a publication of Canada's Pro-Choice Action Network
Spring 2005 Issue
Winning Choice on Abortion: a Book Review
by Joyce Arthur
exciting new book on the feminist "herstory" of the abortion
rights movement in BC and Canada has recently been published by a Vancouver
pro-choice activist. In her book Winning Choice on Abortion, author
Ann Thomson brings alive the struggle and the personalities of the many
women who were instrumental in securing abortion rights in the 1960s and
1970s, the earliest days of the feminist movement in Canada.
Thomson leaves room in her book for the integral and monumental contribution
of Dr. Henry Morgentaler to the abortion rights cause in Canada, but she
goes much further in doing what no other book has ever done before - she
pays great tribute to the achievements of feminists and the women's rights
movement in establishing abortion rights. Even though I'm a long-time
pro-choice activist myself, many of the stories and women in the book
were unknown to me. Thomson really brings home the strength and courage
of these brave women at the forefront of the struggle. They fought for
"free abortion on demand" at a time when feminism and the idea
of equality for women were still openly ridiculed and discounted in our
The very first chapter opens with the beginning of BC's "women's
liberation" movement in 1968 - the formation of the Women's Caucus
by students at Simon Fraser University. Motivated by issues such as equal
jobs and equal pay, the Women's Caucus also embraced the causes of birth
control and abortion. From an early stage, abortion became a focal point
for the group, which soon began an "Abortion Information Service".
So swamped were they with calls, that the Women's Caucus had to quickly
search for doctors willing to perform illegal abortions. They soon found
Vancouver's Dr. Robert Makaroff, as well as a doctor in Los Angeles. After
Canada's abortion law was liberalized in 1969, they were able to persuade
other local doctors to perform legal abortions at Vancouver General Hospital.
However, demand far exceeded supply at the hospital, and after the kindly
and compassionate Dr. Makaroff was arrested for performing illegal abortions,
the Women's Caucus turned their efforts to getting rid of the abortion
law completely. They began to lobby the government and medical profession,
but to no avail. Then came the idea for the historic Abortion Caravan.
On April 27, 1970, the Abortion Caravan set out from Vancouver, complete
with several vehicles and about 19 women from Vancouver. On its way to
Ottawa, the group stopped at many towns and cities to host demonstrations
and public meetings, publicizing their cause. Subsisting on the generosity
of supporters across Canada, the women stayed in church basements and
were fed chili dinners at nearly every stop, because some advance publicity
had mentioned that as an example of the support they needed on their journey.
The Abortion Caravan garnered a lot of valuable publicity enroute to Ottawa,
and picked up hundreds more supporters, mostly from Ontario. On May 9,
a scheduled meeting in Ottawa with the Minister of Justice ended in disappointment
after the Justice Minister refused to attend. In response, hundreds of
women decided to crash Prime Minister Trudeau's residence at 24 Sussex
Drive, where they successfully deployed a coffin on his front lawn to
represent the deaths of thousands of Canadian women from illegal and unsafe
abortion. The coffin was ceremoniously piled high with objects women used
for such abortions - knitting needles, a Lysol container, a vacuum cleaner
hose. But the next day, Mother's Day, was the planned big event. Caravan
members selected about 30 women to attend Parliament as visitors. With
their visitors' tickets in hand, and bicycle chains and a photocopied
speech hidden in their purses, they selected seats apart from each other
in the Visitor's Gallery, and discreetly chained themselves to their chairs.
In the middle of a dull question period in the House of Commons, one
woman stood up and began loudly reciting the speech demanding repeal of
the abortion law. When security guards made a beeline for her, another
feminist popped up on the other side of the gallery, continuing the same
speech. And so it went, with security guards frantically dashing around
to shut the women up, and more women bolting to their feet to proclaim
their demand. While some outraged MP's protested, others just stared in
alarm or amazement, while still others laughed or thumped their desks.
One MP congratulated the "young ladies" for having "guts"
and for getting their point across. It took so long for security guards
to cut the chains off all the women, that Parliament was closed for the
first time in history. The next day, nearly every newspaper in the country
carried the story of the Abortion Caravan's climax on page one.
Those confrontations in Ottawa were watershed events, lending strength
and momentum to the burgeoning women's movement. Winning Choice on
Abortion details the ensuing struggles to repeal the abortion law
over the next two decades, such as the painful and protracted hospital
board elections during the late 1970s and 1980s in BC. Anti-abortionists
campaigned to elect anti-choice boards, which could then be counted upon
to disband or render toothless the hospital's therapeutic abortion committee
required to approve abortions. At some election meetings, thousands attended
to vote one way or the other. Sometimes the anti-choice side won, sometimes
the pro-choice won.
Other groups came on board to fight for abortion rights during those
two decades, as well as to support Dr. Henry Morgentaler in his legal
battles. These groups included Concerned Citizens for Choice on Abortion
(CCCA) in BC, the Canadian Association to Repeal the Abortion Law (CARAL
- later renamed to Canadian Abortion Rights Action League), the Ontario
Coalition for Abortion Clinics, and later in BC, the BC Coalition for
Abortion Clinics (BCCAC - which later became the Pro-Choice Action Network).
The BCCAC opened BC's first abortion clinic in 1988, the Everywoman's
Health Centre. Winning Choice on Abortion tells the whole dramatic
story of this clinic, including the nearly impossible struggle to raise
the money to buy it, the political and media battles surrounding it, the
large Operation Rescue blockades the clinic was subjected to in its early
days, and the novel process of getting court injunctions against the protesters.
Dr. Morgentaler's great victory at the Supreme Court in January 1988,
when Canada's abortion law was finally thrown out, was a great moment
in Canadian history, one that caused great excitement and optimism in
the pro-choice movement. The aftermath in BC of the Supreme Court decision
is told with dramatic flair, starring the flamboyant Bill VanderZalm as
BC's devoutly Roman Catholic premier. VanderZalm decided he didn't like
the Supreme Court decision and pledged not only to ignore it, but to rescind
public funding for hospital abortions. After a two-month battle in which
he refused to budge, in spite of just about everyone being against him,
a BC court ruled against his ban on abortion funding. When VanderZalm
was forced to resign in 1991 because of a financial gift scandal, it was
widely held that his arrogant stance on abortion was what cost him his
credibility. As Thomson notes, "Pro-choice activists took satisfaction
in knowing that many pundits agreed with them: abortion toppled the BC
Thomson herself was intimately involved in many aspects of the pro-choice
effort in BC and spent twenty active years in the movement before writing
her book, which is both engrossing and well-written. Trained as an historian,
she interviewed nearly 50 people, drawing on her personal background to
explore the complex feminist, government, and social forces that played
a part in securing abortion rights in Canada. The result is a richly detailed
and gratifying history, one that celebrates the accomplishments of BC
women in particular. It is highly recommended for anyone who enjoys reading
about the accomplishments of strong and courageous women, of whom Ann
Thomson is certainly one herself.
Winning Choice on Abortion: How British Columbia and Canadian Feminists Won the Battles of the 1970s and 1980s. by Ann Thomson. 336 pages. $31.45. More information and order form: Trafford Publishing: www.trafford.com. Or order directly from author Ann Thomson, firstname.lastname@example.org
Catholic Teachings Don't Help Teens
By Lisa Pelaccia
a former Catholic high school student, I would like to voice concern
about the Catholic school board's official stance on sex education,
more specifically what seems to be the central tenet of sex education:
abstain until marriage.
In teaching teens to abstain, the use of condoms and birth control
is discouraged. This is dangerous considering that some studies
have estimated that two-thirds of students will have sex before
the end of their high school careers. Plus, a teenage couple engaging
in sexual intercourse on a regular basis without using a reliable
method of birth control, are destined to be faced with an unplanned
pregnancy that can result in devastating consequences. Since women
still shoulder most of the childrearing responsibilities, despite
living in so-called enlightened times, an unplanned pregnancy will
likely have a more profound impact on the teenage girl.
For instance, teenage mothers are less likely to complete high
school, and even more unlikely to pursue a post-secondary education.
They are also more likely to be poor and dependent on government
assistance. "Counselors" at crisis pregnancy centres such
as "Birthright" fail to mention these consequences to
the desperate, naïve teenage girls who go to them seeking guidance
and support. They are unaware of the counselors' political agenda,
which is allowed to trump what is in the best interest of the girl
or woman. The anti-choice staff members do not take individual circumstances
into consideration. It does not matter to them whether the pregnancy
was a product of rape or incest, or if it could threaten a woman's
health. To them, there is only one right answer, regardless of the
situation. Abortion is wrong, and should not be permitted under
One need only walk down the halls of a Catholic high school to
see for themselves that the "Just don't do it!" message
is falling on deaf ears. At the high school I attended, it was not
uncommon to see young girls strolling down the halls, swollen bellies
protruding - some of them pregnant with their second or even third
child, most with little social support. Furthermore, these visible
reminders do not include those girls who chose to terminate their
pregnancies, despite the self-righteous condemnation of their choice
by the Catholic Church.
Depriving teens of access to sexual health information is foolish
and irresponsible. While "abstinence only" education might
delay the initiation of sexual activity for some youth, it does
nothing for those students who are already involved in a sexual
relationship. More importantly, studies have shown that having effective
sex education programs in place, rather than increasing the likelihood
that teens will go out and have sex, instead increases the chances
that students will be safe and protected when they do decide to
Good sex education programs provide teens with accurate, unbiased
information on disease and pregnancy prevention, and also include
information on same-sex relationships, emergency contraception,
and abortion, without resorting to scare tactics or moralizing.
The goal is not to make sex seem frightening and unpleasurable,
but to equip teens with the information they need to make thoughtful
and responsible decision regarding their sexual behaviour.
All too often in Catholic learning institutions, the teachings
of the Catholic Church are emphasized in the classroom, and presented
as absolute truth. There is no room for discussion or debate. For
instance, I remember one teacher in particular who used her classroom
as a pulpit to preach her anti-choice views, with no consideration
or regard for those students who might take offence, or how a girl
who might have had an abortion might feel, as she was forced to
listen to her mindless rhetoric.
This same teacher allowed a statement by a fellow classmate blaming
the AIDS epidemic on the homosexual population to go unchallenged,
and referred to a trans-gendered student as an "it," much
to the amusement of a group of homophobic students who took great
pleasure in taunting and teasing this individual. At one point,
I voiced my concerns to the principal, and was told that if I took
issue with the "values" espoused by the Catholic Church,
perhaps I should consider attending a public school instead. And
that was the end of that conversation. Apparently, ignorance, hatred,
and intolerance are "values" that the Catholic Church
hold dear, and would like to pass on to young people.
What bothered me the most was not that this particular teacher's
view on abortion and homosexuality different substantially from
my own, but that she chose to ignore her most important role as
an educator. Instead of teaching her students how to think for themselves
(not what to think) and encouraging thought and dialogue, she attempted
to impose her own personal religious and philosophical views on
her students. While she had the right to voice an opinion, she should
have emphasized that it was just an opinion, not a fact, and at
least took some time to present and examine a differing viewpoint.
Knowing what I do about the teachings of the Catholic Church, and
their bearing on the curriculum, I firmly believe that children
attending public schools are not only receiving a better quality
of education, but are learning important values such as respect
and tolerance for other people's differences, including differences
of religious, philosophical, and political opinions. Much of what
is taught in Catholic schools is not fact, but propaganda, and is
based on antiquated religious views about sexuality and the role
of women in society.
I agree that sex education is primarily the responsibility of a young person's parents. In an ideal world, a teen should be able to approach her parents with sexual questions and concerns, and expect open and knowledgeable dialogue to follow.
However, many parents do not know how to handle this delicate subject.
Because their own parents never discussed sex with them, the subject
remains taboo in their minds. Many are still struggling to deal
with feelings of guilt and shame about their own sexual needs and
desires, resulting from growing up in a sex-phobic culture that
sends mixed messages. Others may erroneously believe that if they
broach the subject, their teens might see it as encouragement of
sexual experimentation or activity. This is just not the case.
While I agree that teens should be encouraged to abstain until they are mature enough to understand and deal with any potential problems that might arise, it is also important to let them know that having sexual feelings, desires, or curiosities is normal and healthy and nothing to be ashamed of. It's also important to let them know that at the right time and with the right person, sex can be a fulfilling and enriching aspect of their lives. And let's not forget fun!Conservative Party: Finally Pro-Choice?
The abortion issue may finally be dead in Canada, politically speaking. At the March convention for the federal Conservative Party of Canada in Montreal, delegates formally rejected re-opening the abortion debate when they voted not to try and pass new legislation regulating abortion. The convention's 2,900 delegates voted 55% in favour of maintaining the status quo on abortion, with 45% opposed.
The move was an endorsement of the stand taken by leader Stephen Harper, who earlier announced he would not introduce legislation to regulate abortion if he was elected prime minister. A second resolution had also been up for debate, calling for a "ban on the performing and funding of third trimester partial birth abortions, also known as dilation and evacuation." This resolution was not dealt with after the first resolution passed.
The two contradictory motions highlighted the deep divisions in the party over the abortion issue. The social-conservative faction tried to return the party to its right-wing Alliance roots, while more moderate conservatives, including the remnants of the former Progressive Conservative Party, advocated a tolerant position on social issues. Relieved pro-choice delegates said the decision would "instantly" make the party a viable force in the next election, especially for female voters.
According to the Canadian Press, the vote represents what may be a "historic shift" in the abortion issue, which a reporter called "one of the most divisive, bitter, and longstanding morality debates this country has ever seen." The article noted that the Conservative Party was the "lone remaining mainstream political vehicle for the anti-abortion movement." (March 19, 2005, Conservatives reject legislating on abortion in historic party vote, Alexander Panetta).
The Conservative Party's
internal battle with abortion stems from last June's federal election,
when several right-wing candidates spoke out against abortion or
called for regulations on abortion. They were soundly vilified by
the media and Liberal candidates during the campaign, forcing Stephen
Harper to proclaim at every turn that he would not be supporting
any new legislation against abortion. Many pundits blamed the ensuing
Conservative election loss, at least in part, on the intemperate
outbursts of its anti-abortion candidates.
It remains to be seen, however, whether the new pro-choice policy will really end divisions in the party, let alone curb the introduction of private members' bills trying to regulate abortion. Anti-choice delegates at the convention unanimously declared that they would live to debate the abortion issue another day. Something that might help them do that is a resolution that delegates passed to allow free votes on issues such as "abortion, the definition of marriage, and euthanasia." On the plus side, removed from the party's platform were planks calling for general referendums, as well as referendums for constitutional amendments.Enforcing the Law: Provinces vs. the Canada Health Act
By Shannon Stettner
Although the Supreme Court of Canada struck down restrictions against abortion 17 years ago, Canadian women still confront barriers to reproductive control. Access to abortion facilities and funding for abortions remain hurdles yet to be overcome in many regions. The failure of provinces to pay for the procedure in clinics contravenes the Canada Health Act. Yet, two provinces, Quebec and New Brunswick, have still not rectified this problem. Pro-choice proponents have instigated court challenges in both provinces that will hopefully lead to a long overdue, just ruling.
The battle for clinic funding has finally been won in Manitoba.
In 2001, two Manitoba women known as Jane Doe No. 1 and Jane Doe
No. 2, filed a class-action suit on behalf of all women in that
province. Their complaint focused on the province's refusal to fund
abortions at the private Morgentaler Clinic in Winnipeg. Facing
waits of four to eight weeks for province-paid procedures at the
hospital, both women opted to pay for their abortions at the clinic
where they received the procedures within a week. Refusing to pay,
the Manitoba government argued in court that women do not have the
right to dictate when and where they can have therapeutic abortions.
In December however, Associate Chief Justice Jeffrey Oliphant ruled
in favour of the Jane Does, stating that the government had committed
a "gross violation" of their rights. Specifically, he
ruled, "In my view, legislation that forces women to have to
stand in line in an overburdened, publicly funded health-care system
and to have to wait for a therapeutic abortion, a procedure that
probably must be performed in a timely manner, is a gross violation
of the right of women to both liberty and security of the person."
Oliphant's 25-page decision struck down sections of Manitoba's Health
Insurance Act on the grounds that they violate the Charter.
This finding allows for thousands of Manitoban women to seek compensation
for the hundreds of dollars they spent procuring private abortions.
In January, the Manitoba government appealed the court ruling, saying
it had to protect its right to decide how health-care dollars are
Another important development in Manitoba occurred in April 2004,
when eighteen pro-choice women bought the Morgentaler Clinic, renaming
it Jane's Clinic. Three months later and before Oliphant's decision,
Manitoba began funding abortions at the clinic, finally bringing
the province into compliance with the Canada Health Act.
Soon after his appointment as Federal Health Minister, Ujjal Dosanjh
began to address the issue of provincial funding of abortions at
clinics. In October 2004, he launched new talks with New Brunswick
over its refusal to pay for abortions at the Morgentaler Clinic
in Fredericton. Dosajnh said he was "very concerned" that
New Brunswick consistently ranked among the most difficult provinces
for a woman to get an abortion and instructed the province in its
responsibility to cover the cost of all abortions performed by doctors
in the province: "You have right across the country, provinces
saying [abortion] is a medically necessary service," said Dosanjh.
"And when it's a medically necessary service, whether it's
provided in a hospital or a clinic, it must be funded. It's as simple
In 2003, 602 women paid between $500 and $750 to have an abortion at the Freder-icton clinic. Currently, the province only pays for abortions that are both performed in hospitals and approved by two doctors, as per a provincial regulation that is both illegal and unconstitutional (see press release below). In January, Dosanjh told provincial Health Minister Elvy Robichaud that he will enforce the Canada Health Act against New Brunswick. Dosanjh said if it can't be settled amicably, a dispute avoidance and resolution process will be invoked, and financial penalties may apply from the federal government.
"This is about a fundamental issue of a right to choose, and
the right to choose is meaningless unless you fund abortions adequately
and appropriately across the country. There is no exception to that
rule," Dosanjh said. Robichaud has repeatedly vowed that the
province will not fund abortions at the Morgentaler Clinic, saying
that access is adequate at hospitals, even though only one hospital
in New Brunswick regularly performs abortions and women usually
have to travel to access services.
In 2003, Dr. Henry Morgentaler initiated a still-ongoing lawsuit against the New Brunswick government for failure to pay physician and facilities fees at his clinic. A coalition of anti-choice groups tried to obtain intervener status in the lawsuit, but a judge denied the coalition's application, noting the lawsuit dealt primarily with financial issues, and the coalition's preoccupation with the morality of abortion was not relevant. The coalition appealed to the province's highest court, but lost again in January.
Pro-choice activists applaud Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh's determination
to ensure that New Brunswick obeys the law by funding abortions
at the Fredericton Morgentaler Clinic. New Brunswick is the only
province in Canada that is still enforcing an illegal law that restricts
"New Brunswick's regulation is unconstitutional on its face,
and insulting to women," said Joyce Arthur of the Pro-Choice
Action Network. "It imposes completely arbitrary and unnecessary
obstacles to abortion that discriminate against women who can't
pay or who can't negotiate the bureaucratic process. As a result,
many women can't get an abortion in time, or at all."
Calling the abortion regulation an "an embarrassment to Canada,"
Arthur explained that "Canada is respected internationally
as one of the most pro-choice countries in the world because we
have no laws against abortion. That's because our Charter of
Rights guarantees equality to women, which includes freedom
of choice on abortion. Yet here's New Brunswick, forcing women to
jump through unconstitutional hoops before they can access a necessary
Arthur noted that New Brunswick could easily resolve the situation
by converting the Morgentaler Clinic into a publicly funded clinic
and repealing the province's illegal regulation. "Dosanjh is
absolutely right to go after New Brunswick," said Arthur. "He
must - because the Province is wrongly imposing its anti-choice
religious beliefs on all women there."
The Pro-Choice Action Network also supports Dr. Henry Morgentaler's
current lawsuit against the province, to force it to fund his clinic.
"He'll win because New Brunswick is clearly acting outside
the law," said Arthur. "Anti-abortion ideology won't stand
up in court, because it amounts to discrimination against women."
New Brunswick's Illegal Law Restricting Abortion
New Brunswick's Medical Services Payment Act, Regulation 84-20,
Schedule 2(a.1)) states that abortion is only eligible for payment
by Medicare when:
performed by a specialist in the field of obstetrics
and gynaecology in a hospital facility approved by the jurisdiction
in which the hospital facility is located, and two medical practitioners
certify in writing that the abortion was medically required."
This regulation violates women's constitutional rights, as well
as all five principles of the Canada Health Act (comprehensiveness,
universality, accessibility, portability, and public administration).
Also, hospitals in New Brunswick perform abortions only up to 12 weeks gestation. This arbitrary policy exists even though the province forces women to wade through red tape that often delays the procedure past 12 weeks. There is no legal or medical justification for imposing gestational limits on abortion.Canada News Bytes
Campaign to Defund Abortion in BC - In December, the Surrey-Delta
Pro-Life Society announced in their newsletter that they are launching
a campaign to defund abortion in BC, in conjunction with the upcoming
provincial election. Working with Campaign Life Coalition (Canada's
national, political anti-choice group), the group plans to raise
$68,000 via "coffee parties" and spend it on radio ads
and other initiatives.
Pro-Choice Policy Upheld at University of Victoria BC -
The campus anti-abortion group Youth Protecting Youth introduced
a motion to delete the pro-choice policy of the UVic Student Society,
saying the Society should be more "neutral." The policy
supported a woman's right to control her body and said no new law
should be introduced to regulate abortion. The Society was forced
to hold a vote in February on the anti-choice motion. A panel of
pro-choice speakers appeared on the evening before the vote to defend
the policy and help get out the pro-choice vote, and a rally was
also held the next day. The motion was defeated by a wide margin.
"I Had an Abortion" T-shirts spark outcry -
Last July, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America's decision
to sell "I had an abortion" T-shirts drew a sharp rebuke
from Calgary's Roman Catholic Bishop Fred Henry. He called the promotion
"callous" and a sign of the "deadly blindness come
upon our society." He said it was tantamount to someone wearing
a T-shirt that says "I killed my baby." The issue sparked
heated public debate and countless letters to newspapers across
Canada, mostly from outraged anti-choicers.
New Brunswick Woman Murdered for Having Abortion - In a
Fredericton murder case last September, the court was told that
a murder suspect's estranged wife, who later turned up dead, had
an abortion without his knowledge and it enraged him. A Fredericton
psychiatrist testified that Abdul Bari was referred to him by his
family physician in April 2003 for depression. His wife, Shaila
Akther Bari, was found dead in her apartment on July 16, 2003. Bari
pled innocent, but a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder.
Loss of a Fetus Cannot be Charged as Homicide - In November,
an 8-month pregnant woman lost her fetus in a car accident. Aimee
Wilson of Vancouver, 25, lashed out at the law, upset because her
unborn child was not considered a person under the law. She said
the driver of the other car, a young man, killed her baby and she
wanted him charged accordingly. Police replied that such charges
cannot be laid because under the Criminal Code, because a fetus
does not become a legal person with rights until it is born alive.
CTV Airs Movie on Dr. Henry Morgentaler - In January, a
dramatized biography of Canada's abortion pioneer was broadcast.
Choice: The Henry Morgentaler Story covered the two-decade
span beginning in 1967 when Morgentaler ignited the abortion debate,
and culminating with the 1988 Supreme Court decision that vindicated
him and struck down Canada's abortion law as unconstitutional. The
movie starred David Eisner as the doctor and was well-received by
critics. It portrayed Dr. Morgentaler in a human and compassionate
manner, highlighting his courage, persistence, and unwavering commitment
to women's free choice on abortion without having to provide a reason.
Also: The University of Western Ontario will award Dr. Morgentaler
an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in June for his accomplishments.
Most Young Women Unaware of Dr. Morgentaler -Globe &
Mail journalist Ian Brown reported in December that 62% of women
aged 18-34 said they had never heard of Dr. Henry Morgentaler. Of
those who had at least heard of him, 27% couldn't accurately identify
him. That means 73% of 18-to-34-year-old Canadian women have either
not heard of Dr. Morgentaler or couldn't identify him accurately.
The GAP Comes Back - Anti-choice students at the University
of BC put up the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) display on campus
in November, and again at the end of March. The display equates
abortion in Canada to genocide in Nazi Germany, Rwanda, and Cambodia.
Pro-choice protesters were required to stay outside a 9.75-metre
bubble zone, under university rules for the GAP display. Paul Sutton,
safety coordinator for the UBC student society, said in November
that GAP displays have led to a spike in student visits to counseling
services. GAP displays have become more common on Canadian university
campuses over the last year, causing a spike in pro-choice activism
on many campuses.
Bank of Montreal Supports Anti-Choice Card - Anti-choice
group Life Canada-Vie Canada in Ottawa has been offering a fundraising
affinity MasterCard to its members for the last 10 years. In March,
however, the Bank of Montreal asked the group to remove a link on
its website allowing members to sign up for the card. The bank said
they had started to receive angry complaints from the pro-choice
movement. E-mails were circulating across the country, calling on
pro-choice supporters to cut up their MasterCards and boycott the
bank. Carroll Rees, executive director of Life Canada-Vie Canada,
said the group complied with the bank's request.
Abortion Rates Drop Slightly in 2002 - Statistics Canada
reported that Canadian women obtained 105,154 abortions in 2002,
down one percent from 106,270 in 2001. The rate of abortion fell
marginally to 15.4 abortions per 1,000 women in 2002 from 15.6 abortions
per 1,000 women in 2001.
Anti-Choice Poll Reveals Ambivalence About Abortion - An
anti-choice poll commissioned by Life Canada and conducted by Environics
Research in September and October 2004, showed that 68% of the 2,027
Canadians polled said Canadian law should protect human life at
some point before birth. 33% said legal protection should begin
at conception, 24% said it should begin after three months of pregnancy,
and 11% said after six months. 28% said legal protection should
begin at birth. 54% said abortions should be paid for by taxpayers
"only in medical emergencies such as a threat to the mother's
life or in cases of rape or incest." 55% said parental consent
should be required before minors under the age of 18 could have
Busy Bill Whatcott - In a 2002 anti-choice protest in Prince
Albert, Saskatchewan, Bill Whatcott was arrested for being (among
other things) a traffic hazard. He was jailed for a day and fined
$500. In October 2004, however, he won his appeal for the conviction,
with the court upholding his right to publicly protest and finding
that police wrongly restricted his free expression. Last November,
Whatcott, a nurse, was found guilty of unprofessional conduct by
the Saskatchewan Association of Licensed Practical Nurses (SALPN).
The charges stemmed from Whatcott's 2002 public demonstrations against
Planned Parenthood Regina. In January, Whatcott was sentenced by
the SALPN Tribunal to a 45-day suspension and ordered to pay $15,000
costs for the trial. A refusal to pay costs could result in permanent
suspension. That same month, Whatcott was arrested for trespassing
at the University of Calgary after leafleting car windshields. He
was released on condition that he stop leafleting and was prohibited
from the campus indefinitely.
Quebec Wants to Do Late Term Abortions - In September 2004,
Quebec health officials announced plans to hire a physician to provide
late-term abortions. Currently, Canadian women go to Kansas, Colorado
and Washington State for abortions after 22 weeks that are required
for compelling maternal health reasons or for severe fetal abnormalities.
While anti-choicers reported that Ontario taxpayers paid $400,000
last year to send 56 women to the U.S. for late term abortions,
the Ontario Ministry of Health claimed that 15 women from Ontario
and 30 from Quebec were sent south for the procedure. Quebec's Roman
Catholic bishops objected, arguing that since Canada has no law
governing abortion, it is unethical for Quebec to make it easier
to obtain one.
Canada Funds UN Population Fund - Canada's International Co-operation Minister Aileen Carroll announced in December that Canada is increasing its annual $13.1-million contribution to the U.N. Population Fund to $67.4 million over four years - about $16.9 million each year. Most of that will go toward core financing of the reproductive health program that has been seriously damaged by the U.S. boycott over the past three years.The War Against Women
New Federal Anti-Choice Laws
Several new federal laws restricting abortion are slated to be
passed in the United States by the Republican-controlled Congress
this spring or later this year. President Bush is expected to sign
The Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act will force abortion
providers to warn women having abortions at 20 weeks or later that
their fetuses will feel pain, and offer them the option of pain
medication for their fetuses. However, there is no sound scientific
evidence that fetuses feel pain, plus telling this to a woman could
cause unnecessary emotional trauma and guilt. Abortion providers
have also pointed out that giving medication to the fetus would
not only increase the woman's medical risks, but would be technically
difficult, if not impossible to do.
The second new bill is the Child Custody Protection Act,
which criminalizes non-parental adults from helping pregnant minors
cross state lines to circumvent abortion laws requiring parental
notification. This law would jail well-meaning adults like grandmothers
who try to help young girls who are unable to confide in their parents,
such as girls from abusive families. 33 states currently enforce
laws requiring parental notification or consent for minors' abortions.
However, not a single state has a law requiring parental consent
for teens to have a baby.
In March, it became clear sailing for a new federal law making
it harder for consumers to erase their debts in bankruptcy court.
Republicans in the Senate succeeded in removing a clause prohibiting
abortion protesters from declaring bankruptcy to escape court fines
for illegal protests and harassment. The new law gives the stamp
of approval to anti-choice terrorism and harassment, while condemning
to poverty the majority of people who must resort to bankruptcy
In November, Congress passed a major anti-abortion bill, the Weldon
Amendment, by inserting a last-minute clause into a budget bill.
The sweeping clause permits health care entities to collect federal,
state, and local tax dollars while refusing to provide abortion
services, counseling, or referrals (even in cases of rape, incest,
or danger to the woman's life). Opponents say the bill's impact
would be felt primarily by low-income women who depend on federally-subsidized
health care and use Roman Catholic hospitals. California's pro-choice
attorney general Bill Lockyer filed a lawsuit to block the Weldon
Amendment, since the law would take away the state's ability to
enforce its own laws protecting women's reproductive health and
rights. The National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association
also asked a judge to halt the Weldon Amendment, because it conflicts
with Title X law that requires health care providers to inform women
for anti-choice health professionals to refuse to dispense contraception,
as well. In 2004, 12 states took steps to try to introduce so-called
conscience clauses that would allow pharmacists to refuse to dispense
drugs, including emergency contraception and the Pill, on moral
grounds, without losing their jobs. In many states, anti-choice
groups and Pharmacists for Life are encouraging pharmacists to refuse
to distribute emergency contraception.
Democratic lawmakers recently introduced a bill, the Putting Prevention First Act, to increase access to family planning services and contraception in order to prevent abortion. However, anti-choice legislators defeated it, with one denouncing the Act as "sex-drenched".Abortion: Few Risks and Positive Outcomes
The American Psychological Association released a briefing paper
last year called: The Impact of Abortion on Women: What Does
the Psychological Research Say? The report cites research showing
that the ability of women to make decisions about their own childbearing
is a necessary condition for their health and mental health, as
well as for their families.
Following are some highlights of the report. The full report, with
recommendations and citations, is available at www.apa.org/ppo/issues/womenabortfacts.html
Physical risks and consequences of abortion - Legal abortion
is less dangerous than pregnancy. In 1999, as in previous years,
deaths related to legal abortions occurred very rarely, at a rate
of less than one per 100,000 abortions. The overall pregnancy-related
mortality rate was nearly ten times higher.
Abortion may avoid negative health consequences, especially
for teenage mothers - Unintended and unwanted childbearing can
have negative health consequences, including greater chances for
illness for both the mother and child. The adverse consequences
of teenagers' inability to control their childbearing can be particularly
severe. Teenage mothers are more likely to suffer toxemia, anemia,
birth complications, and death. Babies of teenage mothers are more
likely to have low birth weight and suffer birth injury and neurological
defects. Such babies are twice as likely to die in the first year
of birth as babies born to mothers who delay childbearing until
after age 20.
Low risk of psychological harm - Well-designed studies of
psychological responses following abortion have consistently shown
that risk of psychological harm is low. Some women experience psychological
dysfunction following abortion, but post-abortion rates of distress
and dysfunction are lower than pre-abortion rates. Moreover, the
percentage of women who experience clinically relevant distress
is small and appears to be no greater than in general samples of
women of reproductive age. A recent study showed not only that rates
of depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), were not
elevated in a large sample of 442 women followed for two years post-abortion,
but also that the incidence of PTSD was actually lower in women
post-abortion than the rate in the general population.
Positive functioning and educational attainment two years later
- A study of adolescent abortion followed 360 adolescents over
two years after they had been interviewed when seeking a pregnancy
test. Some had a negative pregnancy test, some were pregnant and
carried to term, and some were pregnant and aborted their pregnancy.
The adolescents who chose abortion showed significant drops in anxiety
and significant increases in self-esteem and internal control in
the period immediately following the abortion to two years later.
They appeared to be functioning as well as, or even better than,
adolescents who had a negative pregnancy test or had carried to
term. They were also most likely to have higher economic well-being;
most likely to be in high school (and performing at grade level)
or to have graduated; and less likely to have a subsequent pregnancy.
Positive emotions more often experienced - Freely chosen
legal abortion, particularly in the first trimester, has not been
found to be associated with severe psychological trauma, despite
the fact that it occurs in the stressful context of unwanted pregnancy.
The time of greatest stress is before the abortion. A woman's emotional
responses after experiencing an unwanted pregnancy terminated by
abortion are complex and may involve a combination of positive and
negative emotions. Positive emotions are more often experienced,
and they are experienced more strongly than negative emotions, both
immediately after the abortion and during the months following it.
Effects of stress are relative - Abortion may be a stressful
experience; however, it may also reduce the stress resulting from
an unwanted pregnancy and from the events that led to the pregnancy
being unwanted. The effects of abortion cannot be separated from
the effects of the experience of unwanted pregnancy and from the
effects of the context in which the pregnancy occurred.
Poor social outcomes often arise for unwanted children - Unintended and unwanted childbearing has been linked with a variety of social problems, including divorce, poverty, child abuse, and juvenile delinquency. One study found that unwanted children were less likely to have a secure family life. As adults, they were more likely to engage in criminal behavior, be on welfare, and receive psychiatric services. Another study found that children who were unintended by their mothers had lower self-esteem than their intended peers 23 years later. Research has shown that social and psychological problems persist into adulthood, partially because the mothers are themselves from disadvantaged backgrounds with poor future prospects. Children born to teenage mothers are more likely to have lower achievement scores, poorer school adjustment, and more problem behaviors than children born to older women.What If Roe Fell?
The Center for Reproductive Rights'
By Shannon Stettner
According to public opinion polls, a majority of Canadian men and women
are pro-choice. Overwhelmingly, they are a silent majority; few support
their beliefs with action. Indeed, in 2004, one could argue that many
women in Canada and the United States are complacently pro-choice. This
complacency has contributed, in the U.S. at least, to reproductive rights
being jeopardized. A September 2004 study by the Center for Reproductive
Rights, What if Roe Fell?, outlines the fragility of a woman's
right to choose in that country. Prepared in anticipation of a Republican
electoral victory, the study outlines the direct threats to abortion rights,
and the ways women and men can begin to work now to minimize these threats.
Presently, one in three American women have an abortion during their
reproductive years. Moreover, there are three million unplanned pregnancies
in the U.S. yearly, one-third of which end in abortion. Yet, the report
acknowledges that should Roe v. Wade be overturned (the 1973 Supreme
Court decision that legalized abortion throughout the U.S.), more than
70 million women could lose their right to access safe, legal abortions.
Abortion would come under state jurisdiction, with many states probably
moving quickly to ban abortion. The report offers a state-by-state analysis
of abortion laws, and state constitutions and legislatures.
If Roe v. Wade were overturned, different scenarios would affect
different states. Some states have old pre-Roe anti-abortion laws that
would be in effect immediately; new laws would not need to be passed in
those states. Some states have pre-Roe anti-abortion bans that have been
blocked by courts and would have to be overturned before abortion could
be prohibited. Other states may not have pre-Roe anti-abortion laws, but
also lack laws protecting a woman's right to choose, meaning that anti-abortion
laws would likely be introduced quickly. Indeed, many anti-choice advocates
have been busy enacting laws across the U.S. Even though abortion is protected
under Roe v. Wade, 409 measures restricting abortion have been
enacted in state legislatures since 1995, and in November 2003, the first
federal ban on some abortion procedures was passed. A further risk should
Roe v. Wade be overturned, would be for Congress to pass a federal
ban on abortion nullifying any pro-choice state laws.
What is the likelihood of Roe v. Wade being overturned? There
are three U.S. Supreme Court judges who favour a repeal of Roe v. Wade:
William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas. Five others support
a woman's right to obtain an abortion before viability and, in the case
of protecting a woman's life or health, after viability: John Paul Stevens,
Sandra Day O'Connor, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.
These five have repeatedly reaffirmed that restrictions on abortion must
not compromise a woman's health. The final judge, Anthony Kennedy, has
come down on different sides of the issue and cannot be counted on to
uphold the principles of Roe v. Wade. The What if Roe Fell?
report quotes former Justice Blackmun on the significance of the risk
to Roe v. Wade: "[t]o overturn a constitutional decision that
secured a fundamental personal liberty to millions of persons would be
unprecedented in our 200 years of constitutional history." Indeed,
the appointment of an anti-choice Supreme Court judge would likely mean
someone interested in making law, not interpreting existing law.
What if Roe Fell? outlines what activists can do now to safeguard
abortion rights should Roe v. Wade be overturned. In some states,
activists can consider sponsoring legislation to protect the right to
choose, including a Reproductive Privacy Act. They warn, however,
that many factors should be considered before proposing such legislation.
For example, Republican state legislatures may introduce retaliatory anti-choice
initiatives. In states with pre-Roe anti-abortion bans still on record,
activists may want to sponsor a repeal of those bans now. Planned Parenthood's
Post-Roe Service Delivery Task Force is also exploring other options,
including providing abortion services on Native American reservations,
which are independent of federal laws, launching programs like Women on
Waves, and equipping clinics along the border of Canada to provide services
for American women. Ultimately, activists need to inform themselves of
existing state laws, monitor developments, and be prepared to act if Roe
v. Wade is overturned.
The report assesses the risks to women's access to safe, legal abortions
in each state, and includes details on each state's political and legal
States Deemed at High Risk (21) - Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado,
Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska,
North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode island, South Carolina,
South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin.
States Deemed at Middle Risk (9) - Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois,
Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania.
States Deemed Likely Protected (20) - Alaska, California, Connecticut,
Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada,
New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington,
West Virginia, Wyoming.
The full report can be read or ordered by visiting: www.reproductiverights.orgU.S. News Bytes
Abstinence Curricula Biased, Inaccurate, and Ineffective - A Congressional
study released by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) in December found that
of 13 most commonly used abstinence-based sex-ed curricula, only two were
accurate and 11 others contained unproved claims, subjective conclusions,
or outright falsehoods regarding reproductive health, gender traits, and
when life begins. The ACLU called for an extensive review of curricula,
and Lambda Legal announced a state-by-state investigation into "abstinence-only"
education programs to see if they meet medical accuracy laws. For example,
some curricula taught that condoms do not help prevent the spread of STDs,
while others promoted stereotypes about boys and girls, such as "Women
gauge their happiness and judge their success by their relationships.
Men's happiness and success hinge on their accomplishments.'' The Bush
Administration plans to increase funding for abstinence-only based programs,
from $39 million U.S. to $270 million, but numerous studies of such programs
have failed to find any measurable impact. In one of the latest, conducted
by researchers in President Bush's home state of Texas and released last
month, teenagers in 29 high schools became even more sexually active after
taking abstinence-only courses, mirroring overall state trends. In another
new study from Yale and Columbia Universities, students who took a pledge
to remain abstinent tended to delay their sexual activity, but generally
failed to use condoms when they did have sex, so they suffered almost
the same rates of sexually-transmitted diseases as teens who did not take
an abstinence pledge. Also, pledgers were more likely to engage in anal
and oral sex than non-pledgers.
"Jane Roe" Fails to Overturn Decision Legalizing Abortion
- Since 2003, Norma McCorvey, the former "Jane Roe" plaintiff
in the famous 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion
across America, has been trying to get that decision overturned. She has
failed at every turn. McCorvey converted to the anti-choice movement in
1995, and in 2003, asked a federal district court in Dallas to re-open
the case. She urged a wide-ranging inquiry into scientific and anecdotal
evidence (consisting of affidavits from 1,000 women) that shows legal
abortion hurts women and violates their constitutional rights. The court
dismissed her request because it wasn't made within a "reasonable
time" after the 1973 judgment. McCorvey appealed to the 5th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which dismissed her case as "moot"
because the Texas laws declared unconstitutional in Roe v. Wade
had since been repealed. Finally in January of this year, McCorvey appealed
to the U.S. Supreme Court, which denied her appeal several days later
Abortion Rates Increasing Under Bush's Watch - An independent
study by an ethics professor, Glen Stassen of the Fuller Theological Seminary,
found that abortion rates rose during Bush's presidency and that the increase
is linked to economic policy. The study, released in October 2004, found
linkages between economic hardship and abortion. Two-thirds of women who
abort say they cannot afford a child; half of women who abort say they
do not have a reliable mate and co-breadwinner. Women of childbearing
age are over-represented in the 5.2 million additional persons without
health coverage since Bush's 2000 electoral "win." (Abortion
rates went down during Bill Clinton's presidency, in which he presided
over a booming economy.) In March, the Bush Administration proposed major
new cuts to its budgets for health, education, and community development,
including a $15 billion cut to Medicaid, the health insurance program
for low-income people. Fortunately, the Senate rejected the bulk of these
cuts, which would have impacted mostly women and further increased the
Hillary Clinton Migrates to Mushy Middle on Abortion - In January,
Senator Hillary Clinton spoke to 1000 abortion rights supporters at the
New York State Family Planning Providers conference, with a theme of a
more moderate stance on abortion. She said abortion "in many ways
represents a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women." And that
"people of good faith" on both sides should seek "common
ground." Her speech made national headlines, and was widely seen
as an attempt to soften her image so she can run for President in 2008.
Parents of Teenager Sue over Abortion Death -An American teenager
named Holly Patterson developed an infection and died in a San Francisco
hospital in September 2003, after using the abortion drug mifepristone
(RU-486). Last December, her parents filed wrongful death and product
liability lawsuits, which named Population Council, which sponsored the
development of mifepristone; Danco, the New York distributor; Planned
Parenthood Golden Gate, the clinic where she got the abortion pill; and
ValleyCare Health System, which runs the hospital where Patterson died.
Additionally, the FDA announced a new "black box labeling" safety
warning for Mifeprex to advise of the rare, but serious risk of bacterial
infections, sepsis, bleeding, and death that may occur following any abortion.
This labeling, however, was likely prompted by political pressure exerted
by anti-choicers and by the lack of financial backing for the drug from
its foreign manufacturer. All drugs have adverse side-effects and mifepristone
is far safer than many other drugs on the market, such as Viagra. However,
mifepristone was not even proved to be the causal factor in the several
U.S. deaths where women had taken it. In the last 20 years, tens of millions
of women worldwide have taken it safely.
"Partial-Birth" Abortion Ban Thrown Out, U.S. Government Appeals - Several abortion rights groups and doctors launched three separate legal challenges against the Bush Administration's November 2003 "partial birth" abortion ban. In 2004, three judges in New York (Richard Casey), Nebraska (Richard Kopf), and Virginia (Richard L. Williams) all independently ruled the ban unconstitutional because there was no exemption for a woman's health. Kopf ruled that Congress ignored the most experienced doctors in determining that the banned procedure would never be necessary. The Justice Department appealed, contending that Kopf ignored Congressional "evidence" that the procedure is never medically necessary (apparently missing Kopf's point that Congress never even consulted any abortion providers.) The Justice Department further denied that the ban places an undue burden on women seeking abortions, even though the law actually bans the majority of second-trimester abortions across the U.S. The department is appealing all three rulings, and all three will be affected by the appeal.