by MICHAEL OTTO
THAMES — The mornings might be frosty of late, but the spirit of about a dozen sidewalk pro-life witnesses in Thames is cheery.
On Friday mornings since November last year, members of the Hauraki branch of Voice for Life have held vigil for two hours on a street corner near Thames Hospital.
According to Abortion Supervisory Committee statistics, there were 466 abortions at Thames Hospital in 2010. Abortions are carried out there by the Auckland Medical Aid Centre, under contract to the Waikato District Health Board.
Voice for Life’s Lyn Hopkins said most of the sidewalk group are Catholics, but people from other denominations are there too.
“We have a mostly positive reaction from people,” Mrs Hopkins said.
“Occasionally we get sworn at, but that happens once in a blue moon,” she said, adding that men especially have responded positively.
Mike Hopkins, Lyn’s husband, said it is important that men are not excluded from the issue, as many women would keep their babies if they had the support of the father of the child, or their families.
Mrs Hopkins said most of the group were “a bit iffy” about the venture to begin with.
“None of us had done this kind of thing before. Now that we are kind of used to doing this, it is easier.”
Philippa Ellard is one of several people from Waihi who travel each week to join the vigil.
“We just believe that if we don’t stand and tell the truth, then who does,” Mrs Ellard said.
Former chief gynaecologist at Thames Hospital, Dr Christopher Harison, is one of the pro-life witnesses. He worked at the hospital for 20 years before retiring in 1997.
Within three months of his retirement an abortion unit had been established.
“They suddenly went from nought to 500 [a year], which is what they have now,” Dr Harison said.
This is very sad for the Thames and Coromandel community, he said.
“My experience with talking to people, residents who have been here for ages, when we bring up the subject, they are all more or less on the same line.”
Recently, a young woman who had been to the hospital to discuss an abortion decided to keep her baby after discussions with group members.
She had first approached group member Alf Johnston on the footpath, asking what they were doing.
“I said we were protesting what was happening down at the hospital. She said she had just come down from there and was going for an abortion. I said ‘don’t do that, darling’ and showed her pictures [of unborn child development],” Mr Johnston said.
After discussion and hugs from group members, the young woman said “you
have just saved my baby”.
“We have been praying for her ever since, and hopefully she has stuck by her decision,” Mr Johnston said.
There has been no coverage of the sidewalk vigil in local media, but there have been no letters of complaint either.
Thames parish priest Fr Robert Steele usually joins the witness each week, as do two special-needs people.
Mr Johnston said a nurse once told the group she objected to “what you are doing outside my hospital”.
“We said, it is our hospital too and we object to what is going on inside,” he said.
Mrs Hopkins said a passing woman once called out “get a life”.
“That’s what we are here for,” she said.