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a publication of BC's Pro-Choice Action Network
Summer 1998 Issue
Table of Contents
Parker Tries to Weasel Out
Delta Police Constable Steven Parker, who was suspended for one week with-out pay in 1995 for illegally running licence plate checks of abortion clinic workers and patients, is trying to get the BC Supreme Court to throw out the suspension. (Parker also received a minor demotion because of further plate checks discovered later, but that penalty is not part of the current case.)
Former treasurer for Campaign Life Coalition, Parker claims that police missed the deadline for the initial internal disciplinary process against him by more than a month. His other main argument is that Susan Brice, one of the members of the BC Police Commission, was pro-choice and therefore biased against him.
Police Commission lawyer Susan Ross is contesting Parker's claims. She pointed out that Parker never mentioned the deadline technicality during his previous two hearings, and that if the public complaint process depends on the actions of the police force in processing the complaint within a certain time frame, then that gives police the power to scuttle any complaint against an officer. Also, she said that Brice was never a member of any pro-choice group and was not even judging Parker on his position on abortion, but rather on his unauthorized use of the police computer system. The case is still ongoing as of this writing (mid-July).
Parker's bid to overturn his suspension was triggered by the upcoming appeal of Parker's suspension by complainants Marg Panton and Will Offley. They (and the rest of the pro-choice community) hold that Parker should have been dismissed from his position instead and that the Delta Police investigation was seriously flawed. Panton was employed by the Everywoman's Health Centre when she had her plate checked by Parker.
We're New and Improved!
The BCCAC is now the Pro-Choice Action Network (Pro-CAN for short). At our Annual General Meeting on May 13, we debated a variety of possible new names, ranging from Reproductive Rights Coalition, to Pro-Choice BC, to Abortion Rights Coalition, and several more. After a lively discussion and a few straw votes, the Pro-Choice Action Network emerged the clear winner.
Why the name change? Since the BCCAC was formed in 1986, there's been many changes and enhancements to BC's abortion services. The group's original purpose was to establish an abortion clinic, which it did in 1988 (the Everywoman's Health Centre). The Steering Committee felt that our focus and mandate had evolved to the point where both our Basis of Unity (statement of our mandate) and our name no longer reflected our structure, activities, or image.
We aren't really a coalition any longer-the membership is mainly a collection of group and individual members. Also, Pro-CAN's work is more and more focused on outreach, education, media, and political work, with less of an emphasis on directly establishing and improving abortion services. This latter function is one in which clinics and abortion providers are increasingly involved, with Pro-CAN taking on more of a support role.
Finally, let's admit it-the name "BC Coalition for Abortion Clinics" is more than a mouthful. It was hard to figure out what to call ourselves for short. Even more alarmingly, the name sometimes invited the question "So are you for or against abortion?"
So, welcome to the new, improved Pro-Choice Action Network - Pro-CAN! The name is positive and upbeat, it's action-oriented, and it reflects our current initiative and desire to network more with other like-minded groups.
Our newly revised Basis of Unity, debated and approved by members present at the May 13 Annual General Meeting, is reproduced at the end of this newsletter. Please give it a read, and familiarize yourself with our updated vision.
"Hit List" Charges Shot Down
BC's Attorney-General, Ujjal Dosanjh, has decided not to press charges as a result of two different anti-choice letters that were mass-mailed to BC's health care providers, asking them to inform on their colleagues who perform abortions or refer to those that do. Crown Counsel informed Pro-CAN that there was insufficient evidence to warrant charges under the Access to Abortion Services Act, which prohibits the distribution of anti-choice literature within bubble zones protecting clinics and doctors' offices. The Act also generally prohibits harassment and threatening conduct aimed at discouraging the provision of abortion services.
The letters were ostensibly an attempt to gather a resource list of abortion providers, so that anti-choice persons could reassure themselves that any doctor they chose to go to did not perform abortions. However, doctors and the pro-choice community reacted with immediate outrage over the letters, knowing instinctively how the list would actually be used: to identify providers so they could more easily be targeted with harassment or even violence. The letters were based almost word for word on a similar letter from the radical American anti-choice group, Life Dynamics Inc., of Texas. This group makes it their business to identify providers in order to harass them. In addition, personal information on many identified doctors has found its way onto the Internet, where it is available for any wacko to see and act upon.
Since the A-G's decision, at least four more mailings to BC health care providers have surfaced. Most of these mailings are in the form of professionally-produced postcards or brochures, apparently purchased in bulk directly from Life Dynamics. Some quotes from the mailings:
"Abortion: The Quickest Way to Destroy Your Medical Career."
"Abortion: The Red-Light District of Medicine."
"If the abortion clinic where you work is involved in any of the activities listed below, protect your own interests. Call or write Life Dynamics immediately." (The list includes ten criminal or unethical activities, such as health code violations, medical insurance fraud, mistreatment of patients, and financial irregularities.)
"Recently, we've seen a large number of abortion clinic workers who say they want out of the abortion industry, but feel like they are trapped. If this describes you, call or write Life Dynamics."
One of the brochures includes offensive cartoons of a sleazy-looking abortion doctor called Edgar the Blade-he's holding a butcher knife-and his clinic, called the AAAAA Abort-orama, featuring a large billboard that says "Stackin' 'Em Deep, Killin' 'Em Cheap - Since 1973."
Pro-CAN is now working on several fronts in its pursuit of other avenues of redress for the injury and damages inflicted by these hate letters and mailings, as well as anti-choice harassment and violence in general. For example, since there have now been repeated mailings, with a proven, direct connection to a radical American group, it is becoming more apparent that the mailings may violate the Access to Abortion Services Act. This will require further investigation. Other initiatives we are working on will be reported on as progress is made.
Kelowna Abortion Services - Finally!
In a majority vote, the Okanagan-Similkameen regional health board has decided to start providing abortion services in Kelowna, possibly by January, 1999. The new clinic will operate at a secure clinic site inside the Kelowna Hospital and will be open one day a week. The Ministry of Health will fund the new clinic.
The health board is looking at several options for implementing abortion services, including flying in a doctor from Vancouver's BC Women's Hospital. No local doctor is interested in providing services because of the fear of anti-choice harassment. Kelowna suffers from an overabundance of anti-choice activity-it was one of the main BC cities targeted with the recent anti-choice mail campaign trying to identify and discourage providers.
The hospital clinic model is similar to that of the CARE Program at BC Women's Hospital. A hospital setting offers women and providers more privacy and security, which is particularly important in a small community. Representatives from the CARE clinic provided advice and support to the Okanagan health board and the Kelowna Pro-Choice Action Committee during the planning phase.
The Kelowna Right to Life Society denounced the move to introduce abortions at Kelowna Hospital as undemocratic in a conservative community. However, about 450 women and girls from the Kelowna area are forced to seek abortions in Vancouver every year. Currently, there is only one doctor in the entire Okanagan who performs abortions, out of Vernon Jubilee Hospital. He is close to retirement, and there is a often a several week waiting list for his services.
Okanagan women have waited too long and suffered too much, but finally, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Our congratulations and thanks go out to all who worked so hard for so many years to bring accessible abortion services to the Okanagan, especially the beleaguered Kelowna Pro-Choice Action Committee, whose work has been instrumental.
BCMA President is Anti-Choice
Dr. Jim Lane became the new president of the BC Medical Association in June. Lane has well-known anti-choice views and is a member of Physicians for Life, a group that has direct links to the BC Pro-Life Society. In fact, Lane made a speech at the 1996 BC Pro-life Society AGM. So far, he has not publicly distanced himself from his anti-choice connections or activities, or publicly disavowed anti-choice harassment and violence.
The Pro-Choice Action Network recently interviewed Dr. Lane, asking him questions related to the resolutions on abortion that will be debated at an upcoming BCMA board meeting. Other than a simple statement that the BCMA is against anti-abortion violence, Lane refused to answer the questions, saying that the issues were not up for debate at this time. The resolutions include:
That doctors support and encourage initiatives by the Attorney General and police to promote the safety and security of all physicians and support staff involved in abortions.
That opportunities to gain knowledge and skills in abortion are dwindling so abortion training should be included in medical school curriculums on a consistent basis.
That regional health boards ensure access to abortion across the province.
That doctors who feel they can't provide unbiased pregnancy counselling or referral for abortion ensure they provide patients with the 1-800 telephone number for counselling.
It appears that Lane's strategy for reconciling his anti-choice beliefs with his new position may be to remain as silent as possible on the abortion issue. However, given that Lane's anti-choice stance is a matter of public record, that is simply not good enough. It is very important that he provide public assurances that he will protect and defend the rights and professional activities of the many BCMA members who provide abortion services as part of their practice. Otherwise, there may be a chilling effect on BC providers simply by his very presence as head of the BCMA.
Antis in Bed with Liberals?
John Hof, president of Campaign Life Coalition BC, has had two meetings with Liberal leader Gordon Campbell to discuss ways of injecting right-wing policies into the Liberal platform. Campbell's motive for meeting with and listening to Hof was allegedly to make the provincial Liberal party more attractive to the small 'c' conservative voter, according to Hof. Langley MLA Rich Coleman was also involved in the meetings, and had invited Hof.
Hof said Campbell did not explicitly state support for Campaign Life Coalition, but "opened the door" by inviting "pro-life supporters" to meet with the party's child-and-family committee. Hof presented six recommendations to Campbell during the first meeting (these are quoted verbatim from Campaign Life Coalition's newsletter):
adopt a policy that defines the Family properly
introduce Conscience Clause legislation to protect workers
distance themselves from the Chretien Liberals
stop waiting for the media to find out what the people want to hear
open the door for Pro-lifers to meet with your caucus
promise to throw out the bubble zone legislation, etc., etc.
Also, Hof plans to add to this list a recommendation for a referendum on medicare funding for abortion.
The reason Hof wants to align himself and other "pro-lifers" with the BC Liberals is because he believes it's possible to change the Liberal party from within. "I'm not content with having a pro-life political voice only at election time, which is in essence what the Family Coalition Party and the Christian Heritage Party give us. I think we can do better." said Hof.
However, other right-wing activists, including Heather Stilwell, leader of the Family Coalition Party, and Cecilia von Dehn, owner of the house next door to Everywoman's Health Centre, say that joining the Liberal party would waste their efforts because only a few Liberals would actively promote the anti-choice agenda.
During the last provincial election in May 1996, the Liberal party promised in writing that they would maintain funding for abortion services and support enforcement of the Access to Abortion Services Act (the bubble zone law). We won't forget these promises if Campbell and his party are ever elected in the future.
Update on Doctor Shootings
by Gayleen Dimond-Gaber, Susan Riley, and Amanda LeRougetel (CARAL Winnipeg)
reprinted from Pro-Choice News, Spring 1998, Canadian Abortion Rights Action League newsletter
It took three abortion providers being shot within a 4-year period, all around Remembrance Day, before a national task force was struck to investigate the crimes and the links that may exist between the shootings. Coincident with a national meeting of chiefs of police, the task force was announced in December of last year. The goal of the task force is to identify and prosecute the person(s) responsible for the shootings.
According to Inspector Keith McCaskill of the Winnipeg police force, "because there were three shootings across the country [Vancouver, Hamilton, Winnipeg], it became a national problem and the RCMP was called in."
The task force consists of a joint management team composed of one inspector and lead investigators from each of the cities in which a shooting took place, plus a coordinating inspector from the RCMP.
"It is very unusual for four different centres to coordinate something like this," says McCaskill. "There are often joint forces operations, but an operation from three centres with multi-municipal levels of forces and the RCMP is highly unusual."
McCaskill is satisfied with the momentum of the investigation. "We meet weekly through conference calls and we are progressing...this is not a stalled investigation. We have also had discussions with different agencies, as well as the College of Physicians and Surgeons, about safety strategies."
Each city police force is paying for their own costs connected with the investigation.
Since the shooting of Dr. Fainman in Winnipeg in November last year, the Manitoba Medical Association and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have each pledged a $20,000 reword to anyone providing information leading to an arrest and conviction in the shootings.
Dr. Ian White, immediate past-president of the Manitoba Medical Association, hopes that other provincial medical associations and the Canadian Medical Association will work with the task force.
"The task force has the support of the Manitoba Medical Association, as we abhor the violence against any physician, but we particularly abhor the unprovoked assault of Dr. Jack Fainman," says Dr. White. "We will work with the task force on developing a strategy to inform physicians and the public." CARAL is pleased with the MMA's public support of the task force, says Pauline Raven, CARAL President. "We share the MMA's abhorrence at the violence against abortion providers we have witnessed in Canada since 1994, and we urge medical associations in other provinces to contribute to the reward monies."
Unfortunately, no arrests have yet been made in any of the cases. Anyone with information on the shootings or any act of violence against an abortion provider can contact their local police force with information.
Though there is no specific web page about the task force, Crime Stoppers in Winnipeg is exploring the possibility of a re-enactment commercial of Dr. Fainman's shooting for a television broadcast.
Another Reward Offered
On July 13, the task force announced an $80,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible for the shootings. The reward was put up by the Canadian Medical Association.
Other related news:
Although the task force is very reticent at discussing details of the investigation, we fear that it may be out of leads. However, we know they are in very close contact with law enforcement agencies in the United States, and that they are keenly interested in the anti-abortion violence that has occurred there, such as the Birmingham bombing and the search for the suspect in that bombing, Eric Rudolph of North Carolina. At one time, a rumour was even circulating that Rudolph was hiding out in Canada.
According to Carla Eckhardt, (Clinic Support and Risk Management Director for the National Abortion Federation), who has been working with the task force, there is at least one indication that the shootings of the Canadian doctors may have been by the same person. With each successive shooting, the shots have been aimed a bit higher, as if the gunman was trying to compensate for shooting through glass (which causes the bullet's trajectory to be deflected downwards).
One month before the shooting of Dr. Jack Fainman, a Rochester, New York doctor who performs abortions was shot at his home with a high-powered rifle. He suffered a slight injury to his shoulder and no suspects have been arrested. However, police have discounted the possibility that the crime was linked to anti-abortionists, implying instead that it was due to domestic violence.
False and Inflammatory Anti-Choice Ads
Published in Several Community Papers
Between January and April, 1998, a full two-page advertisement was published in various community newspapers, including Burnaby NOW, the Indo-Canadian Voice, the Surrey Leader, and the Surrey/Delta NOW (and possibly others). The ads were paid for by chapters of the BC Pro-Life Society.
The intent of the ad (identical in each paper) was to compromise a woman's legal right to a safe, accessible abortion through unethical tactics. Just about every "fact" cited in the ad was either false, or was distorted to suit the ideological basis of the "pro-life" position. Here are a few of the more blatant examples:
The ad claimed a strong link between abortion and breast cancer. In fact, scientific research does not demonstrate a causal link between abortion and breast cancer. This is the conclusion of many independent experts, including the National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society, Canadian Cancer Society, and American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
The ad implied that abortion leads to child abuse, and made the insulting and injurious claim that "abused children are wanted children." This statement actually endorses child abuse! And evidence actually shows that unwanted children are more likely than wanted children to have increased emotional, psychological, and social problems, including suffering parental abuse.
Most of the abortion techniques listed were for late-term abortions done for medical or genetic reasons, which are seldom or never done in Canada. More disturbingly, every single technique was described inaccurately and in an inflammatory, exaggerated way designed to frighten and repulse people. For example, the standard and most common abortion technique, vacuum aspiration, uses a gentle suction technique that removes the embryonic sac all in one piece-completely contrary to the ad, which wrongly described a "powerful" suction tube that "tears apart the body of the developing baby".
The ad listed various horrific-sounding abortion complications and risks. In fact, the risk of dying from childbirth is over 20 times that for abortion. Abortion today is one of the simplest and safest medical procedures of all, with an extremely low complication rate.
The ad claimed that: "...women are not given crucial information about fetal development, the abortion procedure and potential risks..." In fact, all three of Vancouver's abortion clinics always give women full information on the abortion procedure and the minuscule risks associated with it.
The ad stated that after an abortion, many women find themselves coping with feelings such as guilt, depression, anger, anxiety, etc. There is, in fact, no such disorder as "post-abortion distress." It is well-documented that most women experience primarily relief after their abortion, and the overwhelming majority do not suffer any serious or long-term psychological after-effects.
A newspaper has an obligation to its readers to be as accurate and informative as possible, but this irresponsible ad did an extreme disservice to the public by presenting false and deceptive information as fact, and using scare tactics and exaggeration to try and prevent women from making an informed choice. The ad's conclusion was that the "effect of abortion is the devaluation of all human life." On the contrary, enforced motherhood, like slavery, devalues human life for all. Bringing more unwanted children into an overpopulated world hurts not only unwanted children, but also their mothers, families, and communities, and the quality of life for all of human society.
The Pro-Choice Action Network filed a complaint with Advertising Standards Canada, who assigned it to their BC Consumer Response Council for review. However, the council declined to pursue any action against the BC Pro-Life Society or the newspapers because the present Code of Advertising Standards excludes messages of an advocacy nature. In addition, our attempts to get the Province or Sun newspapers to print a piece about the irresponsible ads failed. Although the Burnaby NOW newspaper published our letter to the editor refuting the claims of the ad, a responding letter from the Burnaby Pro-Life Society was published the following week, rehashing the same old refuted propaganda.
Readers who spot any such ad in the future in their community newspaper or other public forum, are urged to alert Pro-CAN and send copies of the ad to our office, so that we can take appropriate action.
Failed Abortion Lawsuit Settled
A controversial lawsuit has drawn to a close with a confidential, out-of-court settlement between the Vancouver Hospital and the adoptive parents of 12-year-old Ximena Renaerts of Chilliwack. The girl was born at Vancouver General Hospital in December 1985 a few days after her mother allegedly underwent a failed abortion attempt in a Bellingham, Washington clinic. The mother had gone to VGH to complete the abortion. The baby was born at 26 weeks gestation and weighed less than one kilogram.
Her adoptive parents filed a malpractice suit against the Vancouver Hospital, naming as defendants the doctors and nurses involved with the birth, and the birth parents. Ximena was born brain-damaged, partially paralyzed, and suffering from cerebral palsy. Plaintiffs claimed that her condition was a result of negligent care by the hospital. They asserted that the baby was born alive, but taken to a room for dead fetuses, and not given any care for 40 minutes. The hospital denied charges of negligence, asserting that they acted appropriately and suggesting that the girl's condition was partly congenital or due to the failed abortion attempt.
The settlement, while confidential, was rumoured to be in the range of $10 million. Ximena's adoptive parents stated that it is enough to take care of Ximena and give her a good quality of life.
This tragic and unfortunate case put the spotlight on the often sensitive nature of late-term abortions, and the thin dividing line between viability and non-viability. Women's choices become infinitely harder at this stage, and they are made even more difficult when the system fails, as it obviously did this time. However, we don't have all the facts because the newspaper reports, for the most part, were strongly pro-plaintiff and anti-defendant. They never explained Vancouver Hospital's side of the story, and so the facts as presented in this case must remain somewhat suspect.
Unfortunately, there are some serious unanswered questions. For example, why did the birth mother delay the abortion of her allegedly healthy fetus until well into the third trimester? How could an abortion clinic even attempt such a procedure, when no Washington clinics perform abortions during the third trimester? Why would the clinic have allegedly botched the abortion procedure so badly? Why would professional medical staff at VGH become so confused over the handling of the live birth of a premature baby, which would normally receive immediate life-saving care? And why was the public given virtually no details of Vancouver Hospital's defense, although the hospital reportedly denied negligence and defended their actions?
So, while we are sincerely happy that Ximena is now provided for, we hope the settlement was not made at the expense of truth and fairness. Also, we thankfully recognize that her case was an extremely unusual one, one which will never be repeated.
National Abortion Federation
Holds Annual Conference in Vancouver
The National Abortion Federation (NAF) held their 22nd annual meeting in Vancouver from May 16 to May 20, at the Hotel Vancouver. NAF is a North American organization of abortion providers that works to keep abortion safe, legal, and accessible. This exciting conference was an opportunity for Vancouver's abortion services community to network with colleagues from all over Canada and the U.S. The theme of the conference was "A World Vision of Choice." We celebrated the liberalization of abortion laws throughout the world, especially the 10th anniversary of the Morgentaler decision in Canada, and the 25th anniversary of Roe v. Wade in America.
There were about 700 participants in total at this American-oriented conference, but about 80 Canadians were able to attend, ensuring a strong Canadian voice. We took pride in many aspects of the Canadian experience that made us the envy of our Americans friends, including NO abortion law, the lack of controversy around late-term abortions, and the social stigma of being anti-choice in our more liberal society.
The keynote speaker was Judy Rebick, host of the CBC program Face-Off, past-president of Canada's National Action Committee on the Status of Women, and past spokesperson for the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics. Rebick stressed the successes of the abortion rights movement, pointing out, for example, that no serious Canadian politician, including Preston Manning, dares to take a strong political stance against abortion. Rebick also casually dismissed the paltry number of anti-choice protesters trudging around outside the hotel. Their advertised "96-hour vigil" was a dismal failure, attracting only 40 to 50 protesters at peak times.
The conference featured 50 workshops, sessions, training opportunities, and plenary speakers on an amazing variety of topics, from medical/scientific to legal/political. In addition, there were film screenings, awards, receptions, great food, and plenty of time for networking. The Canadian contingent organized and held their own Canadian Providers' Day on May 16, featuring topics like the mainstreaming of abortion services, controlling media messages on abortion in Canada, and an update on the task force investigating the shootings of three Canadian doctors. Planned Parenthood and Medical Students for Choice also held separate meetings on the same day.
Dr. Henry Morgentaler accepted a special award for his many years of heroic struggle, culminating in his Supreme Court case that threw out Canada's abortion law in 1988. Several other Canadians were also honoured with awards, including Morris Manning, Dr. Morgentaler's lawyer in the Supreme Court case; and Carolyn Egan, a long-time abortion rights activist from Ontario. Carolyn's inspiring and passionate acceptance speech resulted in a standing ovation.
Our thanks go out to the NAF organizing committees, to the top-notch security provided by NAF that allowed conference-goers to fully relax, and finally to the Hotel Vancouver, for having the courage and moral integrity to host this important event. A wonderful time was had by all!
Don't Be Fooled By Imitations!
by Skye Stuart
Anti-choice groups sometimes advertise that they provide pregnancy tests, family planning, and "non-coercive decision-making" counseling. You might have seen some of their advertisements on the bus with names like Birthright, Pregnancy Distress, or Crisis Pregnancy Centre. They also advertise in the Yellow Pages under numerous categories such as birth control, family planning, women's reproductive health centres, clinics, psychologists, counselors, and abortion alternatives. These anti-choice organizations make finding legitimate agencies as difficult as navigating your way through a minefield. Finding a pro-choice agency can be particularly discouraging and confusing to women unaware of anti-choice politics.
Often one group will have as many as 26 different listings with different names throughout the Yellow Pages. When you call, however, you might find that all the numbers lead to exactly the same place, with the very same person answering the phone. Another insidious tactic to impede women's access to abortion, is the alteration of the names of recognized pro-choice organizations. For instance, the reputation of the Family Planning Clinic of Calgary has been undermined by an anti-choice group using the name Family Planning Centre. Because the word "Centre" comes alphabetically before "Clinic," the anti-choice organization intercepts women seeking legitimate pregnancy options counseling.
These anti-choice groups are usually run by Catholic or evangelical Christian churches. They are set up to misinform women, and intimidate them from having an abortion. While these "options" counselors counsel women on keeping the baby or giving it up for adoption, they "inform" women of the risks of abortion (usually pertaining to breast cancer, problems with future pregnancies, and emotional problems). They also inform women on abortion techniques, using graphic, provocative, and often misleading descriptions. For instance, they might describe vacuum aspiration as being 29 times stronger than a home vacuum-this is simply untrue, but it is one of the many graphic and alarmist tactics that anti-choice groups are using.
While anti-choice groups represent themselves as providing pregnancy options, they will not make referrals to doctors or clinics providing abortions, since to do so would be to "compromise their beliefs." Often these clinics will attempt to hide their position behind word games. One clinic, when asked directly if it was pro-choice, replied, "It depends on how we understand the word 'choice.'" Other groups will refer women to anti-choice doctors under the false pretense that these doctors will perform abortions.
Anti-choice centres do provide pregnancy tests, but because they are not medical facilities, they are not authorized to confirm the results. A pregnancy test that would normally take five minutes to process can take half an hour. While waiting, anti-choice centres use the time to show women videos, photographs, and ultrasounds of fetuses at different stages of development. Women are also "counseled" on what they would do if the test turns out "positive."
Anti-choice groups can be very evasive as to the pregnancy test results. Women whose results are actually negative, have been led to believe that the results are "positive" so that the centre can indoctrinate them in anti-choice opinions. Again, wording is used to confuse and disarm women at a very vulnerable time. Some clinics have told women that the results were "negative" to keep them from seeking an abortion. This deception has, in a few cases, led to serious problems, such as undiagnosed tubal pregnancies.
Once these fake clinics get women inside their doors, they prey upon the vulnerability of their situations, using guilt, fear, intimidation, and exaggerated promises of post-natal support to dissuade women from having abortions.
For more information on this topic, check out:
This article was reprinted from the Pro-Choice Connection (http://www.prochoiceconnection.com)
Birmingham Bomber Sighted
On July 7, Eric Rudolph, the lone suspect in January's deadly bombing of a Birmingham, Alabama abortion clinic, was sighted near Andrews, North Carolina. He showed up at the home of a passing acquaintance with a list of required provisions and $500 in cash. The acquaintance, George Nordmann, refused to supply the provisions, but Rudolph came back three days later and stole over 100 pounds of food and a truck from his home. Nordmann, who is anti-choice, called police the next day.
An experienced outdoorsman, Rudolph is believed to have been living in the surrounding mountainous area since February. As of this writing, he is not yet in custody, despite a massive manhunt by over 200 federal agents and police officers.
In early May, the FBI placed Rudolph on its 10-most wanted fugitives list. It also increased to $1 million a reward for information leading to his arrest. Off-duty police officer Robert Sanderson was killed in the abortion clinic blast, and nurse Emily Lyons was seriously injured. Lyons is recovering from her wounds, although she lost an eye, has limited sight in the other, and is disfigured.
The FBI also wants to question Rudolph about possible involvement in three Atlanta-area bombings (an abortion clinic in January 1997, a gay/lesbian nightclub in February 1997, and Centennial Olympic Park in July 1996).
Anti-Choice Guilty of Extortion
In Chicago on April 20, a federal jury found that three national leaders of the anti-abortion movement committed 21 acts of extortion against abortion clinics. The jury awarded $86,000 U.S. in damages to two abortion clinics in Wisconsin and Delaware. However, because the civil lawsuit was filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law, damages will be tripled to about $258,000 U.S. The RICO law was passed in 1970 as a weapon against organized crime, but in recent years businesses have taken advantage of its civil provisions.
The lawsuit was first filed in 1986 by the National Organization for Women (NOW). Named as defendants in the suit were two of the most militant anti-abortion groups, Operation Rescue and the Pro-Life Action League, as well as three of the league's top leaders, Joseph Scheidler, Timothy Murphy, and Andrew Scholberg. The jury found that the defendants damaged the clinic's ability to do business over more than 15 years, by waging a campaign to shut the clinics down through fear and violence. The defendants were found to have made threats, committed actual physical violence against persons and property, and traveled across state lines with the intent to commit acts, including extortion.
Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry was originally named in the lawsuit. But already facing $169,000 in court awards from two other abortion lawsuits, he settled with NOW in January and was no longer part of the case. He agreed not to participate in any criminal activity against abortion clinics, their staffs or patients, or belong to any group that does. Violation of that agreement could cost him $15,000 and allow NOW to reinstate him as a defendant. Terry is currently raising funds to run for Congress.
The $85,000 awarded in damages could grow considerably, because the class-action ruling has opened the door for more claims by as many as 1,000 clinics across the country.
"This is the biggest courtroom defeat for the anti-abortion movement ever," said Fay Clayton, lawyer for NOW. Eleanor Smeal, of the President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, said "After 12 years of litigation, we have proven in civil court for the first time that there is a nationwide conspiracy to illegally close women's healthcare clinics that provide abortions. We hope the decision will embolden federal law enforcement to take a criminal RICO case to shut down the anti-abortion reign of terror once and for all."
After the decision, NOW requested a nation-wide injunction against several anti-abortion groups to stop clinic blockades.
In the meantime, in early July, the anti-choice stepped up their terrorist campaigns by attacking four Houston, Texas abortion clinics with butyric acid, a toxic, foul-smelling chemical. Dozens of people were injured in the attacks when they were overcome with fumes and had to be treated for headaches, nausea, and respiratory problems. Several Florida clinics were also hit by butyric acid attacks in May. In past "pro-life" butyric acid attacks at other American clinics, pregnant women choosing to continue their pregnancies have sometimes inhaled the fumes, which can cause fetal damage.
Abortion Illegal in Wisconsin
On May 14, a new law banning "partial birth" abortions went into effect when Wisconsin's Federal District Court refused to issue a restraining order against the ban. The law carries a penalty of mandatory life imprisonment for providers. "Partial birth" is a non-medical term and is usually interpreted to refer to the intact dilation and extraction abortion procedure. This is the safest abortion method for women in the third trimester with severely deformed fetuses. It is also an option for the second trimester if the doctor deems it to be in the woman's best interests. (For more information, see the Spring 1997 issue of Pro-Choice Press.)
Wisconsin doctors quickly concluded that performing any type of abortion would subject them to prosecution and possible life imprisonment. This is because the language of the law is very vague, and says nothing about any particular procedure, or even about late-term abortions. The wording is broad enough to cover the most common procedures, prohibiting any abortion in which a doctor "partially vaginally delivers a living child, causes the death of the partially delivered child with the intent to kill the child and then completes the delivery of the child." The word "child" is defined in the legislation as a human being from the time of fertilization until birth, which could apply to any abortion.
On June 25, after six weeks without any abortion services whatsoever for Wisconsin women, a federal appeals court blocked enforcement of the ban. District Court Judge Robert Payne wrote that "'partial birth' abortion is a term coined by legislators, anti-abortion activists and the media" and "has no medical meaning." However, an appeal of the court's decision is scheduled for August 10.
The successful enactment of Wisconsin's law marked the first time that women have been denied abortions under the law since the Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973. The six-week suspension of abortion services in that state is proof that "partial birth" abortion bans are not about stopping a particular type of late-term abortion, but are aimed at preventing access to ALL abortions. In fact, proponents of such bans are on record refusing amendments that would write specific limits into the laws, raising questions about their stated interest in only preventing late-term abortions.
Legislation outlawing late-term abortion has been adopted in 28 states since 1995, and many of the laws are as broadly worded as the Wisconsin law. However, almost every court challenge so far has resulted in either limited enforcement or a strikedown of the law. Sixteen states have struck down or blocked enforcement of their laws, the latest being Montana's, on June 29. However, the laws are in effect in nine states, including Indiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and most recently, Virginia and Kansas. Three other states-Alabama, Georgia and Nebraska-have limited enforcement. Another seven states may pass laws by the end of 1998.
U.S. Blocks Mifepristone
In late June, the American Congress blocked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from using federal money to test, develop, or approve any drug that would induce an abortion, including mifepristone (formerly RU-486). Congress members, most of them anti-choice, voted 223-202 in favour of the ban.
Two years ago, the FDA conditionally approved mifepristone as safe and effective, but had withheld final approval until it received additional information on its manufacture and labelling. The Population Council holds the North American rights to market the drug, but has suffered a series of setbacks in finding a manufacturer.
Mifepristone works by blocking the hormone progesterone, which is needed to sustain a pregnancy. It has been found to be safe and effective as a non-surgical method of early abortion during the first nine weeks of pregnancy. It works faster and is more predictable than methotrexate, which is also banned by the decision.
Our Annual General Meeting
The Pro-Choice Action Network held its annual general meeting on May 13. Besides our new name change and revisions to the Basis of Unity, the following reports were given by Steering Committee members or delegates:
- Current News and Activities Report
- Future BCCAC Activities Report, and a "Day in the Life" (of BCCAC) report
- Clinic Reports from the Everywoman's Health Centre and the Elizabeth Bagshaw Women's Clinic
- Membership Report and Financial Report
Seven women were acclaimed to serve on the Steering Committee in the coming year. In addition, a rotating delegate from the Everywoman's Health Centre will serve on the Steering Committee.
Our thanks go to all the members who came out and participated in our Annual General Meeting.
Basis of Unity
of the Pro-Choice Action Network
(revised May, 1998)
The Pro-Choice Action Network affirms that women are responsible moral beings who are fully capable of making decisions about their reproductive lives without interference from the state or any party. The oppression of women, which is most profoundly expressed in denying women the right to control their own bodies, must end. We support all women in the struggle to assert the right to decide whether and when to bear children, which must include equality of access to social programs and services necessary to ensure the health of themselves and those close to them. We affirm and support a feminist vision of health care.
We believe that women cannot truly exercise their right to reproductive choice without universal access to abortion. Therefore, we will lobby and advocate for:
full government funding of all health services relating to reproductive health in community-based clinics and hospitals, including surgical and medical abortion services
the defeat of any law which criminalizes abortion or impedes a woman's individual right to choice and access to abortion services
protection and enforcement of the Access to Abortion Services Act, and women's safe access to abortion services in an atmosphere of dignity and respect
the principles of the Canada Health Act as at May 1998
provision for universal access to abortion in all regions of Canada (especially BC) and federal guarantees to access
availability of safe, affordable, and effective contraception, and comprehensive sex education in schools
The Pro-Choice Action Network seeks to accomplish its goals by continuing to build a broad-based political movement that undertakes political action and public education on the right to choice on abortion, and by establishing mutually productive relationships with other women's groups, pro-choice groups, and other groups with whom we can work to further the right to choose.
The Pro-Choice Action Network supports the establishment, enhancement, and maintenance of community-based clinic and hospital health services that provide medical and surgical abortions, and a full range of reproductive services for women throughout the province.
We encourage and support all reproductive health and abortion services which:
- are accessible to all women (according to Section 8(1) of the BC Human Rights Code) and pose no physical, financial, language, or other barriers
- provide medically safe abortions and access to pre- and post-abortion and birth control counselling
- assist women in making their own choices in a supportive, non-judgemental, and confidential setting
Finally, we pledge our support to all clinics, hospitals, physicians, and health care workers in BC who currently provide abortion services. We will work with them to develop and enhance quality and accessible abortion services necessary to meet the needs and demands of women.
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