Not too long ago, I joined our interns and some of our staff on a week long activism filled trip to Ottawa. As one of the primary truck drivers I don’t often get the opportunity to do “Choice” Chain and often feel quite rusty and inadequate when I do engage people in discussion on abortion.
During the week that we were in Ottawa, I was able to join the others in doing “Choice” Chain on the streets, and while I had several conversations, two in particular really stood out for me. One was a young man who I was unable to reach at all. He kept going in circles and contradicting himself. I asked him when life begins, and he said birth was the moment the fetus became a human being. I then used the example of my friend and colleague Maaike Rosendal, who at that time was a week overdue with her baby, and I asked him if he thought she should be able to procure an abortion. He sounded horrified and said “no, don’t be ridiculous. That’s a person.” I pointed out how that contradicted what he had said earlier about birth being the magic moment, and he maintained that birth is the moment, but it was not right to kill a full-term baby. He insisted that there is legislation against abortion at that point anyway and wouldn’t accept it when I told him that in Canada abortion is legal through all nine months of pregnancy. It was a dead-end conversation, and I could tell he had some sort of mental block that prevented him from hearing my arguments. When I tried to delve deeper into where he was coming from, and why he was hung up on his point, he said “I know what you’re trying to do” and he prevented me from understanding him. I asked him if I could invite one of my colleagues into the conversation, and he said, “No, you’re not able to change my mind and you’re not going to get one of your friends to change my mind either.” He then made some comment about how I shouldn’t be doing this, talking to people about abortion because I was clearly not any good at it since I hadn’t been able to change his mind and he stalked off after telling me to get a real job.”
I felt very stressed out about the conversation, and started beating up on myself that I was clearly horrible at doing “Choice” Chain, since I failed at persuading him, and he left with seemingly a more negative perception of me than he had when he came, so I felt I hadn’t even been a good ambassador for our message.
The second conversation was completely different. It was the next day as we were doing “Choice” Chain on a street corner of downtown Ottawa, I saw a young man notice our signs while still a short distance away. He seemed almost distressed as he dropped his bag by his feet and struggled to light his cigarette. After standing there for about five minutes, not approaching us, but seeming to want to talk, I went up to him and asked him if I could ask what he thought about the signs.
He went on to tell me a heart-wrenching story about him and his girlfriend having been forced to get an abortion almost a year earlier. He told me that while there was pressure from her family to abort, it was the pressure laid on by his mother that inevitably made them seek the abortion, neither of them wanting it for themselves. His mother told him that if they didn’t kill their baby, he would be kicked out of her house and disowned, and he felt that as a 17 year old, he had no other choice. Less than two months after he took his girlfriend for the abortion, his mom got pregnant herself, and he felt like that was a huge slap in his face. She couldn’t help him and his baby, but she could support another baby herself? He hasn’t spoken to his mother since. He choked up as he told me that his girlfriend cried herself to sleep for over six months following the abortion. He told me that he could never forgive his mother for what she forced them to do. I just listened as he told me his story. I didn’t need to tell him that he had killed his baby. He knew that. Instead I encouraged him to seek post-abortion counselling for both him and his girlfriend. I asked him how she was doing now, almost a year later. He revealed that she is pregnant again, but informed me that no one was going to force them to get an abortion this time. He told me about the steps he had taken to make sure that he could support his girlfriend and their baby, and he told me that they had named the baby already. I gave him my business card and told him that if he and his girlfriend needed anything, that if their situation changed, or if he knew of anyone else who was in the situation he had been in to give me a call. I also asked him to shoot me an email and let me know how things go with the rest of the pregnancy and following.
He was such a hurting young man, brought up in a world that taught that sex was free, and he knew first-hand that the “products of conception” were more than just a clump of cells. He was a grieving father, a son who’s mother turned against him in his time of great need and made him choose between her and his baby.
Talking to people about abortion often has the ability to make you feel so small, so insignificant.