'A huge trickle-up effect from the States': Steinbach march attendees say Canada should reopen abortion debate

Just a few weeks removed from Alabama passing laws all but outlawing abortion, close to 1,100 people took to the streets of Steinbach, Man., on Saturday afternoon to call for reopening the debate in Canada.

Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen and MP Ted Falk both attended anti-abortion march in southern Manitoba city

Anti-abortion supporters march down Main Street in Steinbach, Man., during an anti-abortion march on Saturday. Organizers estimated 1,100 people attended, up from 400 last year. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

Just a few weeks removed from Alabama passing laws outlawing almost all abortions, close to 1,100 people took to the streets of Steinbach, Man,. on Saturday afternoon to call for reopening the debate in Canada.

"There's a huge trickle up effect from the States," said Laura Klassen, a speaker at the event and founder of Choice42, a grassroots Canadian organization that opposes abortion.

"They're addressing abortion for what it is, which is human killing, so laws are going into place to prevent human beings from being killed," she said.

"It's definitely affecting what's happening up here in Canada and hopefully continues to do so."

Klassen said the annual march in Steinbach, a small city about 50 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg, has grown from 400 people in 2018 to 1,100 this year. That's indicative of a change across Canada, she says.

"We are seeing an uprising and a boldness within the pro-life community, because for so long it's basically been made politically incorrect to be pro-life," she said. 

Laura Klassen, director and founder of Choice42, was a speaker at the Steinbach rally. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

Debate around abortion has come to the forefront in recent weeks, on the heels of laws being passed in different U.S. states against abortion. 

The pro-choice movement has fired back against the idea of lawmakers being able to control what happens in a women's body, but Klassen doesn't accept that argument.

"A woman does not abort her own body, so this whole idea of 'my body, my choice,' women's reproductive health, all of this is ignoring the second person, which is the baby in the womb," said Klassen.

Critics have also pointed out that some laws, such as Alabama's, even prohibit abortion in cases of rape or incest — forcing sexual assault survivors to go to term or seek an abortion elsewhere.

Klassen believes only a "small percentage" of people are put in that situation.

"An abortion does not un-rape a woman. It only adds more violence onto an already violent experience," she said.

Rita Vaags brought her six children to the march to teach them about the anti-abortion movement. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

But some others at the rally were less certain on what should be done in cases of rape or incest.

"I just want whatever brings the most healing to the woman in that situation," said Rita Vaags, a mother of six children, who attended the march.

"I'd like to see a better support system in place to help women."

She adds she met a woman who became pregnant after being raped and chose to give birth.

"She felt actually empowered. She did choose to keep the baby and … she says, 'That was my victory.'"

MP, education minister attend

Organizers confirmed to CBC News that Ted Falk, the Conservative member of Parliament for Provencher, and provincial Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen, who represents the Steinbach area in the legislature, both attended the event.

Both have attended the event in previous years. Falk also came under fire last year when he yelled "It's not a right!" in response to a statement from the prime minister about the right of women to have an abortion.

Tony Plett, a father of three who says he's a card-carrying member of the federal Conservative Party, said he was disappointed with leader Andrew Scheer, who has said he won't reopen the abortion debate if his party wins this fall's election.

"In Canada, we are on we are on the verge of a breakthrough and we need a change in government," said Plett.

"I believe there are enough Conservative MPs to bring something forward. I just believe that we are at a breakthrough right now. It'll come." 

Conservative Party supporter Tony Plett said he wants Andrew Scheer to reconsider his stance around reopening the abortion debate in Canada. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

Plett wants Scheer to re-evaluate his position on the matter..

"I'm very, very frustrated and disappointed with him," he said. "This is an issue that can divide us as Conservatives."

Klassen also said she was disappointed with Scheer's stance.

"I think that anyone who is pro-life as he claims to be should stand up and defend the defenceless," she said.

But Jordan Vogt, who walked in the march with his family, feels that Scheer is being coy and trying to avoid a media storm.

"I'm disappointed in Canadian politics on every level. So I mean, the modern politician is a guy trying to keep his job. What else is he supposed to say?" Vogt said.

"Regardless of what I would like our leaders to say, they've got a job to keep."

Jorrdan Vogt wants to see abortion laws passed, but prefers to begin with discourse with those who are pro-choice. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

While some people want immediate change to Canada's abortion laws, Vogt said he wants more discussion around the matter.

"What I'd really like to be able to do is engage a person … not a group, but a person, and discuss with each other and have civil conversation about how we're arriving on our decisions."

Vogt, a father of three, said he understands that pregnancies, especially if unexpected, can drastically change a person's life.

"While my view is that no baby should be aborted, I do absolutely acknowledge that everyone has their own story in how that plays out [and] what those consequences are for that person," he said.


There were also a few counter-protesters at Saturday's march, including five dressed as "handmaids" from Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale — a novel which depicts a dystopian future where women are forced to procreate.

"We're really, really concerned about the onslaught of activity surrounding people's right to choose what to do with their body," said Katrina Suppes, a member of the group Handmaid's Local 204-431. Handmaid's groups have attended other events around the country.

"We want to make sure that people can choose to have an abortion if they need to have one," Suppes said.

Katrina Suppes believes the debate in the United States over abortion laws has seeped into Canada, and people need to be aware. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

She also said she believes that the legal changes in the U.S. will empower Canadians who are pro-choice.

"I think it's a rallying cry.… This is this is a big, big problem. We really need to worry about this right now, so when we see that activity happening, we need to just speak out, be loud, smack it down," she said.

"We're not going to open this conversation."