Christian pro-life advocates from around Calgary worked in shifts to hold a constant vigil outside of the Kensington Clinic as a part of global pro-life campaign, “40 Days for Life.” From Sept. 28 to Nov. 6, campaigners could be seen across the street from the clinic holding signs and praying to end abortion.

Calgary 40 Days for Life coordinator Jairo Garzon says the campaigners are fighting a human rights violation.

40 Days for Life is an annual pro-life protest held internationally that organizers describe as "the beginning to the end of abortion," but pro-choice advocates say the methods are not creating constructive dialogue. Audio profile by Nina Grossman

“Basically, what they are doing is inviting moms to change their minds and to keep their babies,” he says. “The reason why is because, yes ... everybody has the right [to] choose with their own body, but not with another one ... the baby has their own rights, and human rights.”

The campaign is based on Christian beliefs in the transformative power of 40-day periods in biblical history such as “Noah in the flood” and “Moses on the mountain.”

According to the 40 Days for Life website, campaigners hope to show their communities the consequences of abortion through fasting, community outreach, prayer and constant vigil holding.

IMG2-webLen Skowronski gets ready to start his shift as a silent, pro-life protester across the street from the Kensington Clinic. Skowronski has been participating in “40 Days for Life” for the past five years and plans to continue his silent vigil for years to come. Photo by Nina Grossman

In 1991 the Kensington Clinic obtained an injunction prohibiting protesters from standing within 90 metres of the clinic. When pro-life advocates argued that the injunction violated their freedom of expression rights, it was modified to allow up to four protesters to stand on the sidewalk across from the clinic. Other protestors are required to stand at least 50 metres away.

The court also mandated restrictions on protesters communicating with people accessing the clinic’s services.

“We are not allowed to talk to them because of that court injunction, unless they are coming to us,” Garzon says. “We cannot start the conversation with them about ... ’What are you doing here,’ ... so they need to get to us. Which is ridiculous. But that’s the way it is set.”

University of Calgary student Claire Hickie is an avid pro-choice activist. She started the Pro-Activist Network, or PAN Calgary, last year when she noticed there were increasing numbers of pro-life demonstrators coming to the U of C campus and other post-secondary institutions in the city.

“I really wanted to create an alliance of people who had a similar mindset,” she says. “[People] who were also pro-choice, who were dedicated towards ensuring that people had access to resources about the facts on pro-choice, about the facts on abortion and ... had access to different perspectives on sexual health.”

Hickie says that there are more ethical ways for pro-life advocates to address their values and concerns.

“If you really wanted to have change [and] have discussions at ... these events, whether it’s demonstrating on campus or demonstrating outside of a clinic you ... wouldn’t [be] aiming to shock, aiming to harass, aiming to intimidate — you are not providing the opportunity for an open conversation,” she says.

Hickie says it is possible to have constructive and positive dialogues about different perspectives on abortion but says the 40 Days for Life campaigners presence near the clinic is a harmful method for trying to create change.

“It’s — at its core — shaming people,” she says. “It’s ... shaming women for the choices that they have made, shaming women for making decisions about their own bodies [and] making decisions about their own lives [and] making decisions about what they feel is best for them.”

Abortion was decriminalized in Canada following the trial of Dr. Henry Morgentaler in 1988. According to data from the Government of Alberta, 12,471 women from across the province had induced abortions in 2010. That translates to 18.1 abortions per 100 estimated pregnancies. The Kensington Clinic is the only freestanding abortion clinic in Calgary but abortion services are offered by Alberta Health Services and most hospitals in the city. For more information about sexual health and reproductive options, visit calgarysexualhealth.ca.

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