Both sides of the abortion debate were on display in downtown Ottawa on Thursday as counter-protesters showed up to chant at a rally held by anti-abortion activists.
As several thousand people gathered on Parliament Hill for the “March for Life” anti-abortion rally, about 200 counter-protesters stood nearby and chanted slogans like, “My body, my choice.”
Rows of police officers kept the two groups separated.
The placards illustrated the deep divisions. Some of the slogans on the Campaign Life side: Pray to end Abortion, Love life choose life, Abortion is murder and Abortion protects sex not women.
On the opposing side: Abortion is healthcare, My body my choice, Keep your law off our bodies and Keep your religion out of our uterus.
Most of the people there for the Campaign Life Coalition rally ignored the counter-protesters and listened to speakers on the Hill, then marched through downtown streets.
It was the 25th anniversary of the March for Life, which in the past has drawn as many as 10,000 participants. The event was cancelled for the last two years because of the pandemic.
The abortion issue has been in the spotlight because of events in the U.S., where a leaked draft of a Supreme Court ruling suggests the court may strike down the Roe. vs. Wade decision protecting abortion rights.
In Canada, abortions, under some circumstances, have been legal since 1969. In 1988, the Supreme Court struck down those restrictions on abortion and it’s been available since then, although access is limited in some parts of the country.
Polls have shown most Canadians support a woman’s right to have an abortion and there has been no move by mainstream politicians to bring back abortion restrictions.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh visited the counter demonstration to show his support for the pro-choice movement.
“Women should have the power of control over their own bodies,” he said. “That shouldn’t even be a debate.”
Counter-protester Lauren Pedersen, 18, said she was up late Wednesday night making signs.
“I support a person’s right to choose what they do with their own body in terms of reproductive choice,” she said.
“Abortion is health care and should be accessible.”
Pedersen said she is heading to university next year and is not ready, financially or emotionally, to have a child.
“I do use birth control, but it could fail at any moment and I don’t want to be pregnant when I don’t want to be. I don’t feel OK about being a parent right now. I just became an adult myself.”
Her friend, Annie Zhang, a nursing student, said outlawing abortion doesn’t end the practice, it just makes it more dangerous as desperate women turn to home or back-alley procedures.
Forcing women to go through pregnancies they don’t want creates trauma for both the mom and the child, she said.
“I don’t want any child to suffer because they are unwanted and any parent to feel they don’t have any choice. It’s like a double tragedy.”
Karyann Alix, 27, travelled from near Montreal, where she works at a women’s shelter, to attend the counter-protest.
She was dressed in a costume inspired by the Handmaid’s Tale, the dystopian novel about women in a totalitarian society who are subjected to child-bearing slavery.
Alix carried a sign saying, “If you can’t trust me with a choice, how can you trust me with a child?”
“We have to protest to keep our rights,” Alix said. “You never know what could happen in Canada when you see what’s gong on in the U.S.”