Success stories buoy Aid to Women staff
Allison James and Lucy Composano – two women, separated by age, race and circumstance,. Unique lives, yet sharing an experience that would affirm life in all its happiness and struggle, uncertainty and love.
Both have faced a difficult, even frightening decision. An unplanned pregnancy, a period of uncertainty and doubt. Where to turn? How to cope?
One solution seemed so convenient. Find the address of that downtown abortuary and have it over with. Three hundred bucks and the problem solved. It’s not really a baby yet, right?
But these women had more on their minds than easy solutions. Both knew in their hearts that what they were dealing with was a new life. Perhaps that’s why they were receptive to the counsellors at Aid to Women, the pro-life agency on Gerard St. East in Toronto which since 1988 has offered support to women in crisis pregnancies. In its nearly 10 years of operation, Aid to Women has rescued more than 1,000 babies who would otherwise have been lost to abortion.
Allison and Lucy approached Aid to Women thinking it would offer them the abortion they thought they wanted. Instead counsellors there gently advised them of the true nature of abortion and discussed the help available to them should they decide to go through with the pregnancy.
It wasn’t a sugar-coated version of what was sure to be a difficult struggle. But it was enough to give these two women pause. And the baby daughters they eventually gave birth to continue to bring much happiness to their lives.
Lucy learned she was pregnant in September, 1995. With a four-year-old already to care for, a non-supportive father and a low-paying job, Lucy felt the weight of the world on her shoulders.
“I was working, but I wasn’t earning very much,” she told The Interim. “I was fearful about what way to go. I didn’t want to go to the government for help, but I wanted to keep on working. There were so many thoughts going around in my head. I had made up my mind not to have the child.”
Lucy admits her determination to have an abortion was fuelled primarily by economic concerns. She recalls not even having enough money left over at the end of the month to pay for public transit Metropass. Yet Aid to Women’s promise of support – emotional, material and financial – eventually began to bolster her flagging spirit.
“I suppose I just needed someone to talk to, someone to listen to me,” Lucy said. “The people at Aid to Women were very helpful right away. They gave me formula and winter clothes for the baby and even money when I needed to buy food.”
Lucy eventually overcame the temptation of abortion and gave birth last May to a daughter Abigail, now nine months old. “It hasn’t been easy and there are still a lot of worries, but I think it was the right decision,” Lucy said.
The vulnerable mother attempts to put a brave front on her current situation. Christmas wasn’t a particularly pleasant time for her little family, and health problems have complicated an already difficult situation. But Lucy soldiers on. And the thought of daughter Abigail, so nearly sacrificed to the abortion quick-fix, gives her the strength to persevere.
Allison James’ story parallels Lucy’s but with an unexpected twist. The 35-year-old single mother discovered she was pregnant and immediately felt the shame and anxiety of most women in crisis pregnancy. “:I was ashamed at the time, and my first thought was that I really wanted to get rid of this child, ” Allison said. She visited a number of abortion clinics, but none of the staff there would answer her basic question: “is a six-week old unborn baby really alive?”
Like Lucy, Allison would up at Aid to Women thinking that it would facilitate an abortion. But unlike the abortion providers, Aid to Women had a ready answer to Allison’s question. There too, she had the good fortune to meet prolife activist Linda Gibbons, who has spent much of the last two years in prison for ignoring Ontario’s injunction against pro-life demonstration.
“I spent three hours with Linda gibbons that day,” Allison said. “She opened my eyes to the humanity of the unborn child. It was the turning point in my decision.”
Allison found that instead of being rejected by friends, family and her church congregation, she received support and encouragement for her decision to keep the baby.
And today, Allison is the proud, vibrant parent of beautiful two-year-old daughter Jhmiah, named for the Book of Jeremiah, chapter 29. For Allison that verse has special significance: “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for your woe, plans to give you a future full of hope.”
Allison repaid her debt of gratitude to Linda Gibbons on the occasion of Gibbons’ latest arrest January 20 outside the Scott abortuary in Toronto. As Linda was being hauled into one of four attending police cruisers, Allison called out, “thank you Linda for saving my baby.” The message, picked up by a television crew filming the arrest, provoked a quiet smile and modest wave of her hand as Linda was driven away.
Allison in turn supports Aid to Women by organizing regular donations of baby formula through a contact she has at a pediatrician’s office.
Allison’s gratitude and the joy Jhmiah has brought to her young life do not in themselves overcome the difficulties faced by a single parent in a sluggish economy. In fact, Allison is still sorting out her future with thoughts of returning to television work or setting up a single-parents’ ministry from her home. Nonetheless she remains optimistic and the devotion she feels towards daughter Jhmiah speaks volumes about a life-affirming decision she made 24 months ago.
The cases of Lucy and Allison at Aid to Women might lead some to suggest that the agency uses deception in getting abortion-seeking women to change their minds.
Aid to Women volunteers and counsellors admit that many pregnant women arrive at the facility thinking it provides abortion referrals. It is located next door to the abortion-providing Cabbagetown Women’s Clinic and a second abortion facility is just steps away. A sign outside the Aid to Women office and printed advertisements do not immediately suggest it is a pro-life centre.
Aid to Women director Joanne Dieleman told The Interim that each pregnant woman who mistakenly winds up at Aid to Women represents an opportunity.
“There’s no doubt some women come here thinking this is an abortion clinic,” Dieleman said. “In that case, we ask them to sit down and see if we can find another answer to their problem.”
Dieleman said some of these women immediately walk away when they learn of Aid to Women’s real purpose, but others are receptive to the pro-life alternative.
“There’s no deception used at Aid to Women,” said volunteer George Eygenraam. “We never lead these women to believe that they have come to an abortion clinic. We won’t tell them anything that is not true, but if they are willing to listen to us, we’ll do all we can to give them alternatives.”
The experience of changing even some women’s minds is rewarding for volunteers at Aid to Women. It suggests that for many women, the decision to abort is made in desperation, often exacerbated by concerns over reputation, career, money or long-term security. If these women can be assured of support and assistance from the community, a number of unborn children can be saved.