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a publication of BC's Pro-Choice Action Network
Summer 2000 Issue
Table of Contents
BC / Canadian News
U.S. /International News
Doctor Attacked Again
Anti-Choicers Polish Their Spin, But Still Use Violent Rhetoric and Blame Others
The July 11 stabbing of Dr. Garson Romalis at his medical clinic by a hooded attacker prompted massive media attention in Canada, and heightened security by clinics and doctors across North America.
Dr. Romalis suffered a single knife wound to his back. The knife missed his kidney but nicked his spleen. He will recover and is reportedly doing very well, but has net yet decided whether to return to his practice. Dr. Romalis was also the first victim of the so-called Remembrance Day sniper shootings. He was shot and seriously wounded in the leg in November 1994. He is the first doctor ever to be attacked twice.
Vancouver police immediately called for clinics and doctors in BC to be on full alert. The National Abortion Federation in Washington, DC, also put out a North-America wide alert to all its clinic members. The culprit has not been caught, as of press time.
Speculation that the attack may have been prompted by the arrival of mifepristone in BC or by the election of Stockwell Day as the official leader of the federal Opposition, remains just that - speculation. It's impossible to know what goes on inside an irrational, criminal mind, especially one that probably belongs to an anti-abortion fanatic.
In the aftermath of the stabbing, media pressure was intense. Like usual, the media focused on the sensationalistic aspects of the incident, playing up the notion of doctors' "fear" and trying to escalate the conflict between the pro-choice and anti-choice "sides." Repeated attempts to explain that doctors and the pro-choice community were generally more angry than afraid largely fell on deaf ears. But the media eagerly lapped up the strong message that, once again, violent anti-abortion rhetoric has likely led to this continued violence against doctors.
While many anti-choice groups and individuals denounced the violence, others heartily endorsed it, or blamed the pro-choice movement. In response to the stabbing, Reverend Donald Spitz of Pro-life Virginia said, "Force used against abortion mills or those who murder unborn (or partially born) children is totally justified". Peggy Holland, a regular protester at Everywoman's Health Centre, said "If you want to find murderers, go in there," pointing to the clinic. When Dr. Romalis was shot in 1994, Betty Green, President of the Vancouver Right to Life Society, said that the "law should be putting people like this to death." After the recent stabbing, she accused pro-choice groups of being responsible for the attack themselves, apparently to get publicity and support and make "pro-lifers" look bad.
Pro-choice spokespersons were able to point to associations between mainstream anti-choice groups in Canada and extremist groups and individuals. The BC Pro-Life Society recently invited doctor-murder advocate Dr. Bernard Nathanson to Vancouver (see page 8), even though the Society's Executive Director Monica Roddis condemned the Romalis stabbing and said that "anyone who does this is not part of the pro-life movement."
Campaign Life Coalition put up a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the stabber, but in the past, they have worked closely with Missionaries to the Preborn, headed by violence-advocate Matthew Trewhella. They also consider convicted clinic invader/burglar Joan Andrews-Bell "a shining example of what the pro-life movement is all about." The President of Campaign Life Coalition, Jim Hughes, condemned the stabbing unequivocally, but when Dr. Barnett Slepian was shot dead in 1998, Hughes weakly denounced the killing while complaining that Slepian was killing babies and should have expected someone to come after him.
Therefore, we find these recent anti-choice condemnations of the stabbing and offers of rewards to be insincere. Although there is some improvement compared to past statements and activities, we believe the more savvy elements of the anti-choice movement have simply learned to cloak their true feelings and beliefs because they know how badly the violence hurts their public image. Ultimately, they care far more for fetuses than they do for doctors - or women.
Mifepristone IS HERE!!
On July 6, Dr. Ellen Wiebe of Vancouver announced a trial study of mifepristone, the French abortion pill formerly known as RU-486.
Dr. Wiebe is conducting the study with the participation of three other research centres in Ontario and Quebec. The study is a comparison between mifepristone and another abortion drug, methotrexate. Women seeking a medical abortion who agree to participate in the study will receive either one or the other drug. Thirteen subjects have joined the study so far, which began on June 27.
The study will examine how much more effective mifepristone is over methotrexate, and quantify the differences between the two. It is already known that mifepristone is quicker and more reliable than methotrexate.
Thousands of methotrexate abortions have already been performed safely and successfully in BC by Dr. Ellen Wiebe. Methotrexate is approved in Canada for treatment of cancer, arthritis, and skin conditions, but once a drug is approved, doctors are allowed to use it for other purposes.
Mifepristone has not received general approval. Health Canada has only given the drug "investigational status" for Dr. Wiebe's study.
Dr. Wiebe has been working extensively with Health Canada and the French manufacturers of mifepristone, Exelgyn, for well over a year. Two of her applications for investigational status were rejected before Health Canada finally approved it, after much consultation. It is not known whether the political nature of the drug made the application more difficult, but it may have. Health Canada at first refused to approve the use of misoprostol for the study (a prostaglandin that must be used with mifepristone), but later relented. Dr. Wiebe's medical protocol will follow the one used in France.
Exelgyn is charging Dr. Wiebe $30 per dose for the drug, a last-minute increase from their initial offer of $5 per dose. To cover costs, the BC Ministry of Health is providing $52,000 in funding for the BC portion of the study, the first time the ministry has ever funded a research study. However, this is only one-fifth of the total estimated cost for the study, $250,000. The other three centres were unable to obtain any funding for the study, and will rely primarily on professional staff volunteering their time. Dr. Wiebe will be supplying the centres with the drug. Normally, foundations fund drug research trials, but they considered mifepristone to be "political," not scientific.
Congratulations to Dr. Wiebe for all her hard work! It was her dogged determination and refusal to stop applying to Health Canada that resulted in this exciting opportunity. Dr. Wiebe hopes that her study will help facilitate future approval of mifepristone in Canada. In the meantime, many Canadian women will enjoy a better option for early termination of pregnancy.
How Mifepristone Works
Mifepristone interrupts pregnancy during the first seven weeks gestation, and is about 95% effective. It blocks the production of progesterone, a hormone needed to sustain a fertilized egg. Without progesterone, the lining of the uterus softens and breaks down, and bleeding begins.
The regimen normally requires at least three visits to the clinic. At the first visit, the woman swallows three tablets of mifepristone and remains under observation for 30 minutes. At the second visit, two days later, the woman swallows two tablets of an oral prostaglandin and remains at the clinic for up to four hours. After two weeks the woman returns for a follow-up visit to confirm that the abortion is complete.
The medical advantages of mifepristone include:
- It can be used in the earliest weeks following fertilization. This reduces the medical risk to women, and decreases waiting periods, since surgical abortion cannot be performed until at least 7 weeks gestation.
It requires no invasive procedure or surgery.
It requires no anesthesia.
Side effects other than bleeding tend to be short-lived.
There is no risk of uterine perforation or injury to the cervix.
It is slightly more effective than methotrexate, quicker, and more predictable.
Mifepristone's Use to be Restricted in U.S.
Mifepristone will be approved in the United States with a proposed September 30 release date, but in early June, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced plans to impose onerous restrictions on its use. Doctors will only be able to administer mifepristone if they have admitting privileges at a hospital within one hour of their offices, and have certified training in providing surgical abortions. Also, the FDA will require a follow-up study of all women who have medical abortions.
If implemented, the restrictions would significantly limit the number of doctors willing and able to use mifepristone. Many doctors do not have hospital admitting privileges, and the vast majority of family doctors and gynecologists do not currently provide surgical abortions at all. The restrictions would almost completely eliminate the main advantages of mifepristone - increasing the number of doctors who perform abortions, improving access for women, and reducing the risk of anti-choice harassment of doctors.
The proposed restrictions appear unjustified for medical or safety reasons, since they do not apply to any other type of drug. Pro-choice supporters accused the FDA of caving into anti-abortion demands. "This latest development in the ongoing approval process for mifepristone has nothing to do with medicine, and everything to do with anti-choice politics," said Vicki Saporta, Executive Director of the National Abortion Federation. "If those requirements are put into place, the ability of physicians to provide this safe option will effectively be curtailed, and American women will have difficulty in accessing this safe health care option that women around the world already have."
However, the Population Council, the non-profit organization that holds the US patent for mifepristone, may be willing to accept the FDA restrictions just to get the pill on the market. "[We] would like to get the drug approved, and if we have to accept some restrictions we would do so, and try to get some of them repealed after approval,'' said Sandra Arnold, the organization's VP for Corporate Affairs.
Since 1981, women in 20 countries have used mifepristone safely and successfully. Government regulatory agencies in France, Great Britain, China, Sweden, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, and Spain have approved the drug for marketing.
Alliance Drags Abortion Onto Public Stage
The race between contenders for the leadership of the new Canadian Alliance party has pushed abortion and other social issues onto centre stage in Canada.
Both Stockwell Day and former Reform leader Preston Manning are anti-choice, but Day in particular was more forthright in expressing his anti-choice views and making it clear he would allow future referendums on the funding of abortion, as well as promote anti-choice policies in his government. Day attempted to soften and even hide his position by claiming he would not "invade peoples' rights" (a reference to gays and lesbians), and by saying a referendum on abortion during his first term was "unlikely". Day is an ordained minister in the Pentecostal Church, and a former administrator of a private Christian evangelical school in Alberta.
The focus on social issues became sharper when Tom Long, a provincial Conservative organizer from Ontario, entered the leadership race. Anti-abortion group Campaign Life Coalition "exposed" Long as having (gasp) two "self-proclaimed homosexuals" on his staff and a "strongly pro-gay" campaign manager. All four candidates responded with statements against discrimination. In addition, Long said the party can't afford to argue about divisive social issues, even though he called himself "pro-life".
Long and candidate Keith Martin (MP for Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca) dropped out of the race after losing on the first ballot on June 24. Day scored an unexpected upset over Manning, taking 44% of the vote, compared to Manning's 36%. Because neither candidate received a majority of votes, a run-off vote was held on July 8. Day emerged the runaway winner over Manning, with about 63% of the votes.
Major newspapers across Canada gave extensive and favourable coverage to the leadership race, seemingly far more than is warranted for a party that only a relatively small minority of Canadians would actually vote for. Erin Kaiser of UBC Students for Choice argued that this extra publicity on abortion may signify a shift in political debate that does not bode well for the pro-choice movement. "The Conrad Black support behind the Alliance is showing its face in the media for one reason: to shift the spectrum of debate in Canada further to the right, even if Canadian voters are not further to the right - yet," warned Kaiser. "By discussing abortion and other 'moral' issues, they become debatable, and those who support anti-choice platforms become legitimate, and their ideas are given a soapbox."
The Canadian Abortion Rights Action League is warning supporters in their current newsletter that voter apathy could help the Alliance in an election and "a small group of mobilized anti-choice fanatics could win a referendum in the face of a majority of voters who stay home." League spokesperson Cyndy Recker also noted that Day tried to have government funding for abortions halted in Alberta and has said the only time abortion is acceptable is to save the life of a mother, not even in cases of rape or incest. Said Recker, "We're concerned that people will knowingly sacrifice reproductive rights because they'll think maybe we'll get some tax cuts from the Alliance."
Daryll Bricker of Angus Reid polling and research agreed. "If Stockwell Day takes a law-and-order approach with an economically conservative perspective - less government, cutting taxes - he's got an audience in Ontario," he said. "If he's talking about holding a referendum on abortion? It's not even that people are for or against it. They're just not interested." Bricker believes that in spite of the media coverage and momentum of the Alliance campaign, social conservatism is definitely not sweeping the country. "The evidence is exactly the opposite," he said. "Canadians have actually become more tolerant over time." He added that "People just aren't interested in talking about these things that are way, way on the margins. They want to move onto a new agenda, to talk about other stuff."
Bricker's comments are supported by a surprising poll by Faron Ellis, a political scientist at Lethbridge Community College. Before the Reform party became the Alliance, Ellis and colleagues asked Reform party members if they agreed with the statement: "Abortion should be a matter to be decided privately between a woman and her doctor." Amazingly, 61 percent agreed. Previous polls have shown that almost 80% of Canadians are pro-choice.
Emergency Contraception Delayed
Anti-Choice Scramble to Pass Conscience Clauses
Legal problems have delayed the introduction of emergency contraception dispensed by pharmacists in BC without a doctor's prescription. The Ministry of Health and the College of Pharmacists of BC had planned to offer over-the-counter emergency contraception starting May 1, but this date has now been pushed to the fall.
Registrar Linda Lytle of the College of Pharmacists of BC said, "Initially, the College felt that BC legislation would permit the government to let pharmacists prescribe the drug, but legal counsel for the Ministry of Health did not agree." Instead, the College drew up a proposal for a pilot project, which is awaiting anticipated final approval by the BC College of Physicians and Surgeons. A fall launch date for the project is expected. The pilot project will make emergency contraception (such as Preven) available province-wide for the next two years, most likely using BC's Medical Health Officer as the delegated prescriber of the drug, said Lytle. This will allow specially-certified pharmacists to dispense it over the counter.
In early June, the Manitoba Pharmaceutical Association endorsed a "protection-of-conscience" policy allowing Manitoba pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions they believe to be morally inappropriate. Emergency contraception is the main type of drug being targeted, as well as euthanasia drugs. Not only can pharmacists refuse to dispense such prescriptions under the policy, they do not have to provide a referral to another pharmacy or another source for the medication.
Manitoba's 1,000 pharmacists are the first in Canada to endorse such a policy, and pharmaceutical associations in Ontario and Nova Scotia are reportedly considering freedom-of-conscience policies in the future. In April, a private member's bill was introduced in the Alberta Legislature that would give health workers the right to conscientiously object to providing treatment they find morally offensive. However, it was not passed before the spring session ended.
Newspapers Print False Ad Defaming Abortion Doctors
On April 23, the Burnaby Now and the Royal City Record community newspapers published a disgusting anti-abortion ad that was both false and defamatory.
The full-page ad claimed that abortion doctors and clinics were profiting from the sale of fetal tissue, and even killing live babies in order to harvest and sell their body parts. The ad included a "price list" of seemingly exorbitant prices for various fetal parts, and also stated: "Abortionists are paid by mothers or by governments on their behalf to kill their children and paid again by researchers for the body parts." The ad was placed by the Burnaby Pro-Life Society, which exploited the ad's vicious lies by soliciting donations to "stop this murderous practice."
Of course, not a shred of evidence exists that any North American abortion provider or clinic is engaged in profiting from fetal tissue research. The ad's claims were a rerun of now-disproven allegations from the radical anti-abortion group Life Dynamics Inc. of Texas, and one of their many paid spies, Lawrence Dean Alberty, Jr. (see accompanying sidebar at end of this article, plus the Spring 2000 issue of Pro-Choice Press). Both Alberty and his story of a "baby parts racket" were completely discredited in front of a U.S. Congressional committee hearing on March 9, six weeks before the papers published the ads.
The Pro-Choice Action Network has filed a formal complaint with Advertising Standards Canada, who accepted the complaint and is currently investigating. This federal watchdog agency enforces the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards and penalizes advertisers found to be in contravention of the Code.
Meanwhile, Pro-CAN is currently engaged in a concerted campaign to get the newspapers to print retractions. Neither paper has yet done so, but we are determined to continue our efforts. We hope to print a full report on our numerous actions, and the disgraceful responses of the papers, especially the Burnaby Now, in an upcoming issue of Pro-Choice Press.
This issue is not a trifling one - Stockwell Day used the "baby parts racket" as part of his anti-choice political campaign. In the Vancouver Sun recently, right-wing columnist Trevor Lautens quoted prices from the discredited "fetal parts price list." And on the Internet, the fabrications of Life Dynamics and Alberty have found countless comfortable homes, with "pro-life" websites repeating the lies like gospel. Even though the anti-choice will ignore the evidence and never stop spewing these malicious untruths, it is essential that we confront the lies, defend the integrity of abortion providers, and place the refuting evidence into the public record for all reasonable people to see.
Alberty's Sorry Record
In exchange for payments of over $21,000, Life Dynamics persuaded Lawrence Dean Alberty Jr. to spy on his employer, Opening Lines, a biomedical company for which he collected fetal tissue from clinics for distribution to research institutions (a legal practice). Life Dynamics recorded a videotape of Alberty disguised as a woman using the pseudonym "Kelly." In the videotape, Alberty claimed that the company was selling the fetal tissue at a profit (which is illegal), and he related inflammatory anecdotes about doctors killing live-born aborted fetuses.
Alberty officially recanted almost all of his allegations in a sworn affidavit in January, including his claim that his employer was profiting from fetal tissue. (One allegation he maintained was that sometimes doctors would illegally alter the abortion procedure to obtain better-quality tissue.) Alberty also stated in the affidavit that Life Dynamics may have changed some of his answers on the videotape, and even substituted someone else during parts of it without his knowledge. In front of a Congressional hearing on March 9, he confessed to "embellishing" his stories on the videotape, and to stealing confidential documents from abortion clinics, Opening Lines, and the National Abortion Federation to give to Life Dynamics.
At the hearing, Alberty also revealed that he himself helped create the bogus "fetal parts" price list featured in the ad, while he was being paid by Life Dynamics to uncover evidence of profiteering! Alberty and his employer, Dr. Miles Jones, met over dinner and practically wrote it on a dinner napkin, with Dr. Jones accepting Alberty's recommendations without question. Although the price list was apparently distributed by Dr. Jones, there is no evidence of research institutions actually paying such outrageous prices. Indeed, since they can already obtain fetal tissue legitimately for free or for a nominal handling cost, a "baby parts racket" cannot even plausibly exist. Representatives from clinics, tissue collection agencies, and research institutions testified at the hearing that they had no knowledge of anyone profiting from fetal tissue or paying high prices for it.
A Republican anti-choice senator at the hearing was so disturbed at the many inconsistencies between Alberty's testimony, the affidavit, and the videotape that he declared Alberty's credibility "shot."
Also, it's worth noting that in spite of Alberty's professed trauma over the alleged abuses in fetal tissue harvesting, he continues to do exactly the same work today.
No company, abortion clinic, or doctor is currently under investigation for profiteering or has any allegations against them, other than Alberty's former employer - Dr. Miles Jones and his company Opening Lines - which no longer handles fetal tissue. But even these very isolated allegations remain unproven and the evidence is weak. However, if any illegal practices are occurring anywhere, the unanimous pro-choice position is that those responsible should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Case of the Court Jesters
Bubble Zone Trial Showcases Bizarre,
Oppressive, and Dangerous Anti-Choice Beliefs
In a seven-day trial that began on May 29 in Vancouver, anti-abortion activists Donald Spratt and Gordon Watson defended themselves from charges that they violated the bubble zone around Everywoman's Health Centre on December 17, 1998.
On that date, Watson and Spratt told the court they stood in front of the clinic, usually on opposite ends, with Watson holding anti-abortion signs and handing out literature, and Spratt sporting a 7-foot high wooden crucifix with a "You shall not murder" sign on it.
Watson has a history of violence and was once convicted of assault. Many clinic staff members consider him to be dangerous. Spratt is a Christian minister formerly with Operation Rescue, who was arrested about 10 years ago for violating an injunction outside Everywoman's.
Spratt engaged lawyer Charles Lugosi, while Watson defended himself, thereby providing the court with the bizarre spectacle of Watson cross-examining himself.
The Spratt and Watson "teams" made a strenuous effort to distance themselves from each other, with Watson at one point encouraging Judge Frances Howard to make good on her threat to sever the defendants from each other and try them separately. The judge was reacting in frustration to Watson's habits of violating court procedures, introducing conspiracy theories as evidence, raising irrelevant and frivolous issues, and last but not least, reprimanding the judge.
During the trial, Lugosi (Spratt's lawyer) told the judge that some of Watson's ideas "border on paranoia." These ideas included, for example (these are not exact quotes):
- Staff at Everywoman's Health Centre use fetal body parts for witchcraft rituals.
The NDP government is paying kickbacks to the Everywoman's Health Centre, as much as $1000 per abortion.
Everywoman's is in violation of fair wage requirements in provincial labour laws, because at the clinic, the "wages of sin are death."
Watson is "Ariel, Lion of Israel" a "prophet" called by God, and "guardian of the unborn."
High levels of government and law enforcement are involved in a conspiracy against Watson.
The best place to shoot an "abortionist" is BC, because of the restrictive Access to Abortion Services Act (i.e., it removes the rights of pro-lifers and promotes the killing of children).
It would be permissible to kill a doctor under justifiable homicide laws (i.e., killing in self-defence or to save someone's life, such as an unborn baby). However, killing a doctor would be the last resort if all other avenues have been exhausted, and Watson feels he has many avenues still to explore.
Spratt's "religiously-based" protest was allegedly unrelated to Watson's, who was there to make a "political statement". Both men agreed that they deliberately sought to test the limits of the law, and expected to be arrested. However, when Watson cross-examined Spratt, he managed to destroy Spratt's carefully constructed appearance of separateness. The court learned that Watson and Spratt had planned their clinic protests together, arrived together, and left together. Watson even made Spratt's sign and crucifix for him.
Lugosi portrayed Spratt as a deeply religious man who was at the clinic "out of necessity to save unborn children who cannot defend themselves" and "under moral compulsion in obedience to the supremacy of God." The purpose of his actions was to proclaim "his religious, moral, and philosophical belief based upon Christian authority that abortion was murder."
Lugosi essentially argued the following points in defending Spratt:
Abortion is the murder of a human being, and a cruel, evil monstrosity.
The reference to the "supremacy of God" in the preamble to Canada's constitution is binding on judges, and Canada's justice system must be subject to God's laws and Biblical authority.
Judges who made past decisions supporting abortion rights erred, and are guilty of subverting the Charter of Rights and justice.
The Access to Abortion Services Act is an unjustified attack on freedoms of conscience, religion, expression, association, and assembly.
The Act expands upon the Criminal Code, making it an illegal encroachment on federal jurisdiction.
Some quotes from Lugosi's written legal submission to the court enlighten us on Spratt's views of women and their rightful duties:
"The domination of an unborn child's life by the exercise of a mother's will is incompatible with a free and democratic society that values the right to life and equality for all."
"Truly a mother who loves her unborn child would be prepared to sacrifice her life to save that child."
"... the laws [in Canada] always treated the mother and unborn child as one. This, of course, is fiction and nonsense. It is merely an excuse for the mother to exercise her will to dominate the life of her unborn child."
"The pregnant mother's right to life, liberty and security of the person must stop with her unborn child's right to life."
"Our Court says that to deny abortion is domination of women by men and by the state. The Court fails to consider that abortion is the domination of the child by the mother."
Crown prosecutor Donald Celle ably argued that the Access to Abortion Services Act only restricts speech in a particular place and manner, which is allowed under the Charter. Second, the Act does not deal with abortion, only access to abortion, which means that the defendants' arguments about the fetus' right to life are irrelevant. Third, the Act applies to all citizens, not just anti-abortion protesters (even pro-choice demonstrations are prohibited by the Act). Fourth, BC and Canada are multicultural, with citizens practicing many religions - we cannot be ruled by one set of sectarian rules.
The judge's decision is expected on August 8.
Morgentaler Fights for Funding
Canada's abortion pioneer Dr. Henry Morgentaler is continuing his political battles with federal and provincial governments over funding of abortions in clinics.
Currently, Quebec and Nova Scotia provide only partial funding to clinics, and New Brunswick and Manitoba refuse to pay a penny. Prince Edward Island will not provide any abortion services whatsoever. In 1995, then-Health Minister Diane Marleau ordered the provinces to pay full fees for abortions at clinics; otherwise, their federal transfer payments would be reduced via penalties. (Hospital abortions are fully funded by all provinces and territories except PEI, which in practice only funds abortions for PEI women who travel to provinces where hospitals won't do abortions on out-of-province women.)
At a May 31 press conference in Toronto, Dr. Morgentaler read an open letter to Health Minister Allan Rock, in which he pointed out that the federal government has not enforced the Canada Health Act in regards to abortion services in those five provinces. The provinces have not even been penalized as promised by Health Canada in 1995. Morgentaler noted that Rock had recently pledged to uphold the principles of the Canada Health Act and not permit a system of two-tier medicine; however, two-tier medicine is defacto in place for abortion services in the five provinces openly flouting the Act. Morgentaler urged Rock to keep his promises and act decisively to force these provinces to provide abortion services to women under Medicare. "The hodgepodge of services to women depending on which province they live in must end. Canadian women have a right to expect that you will protect their rights to health care no matter where they live," concluded Morgentaler in his letter.
Then, Dr. Morgentaler held a joint press conference with the Manitoba Coalition for Reproductive Choice in Winnipeg on June 23. Morgentaler announced that Manitoba's new NDP government has refused to fund the Morgentaler Clinic in Winnipeg. Since the waiting list for abortions in the only hospital in Winnipeg providing them is four weeks, but only a few days at the Morgentaler Clinic, this decision will endanger women's health, Morgentaler said. "Every week of delay increases the medical risks to women by 20 percent", he said, so it seems the government "is not concerned about the health risks to women in need of abortions."
Although the previous NDP government in Manitoba (under Gary Filmon) had licensed other private clinics, Morgentaler said that because of its "right-wing anti-choice dogmatism", it had singled out the Morgentaler clinic for discrimination by refusing to license it (or fund it). Morgentaler then accused Manitoba's new Doer NDP government of "left-wing dogmatism" for continuing to victimize women and deny their fundamental rights to safe medical abortion. Also, Manitoba is "in violation of the federal government's guidelines on providing essential medical services under the Canada Health Act", said Morgentaler.
Bernard Nathanson Visits Vancouver
"Peaceful Pro-Lifers" Invite Murder Advocate
On May 15, Dr. Bernard Nathanson was the keynote speaker at the Pro-Life Society of BC's Focus on Life benefit dinner, held at the Vancouver Trade & Convention Centre. The benefit dinner raised $96,000 for airing anti-choice television ads in BC. Twelve hundred people paid $50 each to attend.
Nathanson is a popular anti-choice speaker, author of the book "Aborting America," and creator of the discredited film "The Silent Scream." He is also a former abortion doctor who performed over 70,000 abortions at his New York clinic in the 1970's before changing his views and becoming anti-choice. Although the anti-choice movement claims that abortion is genocide, comparable to the Nazi Holocaust, they revere and lionize Dr. Nathanson, who is a former "genocidal murderer" according to their own definition.
UBC Students for Choice pointed out a further hypocrisy in a May 15 press release. By inviting Nathanson to Vancouver, the BC anti-abortion movement has welcomed into its ranks a man who publicly defends the murder of abortion providers.
In December 1994, five months after the murder of Dr. John Britton and James Barrett by Rev. Paul Hill in Pensacola, Florida, the US Catholic magazine First Things published a feature entitled "Killing Abortionists: A Symposium". Most of the contributors to this feature opposed the murders. Bernard Nathanson did not.
Nathanson stated clearly that under certain circumstances, he is quite willing to support murder. He declared: "If Hill had caught Dr. Britton in the act of commencing an abortion (which is, after all, a lethal assault on a human being - I am one of those who draws no moral distinction between the born and the unborn), then he would have been correct in interposing his body between Dr. Britton and the unborn, and if necessary defending the unborn with the use of lethal force if Britton was determined to proceed with his assault." (Nathanson's entire statement can be found on the Web here - he goes on to chastise Paul Hill for murdering Dr. Britton in the wrong way.)
For many years, the Ted Gerks and John Hofs of the world have bitterly complained that they are victims of "guilt by association." They point to the fact that they condemn violence in press release after press release. However, actions speak louder than words. On May 15, the leadership of BC's anti-choice movement promoted and showcased a man who defends murder.
We can't tell them to dissociate themselves from Bernard Nathanson. After all, it's their choice. But if they want to end the guilt by association, it's real simple. All they have to do is end the association.
Litigious GAP Threatens Pro-CAN
In April, the Center for Bio-ethical Reform of California (CBR), creators and sponsors of the notorious Genocide Awareness Project (GAP), threatened the Pro-Choice Action Network with a lawsuit unless we provided a "full and unequivocal" retraction of alleged "defamatory statements" made in two articles we wrote about them: "Anti-abortion Tactics Were Designed to Incite Trouble" by Judy Hecht and Joyce Arthur, published in the Vancouver Sun on February 24, 2000; and "Genocide Awareness Project Stopped by UBC" by Joyce Arthur, published in the Autumn 1999 issue of the Pro-Choice Press. Both articles are on our website.
CBR/GAP is currently engaged in a campaign to force their "abortion is genocide" view onto all North American university students, by coming onto campuses and displaying graphic billboards depicting historical atrocities next to pictures of aborted fetuses. For a fuller picture of GAP's tactics, please see additional articles about GAP in the Winter 99/00 and Spring 2000 issues of Pro-Choice Press.
Ironically, just before we received GAP's lawsuit threat, we had just written an article (Spring 2000) that focused on the litigious nature of GAP, which regularly uses threats of lawsuits as a bully tactic whenever they don't get their way. They even brag about it on their website.
Through their lawyer, CBR cited so many statements in our articles that they considered defamatory, that their demand for retraction basically amounted to a retraction of the entire articles. Since CBR made it impossible for us to comply with their demands, we were left to surmise that CBR was so rattled over our unflattering portrait of them, and so worried about our perceived power and influence, that they must have felt compelled to try and silence us the only way they know how.
Nevertheless, to avoid the risk of a potential lawsuit, we are publishing a retraction on one point and two minor clarifications to the Pro-Choice Press article. As for the Vancouver Sun article, we have sent a letter to the Sun with the same retraction and one minor clarification.
The Pro-Choice Action Network would like to retract the claim that Genocide Awareness Project staff or volunteers yelled racial epithets through bullhorns. Although we had what we believe are reliable second-hand sources from two universities reporting these claims, we have been unable to substantiate these reports with direct eyewitnesses. We apologize sincerely to the Center for Bio-ethical Reform for any harm our unsubstantiated claim may have caused them.
Re the sentence: "A rude 'F--- you' message left on an answering machine that flatly stated that GAP was coming onto campus ..." Has been changed to: "An intimidating 'F--- you'-type message left on an answering machine that flatly stated that GAP was coming onto campus..."
Re the sentence: "At the same time, Cunningham launched a lawsuit against UBC..." Has been changed to: "At the same time, Cunningham threatened to launch a lawsuit against UBC..."
Meanwhile, Pro-CAN will continue its efforts to refute GAP's hateful propaganda and expose its intimidation tactics. We are pleased to announce that the American magazine The Humanist has published an article by Joyce Arthur exposing GAP. The article (July/August issue) also refutes the insulting notion that abortion is genocide. Further, UBC Students for Choice, with our help, is publishing a campus handbook for student groups to help them organize against GAP visits.
U.S. Supreme Court Overturns Ban on "Partial-Birth" Abortion
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Nebraska law on June 28 that banned so-called "partial-birth" abortion (PBA). The court ruled in a narrow 5-4 decision that the law was unconstitutional because it placed "an undue burden on a woman's right to make an abortion decision."
Thirty other states currently have PBA bans, and it is expected that these bans will no longer withstand constitutional muster. However, the anti-choice movement has already begun the process of rewriting them, including the Nebraska law.
The court threw out Nebraska's ban because it did not allow an exception for the woman's health and because it did not specify the abortion procedure to be banned. Almost all state bans are worded similarly. "Partial-birth" abortion is a non-medical, political term coined by the anti-choice. The campaign to enact PBA bans is, in fact, a deceptive attempt by the anti-choice to ban all or most abortions. Several abortion procedures used for early and mid-term pregnancy could fit the vague definition given to PBA in the bans, which in the Nebraska law, makes it a crime if someone performing an abortion "partially delivers vaginally a living unborn child before killing the unborn child and completing the delivery."
In particular, the court ruled that the definition of "partial-birth" abortion may encompass the dilation and evacuation method (D&E), the most commonly used second-trimester procedure. The court saw through the dishonest ruse by the anti-choice, who would refuse to modify the bans' language to name a particular procedure, while publicly insisting that PBA's refer only to "dilation and extraction" (D&X). In this procedure, the doctor removes a fetus intact from the birth canal after collapsing the skull. D&X's are most common in the second-trimester of pregnancy between 20 and 24 weeks, and more rarely in the third trimester if the woman faces a life-threatening illness or the fetus has severe abnormalities. Doctors choose the D&X method because they believe it is safer for some women. D&X abortions are very rare: just 650 were performed in the U.S. in 1996 during the third trimester, and under 5000 were performed in the second trimester. There were 1.4 million U.S. abortions in 1996.
LeRoy Carhart, one of three abortion doctors in Nebraska and the only one who performs the D&X procedure (for second-trimester only), challenged the ban in lower courts, arguing that it was written so broadly that it could prohibit other types of early abortion methods and make all abortions more dangerous.
This was the Supreme Court's first ruling on abortion since 1992, when it reaffirmed the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established women's constitutional right to abortion. This latest ruling will likely make abortion a key issue in this year's election campaign. Republican candidate George W. Bush supports PBA bans and a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion, while Democratic candidate Al Gore praised the court's decision and fully supports a woman's right to choose abortion.
Pro-choice supporters celebrated the Supreme Court ruling with "champagne and shivers" according to one spokesperson, because of the narrow 5-4 margin. Of the nine Supreme Court justices, three are pro-choice, three have had mixed rulings on the abortion issue, and three are strongly anti-choice and want to repeal Roe v. Wade.
As explained by Patricia Ireland, President of the National Organization for Women, the court's decision to throw out the PBA ban was only a reprieve. "The real fate of legal abortion will be in the hands of the next president, who will appoint as many as three justices to the narrowly divided high court," Ireland said. And a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood said, ``While it looks like a victory, this is a beginning, not the end. Anti-choice state legislatures and governors across the country will use this ruling as a blueprint for drafting new bans on abortion procedures - laws which will soon be tested by the Supreme Court once again.''
U.S. Abortion Doctor Jailed for Death of Patient
Dr. Bruce Steir, a California abortion provider, was sentenced in May to six months in jail for second-degree murder in the death of a patient. Sharon Hamptlon underwent a second-trimester abortion at Dr. Steir's clinic in December, 1996 and tragically died of hemorrhage several hours later due to a perforated uterus.
However, Dr. Steir's criminal conviction and imprisonment appears to be the unjust result of anti-choice politics and harassment. The Medical Board of California is stacked with anti-abortionists, and its treatment of Dr. Steir is the most extreme example of its well-documented campaign to harass providers of mid-term abortions, by placing them on probation and suspending or revoking their licenses.
Upon the death of his patient, the Board forced Dr. Steir to turn over his license, then quickly referred him for criminal prosecution. Although Dr. Steir steadfastly maintained his innocence, this year he finally accepted a plea bargain of involuntary manslaughter to reduce the risk of a longer jail sentence, and because he was both emotionally and financially drained from his 31/2 year ordeal and wanted to put the case behind him. An unsympathetic judge sentenced him to a six-month jail term in May, which he began serving immediately.
Dr. Steir was a board certified Ob-Gyn physician, and has performed abortions since 1973. He was medical director of several clinics during his career, and traveled great distances to provide services to urban and rural women. He performed both first and second-trimester abortions, and his complication rate was extremely low. For years, he has been a target of anti-abortionists, including protests and even threats on his life.
A report by the American Civil Liberties Association of Northern California concludes that Dr. Steir was a victim of anti-abortion politics and should have only lost his licence. The report, entitled Preventing Unfair Prosecution of Abortion Providers: An Investigation into Political Bias by the Medical Board of California is available on the Internet here. The report notes that nearly 100,000 people per year in the United States die as a result of medical error, but doctors rarely face criminal charges as a result. In fact, only 10 murder charges have been laid against doctors in the United States in the past 12 years, in cases considered particularly egregious. But in Steir's case, the California Medical Association (CMA) concluded that Steir's actions "cannot be characterized as criminally negligent behavior, manslaughter, or any kind of criminal act."
Specifically, the report found that:
- The majority of doctors whose negligence contributes to the death of their patients are not stripped of their licenses by the Medical Board of California, let alone criminally prosecuted.
The Medical Board shields itself from public accountability by refusing to disclose information regarding its referral of doctors for criminal prosecution.
Dr. Steir's case is no more egregious than that of other doctors who were not criminally referred by the Medical Board.
The Medical Board acted against Dr. Steir with extreme haste and vigour, and with incorrect and incomplete information about the incident.
An anti-abortion activist was inappropriately involved in the Medical Board's case against Dr. Steir.
Dr. Steir deserved to lose his license, but he did not deserve to be singled out for criminal prosecution.
Pro-choice supporters fear that Dr. Steir's prejudiced criminal conviction and imprisonment could be used to justify similar arrests and convictions in the future. The stated strategy of anti-abortionists is to wear down providers through protests, legal action, and even murder. And from the beginning, the Steir case has been a part of these systematic attacks on abortion providers. Dr. Warren Hern, a prominent abortion provider from Colorado, even declared Dr. Steir "a political prisoner" and called on the National Abortion Federation to work with Amnesty International and the International Red Cross to free him.
Vatican Obstructs Women's Rights at UN
Delegates from 180 nations wrapped up a week-long United Nations meeting June 10 in New York City. The purpose of the conference was to strengthen and further the goals established five years ago at the U.N. Fourth World Conference for Women in Beijing.
Representatives successfully introduced new measures to combat domestic violence and the international forced trafficking of women and girls. For the first time in an international consensus document, forced marriage and so-called honour killings were addressed, with governments being urged to eradicate these human rights violations. The new plan also called for removing laws that discriminate against women by 2005. Finally, it called for universal education by the year 2015, as well as improving adult literacy programs.
However, a coalition of various reactionary groups and states, coordinated by the New York-based Catholic Family and Human Rights, managed to defeat expanded proposals dealing with reproductive rights and gay/lesbian rights. Fortunately, they failed to remove or backtrack on previous UN gains, but the obstructing nations and groups refused to approve new proposals aimed at making abortion safer, providing sex education to youth, ensuring "sexual rights" of women, promoting equal inheritance laws for women, and prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Most of the nations supporting the Catholic group and the Vatican were either fundamentalist theocracies, or countries known for human rights abuses. They included Pakistan, Iran, Libya, Algeria, Sudan, Nicaragua, Poland, Kenya, and Senegal. Many right-wing non-governmental groups (NGO's) from the United States also banded together with these countries and wielded significant influence.
After the conference was over, the International Planned Parenthood Federation accused Pope John Paul of waging a psychological war against women by opposing abortion and contraception. "The opinion and actions of the Holy See in regard to sexual and reproductive health and rights are seen by many as a kind of war, a war that contributes to the suffering and deaths of millions of innocent people, a war not conducted with guns and fire but with condemnation and psychological terror,'' said IPPF's European Network in a letter to the Vatican, urging it to change its views on sexual and reproductive rights issues.
Meanwhile, Catholics for a Free Choice are continuing their popular "See Change" campaign to downgrade the Vatican's status at the United Nations. The Vatican is the only religion that holds essentially the same power as a nation state at the UN. They have repeatedly used their considerable power to delete or water down reproductive rights and gay/lesbian rights. To sign an electronic postcard supporting the CFFC campaign, go to http://www.seechange.org
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