Pro-Choice Press

a publication of BC's Pro-Choice Action Network

Winter 95/96 Issue
Premiere Issue

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Table of Contents

The New Act

Protecting Abortion Rights in B.C.

The new Access to Abortion Services Act, which came into effect on September 18, was first announced by Health Minister Paul Ramsey and Women’s Equality Minister Penny Priddy on June 19. In a press release, they stated that the legislation was part of a comprehensive reproductive health strategy, which also includes additional funding of $750,000 for reproductive health care services and education throughout the province. The funding will be directed toward contraceptive services to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies in B.C.

Starting with a synopsis of the new legislation, below, this issue of Pro-Choice Press will bring you up to date on many aspects of the new Act, including anti-choice reaction to it, news about the current legal challenge by protester Maurice Lewis (who was recently arrested for violating the Act), and a legal opinion on whether the Act is constitutional or not.

Synopsis — Access to Abortion Services Act

by Don Crane, Water Street Law

The purpose of the proposed Access to Abortion Services Act is to ensure that women who choose to use abortion services will have unimpeded access to those services. It will also ensure that those who provide these services can do so safely and without harassment.

The Act creates "access" zones around facilities which provide abortion services, homes and offices of doctors who provide abortion services, and the homes of other abortion service providers. The dimensions of these zones are calculated from the edge of the lot on which the home or facility is located and are set at:

  • 160 metres for a doctor's, or service provider's, home;
  • 10 metres for a doctor's office (which can be extended up to a maximum of 20 metres through an Order in Council), and
  • up to a maximum of 50 metres for a facility (the distance to be determined by Cabinet).

Within those access zones, it is an offence to engage in any of the following activities:

  • sidewalk interference;
  • protesting;
  • besetting;
  • physical interference with, or attempted interference with, a patient, doctor, or abortion service provider, and
  • intimidation of a patient, doctor, or abortion service provider.

"Sidewalk interference" encompasses advising or trying to persuade a person not to have an abortion, and also informing a person concerning issues relating to abortion services.

The term "besetting" encompasses the continuous and repeated observation of service providers, doctors, or patients, or any of their homes, as well as the tactic of standing close to any of them, where the object is to impede the provision of abortion services.

The Act also targets interference which takes place by persons outside access zones. It prohibits the graphic recording of patients, doctors, and service providers while they are in access zones, where the purpose is to impede that person from using or providing abortion services. It also protects service providers from being repeatedly approached, accompanied, followed, beset, telephoned repeatedly, or threatened by a person seeking to discourage that person from providing abortion services.

Those who commit any of these offences may be arrested without warrant. Various bail conditions may be set, including a prohibition from entering an access zone. If convicted, an offender will face a fine of up to

$5,000 for a first offence and up to $10,000 for each additional offence. The Act also provides for imprisonment of offenders for up to six months for first offences and up to one year for subsequent offences. Imprisonment may be imposed in addition to a fine. Probation may also be imposed for up to two years and may include the following conditions:

  • preventing the offender from entering an access zone;
  • ordering the offender to make restitution for any loss suffered as a result of the commission of the offence, and
  • complying with any reasonable condition designed to prevent a repetition of the same or other offences under the Act.

In addition to creating new offences of a criminal nature, the Act allows the Attorney General or any other person to apply for an injunction to prevent a person from contravening the Act.

Another important feature of the Act is that it gives those people who suffer a loss as the result of a contravention of the Act the right to sue the offender in a civil action for damages. The offender will thus be forced to pay compensation for the results of his or her illegal actions.

Anti-Choice Reaction

The Access to Abortion Services Act went into effect on September 18, 1995. Since that time, anti-choice activity at the clinics has been well-planned, intense, and increasingly aggressive.

The new strategy of intimidation, which began on September 18, included pacing back and forth in front of Everywoman's Health Centre holding rosary beads and chanting "Hail Marys." Through October and November, the actions of the anti-choice became more daring and graphic, including specific talk about murder of the unborn; the carrying of sandwich boards with suggestive slogans inside the bubble zones; singing songs and chanting prayers that specifically address the issue of abortion; and holding prayer vigils while lining the sidewalk in front of the clinic. The Elizabeth Bagshaw Women's Clinic has also been experiencing the "prayer" tactic, though in smaller numbers.

The anti-choice presence in front of the clinics is threatening and intimidating to women seeking a legal medical service. Police action and intervention in the beginning was slow and guarded. However, after several weeks of protest, the police began videotaping the activities of the anti-choice. They have also been collecting statements and pictures from clinic workers and security volunteers regarding violations of the bubble zones.

The first arrest under the Act was made on September 22. Maurice Lewis, 44, was charged with two counts of violating the Act. He has only been out of jail for one day since his arrest because he refuses to agree to court-imposed conditions for release, such as not protesting inside the bubble zone. Lewis went on trial November 27. He is pursuing a charter challenge against the Access to Abortion Services Act, in an effort to strike down the law as unconstitutional. Defence lawyer Paul Formby, former Executive Director of Campaign Life Coalition and defender of Operation Rescue blockaders, argues that Lewis’s rights to freedom of expression and freedom of conscience and religion are infringed or denied by the new law.

The case is still in progress as of this writing, mostly because Formby’s strategy has been to call a large number of witnesses, thereby prolonging the trial considerably. Although there is every reason to hope that we will win this case, no doubt Lewis will appeal the case if he loses.

Legal Opinion on Act's Constitutionality

by Joel Bakan, Associate Professor, UBC Faculty of Law

The BCCAC asked Mr. Bakan to review the new law and comment on its constitutionality. His opinion is reproduced in its entirety below.

You have asked me to expand upon the views I expressed in a recent opinion piece in the Vancouver Sun (June 21, 1995). I am happy to do so, though I should note several things. First, I informally shared my views on abortion access zones (though not this bill in particular) with government officials prior to the bill being tabled and without having seen any legislative drafts or proposals. Second, I offer you the following in my capacity as a law professor who specializes in Charter law, not as a lawyer (I am currently not a member of the British Columbia bar). Third, time does not permit a more detailed analysis than what I offer below, but I would be happy to elaborate and expand upon the points I make in relation to the bill sometime in the future.

Based on the Supreme Court of Canada’s approach to the Charter’s guarantee of freedom of expression, I believe the access zone bill does not violate the Charter. The Supreme Court has strongly and consistently emphasized that courts must not hold legislation unconstitutional where, to paraphrase section 1 of the Charter, its limits on expression are reasonable and demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. The Court has repeatedly held that expression interests can be constitutionally limited where they are outweighed by competing social interests. On this basis, federal prohibitions on hate literature and obscenity and provincial limitations on advertising aimed at children have been upheld by the Court despite its finding that they limit freedom of expression.[1]

The bill is designed to protect health-care workers and their patients from discomfort, fear, harassment and physical attacks. Applying some of the principles and criteria established by the Supreme Court for balancing competing interests in relation to the Charter’s freedom of expression guarantee, I believe protection of the interests of health-care workers and patients in this context is sufficient justification for the bill’s restrictions.

I say this on the basis of several features of the Supreme Court’s freedom of expression jurisprudence:

1. The Supreme Court has been emphatic on the point that even where legislation limits individual’s freedom of expression, if the legislature is seeking to balance competing interests in society (as is the case here) courts should not second-guess the balance it has struck so long as the legislation is ‘carefully tailored’ to meet some ‘pressing and substantial’ objective. Where these criteria are met, the Court has noted explicitly that judges have neither the democratic mandate nor the policy expertise to substitute their views for those of legislatures on questions about exactly where lines should be drawn between expression interests and competing social interests.[2] The bill’s objective—to ensure women’s access to abortion services is not impaired—easily meets the Supreme Court’s ‘pressing and substantial’ criteria. And its measures are ‘carefully tailored’ to meet that objective. They are what are commonly called time, place and manner restrictions. They do not generally prohibit people from expressing particular views, but rather from expressing them in particular places and manners. Their purpose is not to close off the expression of specific ideas, opinions and beliefs, but rather to protect people from the potentially harmful consequences of such expression occurring in a particular place, time and manner. Under the bill, protesters are not prohibited from expressing their views except in prescribed areas. The bill has no effect on them anywhere else. The Supreme Court has indicated that time, place and manner restrictions are less offensive to freedom of expression values than are general bans on a particular kind of speech (though even the latter have been upheld by the court under section 1).[3]

2. The Court has stated that legislation restricting expression is more likely to be upheld under the Charter where it is designed to protect a ‘vulnerable group’. [4] The bill’s purpose includes protection of women in circumstances where they are vulnerable to the emotional and sometimes physical trauma of being confronted by abortion clinic protesters. In addition, the bill helps ensure women are not denied access to abortion services as a result of doctors and health-care workers being deterred by protesters’ activities from performing them. The Supreme Court has consistently allowed for legislative limitations on expression that it finds to harm members of vulnerable groups.

3. The case for upholding legislation is even stronger, according to the Supreme Court, where the interest being protected by legislative restrictions on expression is a constitutionally recognized interest.[5] That is the case here. The Supreme Court has held that legislation impairing women’s access to abortion services violates the Charter’s right to security of the person.[6] The bill helps protect that right by limiting activities which impede access to abortion services and therefore interfere with patients’ security of the person. The bill advances other Charter values as well, like liberty, equality, freedom of conscience, and privacy, in removing potential barriers to women’s reproductive choice.

Taken together, these points add up to a strong presumption in favour of the constitutionality of the bill.

I should add that I do not see the bill as establishing a precedent for other kinds of restrictions on picketing, protesting, demonstrating, or whatever. Following the Supreme Court of Canada’s prescription that every claim under the Charter must be considered in its particular social and historical context, I find implausible arguments that abstractly generalize from and draw analogies between this bill’s restrictions on protesting in abortion access zones and other draconian, types of restrictions. The circumstances that have made this bill necessary are unique—most particularly in the fact they involve the Charter-protected interests of a ‘vulnerable group’. That is what distinguishes the kind of expression restricted by this bill from other types of expression that people (including me) are legitimately concerned to protect. And that is why ‘slippery slope’ arguments are misleading when made in relation to this bill.

[1] R. v. Keegstra (1990), 61 C.C.C. (3d) 1 (SCC); R. v. Butler (1992), 70 C.C.C. (3d) 129 (SCC); A.-G Quebec v. Irwin Toy (1989), 58 D.L.R. (4th) 577 (SCC).

[2] Irwin Toy, Id.

[3] Irwin Toy, supra, note 2.

[4] Keegstra, supra, note 1; Butler, supra, note 1; Irwin Toy, supra, note 2.

[5] Keegstra, Id

[6] Morgentaler et al. v. The Queen (1988), 37 C.C.C. (3d) 449 (SCC)

Nuts in the News

"Every Pregnant Woman’s Help Centre" reads the sign outside of Gianna House, right next door to Everywoman’s Health Centre on East 44th in Vancouver. Cecilia von Dehn, a prominent anti-choice activist, bought the house five years ago and named it after an Italian anti-choice martyr. Protesters use the house as a place to meet, pray, drink coffee, and rest from their "divinely sanctioned" work of harassing patients and staff at the centre. A tombstone in front of the house reads "In memory of unborn children killed by abortion next door." The anti-choicers have tricked women into going into the house, where they are intimidated, harassed, and deceived.

"Sidewalk counselling" is what the anti-choice protesters label their activities at the Everywoman’s Health Centre. It consists of intimidation, harassment, scare tactics, rudeness, verbal abuse, and psychological abuse. Typically, "counsellors" aggressively pursue patients coming into the clinic, often spotting them as they come down the street and rushing over to them. This gives the protesters more time. "Counselling" is done in an angry, accusatory manner and includes lines like: "Don’t let them murder your baby." "God will hold you accountable." "If you kill your baby, you will never forgive yourself." "Those who have abortions will go to hell unless they repent."

Public prayer sessions are another tactic protesters use. Rather than pray in private the way Jesus told them to, they raise their praying voices whenever anyone is near, a practice which Jesus specifically condemned (Matthew 6:2-6). They block the sidewalk while praying, forcing patients and passers-by to either walk through them or go out of their way to avoid them. Their "prayers" are often scornful, threatening, and harassing. Examples include: "Lord, please do not let a bomb fall on this clinic." "Lord, save these sinners before it is too late." "Lord, we pray for all the babies murdered at the hands of these abortionists."

Anti-Choice Health Critic Appointed

B.C.'s new Liberal health critic, Mike de Jong, is an anti-abortionist. Appointed by Opposition Leader Gordon Campbell in early December, de Jong, a Matsqui Liberal candidate, replaces Richmond MLA Linda Reid, who is pro-choice. Women's Equality Minister Penny Priddy called the appointment an affront to women and the pro-choice majority in B.C. Priddy fears de Jong may undo what the NDP government has achieved with the new Access to Abortion Services Act.

Previous health critic Linda Reid claims that the party's official policy on abortion is still "woman's right to choose," and that de Jong's appointment "won't reverse that." However, as Priddy pointed out, de Jong is likely to speak out against the needs of women, and Campbell appears unconcerned with this obvious contradiction.

De Jong's appointment certainly sends a mixed message, but from a pro-choice perspective, the message is clear. Not only are the Liberals weak and indecisive when it comes to toeing a firm party line on many issues, they also appear to be dangerously indifferent to the concerns of women. As Kim Zander, spokesperson for the Everywoman's Health Centre, said, "It's a signal for what may happen in the future if the Liberals end up being the government in the next election... The way Campbell has been operating..., with very few concrete policies, is disturbing for us and we believe it does not bode well for health services like ourselves."

(Thanks to Fiona Hughes, Vancouver Courier)

They Shoot Doctors, Don’t They?

The Legacy of Anti-choice Violence

(updated February, 1998)

1991, Central Health Center, Springfield, MT

  • Wounded — Don Catron, Building Manager
  • Wounded — Claudia Gilmore, Office Manager

1992, Women’s Pavilion, Houston, TX

  • Wounded — Dr. Douglas Karpen

March, 1993, Pensacola Women’s Medical Services, Pensacola, FL

  • Murdered — Dr. David Gunn

July, 1993, The Ladies Center, Pensacola, FL

  • Murdered — Dr. John Britton
  • Murdered — Lt. Col. James Barrett, Escort
  • Wounded — June Barrett, Escort

Aug., 1993, Wichita, Kansas

  • Wounded — Dr. George Tiller

Fall, 1993, Mobile, Alabama

  • Murdered — Dr. Wayne Patterson

Nov., 1994, Private residence, Vancouver, BC

  • Wounded — Dr. Garson Romalis

Dec., 1994, Planned Parenthood, Brookline, MA

  • Murdered — Shannon Lowney, Receptionist
  • Wounded — Anjana Agrawal, Antonio Hernandez, Brian Murray

Dec., 1994, Preterm Health Services, Brookline, MA

  • Murdered — Leanne Nichols, Receptionist
  • Wounded — Jane Sauer, Richard J. Seron

Nov., 1995, Private residence, Toronto, Ontario

  • Wounded — Dr. Hugh Short

Oct., 1996, New Orleans, Louisiana

  • Wounded — Dr. Calvin Jackson

Nov., 1997, Private residence, Winnipeg, Manitoba

  • Wounded — Dr. Jack Fainman

Jan., 1998, New Woman, All Women Health Care Clinic, Birmingham, Alabama

  • Murdered — Robert Sanderson (police officer)
  • Wounded — Emily Lyons (nurse)

For more information, click here.


The Drug of Choice?

There is a new option on the horizon for women in British Columbia seeking abortion services. Medical abortions, which are still in the testing phase in B.C., have proven thus far to be a safe and effective method of terminating pregnancy, with a 93% success rate.

Medical abortions have been available in Europe for many years, where the drug RU-486 is used to terminate pregnancy, in conjunction with misoprostol. In B.C., the drug combination is methotrexate and misoprostol. Methotrexate stops the pregnancy and misoprostol, a prostaglandin, causes the uterus to contract and expel tissue.

To participate in the methotrexate study in B.C., a woman must undergo several tests. These tests include a thorough examination by a medical doctor, an extensive and detailed discussion with a nurse counsellor about the process, a blood test to determine pregnancy hormone levels in the body (HCG), and several other medical tests.

Another criteria of the study is that the patient be under seven weeks gestation (meaning seven weeks since the last menstrual period). Surgical abortions can only occur after seven weeks gestation. Many women consider this an added benefit of medical abortion, as they do not have to endure the many unpleasant side effects of early pregnancy.

If and only if a patient is found to be in good health, meets the criteria of the study, and signs a consent form, will she receive a methotrexate injection at the doctor’s office. She will also be given a single dose of misoprostol in the form of a vaginal suppository to be inserted four days later, at home.

About 50% of women abort successfully within 24 hours of inserting the misoprostol. Others need one or two more doses of the drug in order to complete the procedure. The contractions of the uterus which follow will cause some pain and discomfort, along with heavy bleeding. This bleeding lasts from one to several days. Other side effects of the misoprostol, occurring in 15% of patients, include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and chills. About 7% of women do not abort successfully and must be scheduled for a surgical procedure. (Methotrexate stops fetal growth even if it fails to terminate the pregnancy.)

It is important to note that a medical abortion is not for everyone. It is another CHOICE. Some women prefer a surgical procedure because they can get the abortion over with all at once. Also, surgical abortions occur in a clinic or hospital where medical staff is on hand to answer all questions and deal with any problems that may arise. Other women choose a medical procedure because anaesthetics and surgery are not involved. The procedure is performed early in the pregnancy and takes place in the privacy of one’s home. In France, where medical abortions have been available for many years, one third of women choose this procedure over surgical abortions.

For more information on how to get a methotrexate abortion in BC, call 604-874-9897.

Human Life International

". . .one of the most . . .dangerous institutions in the world"

by Marion Goriak

Human Life International (HLI) is an international anti-choice organization aggressively organizing now in Canada. Sunetra Puri, public affairs director of International Planned Parenthood Federation in London describes HLI today as "one of the most important and dangerous institutions in the world specifically set up to prevent access to reproductive health care".

This anti-semitic, homophobic, and racist group has a membership list that reads like a Who's Who of hatred. Father Paul Marx founded HLI in 1981. He says that abortion is a "devil's movement" led by Jews to undermine Christian births. Other infamous members include Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry, arrested numerous times for harassing and blockading clinics. Terry calls for the abolition of contraception and abortion and for making "dads [the} Godly leaders" of the family with "the women in submission, raising kids for the glory of God". Anti-gay psychologist Paul Cameron, who has been removed from various professional associations for questionable research methods, is also involved in HLI. Cameron has called for the branding of homosexuals with the letter A, their segregation, and eventually, their death, in order to prevent the spread of AIDS.

Under the guise of being a Catholic organization concerned with "life issues" such as anti-abortion, anti-gay, and anti-feminist concerns, HLI has strong ties to right-wing political movements in Canada. Pro-Life Society Melville, Saskatchewan local president Barry Wray counts himself as an associate of Wolfgang Droege, the founder of Heritage Front (a white supremacist movement), and also of neo-Nazi literature publisher Ernst Zundel.

Violence is also part of the HLI history. American members of HLI include John Burt, KKK member, recently of Rescue America and mentor of Michael Griffin, who murdered abortion provider Dr. David Gunn at the clinic in Pensacola, Florida in 1993. The HLI fundraising video The Most Important Work on Earth is narrated by Joan Andrews-Bell, arrested with Burt for invading and damaging the same clinic earlier in 1986. Should there be any doubt as to the agenda of HLI, Steven Prunder, director of the Ohio chapter of HLI, says in the May 1993 Life Advocate "... lethal force [to prevent abortion] will be the only reasonable action for some, and those of us who stood by and did nothing will have the least right to cast stones".

This year, amid much media hoopla, HLI hosted their annual conference in Montreal. 1500 delegates attended, but 4000 people turned out to protest. In spite of Canadian opposition against them, HLI is planning to establish a chapter in every province by the year's end. It already has offices in 59 countries. Therefore, it is vitally important that everyone who cares about freedom of choice also show support for pro-choice and against this dangerous organization.

Family Values (a poem)

by Ellen Smithy

Fathers lead / Mothers accede / Kids bleed

Abortion's a blight / Feminists a fright / Might makes right

Guns are great / Drugs they hate / Close the jail gate

Gays bashed / Arts trashed / Welfare slashed

Jews blamed / Blacks shamed / Righteousness claimed

Religion's the rule / Bible's true / Creationism, too

Pope's winning / Priest is sinning / Future’s dimming

It’s sad but true / The right wing fool / Hasn't a clue

The Morning After Pill

The Morning After Pill (MAP) is an emergency method of birth control for use after unprotected intercourse, or intercourse with contraceptive failure. Each MAP contains 250 ug of d-norgestrel and 50 ug of ethinyl estradiol (Ovral). The MAP must be taken as soon as possible after intercourse and no longer than 72 hours afterward. Four pills are taken, two immediately, and two 12 hours later. Depending on when in the cycle the MAP is taken, it either prevents ovulation or implantation. The failure rate in a cross-Canada study was 1.6%.

One third of women experience nausea, vomiting, and dizziness, the same symptoms some women experience on oral contraceptives (i.e., the Pill). An anti-nausea drug can be taken along with the MAP. Temporary disruption of the menstrual cycle may also occur. If the next period does not begin within several weeks, a medical examination and pregnancy test should be done. Before using the MAP, women should consult their doctor to ensure that it will not be harmful to their health. For example, women unable to take the Pill should probably not take the MAP.

Although the MAP is a highly effective treatment that has been licensed in the United Kingdom since 1984, in North America, public policy clearly lags behind scientific evidence. Current availability of the MAP has been hampered due to anti-choice lobbying, which has inhibited drug companies from applying for licensing. Despite this, the MAP is used by some physicians and contraceptive clinics. In B.C., it is available by prescription from sympathetic doctors, Planned Parenthood clinics, hospital emergency departments, and medical clinics.

Knowledge about the MAP is very low amongst sexually active women and health care providers. A large U.S. study estimated that one third of unintended pregnancies could be avoided with widespread use of the MAP. Two editorials in leading medical journals have called for the MAP to be taken off prescription and made widely available, given its proven safety record, effectiveness, and the cost-benefit of its availability.

The pro-choice movement has been recommending the promotion of this safe and effective method for years. In B.C., a Task Force on Access to Contraception and Abortion Services was appointed by the Minister of Health in 1992. The Task Force’s report, entitled Realizing Choices, was issued in August, 1994. Among many other things, the Task Force stated that underuse of the MAP is the most significant gap in contraceptive care in B.C. and recommended an information campaign to increase public awareness. The Task Force also recommended that the safety and effectiveness of MAP and other low-dose oral contraceptives be reviewed, with a view to asking the federal Health Protection Branch to change the licensing requirements to make such contraceptives available in pharmacies without prescription.

Recently, Vancouver health authorities have responded by starting a campaign to promote the MAP. Posters will appear at teen hangouts, waiting rooms, and youth centres to target young women between the ages of 15 and 30, the most common users of abortion services. As well as reducing the number of unintended pregnancies, local officials stated that increased use of the MAP could cut the cost of taxpayer-funded abortions by about $450,000 a year. About 50 to 60 teenage girls out of every 1000 become pregnant each year in B.C. The Provincial Health Officer recommends a target of 20 per 1000.

Doctor Shot in Ontario

Dr. Hugh Short, a Hamilton gynecologist, was shot at his home on November 10 by an unknown assailant. A bullet smashed through the window of his second-floor den where he and his wife were relaxing, striking Dr. Short's right elbow. His wife was not injured.

Police immediately put Dr. Short and his family under police protection. On the following Sunday, police found a bullet cartridge in a wooded ravine behind Short's house. At first, police suspected it may have been a stray bullet from a hunter, but by the next week, forensic findings eliminated this possibility.

There are no suspects in the shooting, but investigators speculated that Short, 62, may have been the target of an anti-choice sniper. Dr. Short performs some abortions at Henderson General Hospital in Hamilton, and is the longest-standing staff member in the hospital's obstetrics and gynecology department. The hospital regularly experiences demonstrations by anti-choice protesters.

Vancouver police noted the similarity between Dr. Short's case and the unsolved shooting of Vancouver's Dr. Garson Romalis last November, and said they would monitor Dr. Short's case closely. Dr. Romalis was shot through a glass door of his home while eating breakfast, seriously injuring his leg.