A 14-year-old national pro-life organization is adopting a new approach for promoting a culture of life, one that focuses on the reasons people choose destructive options such as abortion and euthanasia.
From its launch celebration at Burnaby’s Hilton Vancouver Metrotown in June 2008 until today, the Signal Hill Life Education Society has striven to bring to life a new way to inspire a culture of life in Canadian society.
By embarking on a non-judgmental, compassionate, and educational approach to life issues such as self-harm, bullying, suicide, crisis pregnancy, and euthanasia, the Langley-based organization aimed to touch people’s hearts to change their minds, and in so doing to better prepare them to make life-affirming decisions in times of personal crisis.
In August, Signal Hill circulated a major, 24-page glossy booklet entitled Equipped and Empowered in which it not only recommits to that path but also focuses more keenly on programming “to best support the trusted adults in the lives of today’s youth, namely parents and educators.”
The refined and renewed approach comes at a time when Life Canada, a national pro-life group under whose umbrella at least nine local pro-life groups operate, is also speaking of the need for pro-life organizations to embrace a fresh approach.
Pat Wiedemer, board chair of Life Canada, said in a Sept. 10 message to supporters that she spent the summer talking with many Canadians about life issues, and she concluded the organization’s work must change to respond to changes in society.
“The pro-life movement has been focused on symptoms versus root cause,” Wiedemer wrote. “Choosing death is a symptom of hopelessness, loneliness, and despair. Our work must shift to treating the root.”
Life Canada’s new messaging is focusing on upholding “the goodness, beauty, and dignity of life,” she said. “We have taken action to promote the true, the good, and the beautiful. We have focused on gratitude, as thankfulness is the first form of love.”
It’s a sentiment that more pro-life voices are acknowledging. Father Mike Schmitz, the Duluth, Minn.-based priest whose Bible in a Year podcast has been downloaded 350 million times, said in an interview in August that being “pro-life” is more than being “anti-abortion;” it means supporting women and babies, both before and after birth.
“In our diocese, there are multiple women’s care centres that, yes, they’re pro-life, meaning anti-abortion, but they’re all about providing options for women afterward who are in crisis pregnancies,” he told the Catholic News Agency.
Christians of all denominations have long supported crisis-pregnancy centres in Canada, too – support that is especially important now that the federal Liberal government is threatening to remove their charitable tax status.
(In response to that threat and other instances of Ottawa’s politicization of the non-profit sector, the Ontario-based public-policy think tank Cardus is convening a panel of representatives of several charitable organizations, including Dr. Laura Lewis, executive director of Pregnancy Care Canada, to discuss the problem. The online event takes place at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. The public is invited to register at cardus.ca/news/events/un-charitable-virtual.
Signal Hill, on whose board both Catholics and Protestants serve, faced criticism from within and without the pro-life movement when it charted its new course. Traditionalists were uncomfortable with the indirect approach to life issues, while pro-abortionists accused it of being a pro-life wolf in sheep’s clothing.
The organization’s executive director, Derek Scott, said in an interview with The B.C. Catholic that Signal Hill’s direction was necessary because all too many people have preconceived, negative notions of what it means to be pro-life.
“So by avoiding that explicit language, we are trying to navigate throughout the cultural minefield, while still promoting values that align with traditional views, of the value of every person … including the unborn,” he said.
The society’s new Equipped and Empowered booklet is not only aimed at better explaining Signal Hill’s approach, but also at encouraging individuals and organizations to make financial contributions to support both the existing student-education program and a new Signal Hill Parents program designed to support parents and community groups.
Veteran pro-life activist John Hof, a member of St. Joseph’s Parish in Langley, said new approaches to longstanding, seemingly intractable issues are certainly needed. “I am reminded of what a fellow pro-life activist once said about pro-life activity: ‘If we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always got,’“ Hof said.
New approaches designed to foster an increased respect for life will always be criticized, he said. “If Signal Hill has determined this to be their strategy, then who are we to stand in their way?” Hof said. “I am ever so grateful work is being done on so many fronts to bring about a return to greater respect for life in Canada. I wish them all the best and call for God’s blessing on their endeavours.”
At the same time, Pete Baklinski, director of communications for another national pro-life group, Campaign Life Coalition, said he believes there will always be a need for more-focused language and action about the crucial life issues of the day, including groups that act in the political arena and on the street.
“Preborn children in the womb targeted for abortion need a direct, vocal, and effective advocate to plead their cause and to fight for the dignity, respect, and rights that they are owed as members of the human family,” Baklinski said in emailed response to questions from The B.C. Catholic.
“Campaign Life Coalition will always be such an advocate for the preborn, fighting on their behalf and being their voice until the day comes when abortion is not only unthinkable, but legally banned.”
Notwithstanding this, he said he embraces the diversity of the pro-life movement, “with its many fronts, in different and absolutely necessary ways,” including organizations working to change the culture to make abortion unthinkable and groups that support mothers in a crisis pregnancy.
Baklinski said he believes that no single organization will, by itself achieve “the great victory” of ending abortion. “All working together, each striving for the goal it was created to achieve, will with God’s help make this great day a reality,” he said.
“The Canadian pro-life movement will one day make ‘life’ win in our country because it is a powerhouse of truly diverse and amazing people who are enthusiastically motivated to bring justice to the preborn.”
B.C. Catholic contributor Terry O’Neill has served on the boards of the B.C. Pro-Life Society and Signal Hill, and also represents his parish on the board of Life Compass, which is affiliated with Life Canada. He is a recipient of The North Shore Pro-Life Society’s “Journalist for Life Award” and Campaign Life Coalition B.C.’s “Defender of Life/Journalism” award.
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