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Market Squared: One garden, two protests, many questions

As we fight over a garden, absolutely nothing really changes on the issues it supposedly represents

Surprisingly, I’m of two minds on this issue. Well, it shouldn’t generally be a surprise that I’m of two minds on any issue because a well-trained mind should be able to see the validity in arguments offered by opponents. The surprise here is that I’m seeing the merits of the Garden of Grace. 

The controversy of this monument being constructed on the grounds of the Basilica or Our Lady came back to the fore last week when it was announced that the Garden of Grace would be officially opened at the end of this month. The $91,000 project by Guelph and Area Right to Life is designed to be a quiet, introspective place for women who have had abortions or miscarriages to grieve.

Of course, it’s the ‘A’ word that’s causing the controversy. 

To the surprise of no one even vaguely aware of my work and my writing, I’m pro-choice. While it's possible I may one day marry a woman who could get pregnant and suffer the tragedy of a miscarriage, I will never know what it’s like to make the difficult decision to access abortion services. I believe in a woman’s right to choose, and in allowing her to use her own good and well-informed judgement. 

I feel like I’m close to mansplaining, so I will leave that there. 

So theoretically, I should be against the Garden of Grace, right? Let’s put that ice for a second. What I have found persuasive lately is the “M” word, miscarriage, and the response of some women who have suffered miscarriages on various articles commenting that there’s really no contemplative place for them to grieve. Someplace quiet, serene, and lovely. For them, this is what the Garden of Grace offers, and I respect that. 

I also respect the fact that women who have chosen to have an abortion may have mixed feelings about it after the fact. To them, the Garden of Grace is also dedicated, and let’s be honest, they’re the ones given the emphasis when talking about the Garden. If grief, reflection and remembrance were all this project was about, then that would be the end of the story.

Here’s where we get into the politics…

If you don’t know the name Guelph and Area Right to Life, then you certainly know their work. They’re the ones behind those abortion ads on city buses that say, 'This is a child, not a choice,' as well as the new ads that say, 'Assisted suicide and euthanasia are killing, not healthcare.' 

Pretty provocative if not out right combative, and more than a little in your face about it, especially if you’re sitting right in front of one of those ads in traffic. In other words, the complete opposite of what the Garden of Grace is supposed to represent. 

If people are cynical about Right to Life’s intentions with the Garden of Grace, it begins and ends with the fact they’re pretty much the first, and last, name in pro-life advocacy in Guelph, and that advocacy has always skewered to the finger waving. Their announced in intention with the Garden is to promote understanding, but where has Right to Life’s understanding been when they organize demonstrations that cast those that have abortions as murderers, and take part in events that ask 'Will you stand on guard for life?'

That sounds rather confrontational, which has been the name of the game when it comes to the pro-life movement. Past-president of Guelph and Area Right to Life Jakki Jeffs has previously never missed an opportunity to speak about the cause, but she offered no new comment on the latest article. I guess she wants the Garden to speak for itself, but frankly many of the movement’s own actions speak quite loudly. 

I’m thinking of Maddi Runkles, an 18-year-old high school student with a 4.0 grade point average who won’t be allowed to attend her graduation at The Heritage Academy in Hagerstow, MD because she’s pregnant. She’s keeping her child. Shouldn’t her Christian school be holding her up as a hero?

”We are not punishing her for being pregnant; we’re punishing her for a breach of a biblical standard of abstinence,” said her principal in an interview with a local TV station. 

Here’s the nub of the situation — the problem I’ve always had with the politics of pro-life. If the goal is to stop abortions, then shouldn’t that include taking the most direct route to stopping unwanted pregnancies? Meaning that they should embrace sex education, right

Still, it was Right to Life that was the loudest, and most vocal organized group in Guelph against the Ontario government’s new sex ed curriculum a few years back. Is their mandate anti-abortion, or just anti-sex? 

But we’re getting away from the Garden of Grace, on which I’ll concede the following points: Yes, it is on private property owned by the Catholic Church, and yes, the $91,000 raised to build were private funds. And sure, it’s out of the way and out of sight, and if you don’t want to go, you don’t have to go.

Further, the person or persons that vandalized the Garden last fall should be ashamed of themselves because no one’s going to be bullied into changing deeply held beliefs. 

Having said all that, why should pro-choice people care? I can’t put my thumb on one reason. Yes, there’s the emphasis on abortion. Yes, there’s a feeling that the point of the Garden of Grace, at least in part, is to shame women that have received an abortion. And yes, there’s a certain unsettling conflation about creating a shared space for those that choose to have an abortion, and those that suffer a miscarriage. On top of that, there’s the historical record, the Catholic Church has done a lot to persecute women over the centuries… 

But here’s something I would like both sides of the debate to keep in mind, and that is while we fight over the right to an abortion, there’s nowhere in Guelph for you to get one. Yes, if there’s a medical need, Guelph General Hospital can help, but if you’re a woman excising your constitutionally-given right to choose to have an abortion, there’s no one in town to help you. Nor does it look like there’s anyone in the immediate region who can help you either. 

The pro-life lobby should be celebrating because circumstances have made it hard for women in Guelph to get an abortion, and in the end, isn’t that what it’s all about? After all, you don’t hear a lot from them about how to help women once they’ve been stopped from getting an abortion.

As for those who identify as pro-choice, isn’t the battle to create more and better access to abortion services, and not stopping some Garden from being constructed? Isn’t the antithesis to the shame that the Garden may perceptively create to make abortion services easier to find and more openly discussed?

Probably, but on Wednesday, some people will open a Garden, others will protest it loudly, and absolutely nothing on the issue we’re so riled up about will change.