OPPONENTS in the abortion debate tried to drown each other out with bullhorns Thursday as they hurled provocative slogans in emotional confrontations.
The event during the noon hour in front of the provincial legislature had long been planned by Winnipeg pro-life groups, co-ordinated with similar pro-life rallies in cities across Canada.
But in the hours before the rally, the stage was set for confrontation when pro-choice supporters from the women's rights and labour movements used social media to organize a counter-protest at the same time and place.
Pro-choice supporters outnumbered pro-lifers about three to one. About 200 people were involved in the event.
The pro-choice side clanged pots with spoons and chanted to drown out the pro-life rally.
Both sides held up placards, which ranged from the predictable call for a woman's right to choose to more provocative lyrics such as "Keep your rosaries off my ovaries."
Pro-life placards called abortion "killing" and protested the use of tax dollars that fund the service in Manitoba.
Both sides used bullhorns, making it difficult to get their messages out.
The mostly peaceful event came dangerously close to violence at times.
At one point, a pair of pro-choice adults got close enough to pro-life spokesman Scott Hayward to yell profanities in his ear.
Another time, a security guard stepped between a woman and a pro-life supporter who were staring each other down. She was warned to step away after one pro-life supporter aimed a bullhorn at her face and blew hard. "His spit hit me," she fumed afterward.
Organizers on both sides expressed dismay at the provocative actions and supporters said they were surprised at the charged atmosphere of the event.
"I knew there'd be opposition but I didn't realize that it would be that much or that loud. They were obnoxious. We were peaceful," said pro-life supporter Shirley Nolan.
A pro-choice organizer acknowledged their counter-protest came together on Facebook at the last minute. The appearance of a couple of city police officers part-way through the event was enough to maintain order.
In Manitoba, about 4,000 abortions are performed a year, at a cost of about $4 million to the health-care system.