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a publication of BC's Pro-Choice Action Network
Autumn 1996 Issue
Table of Contents
Bubble Zones Are Back!
"There [must] be a reasoned demonstration of the good which the law may achieve in relation to the seriousness of the infringement." — Madam Justice McLachlin
The case against Maurice S. Lewis, the first person charged under the Access to Abortion Services Act, involved many different issues, one of the most important being his charter rights. Were his rights—freedom of religion, expression, conscience, and assembly violated? And, if they were, did these rights supersede the right of women to obtain a legal medical service?
In a strongly worded decision, Justice Mary Saunders awarded both the Crown and the pro-choice intervenors (along with their supporters) a major victory in the appeal and intervention in the case against Lewis. Judge Saunders overturned the lower court's decision and found that Lewis was indeed guilty of violating the Access to Abortion Services Act. As a direct result of this decision, THE BUBBLE ZONES ARE BACK!! And Maurice Lewis must face sentencing. This is a major triumph for those who care about fair and accessible health care for all, free of harassment and intimidation.
For those unfamiliar with the Access to Abortion Services Act (the Act), a brief history: The Act came into effect in June, 1995. It was created in response to many factors, including the Abortion Services Task Force report, which documented the limited access to abortion services throughout the province; a diminishing pool of abortion providers in BC, and repeated threatening anti-choice activity outside the clinics, including harassment and intimidation. All of these factors contribute to the negative and stressful environment in which women must obtain a legal medical service. The Act created bubble zones or protected areas outside the clinics, and abortion providers' offices and homes.
Anti-choice activity after the creation of these zones continued. At first, protesters attempted to abide by the boundaries outlined by the Act. This "calm" was short-lived. With each passing day, the anti-choice activists began to test the limits of the new law and the authorities'' willingness to uphold these laws. These tests eventually resulted in the arrest of Maurice S. Lewis, a well-known anti-choice activist who was walking within the protected area outside the clinic wearing a sandwich board covered with anti-choice slogans.
In his first trial, under presiding magistrate Judge Cronin, Lewis was found not guilty. Though both sides acknowledged that Lewis did indeed violate the Act, Lewis' lawyer Paul Formby argued that the Act itself violated Lewis' charter rights to freedom of religion, expression, assembly, and conscience. The lower court judge agreed.
The Crown and pro-choice activists were appalled at Judge Cronin's decision. Many felt that much of the evidence, including the experiences of people working at the clinic, was disallowed in the lower court. As a result, the Crown appealed. A coalition of women's groups who had a sincere and particular interest in the case applied for an intervenor status in the case, and were granted leave to intervene. They became part of the appeal process. This group of intervenors included Everywoman's Health Centre, the BC Coalition for Abortion Clinics, Elizabeth Bagshaw Clinic, the BC Women's Hospital C.A.R.E. Program, and LEAF, the Women's Legal Education Action Fund (a group that deals with equality issues for women). LEAF also donated $10,000 towards the case—THANK YOU!
Our coalition's lawyers were Nitya Iyer and Lindsay Lyster. Both of these women gave their time pro bono, and along with their research team worked hard, long hours on top of their full-time jobs for our cause. Again, THANK YOU.
In response to our intervention, a group of anti-choice organizations decided to intervene in the case. These groups included the Archdiocese of Vancouver's Respect for Life Office; The Pro-Life Society of BC, Campaign Life Coalition of BC, Feminists for Life, and Canadian Physicians for Life.
The appeal trial lasted approximately six days, the first four of which involved the original lawyers for the initial respondents arguing their case. The last two days involved arguments by the lawyers of the pro- and anti-choice coalitions. Our lawyers were fantastic. In a very limited amount of time, they came up with arguments that were compelling and articulate. They were particularly successful in relaying the fact that this case was not about the morality of abortion, but rather rested on a woman's right to obtain a legal medical service with respect and dignity, as with any other medical service.
As stated earlier, the major argument raised by Lewis' attorney was based on a charter challenge. Formby in his original arguments for Lewis had also argued the Act was not necessary: that the injunctions issued in the past had worked and that the more aggressive forms of protest outside clinics and providers' homes had diminished as a result. (Obviously, he forgot the attempted murder of Garson Romalis, which most certainly can be attributed to escalating rather than diminishing anti-choice activity.)
Formby argued that the Act did not allow for any exceptions, that it eliminated all forms of protest, even peaceful protest such as that of Lewis. Clearly the Act was an exaggerated response, not necessary, and in violation of Lewis' rights. (Several other issues were raised in the trial; however, for the purpose of this article, we have outlined only the most important ones.)
Judge Saunders presented herself as a fair-minded woman who took her job and responsibility very seriously. It was clear that she would base her decision on all the facts presented, leaving aside any personal bias. Judging by all the material placed in front of her during the trial, she had a massive job ahead.
In response to the argument raised by Formby that the Act was exaggerated, Saunders said that the Act was indeed proportionate. It was created in response to the disruptive and aggressive legacy of anti-choice activity outside the clinics and providers' homes. She even described anti-choice activity and messages as "offensive in tone and content." She described some of the pictures handed out as "creating or exaggerating shock value."
Another issue raised by the anti-choice was that access to abortion was not a privacy issue. By the nature of the service provided at the clinic—namely abortion—women have already given up their privacy interest. The judge also struck down this argument, suggesting that it was not pregnant women who give up their privacy, but the "protesters" who "strip" women of their privacy.
In conclusion, Judge Saunders conceded that some of Lewis' rights were infringed upon. However, she saw that the rights of women attempting to obtain a legal medical service with dignity and respect, and the rights of doctors and clinic workers to be able to go to work and return to their homes free of harassment and intimidation were also important. The rights of these "reasonable" people serve the greater good of society. Thus, the Act has demonstrated "good" in relation to the "seriousness of infringement." The lower court's ruling was overturned.
In response to the verdict, Lewis' lawyer said they would not appeal. He said that historically, the higher up one goes in the court system, the more likely that the court's decision would be in support of the country's law—thus, pro-choice. However, they have thirty days to appeal, so we will just have to wait and see.
Once again, our heartfelt thanks to all those involved in the appeal and intervention process. Congratulations!
Acting Like a Gerk
At the end of August, clinic records from Everywoman's Health Centre were released to pro-life activist Ted Gerk, after he filed a Freedom of Information request with the Information and Privacy Commissioner. The records consisted of detailed correspondence between the clinic and the BC College of Physicians and Surgeons, from 1990 to 1995, relating largely to the accreditation of the clinic.
Staff at the clinic were dismayed and disgusted by the decision to release the records. Spokes-person Kim Zander said that the release of the information would prove harmful to business interests and could put staff and the public at risk. She accused anti-choicers of looking for any issue that they could "conjure into a horror story."
Gerk is the public relations director of the Pro-life Society of BC. An active opponent of abortion since Everywoman's Health Centre was established, Gerk has been arrested twice for blockading the clinic, in December, 1988 and February, 1989.
Gerk has insinuated in his public statements, without a shred of evidence, that clinic procedures are suspect and possibly dangerous to women. He questioned why Everywoman's operated without initial accreditation and "without necessary life-saving equipment." This is a reference to the clinic's defibrillator, a heart-rhythm correction device that has sat collecting dust since the clinic was forced to shell out a small fortune for it several years ago to meet accreditation requirements.
"We have absolutely nothing to fear from public scrutiny," said Zander. "What we do fear is the misinformation that is given to the public by people who distort the truth." She asserted that the antis have no interest in learning about the clinic or its activities, and that what Gerk knows about clinic procedures and the clinic "could fit on the edge of a pin." Public statements made by Gerk indicate he doesn't have the public's interest in mind and based on his past behaviour, he undoubtedly hopes to find something in the records with which to continue his campaign of harassment and intimidation of the clinic and its patients.
Parker Caught Again!
More license plate numbers were illicitly searched by Delta Police Constable Steve Parker. On September 18, six new charges of "discreditable conduct" were laid against Parker after an investigation by Vancouver Police Staff Sergeant Bob Murphie.
Parker, a member of Campaign Life Coalition, was suspended for five days in June by a public inquiry board for using police computers to check license plates nearby the Everywoman's Health Centre. (See the Summer 1996 issue of Pro-Choice Press.) At that time, only five illicit searches came to light—now there are a total of eleven.
Incredibly, Murphie's findings included a recommendation that discipline for Parker be limited only to a reduction in rank. But from the beginning, pro-choice groups have called for Parker's dismissal as the only fitting punishment.
Under the Police Act, possible disciplinary measures include dismissal, a suspension without pay up to five days, or a reduction in rank. At the precious public inquiry, the last option was not available, because Parker was already at the lowest rank possible. However, shortly after receiving his five-day suspension at that inquiry, things started looking up for Parker. His superiors, instead of packing him off home for his allotted week without pay (which has yet to occur), saw fit to award him a promotion!
Obviously, it is extremely inappropriate to give a promotion to someone who has just been shown publicly to have committed a "very serious breach of public trust and his oath as a police officer," to quote the public inquiry. There is only one possible reason for the Delta Police to have taken such an action—to protect Parker from further discoveries of illicit license plate searches. We are shocked and enraged that a police force, whose duty it is to protect and serve the public, would self-servingly put its own reputation and those of its own employees ahead of the safety of women and abortion providers.
Everywoman's Health Centre has called for the Attorney General to launch a broader investigation into the surveillance and harassment of abortion-clinic workers by Parker and other anti-choice individuals and groups, as well as further investigation into whether or not Parker disseminated any of the information he retrieved.
The reason for Murphie's recommendation of a reduction in rank is the lack of evidence that Parker actually passed on information from police computers to third parties, which would be a criminal offence. But as we've demonstrated before (see Summer 1996 issue), Parker's excuse that he was only making sure the vehicle owners weren't "dangerous," to allay the fears of his mother, doesn't hold water. The only thing that makes sense is that he was using the information to identify and locate the vehicle owners, so that the anti-choice movement could track them.
The new charges against Parker will be heard before a police disciplinary hearing. But what's the point in allowing the police to investigate themselves once again, considering their track record so far? We already know the Delta police have no intention of ousting this "pillar of the community" with his fistful of commendations. We already know that much of the police activity around the abortion issue displays an obvious bias in favour of anti-choice activity.
Although we'll continue hoping that justice will be done in this case, we're not holding our breath.
An Open Letter to the Pope
by Henry Morgentaler
December 5, 1995
No doubt you will be surprised to receive a letter from a secular humanist who does not share your religious views but who subscribes to our common goals of peaceful resolution of conflicts and peace and goodwill to all people regardless of gender, race, ethnic origin, religious beliefs, or philosophical views on life.
Although I meant to write you for some time, the immediate reason I am writing you now is the assassination of Prime Minister of Israel Yitzhak Rabin and the relationship between verbal violence and violent acts.
I am writing you this letter as a secular humanist who has become quite famous in Canada for his defense of women's right to abortion, in particular the Morgentaler decision of the Supreme Court of Canada which removed abortion from the Criminal Code. I am also honorary president of the Humanist Association of Canada, a man of your generation, born in Poland in 1923, a survivor of Auschwitz and Dachau. I personally have been a target of violence that is a result of hate propaganda against abortion. When I opened an abortion clinic in Toronto in 1984, Emmett Cardinal Carter, the archbishop of Toronto, had a letter read in all the churches of his diocese in which he called upon Christians to "stop this abomination." As a result of this letter, violent protests against the clinics continued for years, culminating in its destruction by firebombing in 1992. When I opened a clinic in St. John's, Newfoundland, in November 1990, a mob directed by Archbishop Alfonsus Penney physically attacked and almost lynched me. As a medical doctor specializing in safe abortion techniques, I have had my life repeatedly threatened by opponents of abortion, and these innumerable death threats have targeted my family as well.
This is why I am writing to you now. As you may know, several doctors and other clinic workers in the United States have been murdered by anti-abortion fanatics, and two doctors in Canada have been shot and wounded—the latest incident on November 10, 1995. In the United States, a young man with the intention of becoming a Catholic priest, John Salvi, killed two young women and wounded five others just because they worked in an abortion clinic or were present there.
Like the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, violence against medical workers who perform abortions implicates the violent language in which some religious leaders condemn them. You speak of abortion as "murder," "crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize," "careless destroy[ing]," "the killing of an innocent and defenseless human being," etc. Continuous exhortations in such terms inevitably incite unbalanced and impressionable minds. Spurred on by religious leaders, among whom you are the foremost, these people direct their hatred and violence against people like me who not only provide abortion services to women but also believe abortion to be a woman's right. Those who are inflamed by violent rhetoric strike out against those of us who believe that, by offering safe medical abortions, we not only protect the women involved against death, injury, and loss of fertility but we also make it possible for children to be born when they can be welcomed and treated with love and affection.
I would like to point out to you that many people, including liberal-minded Catholic theologians and other Christians, believe that abortion is a difficult moral dilemma and that the decision whether or not to abort should be left to the individual conscience. When such a decision has been made, it should be, in my opinion, the duty of the state to honor it and the duty of the medical profession to provide it under the best conditions to ensure safety and dignity for women.
Unfortunately, in countries dominated by the Catholic church, abortion is illegal and unavailable under good medical conditions. The result is a veritable carnage of young women who fall victim to incompetent abortionists or to self-induced abortions. It is estimated by the World Health Organization that 200,000 women die each year as a result of such abortions. Arthur Koestler once coined the memorable phrase statistics don't bleed; the women who die, usually after horrible suffering, are all persons with potential cut down in the prime of their lives, often leaving orphans in their wake. It is clear that many of these deaths and injuries could be averted if the laws in those countries allowed safe medical abortions. In our native Poland, abortion has been made illegal again, at the urging of the Catholic church, and Polish women are again subject to death or injury; the only ones to escape are those rich enough to travel to neighboring countries. The government has reported a sharp increase in the number of babies abandoned, usually to die. Even in Toronto, a young Polish-Canadian woman died in 1991 of a self-induced abortion because she was afraid to face the violent picketers in front of my clinic.
I cannot imagine how you avoid reflecting on the question of both personal and institutional culpability for all the thousands of avoidable deaths of young women worldwide, as well as the impact on the children they leave motherless.
I appeal to you to issue an unequivocal condemnation of violence against health-care workers who provide abortion. I appeal to you to re-examine your attitudes and statements about abortion, in the interest of saving the lives of women across the world who might die needlessly and also of minimizing the real and continuing threat of violence by abortion opponents. I appeal to you to stop using murder, crime, the killing of the innocent, and similar inflammatory terms which incite indignation, anger, hate, and violence. Please refrain from comparing abortion to the Holocaust. As a survivor of the Holocaust, I personally find such a comparison gratuitous, insulting, and obscene. Many people—in particular Jews—share my feelings about this.
How can you compare the willful, deliberate genocide of Jews by the German state, directed by a hate-filled psychopath, to individual decisions by women to choose abortion when they find themselves unable to assume the obligations and duties of motherhood—decisions which many people consider ethical, moral, and responsible? How can you compare pre-cerebral embryos and fetuses to real live people as if they had the same value? Is it not possible for you to distinguish between potential life—which is present in billions of spermatozoa and ova, which is present in billions of early embryos—and the actual life of a person? Are you aware that about half of all embryos are spontaneously shed in what is called miscarriage or spontaneous abortion?
If spontaneous abortions are "an act of God"—to use the common expression—is it not strange that God has so little concern for fetal life that he allows so much of it to go to waste without intervening? Is it not possible to then conclude that God does not mind or object to spontaneous abortions? Why is it that the Catholic church has nothing to say about, has no ritual to mark, the abortion of so much fetal life when it occurs spontaneously, yet becomes so vociferous and condemnatory when it is a conscious decision by a woman or couple?
You are the spiritual leader of millions of Catholics around the world. Although many of them do not follow all of what you preach, they have a profound admiration and veneration for you and believe that what you say is important. For many, your word is gospel. In view of the enormous moral influence you wield, an appeal on your part to moderation would go a long way go diminish violence against abortion providers. Should you be able to modulate your views and teaching on abortion—or at least to moderate your condemnation and exhortations to the faithful to follow your position—it could possibly save lives.
I believe that the most significant beneficial change in the twentieth century—a century marked by genocide and conflict—has been the rise of the feminist movement, the drive by women to remove the shackles of oppression imposed by patriarchal societies and to achieve emancipation, equality, and dignity. Much progress has been achieved in that regard in Western democratic societies, and the trend shows promise of spreading to the rest of the world. Unfortunately, most of the opposition to the rights of women to achieve equality and dignity has come from traditional religious groups. Recently you offered a belated acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the striving of women for emancipation. I see this as a hopeful sign that maybe you could still change some of your attitudes regarding the teachings of the church on birth control and abortion.
Some time ago, I attended a dialogue in New York City between Catholic theologians and secular humanist leaders. We sat around a table and discussed issues of morality and ethics and compared our respective positions. My impression was that the exchange was fruitful mainly in that it did not allow for the demonization of the enemy, and it was clear to all that well-meaning people from different philosophical backgrounds can treat each other with politeness, deference, and respect. I feel that secular humanists and providers of abortion services alike have been demonized by religious conservatives, and I fear the violence that has been unleashed. Maybe a resumption of dialogues across religious, philosophical, and ideological lines would be helpful in preventing such demonization.
BC's New Adoption Act
BC's new Adoption Act is scheduled to take effect on November 4, replacing legislation that was written 40 years ago. Highlights of the changes include:
- Children will have a greater say in their adoptions.
- All adoptions will be regulated.
- Birth parents and adoptive parents will have more options for openness.
- Aboriginal birth parents, bands, and communities will have greater opportunities to plan for their children.
- A registry will be established to help birth fathers become involved in planning for their children.
- Adults who were adopted in BC and their birth parents will have easier access to information about each other, except where a disclosure veto has been filed by one of the parties.
For more information about the new act, call the Ministry of Social Services toll-free at 1-888-ADOPT-88 (1-888-236-7888).
New Fertility Legislation
An Abortion of Human Rights?
by Helen Janssens
In June, federal Health Minister David Dingwall introduced new fertility legislation (Bill C-47) that would:
- ban sex-selection for non-medical purposes (to prevent the abortion of female fetuses)
- regulate new reproductive technologies (such as in-vitro fertilization) and the use of fetal tissue
- forbid women from accepting money to be surrogate mothers
- prohibit commercial trade in eggs, sperm, and embryos
- restrict research on human embryos, including genetic engineering
Bill C-47 has two main goals: protecting the health and safety of women and children and establishing a broad ethical context for conduct in this field. The federal health department feels that the unregulated use of new reproductive technologies poses serious risks to human health and safety. And the reason it wants to ban practices that commercialize reproduction is because they "are contrary to the principles of human dignity, respect for life, and protection of the vulnerable." The legislation is based on the 1993 Royal Commission on Reproductive Technologies, headed by UBC geneticist Patricia Baird. As of late October, it was at second reading in the House of Commons.
Some women's groups have applauded the new legislation. On the face of it, protecting the health and safety of women and children is a legitimate and worthy goal for our government. However, let's not forget that that was the ostensible reason abortion was outlawed in America in the late 19th century. Legislation like this has a potentially discriminatory effect upon the very group it's designed to protect, simply because it restricts the options available. In fact, one of the primary effects of this legislation will be to prevent many women who want children from having them. Do we really want to slam doors in the faces of infertile women (and men) who desperately hope for a child? What happened to a woman's right to choose—not only whether and when to have a child, but how to have a child when normal methods fail? Not long ago, many Canadian women were forced to travel to the U.S. to obtain a legal abortion. So when I hear it said that some women will try to circumvent this new fertility legislation by going to the U.S., I start to feel a bit uneasy.
The government also feels a need to establish a "broad ethical context" for the fertility field. Do we really want the government forcing everyone (especially the poor), to conform to their ethics when it comes to making these very private decisions? Surely we've learned the lesson by now that legislating morality does more to restrict freedom and make some lives unfairly difficult than it does to make society a better place. Granted, the right to abort female fetuses, for example, is not something that women's groups prefer to fight for. But is outlawing it the answer? Doesn't our right-to-choose philosophy mean that a woman should be responsible for making her own decision, even if some of us personally believe it's the wrong one, or made for the wrong reason? Surely our taxes would be better spent educating people about the value of girls, instead of creating a new criminal class that will consist mostly of visible minority women.
Bill C-47 cuts to the heart of the conflict between individual freedom and societal control. The more freedom and the more choices we have, the greater moral responsibility we must bear for our actions. To some, this is a challenge they would rather do without—too much freedom causes uncertainty and anxiety. It also can result in abuses and failures. This legislation restricts freedoms in order to protect the health and safety of "women and children"—that ubiquitous phrase that lumps both groups together in one breath, as if women, like children, need paternalistic guidance and protection. But women are neither irresponsible children nor helpless victims. We must not trade in our freedoms for a government security blanket. Instead, we must show society that women are responsible moral agents capable of making their own decisions, and willing to take responsibility for them.
Next, trying to limit the attainment of scientific knowledge in this field will likely have a stifling effect on reproductive health research that could benefit women. Science and technology are generally used at least as much to help humanity as to hurt it, so why are we throwing out the bathwater with the in-vitro baby? In reality, it's too early to judge what kinds of effects, good or bad, the banned research might have. The government is simply acting out of ignorance to curtail scientific research, for fear that ethical problems might arise in the future. Meanwhile, we will all have to forego any potential benefits of embryo research and genetic engineering. If your life one day depends on the use of fetal tissue, your choices may be limited to dying with docility, like a good Canadian, or scraping together 5 or 10 thousand dollars and fleeing to an American hospital.
The final question is, what precisely is ethically wrong with doing research on human embryos? We already believe in the right to abort them, and that abortion can be a positive moral choice that gives women control over their lives. So why is it OK to abort and dispose of embryonic tissue as medical waste, but not OK to use it to further medical knowledge and help people? I believe the contradiction arises because the latter "ethic" (the one the legislation relies on), is based upon the same underlying assumptions that anti-choicers use to defend their views against abortion—that embryos are fully human, sacred, and that we mustn't play God. So, think about it—by supporting this legislation, we may be jumping blindly into bed with the anti-choicers. And I, for one, don't want to get screwed.
Pro-Life Priest a Pedophile
In September, an American Catholic priest and anti-abortion activist was arrested and charged with soliciting another man for sex with teenage boys. Monsignor Stephen Forish, 51, of the Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania, was charged with prostitution and criminal intent to corrupt the morals of a minor and promote prostitution. Forish has been an outspoken abortion foe whose writings appeared in local newspapers. We can only shake our heads in knowing disgust at this shining example of the hypocrisy of anti-choicers—the public protectors of the lives of the unborn, and the secret destroyers of the lives of those already born.
Nuts in the News
Project Choice is a cover for an American anti-choice group called Life Dynamics, of Lewisville, Texas. This group is known for its pamphlet, Bottom Feeder, the Abortionists' Jokebook, which is crudely-drawn and filled with scatological, adolescent-level jokes, obviously recycled from low-brow ethnic and lawyer jokes. An example: "What would you do if you were in a room with Hitler, Mussolini, and an abortionist, and you had a gun with only two bullets? Answer: Shoot the abortionist twice." The pamphlet was mailed to 30,000 medical students across the U.S.
Lost profit to Planned Parenthood is how Mark Crutcher (head of Project Choice, above), characterizes adoption. During a talk at the 1991 seminar of the Pro-Life Society of BC, Crutcher said that his adopted newborn daughter represented $300 lost profit to Planned Parenthood and a major loss in the ripple effect that $300 would mean to the abortion industry. "A pregnancy that results in adoption and all that that entails is a major defeat to them," he said.
A kit for suing doctors is another project designed by Project Choice. In 1993, the group mailed a 72-page guide to 4,000 lawyers across the U.S., instructing them how to sue doctors who perform abortions. The goal is to launch large numbers of malpractice and damage lawsuits. Mark Crutcher, head of Project Choice, said, "The dirty little secret is how many women are getting injured out there. I believe a lot of women are suffering in silence because they don't know they can sue."
RU-486 Approved in U.S.
by Jennifer Whiteside
The American Food and Drug Administration approved mifepristone in conjunction with miso-prostol for non-surgical abortions on September 18. The approval marks the end of a 13-year battle waged by American feminists to make the treatment available for American women.
Although clinical trials were conducted at the University of Southern California on the use of RU-486 in 1983, the anti-choice lobby, by threat of boycott, prevented the European manufacturer of the drug, Roussel Uclaf, from applying for a license to market the drug in the US. RU-486 has been available in France since 1988, and is used in Great Britain and Sweden.
In May 1994, Roussel Uclaf assigned the U.S. patent rights to the Population Council, who had been involved in the campaign with the Feminist Majority Foundation and the National Abortion Rights Action League to introduce RU-486 in the U.S. Given that Roussel Uclaf is not involved in the development or licensing of the drug in the U.S., the name of the drug is now referred to by its scientific name—Mifepristone. The drug is more than 95% effective in terminating pregnancies to nine weeks.
NARAL notes that "Mifepristone, which shows promise for treating breast cancer, endometriosis and uterine fibroids, is one of many scientific advances thwarted by anti-choice forces. For more than a decade, abortion opponents have blocked research in contraceptive technology, infertility treatments, human embryo research, and fetal tissue research. Such research could benefit the health of millions of Americans suffering from diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, AIDS, Parkinson's disease, and other serious medical conditions."
Mifepristone is not available in Canada, although the BC government has asked the federal government to speed the approval of the American manufacturer's application to test the drug through the Health Protection Branch. Once the drug is approved for testing, clinical trials will be conducted at the BC Woman's Hospital. Letters of support for the approval of RU-486 in Canada and BC can be sent to: David Dingwall, Federal Minister of Health, #325 E Block, House of Commons, Ottawa, ON, K1A 0A6 (no postage necessary); and to Joy McPhail, Provincial Minister of Health, 1515 Blanshard St., Victoria, BC, V8W 3C8.
And Soon, Methotrexate, Too!
Planned Parenthood of America announced in September that it has received clearance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for a nationwide study of early medical abortion using methotrexate and misoprostol (see our Winter 95/96 issue for information on this abortion technique). If the study demonstrates that methotrexate and misoprostol are safe and effective, American women will soon have access to two different medical abortion methods, one using methotrexate and one using mifepristone (RU-486). Planned Parenthood plans to collect data on 3,000 cases for submission to the FDA. If all goes well, methotrexate abortions may be legally available to women within a few months. Methotrexate abortions are already available in BC. For more information, call Dr. Ellen Wiebe at 873-8303.
Over Embryo Destruction, Selective Abortion, Rights of Fetuses
We've all heard a lot in recent months about several stories involving frozen embryo destruction, selective abortion in multiple pregnancies, and the rights of fetuses over expectant mothers who abuse drugs or shoot themselves in the belly. We won't rehash all the details, but would just like to make a few points.
Ethically speaking, it may be appropriate to have more concern over what happens to human embryos than say, animal embryos. But how much more concern? Human embryos have no recognizable human form—they are a collection of cells and so do not qualify as human beings in any real sense, .except potentially. And potential means nothing unless it's realized. The decision if what to do with leftover frozen embryos should be left up to the "parents," and if that is not possible, we would argue that it is more ethical to destroy them than it is to offer them up for adoption without the parents' knowledge or consent. Although the destruction of embryos should not be done without regret, it's no reason for people to tie themselves up in knots.
Since the fetus is not legally a person, is has no rights over the mother, right up until the day it's born. Although that's the black and white answer, it may not satisfy all of us. Pro-choicers are not left unmoved by the plight of abused or unwanted fetuses being brought to term, but in dealing with the realities of women's lives, it becomes apparent that children, and by extension all of society, are better off when women are informed, free, and empowered. In such a society, fewer babies will be born to drug-addicted mothers, and fewer unwanted pregnancies will be brought close to term before a desperate "abortion" is attempted.
Finally, when you're dealing with a highly personal issue like reproduction, in a complex and difficult world like ours, some people will do things that we may feel uncomfortable with. These actions are often driven by fear, desperation, and/or ignorance, and the women involved need compassion and support, not censure. Remember, there are always a few people who will fall through the cracks or even abuse the system. We shouldn't let that distract us from the main issue—the right of women to control their reproductive lives.
Canadian Women's Health Network
After years of planning, the reality of a nation-wide online health network is happening. A national coordinating team of women has been working for several years towards creating the Canadian Women's Health Network (CWHN), a network of shared health care information that includes strategies and insights for change to benefit all women. Women's groups have always organized socially on healthcare issues and have always worked for alternative strategies in healthcare. We have always responded to emerging issues as it relates to our health. With the implementation of the CWHN, we can push for these "alternative strategies" to become "mainstream," strive for change, and create a place where healthcare will meet our needs.
Recently, Health Canada funded the Centres of Excellence for Women's Health. The idea is to put together diverse groups of women from community groups to service providers to academic researchers, all working towards women-centred policy and research that meets women's healthcare needs. This is a dynamic time where BCCAC's voice can be heard nationally outside of its traditional networks. With the CWHN, BCCAC can send its message to a more diverse group of women who are working with women's healthcare. We will be able to share our ideas and strategies with other like-minded groups and learn from other women's groups.
The CWHN wants to organize a provincial committee that will respond to BC's vision of what women's healthcare needs are. They are looking for women who will volunteer their time and share their ideas and information around healthcare. The CWHN needs the voices of all women for it to be truly a diverse network that links women, health, action and ideas together. Their work in BC is significant and must be shared. If you would like more information about the CWHN and are interested in creating a voice in BC by developing a provincial network, please contact:
Robin Barnett at 875-3136 (w) or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or
Megan Graham at 736-4234 (w) or by e-mail at email@example.com
If you have access to a computer and modem you can access the CWHN web page at http://www.web.apc.org/cwhn
Elizabeth Bagshaw Women's Clinic
a report by staff member Cheryl Davies
As one of the intervenors in the "buffer zone" appeal case recently heard in the BC Supreme Court, the Elizabeth Bagshaw Women's Clinic is ecstatic at Justice Mary Saunder's decision to uphold the Access to Abortion Services Act. We consider this a victory not only for the abortion providers and women of BC, but those all across Canada! We are very proud of the many people who worked together to win the appeal and would like to extend our deep thanks and appreciation to them. Thank you!
For the patients and staff at the Elizabeth Bagshaw Women's Clinic, the bubble zone" means that people may now enter the building without having to run the gauntlet of anti-choice picketers who display their offensive signs and literature. One of the reasons why many women choose to come to our clinic, which is housed in a multi-use facility, is because of the anonymity that our clinic offers. The bubble zone legislation serves to protect women's right to privacy and access to this legal reproductive health care service by keeping anti-choice protesters a reasonable distance away from our clinic.
The Elizabeth Bagshaw Women's Clinic is an accredited non-hospital facility that has been in operation since 1989. The clinic is a member of the National Abortion Federation, which ensures our counselling procedures and record-keeping meet certain regulated standards. The Clinic provides services, which are covered by the Medical Services Plan of BC, to women throughout the province. Services are also available on a fee-for-service basis to non-resident women who need them. The Clinic has a waiting list of about two weeks, and the Clinic accepts women on a cancellation list. Appointments are booked on a "first-come, first-serve" basis. Though many women are referred to the clinic by women's centres, physicians, and Planned Parenthood, women may book an appointment without a doctor's referral. Abortion services are provided up to the 14th week of pregnancy. In addition, the Clinic provides both pre- and post-abortion counselling, birth control information, RH and hemoglobin testing, screening for sexually transmitted diseases, and non-coercive decision-making counselling to review all options available to the woman.
All procedures are performed under a local anaesthetic. In addition to the emotional and physical support offered by counselling and nursing staff, analgesics and sedatives are available to women who wish to use them for comfort and relaxation. As well, women may bring a "significant other" with them into the procedure room if they wish. Though the procedure takes about 5-10 minutes, women typically stay at the Clinic an average of two hours to permit adequate counselling and recovery time. Trained counsellors see every woman prior to a procedure to review the procedure, ensure informed consent, and assist with any concerns the woman may have.
The Elizabeth Bagshaw Women's Clinic is situated in the Hycroft Medical Building at 16th Street and Granville Street. The Clinic is open Monday to Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Appointments are available Tuesday to Friday and may be made by calling 736-7878. Free educational workshops on abortion services and related issues are also available and may be arranged by calling the Clinic. Donations to the Clinic are always welcome to enhance clinic services. Tax-deductible receipts are available as the Clinic is a registered non-profit society.
Abortion and Breast Cancer
Is There a Link?
A new medical study published in the October issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health has concluded that women who have had an abortion carry a 30% increased risk of developing breast cancer. The authors speculated that the higher risk may be triggered by the buildup of estrogen during pregnancy that causes breasts to grow. They said that women who carry to term are protected by a burst of hormones that lead to the production of milk and that having an abortion would eliminate that protection.
However, one of the four doctors who authored the study, Joel Brind, is anti-choice, is associated with anti-abortion groups, and writes for anti-abortion publications. The findings also generally contradict previous studies, the majority of which have found little or no increased risk. Overall, the evidence suggesting a link between abortion and breast cancer is inconclusive at worst. Given the source of this latest study, there is no compelling reason to believe that the evidence has become any more conclusive, although further study is certainly called for.
If there is any validity to the findings, women deserve to be fully informed of possible risks to their health. On the other hand, we need to remember how the anti-choice aggressively exploit and exaggerate news such as this. They have no compunction about suppressing facts and information that oppose their ideology and will use this one isolated study as a weapon to frighten and intimidate women seeking abortions, and not to help them make an informed, rational decision.
A recently published report claims that fetuses may feel pain as early as six weeks, and that fetuses should be given painkillers during abortions. The report was published by the Commission of Inquiry into Fetal Sentience, a group set up by C.A.R.E., a Christian education charity.
The report's main finding was that it's not possible to say exactly when a fetus may feel pain, but there are sensory receptors present over almost all its body surface by 14 weeks' gestation, and all the structures necessary for the perception of pain are in place by 26 weeks. Apparently, some experts said the ability to feel pain may occur from 13 weeks while others said a fetus may feel pain from as early as six weeks.
Although we don't have enough information to decide whether or not the report is biased, the fact that it was commissioned by a Christian charity group is cause for serious suspicion. Also, the claim that fetuses may feel pain as early as six weeks contradicts the scientific data that pain receptors are not in place until the 14th week.
This claim very conveniently throws ethical doubts onto all surgical abortions, which are not normally performed until after the seventh week.
Undoubtedly, this report will be extensively relied upon by the anti-choice to restrict or complicate abortion services and to make women feel guilty and anxious. (The anti-choice like to increase women's guilt and anxiety, then turn around and condemn abortion because it causes guilt and anxiety.)
However, if there is any case at all for the fetus feeling pain during a surgical abortion, the pro-choice movement can turn it into a golden opportunity to promote and lobby for the alternative use of medical abortion techniques (RU-486 and methotrexate), which are used prior to seven weeks.
Good News From Poland
On October 25, by a mere eight votes, Poland passed a new law easing the country's harsh restrictions on abortion, imposed four years ago at the instigation of the Roman Catholic Church. Women can now terminate pregnancies until the 12th week if they are financially or emotionally unprepared to have a child. The law also provides for mandatory sex education programs in schools and lower-cost contraceptives. The head of the Federation for Women and Family Planning in Warsaw said "It is a victory for the poorest and least-educated women in our country." The law was passed in spite of heavy pressure from Catholic officials, and widespread public protests from anti-choicers.
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