As a young nursing student with a passion for the pro-life message, Bernadette McDonald knows first-hand the courage it takes to stand up for her beliefs.
“I’ve been yelled at in the streets; I’ve definitely had a few instances of becoming unpopular. But I think in some ways it’s only an encouragement. This belief is only valuable if it’s worth fighting for,” McDonald said at the 12th annual Alberta March for Life on May 9 in Edmonton.
“But it’s a beautiful opportunity to witness – being in post-secondary as a pro-life person. Being pro-life is what my entire being is founded upon. If I don’t stand up for it and say something, then I’m in a sense betraying myself and what I believe. To be silent is to give consent to the lies.”
However, the 20-year-old Mundare resident found herself in welcoming company at the Alberta March for Life, as an estimated 1,500 people marched on a three-kilometre walk through downtown Edmonton.
“Looking around here, I’d say the majority of people are in their 20s or even younger ̶ it’s so exciting,” McDonald said. “The enthusiasm is definitely real; I see so many people on fire with belief and celebrating family life.”
Rev. Dean Dowle served as Master of Ceremonies for the march, which began with a rally in front of the legislature. Dowle noted that Alberta March for Life has grown each year and said its pro-life message is resonating with a younger generation.
“It shows extraordinary strength, and a new generation of leadership is among our people,” said Dowle, an Edmonton priest.
The march, which coincided with similar demonstrations across the country, took place around the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of abortion in Canada in May 1969. Albertans from across the province came to show their support for the value of human life and the desire to see abortion restricted or prohibited in law.
Since 1988, Canada has had no law prohibiting abortion at any stage of pregnancy. In Alberta, 12,706 abortions were reported in 2017 and as many as 13,815 in 2014, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.
Access to abortion varies by province. Nationally, a total of 94,030 abortions were reported in Canada in 2017, according to the CIHI. In the last decade, the highest number reported in any year was 108,844, in 2011.
Sixteen-year-old Jeremy Langlois got up at 5 a.m. Thursday to drive 295 kilometres from Cold Lake in northeastern Alberta to Edmonton for the rally. He’s passionately pro-life and hopes that one day the movement will succeed in making abortion unthinkable.
“It is like society is totally against the family,” he said. “But we need to fight it, and I believe that one day we will fight it off. We’re going to protect life.”
Kaitlyn Breederland, a 27-year-old Edmonton mother of three, marched proudly carried her sleeping baby Augustine, born just three months ago. She said the march experience was made that much more powerful by the knowledge that even a month before her son’s birth she could have easily accessed an abortion.
Ray St. Pierre of Camrose recently celebrated the birth of his three-year-old son, Joseph. While he has always been pro-life, having children of his own puts the issue in an entirely new light.
“When you see your child on an ultrasound, and at a few weeks of age they are already moving and developing features, your eyes are opened,” St. Pierre said. “We have to stand strong and enforce the truth.”
There were also several young people in a small group of counter-protesters who brought noisemakers and sirens to attempt to drown out the speakers. The protesters were held back by barricades set up by the Alberta sheriff’s department.
For his part, 17-year-old Matthew Verhelst of Barrhead said it’s a challenge to present the pro-life argument to other teenagers. He sees the most powerful message he can send to his peers is to understand that an abortion does not involve just one body, but two.
“One thing I hear so often is ‘my body, my choice,’” said Verhelst. “But the problem with that is it’s not just your body. If was their body, they’d be the one that dies. It’s only your body right up to conception, after that, there is a second body growing inside you.”
Presley Bonnar, 21, said the March for Life showed the enthusiasm many young Albertans have for the pro-life movement.
But there is so much public pressure from a society that has legalized and largely accepted abortion that they are often discouraged from speaking up.
“I find we just lack the confidence because there is such a negative impression towards us,” she said.
“I can’t pretend to understand what an expectant mother thinking about an abortion is going through. But all I can say is she should recognize that God is with her, he’s going to hold her close to his heart and never let go.”
Faith is a crucial source of courage for Bonnar. But as her younger sister Sypha walked with her in the March for Life, she said her family is also a major inspiration for her pro-life views.
“These guys here, my siblings, they’re just so precious,” Bonnar said with her sister saddled upon her back. “I love them so much and I just can’t imagine a life without my little siblings. We need to recognize that is where it all starts. A child is born, families develop, and friendships develop. I can’t imagine a life without my family and friends.”
Gregory Amerongen, a founding member of Alberta March for Life, said the event continues to grow both in number and demographics of participants. He said he’s optimistic that Canada will ultimately become a country that protects the unborn.
Toward the end of the day’s march, Holly Maher, a Grade 10 student at St. Joseph Catholic High School in Edmonton, called for more pro-life action at the political level in Alberta.
“It’s ironic that in a civilization that values so highly science and human freedom, that a change in the law has not yet come to pass. I’m optimistic that it will come to pass, and that optimism is grounded in solid hope from the historical evidence, the science of embryology, and the growing pro-life movement.”
More photos (unedited) from this year’s March for Life and Mass for Life are located here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/d5a2WPDPqTxvcNJ96