Legate Jim Hughes’ 40-year fight for human life shows no signs of slowing down
In the late 1970s, before he became the dean of Canda’s pro-life movement, Jim Hughes was a successful businessman who was almost skeptical when his wife told him that Canadian law allowed unborn children to be killed at anytime in the womb.
At the urging of his wife, Virginia, a registered nurse, Hughes attended a slideshow presentation put on by the local right to life association. What he learned shocked him.
“I couldn’t believe what I saw,” Hughes said. “I said, ‘You gotta be kidding me that they can kill babies right up until birth.'”
That eye-opening introduction to the stark reality of abortion would lead Hughes in his early 40s to leave his business career and join the pro-life movement full-time. Almost 40 years later, Hughes, now 72, is now the president of the Campaign Life Coalition, Canada’s oldest and largest national pro-life organization.
Born and raised in Toronto, Hughes is a member of Legatus’ Toronto Chapter and vice president of International Right to Life Federation. To generations of young people, Hughes is the father of the country’s pro-life community.
John Henry Westen
“In Canada, he is the face of the pro-life movement. Jim Hughes is like the Joe Scheidler and John C. Willke of Canada all wrapped into one,” said John-Henry Westen, co-founder and editor-in-chief of LifeSiteNews.com, an online pro-life news service initiated by Hughes’ Campaign Life Coalition.
Peggy Hartshorn, president of Heartbeat International, an Ohio-based pro-life organization, said she admires Hughes for his work ethic and dedication to the pro-life movement — especially given the uphill battles he has fought for decades north of the U.S. border.
“Many people think that Canada is just like the United States, but we have much more support than the pro-life movement has in Canada,” Hartshorn said. “Canada is much further down the path of secularism, relativism and the loss of religious liberty.”
Under Hughes’ leadership, the Canadian pro-life movement has been successful at spreading awareness of the sanctity of life, but the pro-abortion politics of the nation’s leading political parties and secularized culture have presented major obstacles.
In 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada effectively struck down all restrictions on abortion when it threw out a 1969 law that first liberalized abortion laws in the country. The court said the law was not being applied equally. Canada became one of a small number of countries without a law restricting abortion, treating it like any other medical procedure and is still governed by provincial and medical regulations.
“That’s the situation we’re in today,” Hughes said.
There have been other recent setbacks. In February, Canada’s Supreme Court struck down the nation’s ban on assisted suicide. Five months later, Canadian health authorities approved the abortion drug RU-486, which will be sold under the name Mifegymiso.
The drug, developed in France, works by preventing the child just after conception from attaching itself to the wall of the womb for sustenance. It is supposed to starve to death within hours. A second drug induces labor to expel the remains. Numerous deaths and injuries have been attributed to the drug’s use.
If not for Hughes’ leadership, however, Canada would arguably be much further down the path of death-dealing policies. His Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) fought passage of the abortion pill for more than 20 years, organizing protests outside the French consulate in Toronto and threatening boycotts of all French products.
“We managed to keep them at bay for a long time,” Hughes said. “If it weren’t for the pro-life movement in Canada, our situation would have gone downhill so fast 25 or 30 years ago.”
Jim Hughes protests abortion in the early 1980s
Despite setbacks, Hughes and the staff and volunteers at Campaign Life Coalition continue to rally Canadians around the life issues. In 1997, the organization helped start a March for Life in Ottawa that annually draws more than 25,000 people. CLC also has non-governmental organization status at the United Nations. It has sent representatives to U.N. conferences around the world to fight ongoing efforts to declare abortion to be an international human right.
In the late 1980s, Hughes helped establish the Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus to invite pro-life parliamentarians from Canada’s three main political parties to come together and discuss pro-life legislation. Hughes and pro-life leaders have also worked hard to elect members of parliament who will advocate justice for the unborn.
“In fact, it was our pro-life members of parliament who went to the prime minister two years ago and demanded that abortion not be included in Canada’s program to assist in maternal health programs in Third World Countries,” Hughes said. “So abortion was not included in that.”
The respect for life battle, he said, is worth every moment of sweat and anguish because, in the end, it furthers the Lord’s plan for humanity.
“You know you’re doing God’s work and you continue to do it, although you don’t see the victories that you would have hoped for,” Hughes added. “The victory is really the changes in all the people who get involved.”
When feeling discouraged or frustrated — or finding himself critical of some Church leaders for their apparent lack of support, Hughes says he spends time in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
“I ask Him to fill me back up again, and then off I go,” Hughes said. “I put everything into God’s hands every day and then I try to do my best.”
Jim Hughes poses with protesters at Canada’s annual March for Life
Despite Hughes’ tough-guy persona, Westen says at heart he’s a deeply spiritual individual.
“He sort of presents as a gruff kind of guy, but underneath that exterior is a very caring man who has amazing spiritual insights,” Westen said. “Which to me, it makes a lot of sense because, honestly, how else do you survive with what we’ve been living with these last 40 years?”
Hughes said the pro-life movement has turned him into a daily Mass-attending Catholic. He also credits Legatus with giving him invaluable support. In 2006, Legatus honored him with its Cardinal John J. O’Connor Pro-Life Award. The award carries special significance for Hughes, who knew the late Cardinal O’Connor well.
“He was very helpful to us here, so it was a great honor to be a recipient of that award,” said Hughes, who has served for many years on Legatus’ Pro-Life Awards Committee. Despite his busy schedule, he never misses a committee meeting.
Hartshorn, a member of Legatus’ Columbus Chapter who used to chair that committee, lauds Hughes’ work.
“He’s still very active in researching candidates and doing the actual work involved in nominating someone,” she said. “Jim never shies away from the hours that it takes to really be an active member of that committee.”
Despite the accolades, Hughes credits the “little giants” of the pro-life movement for making a real difference.
“They’re the fishermen, the farmers, the lumberjacks in the villages and small towns across the country,” he said. “All those people, their steadfastness and their faithfulness, form the backbone of the pro-life movement.”
Recounting an anecdote of a 14-year-old boy who formed a local Campaign Life group, Hughes says he’s hopeful for the future of Canada’s pro-life movement.
“The reality is that young people have taken this issue on and are working toward the goal of obliterating abortion in this country,” Hughes said. “And, God willing, they’ll live to see it happen!”
BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.
Learn more: campaignlifecoalition.com
John J. O’Connor Pro-Life Award
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Jim Hughes, with his wife Virginia, receive the Cardinal John J. O’Connor Pro-Life Award from Tom Monaghan on Feb. 3, 2007
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