “They have just as much rights on the streets as you do,” she said. “The police are being impartial, treating both the clinic and us in the same way.”
If they get a complaint, they come to speak with us, speak with Cyril, but if we’re not doing anything illegal, they leave. “I feel the police have been very fair to us.”
Hartlin posted on the 40 Days website that the buffer zone law is still before the legislature and does not affect this year’s campaign, which runs to Nov. 5. How the buffer zone law will affect future campaigns remains to be seen, she said.