A few months back, the Toronto Right to Life staff were invited to attend Created Equal’s Justice Ride, led by Mark Harrington, a veteran pro-life activist and speaker, who recently spoke at our webinar. The Justice Ride is a project modeled after the Freedom Rides of the 1960s, when men and women boarded segregated buses to travel across America and draw attention to racial discrimination. These new Justice Rides involve equipping pro-lifers with apologetics to defend the pro-life position, and photo evidence of the humanity of pre-born children and the reality of what abortion does to them, they travel to cities across America to educate the culture with the goal of ending the injustice of abortion. Josh and I were able to join Created Equal, as well as several other pro-life organizations from across the United States, on the Justice Ride to New York City, this past March.
I have always wanted to experience doing pro-life outreach in the United States, and specifically, in Manhattan, the country’s largest and most liberal city. I’ve been to New York many times, and love that it’s where the American Dream was born. To me, it represents the place where people came to live out their vision of freedom for themselves, their families, and America. What better place to address a culture depriving basic rights to our most vulnerable members? We had the opportunity to do just that, with four days of outreach in locations like Wall Street, Times Square, Columbia University, as well as neighbourhoods surrounding abortion clinics.
It was interesting to see the different outreach styles of the various other groups we collaborated with. Some provide sidewalk counselling to women right outside clinics, and were able to successfully turn two women away from their appointments during our trip.
It was very rewarding to be out in huge numbers, and for there to be conversations happening everywhere you look, and then to hear how those conversations went in debriefs: how minds were changed; how people often started out shouting at the activists, but through compassion and care, ended the conversations thanking them for their presence and wishing them luck.
I was able to speak to several people from France, in French, and changed one of their minds about abortion, I had the good fortune of being the only French-speaking member of the team, who just happened to be in the right place at the right time to catch a francophone.
One man in Times Square, when asked what he thought about abortion by a team member, said, “My wife is expecting, and I’m pro-life, I’m from Toronto and I see people doing the same thing as you are back home.” He was referring to us!
I learned so many invaluable tips and strategies from the American activists I had the privilege to meet and work with, but the greatest takeaway from the trip, is that the work we do is even more necessary right here in Toronto. I was expecting it to be harder to engage New Yorkers, assuming the majority to be complacent or vehemently pro-choice. What I learned is that is more so the case here. I have seen the change our consistent, dedicated presence on campuses makes, over time. I’ve had conversations with students, like the one at Ryerson University, who admitted that he dismissed us and our message for the first two or three years of his time at Ryerson, but in his last year, decided to engage us in conversation, went home and did his homework, and discovered he had “no choice but to change my position” on abortion.
It is examples like these that are evidence that while it is worthwhile, effective and fun, to attend a Justice Ride and engage a wider audience with the pro-life view, sometimes you need only to look right outside your door for where you’re needed most. And if we are ever in doubt that what we’re doing isn’t effective, that our reach isn’t big enough, we need only be reminded of the tourist in Times Square from Toronto, who recognized what we were doing because of the people he sees doing it, back home.