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a publication of BC's Pro-Choice Action Network
Spring 1998 Issue
Table of Contents
Alabama Clinic Bombing
An off-duty police officer was killed instantly and a nurse seriously injured in a bomb blast at a Birmingham, Alabama abortion clinic on January 29. The bomb exploded about 7:30 am, just as staff were beginning to arrive at the New Woman All Women Health Care clinic for work. It was the first fatal bombing at an abortion clinic in North America, although many clinics have been bombed over the years. The New Woman clinic had been a frequent target of anti-abortion protests.
The police officer, Robert Sanderson, had just finished his regular night shift for the Birmingham Police Department and had gone to the clinic as usual to work as a moonlighting security officer. The clinic’s Nursing Director, Emily Lyons, was in critical condition after the blast. She suffered severe abdominal, leg, hand, and facial injuries. She lost her left eye and had an injury to her right eye. An anti-abortion protester was also slightly injured by blast debris. (And ironically, Officer Sanderson was personally against abortion, according to a later statement by Emily Lyon’s husband.)
The bomb was a small device, packed with nails and set off by dynamite. It appears to have been deliberately designed to kill or wound, rather than inflict property damage. There was little structural damage to the clinic, which reopened on Feb. 3. However, the blast was strong enough to sever one of Officer Sanderson’s legs.
In the wake of the bombing, the National Abortion Federation, Planned Parenthood of America, and National Coalition of Abortion Providers issued nation-wide bomb alerts to affiliates and clinics. Clinics were told to beware of any packages coming to the clinic, especially candy, flowers, and stuffed toys. Authorities also cautioned Birmingham-area gay nightclubs to be on guard.
The FBI and the federal bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) have been investigating the bombing and links to other bombings. A few days after the Birmingham bomb, the Army of God (which is not an organized group, but a convenient label used by some anti-abortion terrorists) claimed responsibility for the bombing and threatened additional bombings in a letter sent to two different news agencies. Federal agents intercepted the letter and said it was similar to letters received last year after the bombing of an Atlanta abortion clinic in January 1997 and a gay/lesbian nightclub in February. The Army of God had also claimed responsibility for these explosions. (At the Atlanta clinic, two bombs went off an hour apart, injuring seven in the second blast.)
All of the letters used the same heavy, capitalized, block script and contained an identical "code" intended to establish the letters’ legitimacy. The Birmingham letter described in detail how the bombings were carried out. In addition, the Atlanta letters described the ingredients used in the Atlanta clinic and nightclub bombs, which were similar to the nail bombs used in the Birmingham bombing and in the Olympic bombing in July, 1996 in Atlanta that killed one person and injured over 100. (The Army of God is also associated with the threatening letters and packages sent to the Hamilton Spectator newspaper in December, following the shooting of Dr. Jack Fainman of Winnipeg.)
Investigators now have strong evidence linking all of these bombings together. A single federal task force was set up in mid-March to investigate all the bombings.
On February 2nd, police announced a suspect in all of the bombings—Eric Robert Rudolph of North Carolina. Rudolph, a part-time carpenter, has links to a right-wing, white supremacist militia group in North Carolina, and has been reported to be a possible Holocaust-denier and clinic picketer. Although not yet apprehended, he has been formally charged with the Birmingham bombing and is a strong suspect in the other bombings.
After searching Rudolph’s mobile home and rented storage shed, federal agents found four-centimetre flooring nails identical to the ones used as shrapnel in the Atlanta clinic bombs and the Birmingham bomb. A book called How to Build Bombs of Mass Destruction was also discovered in the shed, and in Rudolph’s home, investigators found a wig. Witnesses at the clinic the day of the Birmingham bombing reported seeing a man with a wig get into a pickup truck registered to Rudolph. This truck was spotted about a mile from the clinic shortly after the explosion and was later found abandoned by hunters early in February. Police suspect Rudolph may have used the truck as a getaway vehicle. There were also reports that police dogs had sniffed out nitroglycerine residue both in the storage locker and in Rudolph’s pickup truck. Rudolph also may have attended an anti-abortion rally in Birmingham five days before the bombing. Composite sketches of suspects in the Atlanta clinic bomb and the Olympic bomb both resemble Rudolph.
Small steel plates built into the Olympic bomb matched metal plates in the two Atlanta clinic bombs, and were specially cut from steel found at a metal-working plant in Franklin, North Carolina, which employed a friend of Rudolph’s.
Rudolph has become a fugitive. The search for him has focused on the rugged wilderness area of western North Carolina, where he has sometimes lived. Investigators are offering a $100,000 US reward for his arrest and conviction.
Anti-Choice Letters Target BC Doctors
Two different anti-choice groups have sent out letters to BC’s health care providers, asking them to inform on their colleagues who perform abortions or refer for abortions.
In late February, the Kelowna Right to Life association sent a letter to all health care providers in the Okanagan region. Then, on March 16th, a group called PRICE (Concerned Nurses for Patients Rights Informed Consent Ethics) sent a letter to doctors in the rest of BC. This letter was signed by Cecilia von Dehn, a non-practising registered nurse who is a prominent anti-choice activist, and who owns the house next door to the Everywoman’s Health Centre, from which she engages in regular protests against the clinic.
Both of the letters are very similar in wording to a sample letter put out by an American anti-choice group, Life Dynamics, of Texas. Judging from the content of their materials, this group appears to espouse violence against abortion providers. They produce a kit that contains letters that can be copied and sent to doctors, building owners, and clinic workers. One letter from Life Dynamics president Mark Crutcher is signed off "Happy Hunting." There is a sample script that anti-abortionists can use to call doctors’ offices, pretending to be the parent of a pregnant 15-year old, in order to find out if the doctor does abortions. The kit even includes a jokebook containing crude and offensive jokes that target abortion providers. A sample joke reads: "What would you do if you found yourself in a room with Hitler, Mussolini, and an abortionist and you had a gun with only two bullets? Shoot the abortionist twice."
Many of Life Dynamics’ initiatives are done under the deceptive name "Project Choice." In fact, Von Dehn (PRICE) included a glossy Life Dynamics brochure in her letter that reports on a survey of American abortion providers that Life Dynamics fraudulently carried out under their "Project Choice" banner. The group convinced doctors and pro-choice groups that they were students doing a research project on anti-choice harassment, and assured anonymity to responding doctors. A former board member of Life Dynamics later revealed that the postage-paid, self-addressed envelopes that the group included with the survey were encoded with invisible ultraviolent ink identifying the abortion provider who received the envelope. The survey results are now being used to embarrass and target the responding doctors and discourage other doctors from performing abortions.
Links exist between this extreme American anti-choice group and the BC anti-choice movement. Life Dynamics president Mark Crutcher mentions Ted Gerk (former director of Kelowna Right to Life) in the acknowledgements of his latest book, Lime 5. And Gerk himself was published in the March issue of The Interim, Campaign Life Coalition’s newspaper, where he enthusiastically praised Mark Crutcher and his Life Dynamics strategies, and encouraged their use in BC.
An excerpt from the Kelowna Right to Life letter:
"... Many of these citizens [who are against abortion] want to know who the medical personnel are who participate in abortions. ... We feel that it is our responsibility to make this information available. ... We are asking you to let us know if you are aware of anyone involved in one of the following activities:
- performing elective abortions through chemical means
- performing elective abortions and calling them D&C’s
- performing unnecessary D&C’s to cover up for sloppy obstetrical care
- referring women to doctors who are known to perform any of the above"
PRICE’s letter contained the same list, with one more item added to it: "not reporting to proper authorities damage done to aborted women." It also mentions that "We will be continuing and expanding our longstanding boycott of abortionists with our updated list. Abortion is always dangerous and it must be open for public scrutiny." Both letters encouraged informants to remain anonymous.
Bruce Swan, chief operating officer for Vernon Health Services, said that Vernon Jubilee Hospital would never release any names. He also said that a Vernon-based anti-abortion group had in the past, under the Freedom of Information Act, asked for the names of doctors performing abortions at Vernon Jubilee (the only hospital in the Okanagan that does them). All that was released to them was the fact that 322 abortions were performed there in 1996/97.
Kelowna Right to Life is "clearly trying to intimidate doctors" said Dr. Lianne Lacroix, a family physician and member of Planned Parenthood. "It’s like they want to set up a hit list of doctors." She noted that one local doctor has had his life threatened, and other doctors are concerned for their safety. In fact, many doctors are angered and upset over both of the letters and have complained to the Ministries of Health and Attorney General, and local police.
The letters may be in violation of the Access to Abortion Services Act. This Act prohibits the protest of "issues related to abortion services" within 50 metres of facilities that provide abortions, and within 10 metres of doctors’ offices that provide abortions. Since the Act’s definition of protest encompasses written means, and since these letters were distributed directly to doctors’ offices by mail, the letters should fall into the category of prohibited activities under the Act. Outside the access zones, the Act also generally prohibits harassment and threatening conduct that is aimed at discouraging the provision of abortion services.
Campaign Life Coalition, Canada’s national "pro-life" group, has defended the Kelowna Right to Life letter, saying the list would not be made public to prevent it from being "misused." Instead, "callers to the association can ask whether specific doctors do abortions." This claim is naive at best, and dangerous at worst. Any dissemination of names would not only target doctors for harassment, but would create a risk of violent attacks on doctors by radicals in the anti-choice movement.
Ted Gerk, former director of Kelowna Right to Life, and now with the Pro-Life Society of BC, said, "The real issue here is that physicians should be truthful with their patients about whether they do or don’t do abortions." But as a Vancouver Sun editorial rightly pointed out on March 5: "The real issue is that abortion is a legal medical service, yet anti-abortionists continue to try to limit access by making doctors fear for their safety. It is contemptible." We agree. And considering that a national Task Force is investigating the shootings of three Canadian doctors, the sending of these letters amounts to a callous lack of regard for doctors’ safety.
Attorney-General Ujjal Dosanjh expressed his concern about the apparent link between the American group Life Dynamics and Kelowna Right to Life. He said that if the level of harassment of doctors and other abortion service providers continues, he may have to look at legal ways to combat the problem. To this, we reply that if all the years that abortion providers and clinics have had to live with shootings, bomb scares, threats, stalkings, and other harassment isn’t enough, what will ever convince Dosanjh to take action?
Penny Priddy, BC Minister of Health, publicly denounced the Okanagan letter, calling it "terror tactics." She said that the BC government will "do whatever it takes" to ensure access to abortion services, adding that Victoria is considering measures to ensure the safety of doctors and other health professionals. Priddy confided that she had received an abortion-related death threat while she was women’s equality minister.
The BCCAC sent a letter to Penny Priddy, thanking her for her quick condemnation and encouraging her to work with the Attorney General to protect abortion providers. In addition, the BCCAC asked the Attorney General to take immediate political and legal steps to counter the harassment, and to protect BC doctors from further harassment and the threat of possible violence.
In response to our letter, Priddy has informed regional health boards that to give out names of abortion providers to the letter writers would be a breach of the Freedom of Information Act. She has also informed the RCMP, and instructed the BC College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Registered Nurses Association of BC (RNABC), and the BC Nurses Union (BCNU), not to give any information to the anti-choice groups. Both the RNABC and BCNU have condemned the PRICE letter, saying that Von Dehn’s use of the title "RN" in her letter is a violation of nursing standards and ethics.
Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh has passed on the anti-choice letters to the Criminal Justice Branch, which is investigating whether the letters contravene the Access to Abortion Services Act. A letter writing campaign was also initiated by the BCCAC, so that health care workers who have received the letters can apply additional pressure to the Attorney General. A sample letter is available from the BCCAC.
Vernon Bomb Scare
On March 2nd, only a week after the Kelowna Right to Life association sent out a letter to area health care providers asking them to inform on their colleagues who perform abortions, a briefcase with an anti-abortion message was found in the parking lot of Vernon Jubilee Hospital. A large placard with the message "Abortion is wrong—our mission is strong" was attached to the briefcase with a stick. Vernon Jubilee is the only hospital in the Okanagan that performs abortions.
A police bomb squad investigated and the briefcase turned out to be empty. No one has been charged with the hoax and the RCMP have few clues as to who is responsible.
Update on Doctor Shootings
The RCMP Task Force appointed to investigate the shootings of three Canadian doctors over the last four years (the Remembrance Day shootings) has issued virtually no information on the progress, if any, of their investigation. We do know that the Task Force has failed to question any prominent anti-choice activists, such as John Hof of BC’s Campaign Life Coalition, who has willingly offered his assistance to the investigation. (Unlike us, the Task Force apparently does not make the natural assumption that these folks are the most likely ones to have knowledge of possible suspects or of related anti-choice activity).
With no information or assurances forthcoming from the Task Force, a few prominent members of the abortion services community are losing faith and have become somewhat cynical about the usefulness of the Task Force. Meanwhile, doctors are being left to fend for themselves in the dark, where they continue to worry for their safety, take special precautions, and wonder who the sniper’s next target will be.
Radical Women Speak Up
Our thanks goes out to Radical Women (a local socialist feminist organization) for their strong condemnation of the violence both here and in the United States.
Radical Women issued a damning press release following the Birmingham bombing that held the right-wing anti-abortion movement and the federal Liberal government accountable for anti-choice violence. They claimed that government drags its heels in investigations and that the anti-choice give aid and support to the Klan, racists, and Nazi skinheads who bomb clinics. In their press release, Radical Women demanded that:
- funds be provided by the federal government to pay for 24-hour armed self-defense of clinics, since bubble zones and volunteer security are not enough to guarantee safe access
- a quick and thorough investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the Birmingham clinic bombing and killings, and murder attempts on Canadian doctors
- free abortion on demand to any woman, at any age, including all-expense paid access to abortion for women in rural and remote areas, and availability of abortion at all publicly funded facilities
- an independent, grassroots commission to investigate the connections between the anti-abortionists and other violent ultra-rightists and bring them to account for their violence against women, gays, First Nations, people of colour, Jews, radicals, and labour activists
Although many anti-choice groups publicly condemn the violence against clinics and abortion providers, they don’t do nearly enough to distance themselves from it, or prevent it from happening in the first place. In an article by Vancouver pro-choice activist Will Offley, published in the March issue of Body Politic, a US pro-choice magazine, Offley points out that if the anti-choice really want to offload responsibility for the violence, they must stop their use of violent language.
"As long as they keep using this inflammatory rhetoric, they have to bear the responsibility for those that listen to their words, believe their words, and then act on them," said Offley. In his article, he shows that a number of mainstream "pro-life" leaders, such as former abortion doctor Bernard Nathanson, either espouse violence openly, or show ambivalence by criticizing the violence while asserting that doctors are murdering babies and should be stopped, using lethal force if necessary.
In addition, many mainstream anti-choice groups who say they are against the violence, as well as the anti-abortion Catholic Church hierarchy, have no qualms about associating with, and giving respect to, those who do call for violence against abortion providers. Offley provides numerous examples of this, pointing out that the anti’s are acting as if there is some valid distinction between violent words and violent acts. But as he says, "the gap between words and deeds just won’t wash any more."
If the anti’s think that clinic violence is murder, they must act like it, starting with their leaders. They have to recognize that "words kill" (as Offley succinctly puts it) and that guilt by association can be ended simply by being more selective about who they bump elbows with.
Teen Pregnancies Rising
The teenage pregnancy rate in Canada has risen in recent years and an increasing number of those pregnancies end in abortion, Statistics Canada reported recently. Teen pregnancies had been declining steadily since the late 1950’s, but that trend reversed in 1987. The number of pregnant teens increased from 39,340 in 1987 to 46,753 in 1994, with a slight drop to 45,771 in 1995. In 1994, the rate was lowest in Prince Edward Island, and highest in Manitoba.
There was also an increase in the number of abortions. In 1974, 26% of teen pregnancies ended in abortion. By 1995, that number had increased to 45%. Teenage abortions accounted for one-fifth of all abortions in Canada in 1994. The Statistics Canada report concluded that teens "have not fully benefited" from sex education and the wide availability of contraceptives. However, family planning advocates say the statistics are proof that government sex-education campaigns have failed, partly because they often rely on scare tactics. Bonnie Johnson, executive director of Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada, said, "All you see are kids getting negative messages. They’re going to get pregnant, or get AIDS and die. Kids just laugh at that, because they feel they’re infallible."
There is great reason to be concerned about the high teenage pregnancy rate, especially when girls decide to have their babies. The babies are often born into single parenthood, poverty, and chronic unemployment. The mortality rate for babies with teen mothers is three times that for babies with older mothers, because of the tendency for teen moms to be poor and malnourished. Also, teen moms have a greater risk of giving birth prematurely, or having a baby with congenital abnormalities. There are also high social costs. Most teen mothers drop out of school and the majority end up on welfare. Their chances of employment in the future are diminished and their daughters are more likely to become teen moms themselves, perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
Dr. John Millar, BC’s provincial health officer, says BC must address the underlying social and economic factors that lead to teen pregnancy—high unemployment and low education. Availability of birth control services also plays a role. Marcena Croy of Planned Parenthood for BC, says the agency can document the rise in teen pregnancies when communities sever services or don’t allow them to be established. The education ministry requires that all students be informed of birth control methods in Grades 11 and 12, but according to Millar, that’s way too late. "These kids are becoming sexually active in Grade 8. ... They need training, a role-playing situation, so they can experience date pressure before it happens," Millar said. Croy agreed, saying that sex education isn’t just about birth control and plumbing. "Teens need relationship and communication counseling."
But even basic information does not seem to be getting out. Sharon Jagich, the nurse coordinator with the Surrey Memorial Hospital youth clinic, says the most common phrase she hears is "I never thought I could get pregnant." Teens often have inaccurate information about sex, such as a belief that chewing garlic will prevent pregnancy. But Jagich says the biggest contributor to the teen pregnancy rate is socio-economic. Girls who have been sexually abused or who are living in poverty see pregnancy as a way out.
Another aspect of teen pregnancies is the irresponsibility of male adults, who form the majority of fathers. Statistics Canada reported that 54% of babies born to mothers 17 or younger had fathers who were 20 or older. When a girl gets pregnant, the man usually abandons her.
(Source: Vancouver Sun, Jan. 17 and Jan. 28 )
UN Study Links Anti-Abortion Laws to Women’s Deaths
An estimated 20 million women in the world risk their lives with unsafe abortions every year, and about 80,000 of those women die, according to a United Nations report by the World Health Organization agency (WHO). The report said there was evidence that anti-abortion laws are linked to higher rates of unsafe abortions and maternal deaths.
WHO said it compiled the report to promote safe motherhood, the theme of this year’s World Health Day on April 7, not to advocate abortions. Of women undergoing unsafe abortions, about 95% are from developing countries, where the procedure is often performed by unqualified practitioners using unclean tools and crude methods. The methods include pressing weights on a woman’s abdomen to expel the fetus, vigorous massages, prescribing special "potions," inserting a stick or needle into the cervix, and injecting soap into the uterus. These methods increase the risk of infection, hemorrhaging, and puncturing or tearing of the uterus. If a woman survives, she may have long-term problems, such as chronic pelvic pain, pelvic inflammatory disease, tubal blockage, and secondary infertility. Between 10% and 50% of all women undergoing unsafe abortions suffer such complications.
Incest, rape, religious beliefs, and lack of contraception contribute to unwanted pregnancies, and thus unsafe abortions, around the world, said the report. Dr. Jerker Liljestrand, a WHO specialist, said that, "The poorer the woman, the more likely she’ll have to settle for a more dangerous abortion. He added that in developing countries, "there isn’t the backup necessary if complications arise." Nevertheless, up to 50% of the hospital budgets in some developing countries are used to treat complications from unsafe abortions.
The WHO report said that legalizing abortion does not necessarily increase abortion rates. For example, the Netherlands has free abortion on demand, along with widely accessible contraceptives and good sex education, but it has the lowest abortion rate in the world. The report also claimed that Barbados, Canada, Tunisia, and Turkey have all changed their abortion laws to allow for easier access without increasing abortion rates. (This claim is dubious, however, due to the unreliability of abortion statistics when abortion is against the law. In Canada, abortion rates have increased fairly steadily since 1969, when the law was first liberalized.)
Antics of Gordon Watson
Ended or Endless?
In January, local anti-choice activist Gordon Watson accused government officials of scheming to deny him access to records of abortion clinics. Watson was enjoying "qualified privilege" in front of a special legislative committee reviewing the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. (Qualified privilege means that his comments were protected from legal action because they were made to a subcommittee of the legislature.) He accused one official of accepting a bribe, naming him, and said others were complicit in covering up information he says exists that shows the NDP government is getting kickbacks from abortion clinics. Committee chair Erda Walsh tried several times to prevent Watson from continuing his accusations, but eventually had to order his microphone cut off.
In addition to his heavy workload of harassing clinics and the pro-choice movement, Watson finds time to stick his nose into other government affairs. In February, he filed a private information (com-plaint) against deputy premier Dan Miller. Watson claims Miller was conspiring to obstruct justice when he authorized a government lawyer to call the judge overseeing the province’s bailout of the troubled Skeena Cellulose pulp mill in Miller’s North Coast riding. Watson met with prosecutor Martin Taylor to present his case against Miller.
Premier Glen Clark said, "I’m disappointed, obviously, in anybody who would file a private information. I’m also disappointed in people who want to use the court system for what may be political means. Mr. Watson has a bit of a history of that." Clark added that he was sure Watson’s complaint would be dismissed. Sure enough, it was, two weeks later, but Watson has vowed to take his complaint to the BC Supreme Court.
This is not the first time Watson has taken an action like this. In 1994, he filed a private information against Colin Gabelmann, then BC’s Attorney-General. Watson had filed a freedom of information (FOI) request to obtain information about a meeting between senior officials of the Ministry of Attorney General and operators of Vancouver’s three abortion clinics. At this meeting, Watson’s anti-abortion crusade was on the agenda. In response to Watson’s FOI request, Gabelmann signed a sworn affidavit in which he said he had no recollection of taking notes at the meeting. The Ministry then copied the file for Watson without even reviewing its contents—and there were in fact some brief, scribbled (but insignificant) notes by Gabelmann. Watson forced Gabelmann to amend the affidavit.
The Gabelmann incident was a perfect example of how Watson, a self-appointed advocate for freedom of information, has wasted large amounts of taxpayers’ money and government resources only to hinder the intent of freedom of information laws. Because of his many frivolous complaints and litigations, government has now become extremely cautious about putting anything into writing, including important things the public might really want to know about.
However, abortion providers and the pro-choice community may not have to worry about any more ongoing harassment from him. Questioned by reporters as to whether his action against Dan Miller was linked with his anti-abortion activities, Watson replied, "My previous experience as an anti-abortionist [and] all that happened—I’m past that now. It just taught me about law."
We’d love to believe that! And we will, as soon as we stop seeing his face in our rearview mirrors, stop having to run back into the clinic when he tries to accost us, and stop screening calls at our day job to avoid him. (Thanks for the memories, Gordon.)
Postscript: As we go to press, we have just learned that Watson has informed the Ministry of Health that he plans to break the bubble zone legislation "very soon."
(Source: Vancouver Sun, Jan. 16 and Feb. 28)
Thanks to all who attended the BCCAC music and dance event on January 24, our celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Morgentaler decision that threw out Canada’s old abortion law.
A diverse collection of performances, including two amusing stories by Dunc Shields, ensured that a good time was had by all. To wrap up the evening, the all-woman jazz band, Mother of Pearl, delivered a dynamic performance that got everyone out on the dance floor. In spite of many expenses, including the hiring of two professional security guards (well worth it for everyone’s peace of mind!), the BCCAC managed to break even. Thanks to all for making this event a success!
Although Canadian women’s reproductive rights have been much enhanced since the Supreme Court decision ten years ago, there is still a long road ahead of us. Access is still difficult for women living outside major centres and lack of funding in many provinces often means delays and hardship for poor women seeking abortions. A declining pool of abortion providers due to retirement, combined with the increase in anti-choice harassment and violence, is also putting existing and future abortion services at risk. So, even as we celebrate our victories, we must remain vigilant to protect them, and continue working hard to build on them.
In the United States, the American celebration of the 25th anniversary of their Roe vs. Wade decision was somewhat muted due to the serious erosion of abortion rights over the years. Since the historic decision on Jan. 22, 1973, a majority of states have enacted laws that curtail reproductive freedom, especially for poor women and teenagers. There has also been a dramatic drop in the number of abortion clinics and of doctors who perform the procedure throughout the US. In fact, there are no abortion providers in 84% of US counties. To add injury to insult, only one week after the anniversary, on January 29, a bomb at a Birmingham abortion clinic killed a police officer and seriously injured a nurse, bringing home the fact that the right to a safe, legal abortion is extremely tenuous in the US.
Increasing Our Choices - The Pregnancy Options Service
A huge step has been taken to ensure abortion services are increasingly accessible to British Columbia women and girls. March 1st marked the opening of the anticipated Pregnancy Options telephone line, set up by the BC Women’s Hospital. The response has been immediate and continuous, with many women making use of the new service.
The phone line, which is confidential and free to use, is staffed by counselors who can link women up to abortion providers in the area they live in. Additionally, staff will offer counseling and information to those women who require it. The ability to contact local abortion providers will decrease the need and cost of unnecessary travel to the Lower Mainland clinics and reduce the amount of time lost before the abortion can be obtained. The service is also expected to fill a need for professional pre- or post-abortion counseling; women may be referred to counselors in their own area if they would prefer that option.
The phone line was developed as a way of rectifying the documented difficulties women have with finding contraception and abortion services in various remote areas of the province.
The Pregnancy Options Referral Service is continuing to gather the names of supportive physicians who are willing to become part of the referral network so the database can be as comprehensive as possible.
The phone number is 875-3163 in the Lower Mainland and toll free 1-888-875-3163 for the rest of the province. Current hours of operation are Monday to Friday, 11am to 1pm, and 4pm to 7pm. The hours may expand in the future if necessary.
Thanks for Your Letters!
Dear Editor: When pro-choicers are being attacked, the best people to tell you who are attacking them are pro-choicers themselves. Thus, on a CBC Primetime program in January when Henry Morgentaler twice mentioned the Catholic Church as playing a large role in denying women the right to choose on abortion, he knows what he is talking about. Similarly, when the previous head of the BC Coalition for Abortion Clinics got fed up with protesters and led a protest of her own, it was against the Catholic Church. In New Orleans on the 25th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the only protesting banners to this legalization of abortion in the US were on three Catholic churches—none in other denominations.
What makes the Church’s position contradictory is that its teaching that contraceptives are evil causes a 22% Catholic population in the US to have 31% of the abortions (claims a recent Zero Population Growth publication). What prevents this teaching being Catholic’s own business is the global climate change caused by human release of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide. This gas is emitted by us rich people in the first world because of our extravagant lifestyle, and also by poor people because they have no alternative but to slash and burn trees to provide a living for themselves. Since world population growth is predicted particularly amongst the poor in Africa and Asia, this will add to the difficulties in stopping global climate change.
Some Catholics defend their teaching by saying the world can hold ten of billions more people with no problem. The spectre of global warming gives us the right to encourage Catholics to choose the next Pope to help in humanity’s survival by removing taboos against contraception. The UN Cairo Conference on Population and Development recommended we empower women. How can one empower women and deny their right to choice on abortion?
— Ken McLean, Lower Mainland Sustainable Population Group (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Dear Editor: I recently read the article in the Summer 1997 edition called Psychological After-Effects of Abortion—the Real Story. Because I have had two abortions and I take part in a post-abortion support group, I had a vested interest in what this article had to say.
I am compelled to ask the question, why does anyone feel the need to reach any consensus at all regarding the psychological after-effects of abortion? And why, as Joyce Arthur implies, does "the real story" emanate from the medical and scientific communities? Regardless of what studies are ever done, the truth will reside in the hearts and souls of the women who have abortions. This truth cannot be extracted and quantified. I am dismayed that a publication that (I believe) refutes patriarchal objectification of women would use the same rhetoric to dehumanize women’s experiences of abortion. You will notice the word experiences is pluralized, indicating infinite variability.
This article implies that anti-choicers believe that because a woman may suffer harmful psychological damage after an abortion, that this supports their position that abortion is wrong. Do you really believe that scientific studies that show that the majority of women do not suffer emotionally after abortions will change their minds? Joyce Arthur seems intent on fighting the anti-choice group on their own terms. Why bother?
The article frequently mentions the term "bias" — researcher bias, anti-choice bias. Bias is harmful, is it not, because it introduces a personal assumption. Would you not agree that any individual or study or group that attempts to categorize women’s emotional responses to any life event is expressing bias in a way that is harmful to women’s individuality?
Speaking as a woman who has had two abortions, I caution you in making any assumption about my experience. If I did suffer emotionally, neither you nor any researcher can assume that my "psychological after-effects" fit into any neat category.
I have allowed the grieving process around my abortions to resonate with my soul. To simply let it be. In doing so, I have learned to respect the right of every individual to experience their own emotions, and to honour the suffering that we all must go through.
— Sue Turner
Joyce Arthur replies: Your thoughtful, from-the-heart letter is much appreciated. The intent of my article was not to make assumptions about, categorize, or dehumanize individual women’s experiences of abortion, so I apologize if that message was inadvertently relayed. Of course, every woman’s experience of abortion is unique and subjective, and must be respected on an individual basis. However, there are many shared reactions to the abortion experience that do allow it to be studied and quantified to some degree.
The point of the article was to refute inflammatory and inaccurate anti-choice rhetoric, which is deliberately designed to increase women’s ambivalence, guilt, and negative feelings around their abortion decision. It’s important to counteract this misinformation to protect women’s psychological health (and not to try and change the minds of the anti-choice, which of course is pointless). At the same time, clinic counselors benefit from accurate knowledge about certain risk factors that may predispose women to psychological disturbance after abortion—counselors will be better equipped to recognize when women may need increased emotional support for their abortion decision. Rather than pigeonholing women into categories, knowledge of such risk factors by counselors increases the chance that women who need the most support and compassion will get it. Of course, risk factors are only a helpful guide; they are not meant to be definitive or all-inclusive.
Regarding bias, please note that the data for the best scientific studies done on the psychological after-effects of abortion consists of what individual women themselves felt and said. Also, most of the researchers were women. When the scientific method is used correctly, it is a tried and true way of reducing bias. My article documented the strong bias associated with mostly older, flawed studies that reached negative conclusions about women’s psychological state after an abortion. It is biased studies like those that promote a "patriarchal objectification" of women by concluding they are victims of abortion, instead of autonomous moral agents capable of taking responsibility for their own decisions.
More on "Post-Abortion Syndrome"
Beware of Christian Counseling Groups
by Helen Janssens
A profitable industry is being built up by anti-choice groups around the so-called "post-abortion syndrome." Numerous Christian agencies are offering religiously-based counseling for women experiencing distress from their abortion decision. Such groups include Project Rachel, Post Abortion Counseling and Education (PACE), and Abortion Survivors Anonymous. Project Rachel recently hosted a workshop in Vancouver (on March 20) to train counselors in helping women with "the healing process." The workshop was sponsored by Catholic Family Services.
These groups promote the notion that serious psychological trauma is inevitable for most women having abortions. For example, a spokesperson for PACE has said that, "We should have PACE groups in the millions ... but we’ve only sold in the tens of thousands [of Bible Studies]." This represents a serious misunderstanding of the reality of post-abortion stress, which must be put into its proper perspective. Only a very tiny minority of women suffer any serious long-term psychological after-effects from their abortion decision. Some of these women have previous psychiatric problems (this is a strong predictor of post-abortion trauma), or were unfortunately coerced into their abortion decision. Considering the large number of abortions performed in North America in the last five years alone—over 7 million—it is understandable that a few thousand women might be experiencing some significant psychological difficulties. However, we’re talking about a long-term "complication" rate of well under 1%.
This is not to deny the importance of offering post-abortion counseling services. The problem arises when some groups use a counseling model that is based on misinformation and gross exaggerations about how women typically feel about having an abortion. For example, some of the stories that Project Rachel uses to illustrate the reality of "post-abortion syndrome" are based on women who are clearly mentally ill. More disturbingly though, the group deliberately instills guilt and a sense of sin as part of their methodology. Counselors guide women through a "healing" process where they must accept that what they did was wrong, grieve for the life of their child they "had a hand in destroying", and ask for forgiveness from God and themselves. Other religiously-based counseling services are similar.
We condemn this guilt-ridden approach, which can often exacerbate and prolong a woman’s anxiety about her abortion. Some women may experience feelings of guilt over their abortion, but we believe it is psychologically healthier for the woman to dispel these feelings, not wallow in them. In many cases, the best option is to encourage women to accept their abortion as a morally right decision at the time, one that can have positive benefits for their life and health, their future, and the welfare of their family.
Note: All three Vancouver abortion clinics offer FREE pre- and post-abortion counseling, using a non-judgmental, compassionate approach. The Pregnancy Options line will also refer women to properly trained counselors in their area.
Doctors Arrested in Australia
Two doctors in Perth, Australia, were charged in February with attempting to "procure an abortion," a charge that carries a maximum sentence of 14 years. Abortion is illegal in the state of Western Australia unless the mother’s physical or mental health is at risk, but the law has not been enforced for over 20 years. The current prosecution stems from an investigation by an anti-abortion police officer that began 18 months ago when a Maori woman was allowed by one of the charged doctors to take her aborted fetus home for a "culturally appropriate burial."
After the charges were laid, the state president of the Australian Medical Association recommended that doctors stop performing abortions immediately. The Australian Nurses Federation received legal advice that anyone involved in any way with abortions, including receptionists booking appointments, were at risk of being charged. Clinics around the state canceled dozens of abortions and hospitals were warned to stop terminations. Two Western Australian women were subsequently hospitalized from injuries caused by attempting self-induced abortions. The state’s Attorney General then stepped in to assure medical staff they would not be prosecuted for performing abortions. He noted that there has been a non-prosecution policy in effect for the last 20 years, which would continue. Abortions have now resumed at Western Australia public hospitals.
Women’s rights groups and pro-choice groups have demanded that all charges be dropped against the doctors and that all anti-abortion laws be repealed. A private member’s bill will be introduced in April to liberalize Western Australia’s abortion law.
(Source: The Militant, March 16, 1998)
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