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Aid to women: proclaiming the sanctity of life.

On the second floor of a Cabbagetown walk-up in downtown Toronto there is a safe, welcoming haven for women dealing with crisis pregnancies and who are contemplating abortion. Aid To Women (ATW) is located right beside the Cabbagetown Women's Clinic where approximately fifteen abortions are performed daily, according to ATW. Aid To Women is a witness to life and a testament of hope countering the abortions that take place at the clinic next door. It is unique in that it is the only pro-life agency in Toronto that includes sidewalk counseling as part of its mandate.

ATW is situated near a busy intersection on Gerrard St. East. Since January 1986, they have been providing confidential, non-judgmental support and assistance to women who find themselves challenged and fearful because of an unplanned pregnancy. They have been at their present location since 1992. Their mission statement clearly outlines their purpose: "Aid To Women is a Christian, volunteer-based prolife charity, offering life-affirming options and practical help to pregnant women in crisis to enable them to choose life for their unborn children."

Aid To Women counselors offer alternatives to abortion; information on prenatal development, pregnancy and childbirth; medical referrals; pregnancy tests; material support in the form of maternity and baby clothes, diapers, toiletries, baby formula, and other infant supplies. If needed, they work in collaboration with other pro-life agencies in the GTA and will coordinate services with and send referrals to Birthright, Sisters of Life, or the Pregnancy Care Centre. Women asking for information on birth control are sent to agencies that teach Natural Family Planning and the importance and gift of chastity is discussed with them.

The office is staffed by full-time Executive Director an counselor, Enza Rattenni, who warmly greets visitors when they enter the simple, pleasantly decorated office. She has an easy manner that radiates acceptance and compassion--just what a woman or a couple in a pregnancy crisis need. She is quick to offer a cup of tea and invites visitors to have a seat on the comfortable leather sofa. Enza is the only full-time counselor and the person who oversees the daily operations. There are also two part-time counselors.

A typical day for Enza starts with sidewalk counseling from 8:00 am until 11:00 am. These are the hours when women arrive for their appointments next door at the abortion clinic. Enza and one of the part-time counselors talk with the women in a kind, non-threatening manner. Enza points out that the women are in a crisis situation and if they are made to feel threatened or judged, they will not be open to the pro-life message.

Ideally, only five minutes are needed to convey their message; realistically, the counselors often have only about three minutes to keep the women engaged. The counselors cover four important areas in the short time-span:

1. The physical and psychological dangers of an abortion procedure.

2. Development of the baby at their particular stage of pregnancy.

3. Alternatives to abortion, help that is available to them, and other organizations they can access.

4. Issues of morality. This is where the counselors speak of God. For people of no religion, the counselors approach this topic carefully, paying close attention to Jesus' exhortation to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves (Mt 10:16).

The other part of Enza's day consists in counseling non-abortive women or couples in a crisis pregnancy. The women may need material support or a compassionate listener; they may be thinking about having an abortion but have not made up their mind; they may be previous clients who need support during subsequent pregnancies.

From April 2011 to February 2013, [OMEGA] ATW has performed two hundred forty-five sidewalk interventions, talking with women as they arrive for their appointments at the Cabbagetown abortion clinic. Of those women, forty-three, or eighteen per cent, chose to raise their babies. The majority of women are between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-five.

All of the pregnant women with whom they come in contact need to know that there are alternatives and support available to them. Enza explains that the woman must not be made to feel that she has to make a choice between herself or her baby. A frightened woman in crisis will choose herself over the life she is carrying. ATW's approach is non-threatening; but if a mother insists that an abortion is the right choice, she is told the truth. In charity, she is reminded it is wrong to take the life of the person growing inside her.

Equally important to counseling is the presence of volunteer sidewalk prayer warriors. The sight of a person in quiet prayer holding a sign that proclaims the sanctity of life is a powerful witness that can influence a pregnant woman to choose life. Enza points out that while she is counseling a woman, prayers are needed to open her eyes and heart to the wrong of abortion. Prayer volunteers stand across the street from the Cabbagetown Women's Clinic and diligently maintain the sixty-foot injunction zone laws that are in place. Despite the slight distance from the abortion clinic, they are clearly visible.

"It's not enough for people to pray in their homes" she adds. "Pregnant women considering abortion need to see a strong, personal, public declaration of belief."

In her position as Executive Director and counselor, Enza admits to becoming discouraged with the magnitude of the work they do, but recognizing that ATW is the only constant presence of Christ on the street keeps her going. Although she sometimes feels useless, in faith she knows that God will work through her feelings of inadequacy.

"Everyone deserves to know the Truth. I have my dark days but Jesus asks me to go and I can't say no. Every morning is a struggle to come to work because of the many negative comments people yell at us, but one sentence may change their mind. It's like shooting an arrow. We tell them that God loves them and their baby."

In response, counselors and prayer volunteers are often subjected to rude gestures, derision and insults. Many times people pass by without acknowledging them. Although they are faced with the ugliness of the street, ATW continues in their ministry. Counselors and prayer warriors are out in all kinds of weather; as long as abortions continue next door, they will be a witness for truth and charity.

There is much work to do in the pro-life movement and Aid To Women is no exception. They need our skills and our commitment on the front lines.

"Aid To Women can make a life-changing difference in a woman's life. Without your support, however, not only would Aid To Women cease to exist, but many women would be without the help they badly need.... We are always grateful for those who counsel, pray, or help with office work"

They also welcome financial donations so they can continue to purchase diapers, baby formula, toiletries, and little gifts for moms and their babies. As well, they gratefully accept new or gently used baby and toddler clothing up to twenty-four months, strollers, and car seats. There is a never-ending need for newborn diapers and infant toiletries.

"If pregnant women in crisis don't encounter Christ, they don't have a chance," affirms Enza. "Women need to know the Truth with a capital T." The Truth is proclaimed by those who are moved by the Holy Spirit to offer their time, talents, and presence to the life-saving work that quietly continues in the Cabbagetown area of Toronto.

To contact Aid To Women, phone 416-921-6016 or go to Check out Terry McDermott's blog for Catholic Insight at
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Author:McDermott, Terry
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:May 1, 2013
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