Standing up for the Pre-Born while Sitting in a Wheelchair

by Jonathon Van Maren

Over the last several months, the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform has been training and activating young people across Canada to EndtheKilling. From British Columbia to Alberta to Ontario, young people are responding to the call and lending their voices to the ever-growing chorus demanding an end to the slaughter of one third of our generation. Each of these young people should be commended for what they are doing, and should be encouraged by the fact that they are part of a rising movement. They should also be encouraged by the story of Taylor Hyatt.

File 746Taylor is a 19-year-old girl who has been engaging the public on abortion through “Choice” Chain, working as a part of both Carleton Lifeline and the youth activist group “Ottawa Against Abortion.” However, she faces difficulties that most pro-life activists do not: she has the spastic diplegia cerebral palsy. She uses a computer to write, uses a wheelchair, and can only walk short distances with a walker. Yet, no obstacle is strong enough to deter Taylor from speaking out on behalf of those that are more vulnerable than her. It was my honour and privilege to interview her recently.

How did you become convicted about the pro-life cause? 

I was three months away from turning 13 when the story of Terri Schindler-Schiavo (and her eventual euthanasia by dehydration/starvation) made headlines around the world. News sources said she was comatose. To make a long story short, I saw instead a woman with challenges similar to the ones faced by many young people I grew up with, or even what I could have had if my CP were any more severe. Disability rights activists were working alongside pro-lifers to spread the message that Terri was a human worthy of life. When she died, I swore I would do everything I could to prevent such things from happening again.

Soon after, I did a bit more research on that situation online. I began to read pro-life blogs, and discovered arguments against abortion quite by accident.

The Principle of Biogenesis and any other scientific arguments are the ones that appeal most to me to this day.  Also, being a premature baby (born 3 months early), I knew that one did not have to have all the “features” or abilities that a full-term baby has in order to be considered worthy of life. Having seen pictures of myself, I would have had to somehow deny my own humanity!  

What made you decide to do “Choice” Chain in spite of all difficulties?

Involvement with Carleton Lifeline, including Choice Chain is the first chance I’ve had to act on my convictions and I’m going to go for it! So many lives have been lost in the seven years I’ve had to hold off on being involved, and I don’t want to wait another second to do something about it.

How do you feel your circumstances affect your pro-life work?

If I said that my disability does not affect my activism, I’d be lying. At events with Carleton Lifeline, some people I hope to talk to on the street have walked around me and ignored me, in order to challenge one of my friends. I am spreading the same message…how am I different? I feel like they are saying “She has a disability – she can’t stand having her feelings hurt if I tear her position to shreds!” Or even worse – “She has a disability, therefore she can’t possibly be smart enough to understand pro-choice arguments. She’s too stupid to bother engaging with.” The worst part is when they avoid me and then ask my friends seconds later why aborting a child with a disability is not okay...that has to be the most painful.

Is my disability my biggest challenge? No! My family, at this time, does not support my involvement in this movement and they refuse to drive me to the few events in my small hometown. Combine this with an awful accessible public transit system back home…and you see why I’m jumping right in while in Ottawa!

How do you deal with opposition to what you do?

Community opposition (e.g. from police and the public) no longer scares me. Knowing that my friends are nearby helps, especially the strong gentlemen, as well as knowing that those with a lot of experience in pro-life work who are used to such things are there to help. The more I face it, the easier it is to deal with.

How do you deal with physical limitations in what you do?

As strange as this might sound, there aren’t too many physical limitations. I am unable to stand and hold a sign. I can’t stand without my walker – using the walker requires two hands. Whether I am sitting on my walker’s built-in seat or in my wheelchair (which I use most of the time), the signs are about as tall and wide as me! On very windy days, the sign moves a lot. Usually, a friend stands close by in order to catch it. When I went to the Rideau Centre earlier this month, I was able to lean my sign against a decorative post where we were standing. That saved a lot of energy.

If we are handing out pamphlets, I still have to deal with crowds avoiding me, as well as short arms. Sometimes I let them pass, and other times I may drive my chair the tiniest bit closer in order to make contact.

 What message would you personally give to other people who are struggling with circumstances, but are pro-life?

I would tell them that facing their personal obstacles, whatever they may be, is worth it in order to defend life. Knowing that you are impacting – and possibly saving – the lives of others around you, is a beautiful thing. A word of caution – build up a strong emotional support network, even if it only consists of friends and acquaintances in your local pro-life organization, before doing anything in the public realm.

 How has doing “Choice” Chain affected you?

Doing “Choice” Chain has opened my eyes to the necessity of speaking out against abortion and the urgency with which we must act. Saying that I am pro-life and debating my family is one thing. Holding up a sign in order to show the physical effects of the procedure on the child, and attempting to engage the public, is completely different.

It’s easier because you don’t have a previous relationship with the Average Joe who reacts negatively – I probably won’t see them again for a long time. Yet it is also tougher. My wheelchair makes it much easier to pick me out in a crowd. I have yet to truly see if this allows for faster recognition in a second debate encounter as I think it does, and what effect this will have.

Many of us are probably often tempted to make excuses to avoid activism: It’s too cold, I’m nervous, I’m not capable of this work. Examples like Taylor inspire us: as she says, defending life is always worth it. We can no longer ignore the children dying while we remain silent. We all have a duty to do what is right, not what is easy. I hope that many will be inspired by Taylor as I have, to do more, to face our own obstacles, and to do so while always keeping those more vulnerable and weaker in the forefront. This generation is standing up to EndtheKilling—even if they have to do it sitting in a wheelchair.