For Lionel Roosemont spring is a busy season. Tourists flock to Ypres Salient as the ground warms and the poppies bloom in the ditches and cemeteries. Roosemont is owner and operator of Frontline Tours, giving four-hour guided excursions through arguably the bloodiest battlefields in the world.
As Roosemont recently pointed out to me, "Almost as many soldiers died here as in the whole U.S. Civil War ... but in an area not bigger than 70 square miles."
In four pitched battles surrounding Ypres, over half a million Allied soldiers and Germans lost their lives in World War I. These are the battlefields that launched modern trench warfare, the battlefields where poison gas first became a combat weapon, and where a field surgeon named John McCrae-surveying the awful carnage-wrote "In Flanders Fields," one of the best-known war poems. Today the cemeteries have the highest concentration of British and French war dead anywhere in the world.
When Roosemont isn't motoring through these battlefields he is volunteering in another, going to war against the onslaught of laws in Belgium governing abortion and euthanasia-and a culture of choice that aids and abets them. On a continent whose pro-life movement is just gaining ground, Roosemont has been described as a pro-life veteran.
He has reason to be. Sixteen years ago when his wife was seven months pregnant, doctors pressured the couple to have an abortion. The child his wife Renate carried had brain defects related to hydrocephalus, they said, and if she made it through birth would die shortly after. Today 16-year-old Tikvah is severely disabled but she is not blind, deaf, paralyzed, or dead as doctors predicted. The triumph of her life, however, is lost on many Belgians. Roosemont told me that several times as he has walked with her down the street, passersby have stopped to ask why she has not been euthanized.
Few Americans, despite tolerating legal abortion for nearly 40 years, would be so bold. So we should listen to our European brethren who are fighting for the sanctity of life from a foothold further down the slippery slope.
Belgium has for decades not only legalized abortion but in 2002 also legalized euthanasia. The law carries "safeguards" stating that a patient must have "constant and unbearable physical or psychological pain" and must give written consent before he can be put to death. The law requires a third doctor's opinion before euthanizing someone without a terminal illness, and a one-month waiting period for patients with depression.
According to Roosemont, it's become the law of the land to ignore even those safeguards. In one study of euthanized patients conducted in the Flanders region, researchers found that in the majority of cases such deaths took place without a written patient's directive.
Marc Cosyns, a physician who teaches ethics at Ghent University, reported in a Belgian medical journal that he put to death a woman suffering from dementia with only her verbal consent. The case was investigated but closed without charges.
"Since the law was voted 10 years ago," says Roosemont, "a black blanket has descended upon Belgium and is suffocating its people. The whole atmosphere has completely changed."
Thanks to Roosemont and others, another atmosphere is stirring. Pro-life groups are multiplying and annual Marches for Life now take place in Brussels, The Hague, Dublin, and other European cities. Belgium's third annual march-held this year on March 25-drew 3,500 youth, elderly, and families who took to the streets then laid 1,000 white roses on the steps of the Palais de Justice.
These activists labor under something other than the culture of death. In the last chapter of Mark's Gospel, the just-risen Jesus promises the 11 disciples that those who believe Him and are baptized will be saved. But there's more: "In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover."
And that's reason enough to join Roosemont in one of the world's worst battlefields.