Brantford abortion rally brings all sides, including those who say it saved their lives

Jenn Dahl says if she didn't have an abortion, she'd likely be dead now.

About 400 people, pro-choice and anti abortion, gathered outside PC MPP Will Bouma's office

Anti-abortion activists stood on cars outside MPP Will Bouma's office to support the stance he took when he spoke at an anti-abortion rally in April. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

It was an emotional rally in Brantford focused on the thorny issue of abortion, and Jenn Dahl stood back by a red car, still tearful.

The Delhi woman was among the pro-choice contingent outside the office of Brantford-Brant PC MPP Will Bouma, who angered some residents when he took the stage at a May 9 anti-abortion rally at Queen's Park.

Dahl had an abortion four years ago. She never wanted to have one. She'd purposely conceived, but the embryo implanted in her fallopian tube. She bled internally twice. She lived in agonizing pain. If the embryo kept growing, she said, it was going to kill her. So doctors removed it.

When she talks about it, her eyes still fill with tears.

"It's emotionally hurts me knowing that I could have had another child," she said. "But I'm still here to talk about it and I'm still here to mother my two children."

"An abortion is the removal of an embryo. It doesn't matter where it is in your body."

Medical reasons forced Jenn Dahl to have an embryo aborted four years ago. She likely would have died otherwise, she says. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

It was one of the myriad of perspectives at the Friday rally, which drew about 400 people combined, from various sides of the abortion issue, as anti-abortion activists came out to counter the planned protest by pro-choice advocates.

Brantford women Reagan Amini and Amanda Booth organized the pro-choice rally. They were angered by a few things, Amini said. They didn't like the Ontario PC government's cuts to health care and education. But more pointedly, they didn't like that Bouma left question period to stand on stage and speak against abortion rights.

Hearing of the rally, anti-abortion activists decided to gather too. The crowd closed part of Nelson Street, blanketing the area outside Bouma's constituency office with multicoloured signs.

On the pro-choice side, signs included "You will never end abortions. You will only end safe abortions." The anti-abortion side held signs that read "Thank you, Will" and "Human rights for all."

"It’s not that I’m for abortion," says Dale Wilhelm of Brantford. But governments that outlaw abortions are "overstepping their bounds." (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Dale Wilhelm of Brantford held a sign that said "Men of quality support body autonomy." Wilhelm said he's never spoken up about the issue, but he did Friday. He's pro-choice, he said, because he opposes the government encroaching that far.

"It's not that I'm for abortion," he said. "If I was to get pregnant, I sure as hell wouldn't want an abortion, but it would be my choice. And I think everybody has their own choice.

"If for whatever reason they – meaning a woman – cannot support a child, they have to make that decision, not me. Our government shouldn't be making that choice either."

Maaikie Rosendal, a Brant County resident and member of the Hamilton chapter of the Association for Reformed Political Action, doesn't see it that way. She organized the anti-abortion group, and said she was heartened by the large turnout.

"Life begins at conception," says Becca Koonstra, left, with Jannet Koonstra. "You can’t murder a human being that’s already been created." (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Rosendal, echoing Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff's words at the May 9 rally, said she hopes that abortion is one day "unthinkable." When Bouma took the stage at the May 9 rally, she said, he represented her.

"We believe it should not be controversial at all for politicians to support human rights for all human beings," she said. "So when a group shows up to say politicians should not have done such a thing, we want to encourage him and support him and show him that we stand behind him."

"I can't think of a more important issue for a politician to address than the fact that the very youngest members of our kind do not have the right to life in our country."

Becca and Jannet Koonstra, both 23, held anti-abortion signs too. They've held that opinion since childhood, they said.

"We’ve fought this battle and it’s been won, and we shouldn’t be here again," says Karen Chambers of Brantford. "It is a woman’s right to govern her body." (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

"I kind of grew up being taught that life begins at conception," said Becca Koonstra.

Koonstra said she sympathizes with Dahl and understands when there are medical reasons for abortion.  

"A medical reason to abort is a very small percentage (of abortions)," she said. "If it's growing healthy in your body and not posing a major health risk, then why would you abort it?"

Bouma will meet with Amini and Booth next Friday. Seeing the rally, he said, is "actually really, really exciting for me."

Several signs mentioned or took aim at Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

"We live in such a great country that people can have different opinions on stuff and let those opinions be known publicly and without fear of reprisal," he said.

As for his participation in the anti-abortion rally, "I care about life and that's what drove me into politics in the first place, and it just seemed to be a natural extension of that."

"I can’t think of a more important issue for a politician to address," says Maaikie Rosendal, who organized the anti-abortion response. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)
(Samantha Craggs/CBC)
A citizen group called the Handmaids says it has 3,000 members and 12 chapters across Canada. At least two members showed up in Brantford Friday. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)
Will Bouma listened to the protesters for a few minutes, and will meet with them next week. "The premier’s been quite clear that we don’t have any intention" to tackle abortion, he says. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)
Kryssy Egan, Reagan Amini and Amanda Booth were among the people who helped organize the rally. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)


Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She often tweets about Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca