On May 12, 2011, the annual March for Life rally was held in Ottawa. The March for Life is an anti-choice event, consisting of a rally at Parliament Hill and a march through the streets of downtown Ottawa. When my friend invited me to a pro-choice counter-protest, I knew I had to go. I hopped on a bus downtown, met up with him and other pro-choicers at the University of Ottawa Women’s Resource Centre, and we marched to Parliament, ready to kick some anti-choice butt. Walking to Parliament, a lot of people on the Ottawa U campus gave us dirty looks, but one man cheered in support of us. A lot of people in the streets smiled as they saw us walk by with signs, which was really encouraging.
I admit I wasn’t prepared for what we saw when we reached Parliament – the front lawn was packed with anti-choicers, waving signs with misinformation. There were a lot of elementary and high school students there, and a fellow pro-choicer told me that schools had brought in students to increase the number of anti-choicers there, making the rally look like more successful. We pro-choicers waved our signs, booed the speakers at the podium, and just had fun getting our message across. Some people had great signs, including one of my friends who had a sign that “Keep your politics out of my pussy!” and a little girl who was about two or three years old whose mother made her a sign that said “My mommy choosed me, and I just pooped!”
We didn’t directly engage with the anti-choicers, but they definitely engaged with us. One man went up to my friend and questioned him on his sign, which stated that Prime Minister Stephen Harper only cared about unborn fetuses. The anti-choice man claimed that they weren’t fans of Harper, and that Harper wasn’t going to change abortion laws. My friend explained that some of the people in the Conservative caucus were anti-abortion, and now that Harper has a majority government repealing abortion laws could become a major possibility. The anti-choice man wasn’t satisfied, but he wandered back to his side. Some teenagers from a Catholic high school freaked out about a protest sign that said an egg was not a chicken, and when the woman who made the sign walked over to explain it to them she was insulted. Three other students on the anti-choice side went up to another friend of mine and asked to take a picture of her sign because they liked it. When she asked them why they were here, they explained that their school made them come, and that they’d rather be shopping at the Rideau Centre instead. One of my favourite moments involved a police officer discovering an empty drink cup on the ground. He pointed to it, yelled “Okay, is this pro-choice or pro-life?” and when we told him it was the anti-choicers’, he made a group of teenagers pick it up.
Tensions began to rise as the rally went on. An old man started throwing salt at us until a policewoman escorted him back to the anti-choice side. In response to this, one of the pro-choice men yelled “Good job! Now my socks are all salty!” A Christian youth group started singing about how they love babies and we don’t, which prompted the pro-choice mothers in the group to march over to them with their toddlers and explain how they chose to have these wanted, loved children. There was a lot of screaming, and then we pro-choicers decided to head down Elgin Street to Ottawa City Hall to await the march portion of the rally.
Many people smiled at us while we were marching. An older woman fist-pumped and clapped when we walked by her. When we were outside City Hall, many employees waved and clapped as we chanted pro-choice slogans. My favourite slogan was probably “March for Life, your name’s a lie! You don’t care if women die!”.As the anti-choicers began to march past, we turned up the volume. Many of them tried to bless us or pray at us, and someone even threw holy water at us (“It burns!,” sarcastically exclaimed a pro-choice woman). I screamed “Dr. Seuss can sue you!” at about four people who were wearing shirts printed with quotes from Horton Hears a Who. Many anti-choicers simply smiled and waved to us, knowing this would infuriate us. Anti-choicers with young children forced their kids to run past us with their eyes closed and their hands over their ears, lest we corrupt them. One teenage girl started screaming at us and losing control until a policeman pulled her away. Others told all the high school students to stay in school, and someone was throwing condoms at them.
When the last anti-choicers passed City Hall, some of us ran to the Morgentaler clinic for more protesting. Here both we and the anti-choicers got more aggressive. One woman kept shoving a clearly Photoshopped picture of a dismembered full-term fetus, and she refused to believe that it wasn’t real. More holy water was thrown at us, and we were told that we were going to Hell. One boy who looked like he was about fourteen said, “Wow, I feel really sorry for you guys.” as he marched past. His response really exasperated me. You’re fourteen, you’re buying into the lies being fed to you by various institutions, and you’re proving that you can’t think for yourself. If anything, I feel sorry for you, kiddo.
After the anti-choicers left the clinic, there was a gathering of pro-choicers at Minto Park on Elgin Street. We sat in a circle, introduced ourselves, and shared why we came to protest today. One woman was a sexual health worker and she was protesting the lies anti-choicers were spreading, as well as abstinence-only education. One man was a lawyer and he was disgusted with Ottawa mayor Jim Watson issuing a welcome statement to the anti-choicers. Another man was a photographer, and he told us about how living across the street from the Morgentaler clinic in Toronto when it was bombed inspired him to become a pro-choice activist. Everyone’s stories were really touching, and it felt quite empowering being surrounded by these wonderful pro-choice people.
I learned a lot from my protesting experience, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I wasn’t aware that this kind of anti-choice gathering could be found in Canada, and I’ve since realized that our legal right to access safe abortion needs to be protected. Even though the challenges to legal abortions aren’t as blatant in Canada as they are in the United States, it is clear that they are still being challenged. I and the other pro-choicers I protested with will stand up and fight for the right to choose.