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Some parts of in the Canadian pro-life movement are trying to reach a broader swath of society by downplaying religious affiliations.
BY PETE VEREREGISTER CORRESPONDENT
ABBOTSFORD, British Columbia —
Attempting to reach a wider secular audience, new pro-life groups in Canada are
downplaying the movement’s religious roots as part of a new communication
Two such efforts are Signal Hill and
Signal Hill describes itself on
TheSignalHill.com as a human rights advocacy group “that provides information
on life issues, women’s health and family support.”
The organization operates out of
British Columbia, Canada’s westernmost province, where it was formerly known as
The human rights group spent the
past summer rebranding itself as Signal Hill, in honor of the location where Italian-Canadian
radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi received the first trans-Atlantic radio signal.
The rebranding signifies a new
communication strategy for the pro-life organization, said David Williams, the
organization’s chairman who oversaw the process.
The rebranding was necessary to
reach the general public, who harbor negative stereotypes about pro-life
activists, Williams said.
These stereotypes have resulted in
abortion and other life issues no longer being debated within Canadian society,
he said. “Those who defend life are largely dismissed as religious extremists
and even terrorists.”
By focusing on the health of the
mother and alternatives to abortion, Signal Hill hopes to overcome bias from
nonreligious and anti-religious individuals.
“Religious people already agree with
us. It’s the others we need to reach,” Williams said. “We think abortion is
chosen because it is viewed as the least unpleasant alternative. Our job is to
show more pleasant alternatives. We want to make abortion disappear by choice.”
Williams’ view is shared by Yvonne
Douma, executive director of Signal Hill. “We felt that our message wasn’t
being heard,” Douma said. “One of our mandates is education, and we felt that
we were being stopped at the door.”
Thus, Signal Hill continues B.C.
Pro-Life’s outreach to women contemplating abortion and women who have procured
abortions, Douma said.
The rebranding has allowed the
organization to reach a wider, more secular audience that does not harbor
strong views on abortion, she said, opening new opportunities to share
information about the physical and psychological dangers of abortion.
Signal Hill also provides pregnant
women with a support structure for keeping their babies.
Douma estimates that 15% of
Canadians are pro-life and another 15% are pro-abortion.
“We want to reach the 70% in the
middle,” she said, adding that this target group often shies away from
arguments based on religion.
Yet, not every pro-life activist in
the province is sold on the new approach.
Sissy von Dehn has spent more than
30 years as a pro-life organizer in British Columbia, leading weekly pickets at
abortion clinics and fighting “bubble zone” laws that place limits on how close
demonstrators can approach abortion facilities.
The rebranding is the latest step
through which British Columbia’s pro-life movement is excluding activists from
participating in the abortion debate, von Dehn said, citing new restrictions on
the activities of what had been a grass-roots pro-life organization.
Previous steps included prohibitions
against placards at pro-life rallies and tighter controls over who organizes
pro-life events, she said.
These restrictions have discouraged
people who feel strongly about the issue from remaining active within the
movement, she said.
Additionally, the new brand will
lose its edge once the public catches on, von Dehn said. “Once most people know
what Signal Hill is and that it’s opposed to abortion, it won’t make any
Multiple approaches are needed to
advance a culture of life in Canada, said Andrea Mrozek, the founder of
The website brings together educated
women from around the country to advance the pro-life message from a
nonreligious and woman-centered perspective.
The group’s motto is “Canada without
abortion. By choice.”
Mrozek became interested in the
issue after researching and publishing an article on sex-selection abortions in
Canada’s various cultural communities.
While ProWomanProLife is
specifically nonreligious, it does not discourage religious people from
engaging in the abortion debate.
“We’re just trying to tackle one
element of the debate, which is the false notion abortion is a woman’s right
and does good things for women,” Mrozek said. “I wanted to have a woman’s voice
on the issue, to stress that being pro-life is really a pro-woman stand.”
Nevertheless, Mrozek has come under
criticism by some of the country’s leading pro-life activists, who feel that
religion cannot be separated from the abortion debate.
‘It Doesn’t Work’
While not mentioning Mrozek or
Signal Hill by name, LifeSiteNews.com editor John-Henry Westen is critical of
the secular approach.
“Those who are suggesting this
approach are likely new to the movement,” Westen said. “We’ve been there, done
that. It doesn’t work.”
Canada’s pro-life movement began as
a secular movement that deliberately excluded mention of religion, Westen said,
and the approach failed because the heavily-Christian membership felt too
disconnected from the organization and its leadership.
“The way most people come to the
pro-life movement is through their faith,” he said.
Bill Murphy and Al Walker are
pro-life activists from the small border community of Sault Ste. Marie,
Ontario. Between them they share almost 30 years of local pro-life
organizational experience. Both agree that multiple approaches are needed to
promote the pro-life message in Canada — and that no reasonable approach should
“I don’t think we should distance
ourselves from religion, but I feel we should welcome secular people who share
our position,” Walker said.
Murphy added, “I think we should
welcome any person, from any religion and from no religion, who is pro-life.
But we shouldn’t go out of our way to downplay religion. My pro-life position
flows from my faith.”
Pete Vere is based in
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.