Joe Borowski may not be a familiar name to the younger set of pro-lifers today, but it is safe to bet that his contributions to the pro-life movement have not been forgotten by the older generation. In the 1980’s he came closer than anyone else in challenging the laws surrounding abortion in Canada in and achieving pro-life legislation. His biographer, Lianne Laurence, even described his attempt as “the most sensational trial [in Canada] since Louis Riel was sentenced to hang for treason nearly a century ago.”
Raised on a farm in Wishart, Saskatchewan by Polish immigrant parents, Joe learned the value of hard work. He set off to make his own way through life at the age 14 and married the love of his life, Jean, at 19. They raised three children together. Undoubtedly, his family proved a source of love and support during his years of activism on behalf of the pre-born.
A controversial figure, and pro-active citizen, he first gained public renown for camping outside the Legislature in Winnipeg in order to bring awareness to issues he felt were important, such as a lack of free municipal elections in certain towns. Borowski achieved political success after being recruited to run for a provincial NDP candidate position in the riding of Churchill, Manitoba, winning the seat in the early 1970’s. As Transportation Minister for the province, his career was notable because of his concern for working class voters.
Borowski was never silent on the issues that mattered to him. One of those issues was the defense of pre-born children. He used his time in office to try and prevent public money from being spent on clinics which referred for abortions. Eventually, Joe had to leave the NDP, a party he had long supported and where he had a comfortable position, because they were not compatible with his pro-life views.
Joe was involved in many pro-life initiatives over the years, including Campaign Life Coalition. However, he is most well-known for his attempt to prove that abortion violated the rights of pre-born children. In 1978 he brought forward a case to the Supreme Court of Canada arguing that abortion violated the Canadian Bill of Rights, which guaranteed the right to life for all Canadians. His first step in the battle was to prove that he was eligible to bring forward such as case on behalf of pre-born children, which he won. The case was then presented to court in Regina in 1983.
Borowski and his lawyer, Dr. Morris Shumiatcher, set out to end taxpayer funding for abortion and prove that the pre-born were human persons, in possession of the right to life which was now guaranteed by the new Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, enacted into law in 1982. They brought forward expert testimony from around the world, to show the court the humanity of the children and the inhumanity of abortion. Borowski had a plan to show the children’s humanity with a stunning visual image.
On his day in the Supreme Court in 1988, Joe showed up with two jars containing a ten-week-old fetus and a seven-month old fetus. He wanted to show the judges the children, knowing that it would be very convincing evidence of their humanity. Unfortunately, his lawyer disagreed, claiming they were inappropriate to bring to court. In defense of his actions, Joe explained that using the fetuses as evidence “…wasn’t a question of indignity. We didn’t dig up the grave…I think it is no less grotesque than the people who are killing babies.”
The Supreme Court heard Borowski’s case in October of 1988, but reserved judgment for 5 months. In the meantime, Dr. Henry Morgentaler’s case, an attempt to eliminate the existing abortion laws, was heard before the Supreme Court and a decision passed down, giving the victory to Morgentaler. In the end, the Supreme Court essentially dismissed Borowski’s case, citing the Morgentaler case as making the defense of the pre-born irrelevant, since there was now no law about abortion in existence in Canada. He had come so close to his goal only to be thwarted by clever political maneuvering.
Joe Borowski is an example for all pro-lifers to follow. A colorful personality, he has often been portrayed as eccentric and radical. Yet, what were his eccentricities? What made him a radical? He didn’t pay his income taxes because the money would go towards killing babies. He brought a legal challenge to the Supreme Court of Canada on behalf of those babies, because they weren’t being protected. He went on an eighty-day hunger strike in 1981 to garner attention to the deaths of the pre-born because abortions were continuing daily. Perhaps, as Stephen Tardiff puts it, “his greatest eccentricity was his sanity.” After all, if society has seemingly gone mad, killing its weakest and most vulnerable members, wouldn’t actions like those be the most sane response?
As Saint Marie-Eugenie of Jesus once said, “Love never says: I have done enough!” By this standard, we can see Borowski’s great love for all people through his tireless work on behalf of pre-born people, never settling for just enough to ease his conscience. His whole life was given up as a witness to the humanity of the babies and the fight for their protection. Let us follow in his footsteps and allow ourselves to be haunted by the question: have I done enough?