By Kyle Greenham, Grandin Media
[EDMONTON – Canadian Catholic News, CCN] – Sarah Joy Walker is alive today because her mother flatly turned down an abortion.
Seventeen years later, the Edmonton teenager is about to see her pro-life advocacy dream become reality. She will tell her story as a guest speaker for this year’s Alberta March for Life on May 9 in Edmonton. The annual event, which coincides with the national March for Life in Ottawa and others across the country (including the Saskatchewan March for Life in Regina), promotes the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death and defends the dignity of disabled people.
Alisa Ketchum Walker, Sarah Joy’s mother, was five months pregnant when she discovered that the baby she was carrying had Down Syndrome. “A couple days later a nurse called and said, ‘So when are you going to terminate?’ which was quite shocking,” she recalled. “It wasn’t ‘What are you going to do?’ or anything like that, just ‘So when are you going to terminate?’ ”
Instead of heeding the suggestion of that nurse, Alisa and her husband Joseph, an Anglican pastor, turned to their Christian faith, which values life from womb to tomb.
“That question never entered our minds. We were welcoming this baby no matter what,” Alisa said.
“Yes, it’s difficult news to digest ̶ because of all the unknowns, all the questions, all the little fears that rise up as to how we will raise a child living with different difficulties. But step by step, as you accept and allow what God has given you, He gives Himself in turn. And it’s amazing what can happen.”
Sarah Joy was then welcomed into the Walker family with her two brothers and older sister.
When Alisa first told her daughter this story, it had a major impact. Ever since, she has been unable to forget that abortion could have ended her life simply because she had Down syndrome.
Sarah Joy’s address to the March for Life will be the Grade 11 student’s first public speech. She plans to deliver a passionate and personal message on the sacredness of all human life and her fight against the abortion of babies with Down syndrome.
“Having this crazy, out-of-the-blue chance to speak at the March for Life ̶ it’s pretty amazing,” Sarah Joy said. “This will be the first time I’ve gone outside of my personal bubble to help other people. I want to get this done so that I’m able to spread God’s word. I want to see that every baby lives and can be themselves no matter what.”
Since 1988, Canada has had no law prohibiting abortion at any stage of pregnancy. In Alberta, 12,706 abortions were reported in 2017 and as many as 13,815 in 2014, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.
Access to abortion varies by province. Nationally, a total of 94,030 abortions were reported in Canada in 2017, according to the CIHI. In the last decade, the highest number reported in any year was 108,844, in 2011.
Alisa Walker’s advice to expectant mothers is that while an abortion may seem like the best short-term option, the loss of that child can cause even greater pain in the long term. She recommends that mothers seek advice and talk to people they trust before getting an abortion, and know that adoption is always an option for them.
“The adoption option is the best healing for the moms, the best opportunity for the babies, and an incredible gift of life for other families,” she said.
Sarah Joy’s journey to advocacy began in 2016 at Edmonton Christian West School with a Grade 9 science class assignment to examine human impact on biological diversity. She decided to tackle a subject close to home – the rising number of abortions of babies with Down syndrome. In the U.S., an estimated 67 to 85 percent of babies who test positive for Down syndrome are aborted, according to a 2012 study published by Wiley’s Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
“I called my presentation Down Syndrome: An Endangered Population,” said Sarah Joy. “At first I looked at what other people were doing for their project, and then I closed my eyes and imagined myself in the future ̶ as an advocate, sharing my thoughts about this and who I am. That’s basically what got me started on that presentation.”
Sarah Joy’s teachers asked her to share her presentation with another class, and she was encouraged to write a speech as well.
The Walkers attended Alberta March for Life in 2017 and 2018. They were then invited to a board meeting in June of 2018, where Sarah Joy recited her speech. Her words left such an impact on the organizers that she was asked to speak at this year’s event.
“Here we have someone who is still a teenager, and is not only filled with the zest of life, she maybe appreciates even more deeply the value of human life because she is aware of the mortal danger that these unborn face,” said Gregory Amerongen, an organizer and adviser with Alberta March for Life.
“With how she articulates and reveals how fully human she is, Sarah Joy shows how relevant this issue is to the pro-life movement. The unborn who are diagnosed with Downs syndrome are worthy of living and protecting.”
Sarah Joy will be thinking also of her late father this year. “When I said yes, my very first thought was ‘Oh my goodness, my father would be so proud of me.’ ”
Looking back on that nurse’s question – ‘So when are you going to terminate?’ – Sarah Joy’s mom Alisa is reminded of a key message in Abby Johnson’s memoir Unplanned. Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who is now a pro-life advocate, has had her story adapted into a feature film.
“She mentions that injustices can continue against groups of people; whether it is the injustice of slavery or the injustice against the Jews or the injustice against the unborn, society allows these injustices to happen because they find a way to dehumanize that group,” Alisa said. “Now it’s become normal to dehumanize a baby, or allow some arbitrary week to determine whether it is a baby or not.”
Mother and daughter say they have grown closer through this experience. For both Sarah Joy and Alisa, their faith is at the very foundation of their pro-life message.
“I think it’s declaring the sovereignty of God and that all of life is God’s sacred gift to us – from conception to our very last breath,” Alisa said. “And it means that there is hope. If you’re facing difficult circumstances, there’s hope that there will be a way – God will make a way. With God’s grace we can live with whatever He allows to happen.”
As she continued to tweak her speech, Sarah Joy said she’s more excited than nervous.
“Faith has a really huge part in this,” she said. “You trust God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind. Because God is always with you through everything. I believe if you have faith, you can never lose it, and I’m so, so glad that God is with me.”
Organizers say attendance at the Alberta March for Life has continued to grow since it began in 2007. In 2017, more than 3,600 people participated. The 2019 march and rally begins at 12 noon in front of the legislature building in Edmonton on May 9.
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