Much has changed in Canada in 50 years. Five decades ago, New Brunswick mandated government services be available in English and French. The now-nonexistent Ottawa Rough Riders were at their peak, winning their seventh Grey Cup. And in 1969, abortion was legalized.
Now, a new documentary series called The Missing Project is pulling back the curtain on personal stories of 50 people who have been affected by abortion in the last 50 years.
“It tells a story of what is missing in Canada,” said executive producer Natalie Sonnen. “That’s missing information, missing people, missing legislation, and how that impacted our culture.”
Canada has a legal vacuum when it comes to abortion: there is no law against the procedure, it can be done at any stage of pregnancy for any reason, and there are gaps in statistical data. There are also stories of people who have encountered abortion in some way and feel something is missing.
“We really wanted to capture that and show Canadians the debate is not over – it continues,” said Sonnen. “It is still very raw for many Canadians.”
The Missing Project began releasing one video per day on Mother’s Day and will do so until all 50 short testimonies are out by Canada Day. On July 1, the team will release a feature documentary.
The ambitious project includes the voices of a Victoria woman who had a child with an extreme birth defect; a Kelowna actress who became pregnant while pursuing a career in the entertainment industry; the daughter of a prominent abortionist in Alberta in the 1980s; a young man who wishes he’d had a say in the life of his unborn child; and women who regret their abortions.
“I didn’t want 40 stories just from post-abortive women … I wanted to show how abortion impacts a community, a family. It impacts relationships, physical health, mental health, and spiritual health,” said producer and director Ryan Stockert.
Stockert was new to the abortion debate when he quit his full-time job as a producer for Yes TV in Calgary to work on The Missing Project. “My first thought was: I don’t know anything about abortion or pro-life issues. I’m totally unqualified, except for the fact that I’ve done documentaries before.”
But Stockert came to see that as an asset; he could approach the issue like an average Canadian. He conducted video interviews from B.C. to Quebec, facing snowstorms, road closures, and cancellations typical of Canadian winters as he pursued the story earlier this year.
“I did go through many hard days, personally, whether physically or mentally, but it’s nothing compared to what they went through,” he said, thinking of his interview subjects. “If this is the little I can give so many more can live and not go through this, I’d gladly put my body and my life out there to this for sure.”
Stockert, a Christian and the head of Thunder and Light Studios, isn’t worried that working on a pro-life series of films will damage his career.
“We do films, we do testimonies, we do productions that are faith-based and that take a stand. I’ve dedicated my life to doing productions that might not be popular or might bring negative feedback or hate towards me but might bring freedom to someone else,” he said.
“I can’t count the number of times people would break down crying or stop afterwards and say, ‘I haven’t thought about that in so long.’”
The videos include Elizabeth Sutcliffe, a firm crisis pregnancy centre supporter who has spoken publicly about regretting her abortion, and longtime pro-life advocate John Hof, who was sentenced to 21 days in jail as one of the first people to break local bubble zone laws. He was locked up with now-retired Vancouver pastor Father Vincent Hawkswell.
“The courts simply could not see, could not understand, could not comprehend, how we would object to something that was deemed legal and would put our lives and freedoms at risk,” said Hof in a video released on day 14.
Also featured in the series are Emily Rogers and her mother, Marie, who faced serious pressure from the medical community to have an abortion when they learned Emily had an extreme birth defect: seven of her organs developed outside of her body.
“They did dismiss me. They rolled their eyes at me. Some of the ultrasound techs would even take my phone number … call me at home, and say: ‘Do you not actually realize what you are doing? We have seen this before. You need to abort. There is no chance for this child.’”
Instead, Marie named her child Emily and continued to fight for her; when the girl was born, three teams of surgeons were in the delivery room to assess her.
“This is the sickest a child could ever be born,” said Marie. “We tell this story because we were given less than no chance of survival.” Now Emily is a firm pro-lifer and advocate for children and youth.
“Every person has value in this world. It doesn’t mean if they are two weeks old, if they are 18 weeks gestation, or they’re 82,” Emily said in the project’s inaugural video. “We all belong in this world. It doesn’t matter if we have a challenge or disability.”
The Missing Project is a joint effort with Life Canada, We Need a Law, Crossroads Canada, and Faith Beyond Belief. It is based entirely on donations and has raised only about a half of its budget, Stockert said. “I’ve taken the costs on myself to get this done.”
The videos can be viewed at www.missing-project.ca.
With files from Deborah Gyapong of Canadian Catholic News in Ottawa.
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