Sensitivity Warning

This report is the first part of a series of stories looking at the status of the pro-life and pro-choice movements in the city of Guelph.

As political turmoil swirls on the national scene around the question of abortion, local pro-life organization Guelph Right to Life Guelph and Area told The Post on Thursday that their movement is “more active than ever”.

The organization, which is entirely funded by private donations, is marking 45 years of operation this year. They operate from a building near the Basilica overlooking downtown.

Program Manager Hanna Caruso said that “the issue of abortion is on people’s minds”, pointing out “millions of Canadian dollars” going to fund abortion overseas, the recently implemented Safe Access Zones around abortion clinics, and the now available abortion pill in Canada.

Caruso was quick to point out that euthanasia and assisted suicide is also at the forefront of people’s minds. She explained they find they have more and more people becoming active on these issues by joining the organization, donating and more.

“With assisted suicide in particular, I find many people are shocked and concerned by how quickly it has developed in Canada,” Caruso continued. The pro-choice movement has been experiencing “a lot of new issues” in this country, but at the same time experiencing a growing momentum.

On May 15, Alabama’s governor signed into law the strictest abortion legislation in the United States, causing backlash that continues to this day. Progressive Conservative MPP Sam Oosterhoof pledged a few days earlier that he wants to make “abortion unthinkable in our lifetime.”

When it comes to Guelph representatives, both are pro-choice. Caruso says that her organization still meets with the local MPP and federal parliamentarian to “express the concerns of our membership”.

Right to Life met with MP Lloyd Longfield “to discuss concerns with the potential expansion of assisted suicide to people with mental health issues”.

Caruso said it was a chance to hear Longfield’s “thoughts on where the government will be going, while letting them know what the concerns of their pro-life constituents are.”

Since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party came into power in 2015, the Canadian government’s stance has been strongly pro-choice in their statements and, according to analysis by journalists and organizations, their policy.

On Wednesday, Ottawa announced $300 million in new funding from Canada for reproductive health services internationally. Overall, the government will increase funding for women’s health services worldwide from the current $1.1 billion to $1.4 billion by 2023, Trudeau said.

When it comes to Oosterhoff’s headline-making statement, Caruso said “I can certainly see abortion becoming unthinkable in Canada, as more and more people realize the harms that come from abortion.”

She pointed out that the majority of staff and board members at Right to Life in Guelph are women because, though she appreciates the men on the team, it is “really women who are driving this movement forward.”

“As a woman, I’m deeply concerned when I hear from women who believed abortion was their only option, because they didn’t have enough support,” Caruso told The Post, explaining that she aims to inform young women on what supports they have available.

Caruso added that “I truly believe that there should be better options for women, and society is failing us when abortion is suggested as a solution to our problems”. She finds that “more and more people” have the same opinion and believes it will lead to change across Canada.

Those seeking an abortion within city limits in a non-emergency situation can visit the satellite abortion pill clinic operating out of the Community Health Centre downtown Guelph which Caruso said she believed started up last year, the first time since the 1990s that abortions have been happening in the city.

Several members of the healthcare community told The Post that usually women have to travel to Kitchener for the closest access to an abortion clinic, the non-profit SHORE Centre.

Abortion has been legal in Canada since 1969.

Following a ruling by the Supreme Court, the Canadian parliament passed legislation in 2016 that allows eligible adults to request medical assistance in dying.

The conversation

When it comes to fostering discussion around such divisive issues as abortion or euthanasia, Hanna Caruso said her organization finds the best way to have the conversation is through “respectful dialogue” and via accurate dissemination of information.

“Many people come to the conversation with heated emotions that often stem from personal experience, or with preconceived ideas about what pro-life people believe,” Caruso told The Post on Thursday, adding that Right to Life strives to “let them know that we’re listening”.

“On the other hand, there are so many people who just haven’t thought much about an issue like abortion, and are quite interested in having a discussion about it.”

Near the end of the interview, the manager added that “we shouldn’t be afraid to engage on issues such as abortion and assisted suicide, even if they are controversial. These are hugely important conversations to have.”

Caruso highlighted three programs she believes are a catalyst to the work of Right to Life.

“Caring Hearts, Sharing Hearts” sees the organization working with elementary school teachers to facilitate classroom visits to loca retirement homes to “enrich seniors’ lives and give them a feeling of connection” in an effort to dissuade older individuals from loneliness that could lead to requesting assisted suicide.

The “Garden of Grace” is found on the grounds of the Basilica of Our Lady. Caruso described it as a designated and open space for quiet contemplation, prayer, or remembrance and is in support of women who have experienced grief from an abortion, miscarriage or stillbirth.

The third program she highlighted was a pregnancy support initiative, which aims to connect women to resources spread throughout the community in Guelph.

“If a pregnant women needs assistance with housing, finances, transportation to appointments, and so on, we are able to offer support and show her the great resources that are available,” Caruso explained.

As for those that look to get involved in the work that Right to Life Guelph and Area does, Caruso said that “anyone is welcome to get involved in the work that we do.”