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Pro-Choice Press

a publication of BC's Pro-Choice Action Network

Summer 2002 Issue

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Table of Contents


BC/Canadian News


Cleaning Contract Creates Controversy

Women's Health Centre Cancels Contract; Lawsuits Follow

A major controversy began on May 17, when the Vancouver Sun revealed that the Children's and Women's Health Centre of BC, a hospital that provides abortions at its onsite C.A.R.E. Program clinic, had awarded a cleaning contract to a company owned by an active anti-choicer, Cecilia von Dehn, and her husband, Ulf von Dehn.

Pro-choice activists and abortion service providers were shocked and dismayed at news of the contract. "Why would they put themselves in a place where something occurs that they are morally and philosophically opposed to?" said Judy Hecht of the Pro-Choice Action Network (Vancouver Sun). "It makes me suspicious of their motives." Abortion provider Dr. Ellen Wiebe was surprised by the hospital's decision and said, "This is very concerning." A nurse at the Women's Health Centre, Lani Dehek, said that anyone "who has been actively involved in anti-abortion activity should not be allowed onsite alongside our patients. This decision puts at great risk women seeking abortion services and increases the level of potential violence against them."

Cecilia von Dehn has protested regularly over the years outside clinics and hospitals that provide abortion services. She was arrested in the late 1980's outside Vancouver's Everywoman's Health Centre, and in 1990, she purchased the house next door to the clinic, for use as a staging centre for clinic protests and vigils. Figures from the National Abortion Federation in Washington, DC, show that in the years 2000 to 2001, the Everywoman's Health Centre experienced the highest number of incidents of harassment and intimidation by anti-choicers in North America.

In March 1998, von Dehn was criticized by then attorney-general Ujjal Dosanjh for sending out a letter to health professionals province-wide, requesting names of doctors who provide or refer for abortion services. The letter was widely viewed by the abortion services community as an attempt to build a "hit list" of doctors for the purpose of harassing them and exposing them to potential violence. Dosanjh was so concerned that he passed the letter on to the ministry's criminal justice branch to see if it violated the Access to Abortion Services Act. (The letter was eventually held not to constitute a direct threat.)

Cecilia von Dehn owns between 5 and 10 percent of A&A Services Co., which is registered as a numbered company in Victoria. A&A's regional manager Dennis Sweetnam said that von Dehn has "nothing to do with the day-to-day cleaning operations" of the company, including the hiring or training of workers, and would not be involved with the Women's Health Centre contract. Sweetnam also protested that A&A has a cleaning contract with Lion's Gate Hospital, but he did not mention that it's only for cleaning an administrative building some distance from the hospital site. Von Dehn herself refused to comment to the media until late in the controversy, when she claimed that "Probably most of the [A&A] company is pro-abortion."

Although the Women's Health Centre contract was only for cleaning the new Children's Ambulatory Care Building, the contract was reportedly open-ended enough to allow easy expansion into other parts of the hospital later, including areas where private medical records and personnel records are kept, and possibly the onsite abortion clinic.

The executive director of women's and family health at the Women's Health Centre, Dr. Elizabeth Whynot, said that hospital staff who awarded the contract likely were unaware of A&A's connection to von Dehn. However, because of concerns expressed by hospital staff and patients over privacy, confidentiality, and safety, the hospital immediately appointed security officers to oversee the cleaning workers until the hospital's administration and lawyers had a chance to review the contract and the hospital's tendering process. The cleaning workers were also required to undergo RCMP criminal record checks. "Our bottom line here is that our staff and our patients feel and are secure," Dr. Whynot said.

BC Health Minister Colin Hansen also waded into the controversy. "There could have been more due diligence" before awarding the contract, he said, noting that the contract should be a lesson for other health authorities that may hire outside agencies to deliver some hospital services as a cost-saving measure. "I'd have liked it if [von Dehn's background] was identified prior to the awarding of the contract," Hansen said. "We always have to be vigilant to ensure confidentiality can't be breached."

The business manager of the Hospital Employee's Union (HEU), Chris Allnutt, called for a moratorium on the contracting out of services and for a public inquiry. The employees of A&A Service Co. belong to the Service Workers of BC union and earn about $9 to $10 an hour. However, most cleaning staff in hospitals are HEU members with an average wage of $17 an hour. These workers generally have many years of experience working in hospitals and have special training to recognize and deal with potential medical hazards and patient confidentiality concerns. Allnutt said the hospital loses control when it contracts out work privately. In a concurring letter to the editor published in the Vancouver Sun, Joyce Arthur of the Pro-Choice Action Network noted that essential safety and confidentiality needs that are unique to hospitals "are compromised by contracts given to private contractors. The hospital no longer controls who has access to their facilities, and the workforce is less stable and less secure."

Several women's groups held a press conference on May 21 demanding that the health minister immediately terminate the contract. Representatives of Everywoman's Health Centre, the Vancouver Women's Health Collective, and the Pro-Choice Action Network, joined HEU's call for a moratorium on the privatization of hospital services and for an independent investigation to be launched into the awarding of the contract by the Women's Health Centre. The women said the need to ensure the safety and confidentiality of patients and staff must be the number one concern of the hospital, the health authority, and the Liberal government. They outlined von Dehn's history of harassing abortion providers, and said that any access she may gain to information about patients and staff makes the awarding of the cleaning contract to her company unacceptable and potentially dangerous.

The hospital cancelled the contract on May 31. Critics of the cancellation, including A&A's regional manager Dennis Sweetnam, have painted the issue as one of unjust discrimination against the company simply because of a co-owner's personal beliefs. But Arthur said, "Von Dehn's personal beliefs are not the issue. It's her actions that cause concern. Given her history, von Dehn and her private company simply cannot be trusted in a hospital environment where abortions are performed," she said. "It's a conflict of interest."

In addition, it is important to protect not only the safety and confidentiality of patients and staff, but to maintain a high level of confidence in that protection. Some hospital staff had reportedly refused to work with the contract in place, leaving the hospital with little choice but to hire extra temporary security to oversee the cleaning workers. Patients and other staff members also expressed concerns over the contract, and this by itself was enough justification for the hospital to act. Indeed, after the hospital cancelled the contract, executive director Dr. Elizabeth Whynot said it was because the hospital's primary responsibility "is to provide health-care services to women in an atmosphere that is as free of controversy as possible."

Contrary to the complaints of anti-choicers and other critics in the media, it was not necessary to provide evidence that Cecilia von Dehn might actually abuse the contract and interfere with abortion services in some way—it was the lack of confidence in hospital security caused by the perceived risk of such interference that posed the real problem. A hospital is entitled to make such risk assessments and act on them at its discretion, within legal bounds. In this case, the Women's Health Centre took advantage of a contract condition allowing the hospital to "terminate the contract at any time for any reason by providing 90 days written notice to the company."

In late June, A&A filed for an injunction to stop broadcasts of a Hospital Employee's Union (HEU) commercial that allegedly linked A&A with problems associated with another company, the French multi-national corporation Sodexho. The 30-second TV ad showed the dangers of healthcare privatization, depicting incidents that occurred under private contracts at three different hospitals in the U.S. and Europe. The examples used were blood, dirt, and fecal smears found on laundry; bloody surgical garments dumped in an elevator; and a piece of a thumb found in a hospital cafeteria sandwich. In the ad, a headline from a Vancouver Sun article was shown, reading "Abortion foe's firm wins contract at Women's Health Centre." It was accompanied by a voiceover saying, "Gordon Campbell's rush to privatize hospital services has already had some disturbing results."

A lawyer for A&A claimed that the ad was libelous because it linked A&A to the "blemished records" of other cleaning companies, even though A&A was not named in the ad. An HEU lawyer countered that "the ad says nothing about the company's ability to do the job," and that viewers would know the blemished record referred to belonged only to Sodexho. However, the judge disagreed, saying the ad was defamatory against A&A. The court granted the injunction to A&A and ordered HEU to change the ad and its website to avoid showing any connection between A&A and Sodexho. HEU plans to appeal the court injunction, saying that the privatization of health care and the anti-choice activities of an A&A executive are the central issues involved. In the meantime, the ad has been revised slightly and is being rebroadcast throughout BC.

In a separate action, A&A also filed suit against the HEU for alleged defamation over comments made by Chris Allnutt in the media. A&A is accusing Allnutt and the union of suggesting to the public "that employees of A&A pose a safety, security, and health risk to patients." The case will be heard in the fall. Meanwhile, HEU has filed a countersuit in the BC Supreme Court, alleging that A&A both defamed the union and interfered with its economic and contractual relations. In its statement of defence, HEU also denied that its words and actions regarding A&A were defamatory.

"The disastrous awarding of the contract to von Dehn's company because of the government's privatization push is just the latest example of the Campbell Liberal's complete disregard for women."
— Caryn Duncan, Vancouver Women's Health Collective

The Case of the Kopp Connections

In the last issue of Pro-Choice Press (Spring 2002), we reported a connection between sniper suspect James Kopp and a Vancouver anti-choice protester, Maurice Lewis, a deceased truck driver. In that article, we asked questions about Kopp's possible travels to Vancouver and who else he might have known here, given that Kopp is the primary suspect in the near-fatal shooting of Dr. Garson Romalis in Vancouver in 1994. Further intriguing information has since come to light, including an explanation from Kopp himself, and more possible links between Kopp and Vancouver.

Kopp has been charged in the 1998 murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian of New York, but claims to be innocent. He has also been charged in the 1995 shooting of Dr. Hugh Short of Ancaster, Ontario and is a suspect in the 1997 shootings of Dr. Jack Fainman of Winnipeg and Dr. David Gandell of Rochester, New York.

Kopp alleges that he fled to Europe after Slepian's murder because he believed that his Canadian friend Maurice Lewis had been murdered by the police, and he feared the same thing would happen to him. He was also paranoid that the police were in league with the "abortion industry" and would frame him for Slepian's murder. In a private letter to friends dated June 23, 2001 (as quoted in the May 29 Vancouver Sun, which obtained a copy), Kopp said, "Why did I run away if I am innocent? This is what everyone wants to know. The answer is a person, not a thing or an idea. The person is Maurice Lewis, RIP, who was poisoned in Canada, in 1996, roughly. ... The official cause of death is ... that it was natural ... The death of Maurice weighed on my mind in the Fall 1998, when the first news of the FBI seeking me as a witness came on the news. (ie. if that's how they treated Maurice, what about me?)"

Lewis was found dead in his rig on the side of the road near Wawa Ontario in 1997. Police ruled the death was due to accidental asphyxiation with no foul play involved. But anti-choicers have raised paranoid suspicions about the death, most recently by Gordon Watson, a long-time anti-choice protester from the Vancouver area.

In a recent issue of the Georgia Straight (May 23-30, page 9), reporter Charlie Smith cited our news about the Kopp/Lewis connection and then interviewed Gordon Watson, who said that Kopp came through Vancouver once, around 1992. "Cissy would know for sure," Watson said. Cissy is none other than Cecelia von Dehn, the well-known anti-choicer whose company recently won a contract to provide cleaning services at the Children's and Women's Health Centre of BC.

Watson also told the Straight: "The pro-life community here is more or less convinced that Maurice was murdered—done away with—so his appeal would not continue." Watson was referring to Lewis' pending court case, which the BC Court of Appeal dismissed after his death. In October 1995, Lewis was the first person arrested under the new Access to Abortion Services Act, for violating the bubble zone in front of Everywoman's Health Centre. He had been appealing his conviction when he died.

Kopp and Lewis apparently met when they spent time in jail together in Europe in 1989, after they were arrested for blockading clinics in several European cities, along with a group of other protesters from North America. Kopp said in his letter to friends, "I spent six weeks alone with Maurice in a strip cell in Rome, where we were beaten. I know about him."

Kopp's friendship with Lewis was confirmed by the Vancouver Sun's Kim Bolan, during an interview with Vancouver anti-choice protester Barry Norman (May 29). Norman was in the same Rome jail as Kopp and Lewis in 1989. He referred to Kopp as "Jimmy" or "the Dog" in reference to Kopp's nickname in the militant anti-choice movement, which was "Atomic Dog" for his technical expertise in blocking abortion clinic doors with his custom-made locking devices. "He was really a nice guy, very quiet, very Christian, very gentle man," Norman said of Kopp. "I don't see Jimmy using a weapon at all." Norman said he kept in touch with Kopp "for awhile" after their incarceration, but hasn't talked to him in "eight or nine years probably." He could not confirm Gordon Watson's claim that Kopp was in Vancouver in 1992.

Although both Norman and Lewis' lawyer, Paul Formby, also expressed suspicions about the manner of Lewis' death, Lewis' brother, who came over from England to settle the estate, accepted the police version of events.

Police have never indicated the possible existence of local accomplices in the Romalis case. However, police said they will look into anything that aids them in the investigation, so the Pro-Choice Action Network passed onto the Task Force on the doctor shootings all recent information about possible local links to Kopp.

"Are there local anti-abortionists who are in cahoots with James Kopp? Are there accomplices still here in our midst? That is a scary thought. This case is not solved."
— Joyce Arthur, Pro-Choice Action Network, Vancouver Sun, May 29, 2002

Kopp Extradited, Faces Trial

Anti-Choice Community Supports Doctor Sniper

Accused anti-choice terrorist James Kopp was finally extradited from France to Buffalo, New York in June, to face murder charges in the slaying of Dr. Barnett Slepian. But the high-profile accused enjoys the staunch backing of most of the anti-choice community, which has conveniently forgotten its past condemnations of violence against providers.

After more than two years on the run, and being featured on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, Kopp was captured in France in March 2001, where he sat in prison until his extradition. Kopp reportedly fled to Mexico, then Europe, eleven days after Slepian's fatal shooting on October 23, 1998.

Kopp faces a state murder charge along with federal charges in the shooting death of Slepian, who was cut down by a rifle bullet that came through the kitchen window of his suburban Buffalo home. Investigators allege Kopp hid in the woods behind Slepian's home and gunned down the doctor after he returned from a prayer service for his deceased father. Kopp is also charged with attempted murder in the 1995 shooting of an Ontario doctor, and is a suspect in three other attempted murders of doctors, one in New York and two in Canada (see previous story). All the shootings had very similar characteristics. A Brooklyn couple, Dennis Malvasi and Loretta Marra, stand accused of helping Kopp evade capture by sending him money and information. They go on trial in September on federal charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

As soon as Kopp arrived from France, he was arraigned on the state charge of murdering Slepian, to which he pled not guilty. He also pled not guilty to federal charges of violating the U.S. Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) by using deadly force to prevent Dr. Barnett Slepian from providing reproductive health services, and of using a firearm to commit a crime. Kopp faces 25 years to life on the second-degree murder charge, and life in prison without parole and a $250,000 fine on the federal charges. He was extradited from France on the assurance that the death penalty would be waived by the U.S.

The state trial is not expected to begin until early 2003, but pre-trial motions began in mid-July. Authorities claim they have proof that Kopp fled to Mexico with the help of a friend after the Slepian killing. The friend was mentioned by the prosecution as a potential witness. Prosecutors obtained permission from the judge to conceal the identities of witnesses against Kopp, citing the risk of violence or harassment. Authorities also claim to have evidence that Kopp belonged to two gun clubs.

The Buffalo judge ordered the retrieval of blood, head hair, pubic hair, saliva, and handwriting samples from Kopp, and ordered him to submit to a police lineup wearing a fake beard, mustache, and dyed hair to simulate his appearance at the time of the Slepian murder.

It is unlikely Kopp will ever be extradited to Canada, unless he is acquitted in the Slepian murder. Canadian investigators have not asked to interview Kopp, although Inspector Keith McCaskill of the Winnipeg-based Task Force on the doctor shootings said investigators hope to interview Kopp about the Canadian attacks in the future.

Kopp's Anti-Choice Support

Thousands of anti-choicers have offered financial aid for Kopp's defense, and numerous anti-choice groups have rushed to defend him. Kopp's supporters make the absurd claim he has been framed in the Slepian murder, either by unscrupulous police or by people in the pro-choice community (an echo of previous wacko accusations that pro-choicers shoot their own to get publicity). After some considerable research by the Pro-Choice Press, barely a single example could be found of an anti-choice group or leader in North America either acknowledging Kopp's possible guilt, or expressing trust in the justice system to give Kopp a fair trial. Instead, the anti-choice movement (including Canada's Campaign Life Coalition) has devoted itself to defending Kopp's innocence and "righteousness", questioning the credibility of evidence in the case, and defaming the police and pro-choice groups. This certainly calls into serious question the sincerity of anti-choicers whenever they condemn a doctor shooting.

Here's a safe prediction, given the single-mindedness of fanatics: If Kopp is found guilty of the Slepian murder, the anti-choice movement as a whole will reject the verdict, insist that the justice system is corrupt, and continue to declare Kopp' innocence. This is actually a good thing, because it will be a major nail in the coffin of the anti-choice movement in North America, resulting in its further marginalization and loss of credibility. On the other hand, if Kopp is found innocent, pro-choicers may have some misgivings, but our focus will turn to tracking down the real guilty party.

However, the prosecution in the Slepian murder case says the police did an extraordinary job of investigating, and cited a strong case against Kopp (see list of evidence on next page). District Attorney Frank J. Clark denied the ludicrous allegations of the anti-choice movement. "To frame James Kopp, dozens of people from federal agencies and local agencies would have had to pick Kopp out of hundreds of millions of people in America to pin this crime on," said Clark. "They would have had to put careers on the line and risk going to jail, just to frame this guy. It didn't happen."

Life Dynamics Inc., an anti-choice group from Texas, has put together a highly speculative document that tries to cast doubt on the evidence against Kopp and the credibility of investigators. For those interested, go to and click on the Kopp Report on the Bulletin Board. In addition, a series of articles by anti-choice writer Jack Cashill takes LDI's Kopp Report even further—these are posted on the website of a right-wing Christian "news" agency.

These documents are impressive examples of the paranoid/conspiracy thinking that often infects the minds of fanatics. Another fatal weakness is that the documents completely ignore the other four shootings, particularly the fact that Kopp has been charged with the attempted murder of Dr. Hugh Short. You can't exonerate an accused criminal by examining only one of his many alleged crimes! It is the hallmark of crackpots to avoid evidence that does not fit their theory.

The Evidence Against James Kopp

Here is a point-by-point list of the physical and circumstantial evidence against accused sniper James Kopp that law enforcement has made public so far in the Dr. Slepian murder. This does not include the evidence against him in the other four shootings.

  • Nine days before the murder, Kopp used his own 1987 Chevrolet Cavalier for a scouting mission near the Slepian home in Amherst. The sight of a scruffy limping Kopp and his battered used car was so out of place that a neighbour wrote down the car's Vermont plate number. She told her husband she had seen a "strange" man in the neighborhood.
  • Three other individuals, after viewing photos, said they believed Kopp was the man they saw jogging slowly through the Slepian neighborhood, with a limp, on several dates shortly before the killing. (Kopp walks with a limp due to an injury suffered during an alleged beating by police years ago.)
  • Another witness, a teenage girl, reported seeing a man crouching in some bushes not far from the Slepian home within minutes after the shooting. The man wore a dark, hooded sweat shirt. He ran from the bushes and got into the passenger side of a waiting car, indicating that a getaway driver may have assisted the killer. Police have not said whether the girl has identified Kopp as the man she saw.
  • A month after the slaying, investigators found Kopp's Chevrolet Cavalier abandoned at an airport in New Jersey. In it they found some blue/green fibers that the FBI matched with fibers taken from the bark of a tree behind the Slepian home.
  • Police also found in the car a binocular case that matched the binoculars they discovered buried near the Slepian home. The binoculars were buried in a garbage bag along with an empty ammunition box, earmuffs, wrist watch, flashlight, fanny pack, and baseball cap containing strands of brown hair.
  • A test showed that the DNA of the hairs found in the buried baseball cap matched the DNA found in a toothbrush Kopp used.
  • In court this July, Kopp fought the judge's order for a DNA sample, even though it would exonerate him if he were innocent.
  • Five months after the murder, police found a Russian SKS military rifle buried in another hole about 200 feet behind the Slepian home. Ballistics tests showed it was the same type of gun as the killer used, though police could not prove it was the murder weapon. Fibers on the stock of the gun matched those found in Kopp's car and apartment.
  • At a New Jersey house where Kopp had stored some of his belongings, police found a list of telephone numbers for pawnshops in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Georgia, plus a hand-drawn map showing directions to the A-Z Pawn Shop in Tennessee, where the murder weapon was purchased on July 17, 1997. Investigators found three of Kopp's fingerprints on the documents.
  • The firearms registration form that the pawnshop owner signed for the gun purchase described the buyer as a white male, five feet 10 inches tall, and weighing 180 pounds. This is similar to Kopp's size. The buyer carried a fake Virginia driver's license in the name of B. James Milton.
  • Investigators have evidence that Kopp belonged to two separate gun clubs. They found membership materials for the clubs in Kopp's belongings. One of the documents had Kopp's fingerprint on it.
  • Kopp ran from the law, fleeing the country 11 days after the Slepian murder. He traveled under fake names in Scotland, Ireland, and France while the FBI was looking for him. He enlisted friends to illegally aid and abet his fugitive status.
  • A pubic hair from Kopp was allegedly found in the vehicle that police believe transported Kopp to Mexico. Sources close to the case say the friend who drove him was a woman, and that she will be a potential witness for the prosecution.
  • In an undated letter to his friend and protector Loretta Marra, Kopp refers to the possibility of committing a "Ronald Reagan" — which prosecutors believe is code for the shooting of an abortion doctor. In fact, Kopp had been planning to return to the U.S. at the time of his capture, and law enforcement believed that he wanted to resume the doctor shootings.
  • In November 1999, Marra told an undercover FBI informant that "he" — an alleged reference to Kopp—could have killed Dr. Garson Romalis if "he" had wanted to. At the time, the two were watching a "60 Minutes" story about Kopp and the doctor shootings.
  • Marra and her husband Dennis Malvasi both openly support violence against doctors (as do other close friends of Kopp, such as Joan Andrews-Bell and Bill Koehler). Marra also confided to the informant that she planned to conduct "acid attacks" at abortion clinics. Malvasi is a convicted clinic bomber, and Andrews-Bell a convicted clinic invader and burglar. If Kopp is such a peaceful, non-violent person as his supporters claim, why are some of his closest friends domestic terrorists?
  • Kopp has offered no alibi for his whereabouts on the night of Slepian's murder.

New Home for Everywoman's

The Pro-Choice Action Network would like to congratulate the Everywoman's Health Centre, Vancouver's first free-standing abortion clinic, on its recent move to beautiful, spacious new premises in late May. The clinic's bubble zone under the Access to Abortion Services Act, moved along with it.

The reason for the clinic move was to improve services to clients and the community. The new space is larger and able to accommodate twice the number of clients, thereby reducing waiting times. Plus, it is easily accessible by Skytrain and bus in its new location at Commercial Drive and Broadway. Perhaps most importantly, the new clinic will be safer and more secure for staff and clients. It is part of a multi-tenant building, making it much more difficult for anti-choice protesters to target clients and staff. Also, since the clinic is now located in a busy and progressive community, anti-choice protesters are not likely to feel as comfortable protesting on the street.

Indeed, although there was some initial picketing by protesters, the anti-choice presence outside or near the clinic has since dropped off to almost nothing since the move. There were only a few violations of the bubble zone at the beginning, when anti-choicers were "testing the waters". Occasionally, protesters hand out leaflets at the Broadway Skytrain Station.

At the time of the move, Campaign Life Coalition BC President John Hof said his group was going to notify as many people as possible about the new abortion clinic. The group reportedly distributed anti-choice leaflets to neighbouring businesses in the area. However, so far, neighbours have been accommodating and community relationships with the clinic have been satisfactory. In the past, the pro-choice movement has invariably found that when neighbours learn of the presence of a clinic or pro-choice group in their community, they have been very supportive. Oddly, Hof was also very concerned about who was paying for the move, although the relevance of this question remains unclear.

At its previous location on Victoria and 44th, Everywoman's staff and clients were the frequent victims of anti-choice harassment and interference. The clinic opened in November 1988 to immediate and large protests by the anti-choice movement, then in its heyday. Hundreds of "Operation Rescue" supporters blockaded the clinic numerous times over the next few months, and hundreds were arrested. After the first year, the number of protesters dropped off, but protests remained steady, due largely to the purchase of the house next door to the clinic by a local anti-choice organizer, Cecilia von Dehn.

In its first four years of operation, Everywoman's experienced 25 blockades, ranging from 1 to 104 people, with up to 200 protesters looking on. Also, there were numerous instances of vandalism, two bomb threats, two death threats, constant verbal threats, hate graffiti, frivolous legal actions and information requests, and countless prayer meetings and sing-alongs. Paint and eggs were thrown at the doors, clients and passers-by were regularly accosted and harassed, and staff and clients were videotaped and photographed.

Harassment and illegal picketing lessened after the introduction of the Access to Abortion Services Act in 1995, which prohibited protesters from entering a "bubble zone" around the clinic. The number of arrests has decreased overall by about 35% since then, but are still relatively frequent.

Timeline of Arrests at Everywoman's Health Centre

This table lists most arrests (not all)* and a few examples of other harassment, such as vandalism and blockades. Most other incidents, such as picketing, verbal threats, and bomb threats, are not included. It should be noted that no arrests were made in the majority of picketing incidents, including illegal ones.

Nov 4-88 Everywoman's opens to mass protests.
Dec 15-88 Blockade by 140 Operation Rescuers who lie in doorways for 6 hours, and try to jam locks. 70 arrests for criminal mischief; no charges laid.
Jun 21-89 Clinic obtains private injunction restraining interference by protesters.
Jan 21-89 174 blockade clinic and are arrested.
Feb 7-99 105 protesters arrested.
Feb 25-89 90-100 protesters blockade clinic.
Mar 10-89 Protests and blockades increase after Supreme Court rules against anti-choicer Joe Borowski.
July 89 Christine Hendrix arrested while lying on sidewalk in front of clinic with gasoline bomb around her neck.
Oct 19-89 Jim Demers of Nelson arrested for violating injunction.
Dec 24-89 Clinic phone lines cut.
Feb 25-90 Vandal breaks into clinic and destroys ultrasound machine and aspirator, using crowbar. Lane Walker later confesses and is convicted.
May 1-90 Lane Walker arrested for violating injunction.
Oct 10-90 Jim Demers arrested for blockading clinic.
Nov 1990 Cecelia von Dehn buys house next door to Everywoman's.
Apr 15-92 14 arrested for blockading doors.
Oct 19-92 Archbishop Adam Exner holds Rosary for Life outside clinic.
Apr 21-93 Lane Walker, Jennifer Ziemann, Robert Fitzgerald arrested for blocking door. Other picketers look on.
Apr 30-93 Gordon Watson, Christine Hendrix, and Brian Breton arrested for blocking and harassing clients.
May 1993 Lane Walker arrested again outside clinic; he is jailed for his suspended sentence.
Jul 7-93 Everywoman’s makes report to Commission of Inquiry Policing in BC, detailing anti-choice activity at clinic and asking for better response from police.
Mar 7-94 Kathy Walker, Pam Birch, and Jennifer Ziemann arrested for blocking clinic. They covered themselves in animal blood and painted it on the clinic walls.
Aug 3-94 Gordon Watson assaults Everywoman's worker by pushing her camera into her face. He is arrested for assault and disturbing the peace.
Jan 2-95 Everywoman’s asks for bubble zone around clinics.
Jan 4-95 Delta Police Constable Steve Parker discovered to have run licence plate numbers of staff and clients on an RCMP computer. He is later given 1-week suspension and temporary demotion.
Jan 30-95 Tim Vincent and Tracy Tobin arrested for blocking front door. They covered themselves in blood and wrote in blood on clinic wall “Stop the violence.”
Sep 18-95 In response to Dr. Romalis shooting, BC introduces Access to Abortion Services Act, prohibiting protests outside abortion clinics and doctors’ offices and homes.
Sep 18-95 Violations of bubble zone start, no arrests made.
Oct 1995 Protesters begin regular prayers and singing inside bubble zone. Police don’t arrest.
Oct 1995 Maurice Lewis arrested for violating new bubble zone law.
Jul 1996 Constable Steve Parker found to have run more licence plates of staff/clients. New investigation launched by Vancouver police.
Aug 1996 Ted Gerk receives accreditation records of clinic through Freedom of Information request and uses them to insinuate unsafe practices.
Dec 11-96 Jim Demers arrested for violating bubble zone.
Dec 29-97 Lane Walker and Jennifer Ziemann arrested for blockading clinic doors. They set up mock daycare in front of clinic and wrapped plastic locking devices around door.
Dec 17-98 Gordon Watson and Don Spratt arrested and charged with violating bubble zone.
Jan 1999 Lane Walker and another man arrested for blocking doors. They burned porn magazines in a trash can.
Jan 1999 Mary Wagner violates Everywoman's bubble zone repeatedly through Feb. Finally arrested after blocking door.
Mar 1999 Mary Wagner arrested for sitting in doorway. Charged with protesting, besetting, and interfering.
May 19-99 Mary Wagner arrested for violating bubble zone.
Aug 29-00 Mary Wagner arrested for violating bubble zone. She knelt in front of door.
Oct 24-00 Just Neighbours members Jennifer Ziemann, Tim Vincent, and Darren Holubowich arrested for spray-painting over mural on outside clinic wall.
Jan 30-00 Arrest warrant issued for Kamloops protester Merle Terlesky for violating bubble zone and uttering threats to staff (arrested in Feb).
Jun 15-01 Mary Wagner and Glenn Reed arrested for violating bubble zone, and Wagner also for violating probation.
Aug 21-01 Kevin Pielak arrested for violating bubble zone and harassing client.

* Sources: Newspaper clippings, anti-choice publications, clinic incident reports.

Regina Protester Sued for Defamation

In June, Planned Parenthood Regina sued anti-choice activist Bill Whatcott and all other members of his group Christian Truth Activists for defamation. Planned Parenthood Regina (PPR) claims that Whatcott defamed them and harassed their clients during five days in April and May, when he and 5-6 others displayed signs in front of the PPR office.

The signs said, "Planned Parenthood Aborts Babies", "Hitler's Holocaust", and "Canada's Holocaust by Abortion."

Whatcott also allegedly yelled at PPR's clients: "Fornicators", 'Keep your pants on", "Planned Parenthood shares in the blood of innocent babies", "Murder is a crime", and "God is not pleased with this crime".

"He has certainly intimidated people," said PPR's lawyer Dough Kovatch. "Our goal is to keep him away from Planned Parenthood and to keep him from saying a whole bunch of things about Planned Parenthood that aren't true." The Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada does not perform abortions at its clinics, but it provides contraception services and refers women to local abortion services. PPR is suing for damages for libel and slander, as well as damages for interrupting it from using its own property.

Also, PPR went to court July 18 to seek an injunction to keep Whatcott out of a 3-block radius surrounding its clinic. But the judge refused to grant the injunction, ruling that protesters have freedom of speech rights to demonstrate in front of the PPR office. However, the judge prohibited Whatcott from making disparaging or false comments about PPR or its employees and clients. Whatcott responded that it was simply a matter of "semantics" and that he would change his sign to read: "International Planned Parenthood aborts babies."

Whatcott and his small gang of protesters are regular fixtures in Regina. They're often seen picketing near the Regina General Hospital with large and graphic signs of aborted fetuses. During an unsuccessful run for mayor two years ago, Whatcott promised to change the city's zoning bylaws to force PPR to move to a new location outside city limits. Last year, Whatcott sponsored a "Heterosexual Family Pride Day, complete with parade. It was condemned as an exercise in bigotry by the gay/lesbian community. Having learned its lesson, the City of Regina refused to proclaim Heterosexual Family Pride Day again this year, but Whatcott organized a parade anyway.

World Youth Day "Pilgrims" Prey on Abortion Clinic

Toronto played host for World Youth Day (WYD) from July 22 to 28, attracting about 300,000 young people from around the world, dubbed "pilgrims" by the media. Pope John Paul II arrived in Toronto on July 23.

Prior to the event, several Toronto pro-choice groups expressed fears of violence and clinic blockades during WYD, because two Canadian anti-choice groups called for "direct action" to protest abortion, including the World Youth for Life (affiliated with Toronto Right-to-Life) and the National Campus Life Network. "We've heard this language before," said Carolyn Egan, spokesperson for the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics. "It means intimidation, harassment, and attempts to prevent women from gaining access to abortion clinics. We're very afraid of what might happen." OCAC, Catholics for a Free Choice Canada, and the Scott Clinic of Toronto called on WYD guests to leave the clinics alone. They also organized a pro-choice rally for July 26 with the theme: "Hands off the Clinics - Keep Abortion Safe & Legal".

Canada's Campaign Life Coalition used WYD as an "opportunity of a lifetime" to get out its anti-choice message. Hilary White, CLC's director of research, said that "at least tens of thousands" of anti-choice pamphlets were distributed by various organizations during WYD.

On July 23, about 100 WYD youth joined Monsignor Phillip Reilly of New York-based "Helpers of God's Precious Infants" to pray for one hour outside the Scott Abortion Clinic in Toronto. The group first received "instructions" at the headquarters of Campaign Life Coalition, then walked the few blocks to the clinic. Two days later, an even larger group of protesters held a prayer vigil at the Scott Clinic. This group was mostly Americans from the group Crossroads, which had walked from New Orleans to Toronto, stopping to persecute clinics along the way. Over fifty pro-choice activists from OCAC defended the clinic during the five-hour demonstration, and police and sheriffs were on hand to enforce the clinic's injunction (bubble zone). According to media reports, at least two people were warned of arrest after entering the bubble zone, and they voluntarily left.

Thanks to the presence of clinic defenders, police, and the injunction, incidents of violence or harassment by the protesters were prevented, and the clinic stayed open (apparently unaware of the demand from Campaign Life Coalition that all hospitals and clinics stop performing abortions during WYD out of respect for the Pope!). However, large protests are intimidating to staff and clients, given the climate of violence in the anti-choice movement. Clinic manager Maria Corsillo said, "Religion and prayer can be quite deadly weapons in the wrong hands. There's a way to terrorize that has nothing to do with guns, and there's a way to intimidate that has nothing to do with violence." Corsillo called the protesters "church hooligans" who have "completely overstepped their welcome here." She added, "These people have a very, very inflated sense of their own importance." A clinic defender, Rhonda Roffey, criticized church and WYD leaders, saying they implicated themselves in the clinic protest by not making a statement distancing themselves from it.

Meanwhile, a progressive Catholic group called "Challenge the Church" held an alternative World Youth Day at a Toronto Anglican church. Spokesperson Joanna Manning said the event would include discussion groups, concerts, worship services, and a forum to discuss the role of woman, celibacy for priests, sexual abuse, and birth control. The activists want the church to be more open and accountable, and hoped to convince young Catholics that loyalty to the church and obedience to its strictures are two different things. An associated group, Operation Guardian Angel, also distributed thousands of condoms to WYD guests. Imprinted onto the condom wrappers was an angel with the message, "If abstinence isn't working for you."

An example of how the Catholic Church promotes sexual hypocrisy came to light when the media reported that some people came to WYD not just for the religion, but to seek "fun." Being away from home for the first time, "You do get to let loose," a 16-year old Australian youth told CBC, adding, "We might be going out to visit some French girls tonight." Another Australian man agreed. "All the guys out looking for Brazilian girls, all the girls out looking for the Brazilian guys, and the Italians and all the rest of it." In a separate story, the Canadian Press observed that when some youth were presented with condoms by Operation Guardian Angel, they tossed them into the garbage, with one exclaiming, "How naive do you think we are!"

Pretty darn naive, if you must know. It's been shown that Catholics have an almost 30% higher rate of abortions than Protestant women, and this is attributed to the lower use of contraceptives by Catholics[1]. Also, at least 7% of abortions are performed on anti-choice women.[2] We wonder how many youth will be making a secret "pilgrimage" to their local abortion clinic in the next few weeks, praying for a procedure.

[1] The Alan Guttmacher Institute. 1996. Abortion Common Among All Women, Even Those Thought to Oppose Abortion.

[2] Henshaw, S.K. and G. Martire. 1982. Abortion and the Public Opinion Polls: 1. Morality and Legality. Family Planning Perspectives. 14:2, pp 53-60, March/April.

Anti-Choicers Want to De-Fund Childbirth

As They Promise to Continue Their Lies

After being challenged by the Pro-Choice Action Network (Pro-CAN) in May, the right-wing Report Magazine, The Interim, and Alliance MP Jason Kenney have vowed to continue spreading the falsehood that Canada's pro-choice movement has "admitted" that abortions are not medically necessary, according to reporter Tony Gosgnach of the Interim, a national anti-choice newspaper.

Pro-CAN sent Gosgnach and the others the Spring 2002 issue of Pro-Choice Press (explaining pro-choice views on abortion funding), along with a letter asking them to stop making false representations of those views. In response, Gosgnach published a malicious and sanctimonious article in July's Interim (, with the defamatory headline "Abortion advocate asks pro-lifers to stop doubting their lies."

Anti-choicers' "irrationale" for their misrepresentation is as follows: Since pro-choicers acknowledge that abortion is often done for socio-economic reasons (a widespread fact for decades, but Gosgnach insists we just "admitted" it last October in a finance committee presentation by the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League), that obviously means it is not medically necessary and should be de-funded—a conclusion falsely attributed to us.

But anti-choicers have been hoisted on their own petard. Women often have babies for socio-economic reasons, so this obliges anti-choicers to call for the de-funding of childbirth, too. In a display of duplicity, however, the anti-choice campaign is currently focused only on persuading provincial governments to de-fund abortion, particularly in BC and Alberta, despite the fact that the cost of childbirth burdens the healthcare system far, far more than abortion.

"They can't have it both ways," said Joyce Arthur of Pro-CAN. "This blows the cover off the anti-choice argument that provinces mustn't finance procedures not done for medical reasons. Their latest sham has really become tiresome, and it shows how desperate they are. They don't have a leg to stand on."

Canada News Bytes

New Reproductive Technology Legislation Tabled — In May, federal Health Minister Anne McLellan tabled the Act Respecting Assisted Human Reproduction. The new bill will allow research using stem cells from embryos left over from infertility treatments. The law will ban human cloning, the creation of human-animal hybrids, sex-selection of babies for non-medical purposes, and creation of new embryos for research purposes. It will also be illegal under the act to pay a financial incentive to surrogate mothers, but they can be compensated for reasonable expenses. The bill went against recommendations by a House of Commons committee to legislate tight restrictions on stem cell research and to prohibit payment of expenses for surrogate mothers. Although anti-choice MP's condemned the legislation for not respecting the "sanctity of life", health researchers welcomed it, since stem cell research could be promising for future treatment of diabetes, spinal cord injuries, and Parkinson's disease. The bill will probably face a bumpy ride in Parliament before it becomes law, if ever.

Anti-Choice Fanatics Buy Corporate Domain Names — New Yorker John Barry has bought several Internet domain names in an effort to fool web surfers into viewing an offensive anti-choice website. Barry bought the names "Winnipeg", "Kimcampbell. com", and several U.S. public libraries. Breaking copyright infringement laws, he created web pages using the domain names, so that when users type in the name, they are redirected to "" which features graphic pictures of aborted fetuses. The Winnipeg Public Library has sent a letter to the domain registrar demanding that the illegal use of its name be stopped. Meanwhile, another American anti-choice fanatic, William Purdy Sr. of Minnesota, has bought at least 30 domain names that mimic corporate names, redirecting them to the same anti-choice site. A joint lawsuit for trademark infringement was filed against Purdy by McDonald's, Pepsico, Coca-Cola, and the Washington Post, and the domain names were ordered shut down by the judge. The director of the anti-choice website apparently has no links to the two men, who acted on their own.

Anti-Choice Roundup — On June 24, BC anti-choice protester Kevin Pielak was convicted on one count of violating the Access to Abortion Services Act. He was arrested last August for violating the bubble zone outside the Everywoman's Health Centre and for harassing a client. He was with another protester who was not arrested. Pielak pled not guilty, saying "It's a bad law." He was fined $575 and ordered to stay away from Everywoman's new location.

Unwelcome Guest at Conference — Anti-choice protester Denise Mountenay of Edmonton attended the World Conference on Breast Cancer in Victoria, from June 4-8. She brought and displayed a large banner that claimed 28 studies reveal an increased risk of breast cancer with abortion (see Spring 2002 issue of Pro-Choice Press for a refutation of this research). Mountenay also distributed pamphlets and asked a question about abortion and breast cancer during a forum. Her presence seemed disturbing to the bewildered conference attendees, many of whom were academics from abroad and had never encountered an anti-choice protester before.

U.S. / International News Bytes

America a Disgrace at UN Children's Summit — The U.S. delegation to the UN Children's Summit in May allied itself with a small handful of nations including Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Libya, and the Vatican in watering down the summit's official declaration on "A World Fit for Children". All references to the right of the world's children to "reproductive health services and education" were eliminated, making the world considerably less fit for children. The language had already been agreed to by five previous international conferences, to which the U.S. was a party. The omission means that both birth control and abortion services are no longer recognized as an integral part of children's rights worldwide. Instead, the U.S. delegation insisted that abstinence was the only form of sexual education it would support, callously ignoring the fact that girls in developing countries often marry as early as 12, married girls are one of the largest groups of AIDS victims in Africa, and lack of access to appropriate education and services is often life-threatening in the developing world. Spokesperson Adrienne Germaine of the International Women's Health Coalition, said that "The American abstinence-only position is a dangerously sick joke." She explained that in Asia and Africa, sex with a virgin is considered safer, and a widespread myth says that having sex with virgin cures AIDS. Germaine also had evidence showing the United States "behaved like a big bully" in the months leading up to the UN summit, threatening a host of countries, especially in Latin America, with trade and aid reprisals if they didn't toe the American "no-condoms, abstinence-only, anti-abortion" line.

Bush Cuts UN Funding, Condemns Women and Children to Death — On July 22, President Bush cancelled $34 million in funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), saying it participates in forced abortion programs in China. A Bush-appointed investigation to China and other past investigations showed absolutely no evidence of the charges, where were apparently fabricated by a tiny, extremist anti-choice group called the Population Research Institute. In fact, the UNFPA has actually reduced the incidence of coerced abortions in China. The Bush decision was internationally condemned as a political sop to the far-right in America, and as an election ploy to ensure Republican victories in the November 2002 elections. According to U.N. Population Fund studies, the withdrawn money would have prevented 4,700 maternal deaths in the coming year, 800,000 induced abortions, 77,000 infant and child deaths, and 60,000 serious maternal illnesses. The loss of funding would also seriously impact treatment for AIDS. Although the U.S. is diverting the $34 million to the Child Survival and Health Program Fund, this agency operates only in about 80 countries (not China), while the U.N. works in over 140 and does almost all the work to change China's coercive one-child policy. The European Commission has committed to filling the moral gap by donating £32 million to UNFPA and International Planned Parenthood., but the aid will be limited to 22 countries, excluding China.

Court Rules Nuremberg Files Website to be "True Threat" — A California federal appeals court ruled in May that a website listing names of abortion providers (the "Nuremberg Files") and Old West-style wanted posters identifying doctors who provided abortions, amounted to a "true threat." A majority of judges (6 to 5) rejected the First Amendment theory that speech advocating violence should be protected if it does not incite immediate lawless action, instead saying that the language used by the anti-choice defendants was overtly threatening. Writing for the majority, Judge Pamela Ann Rymer said, "While advocating violence is protected, threatening a person with violence is not." The use of wanted-style posters were followed by killings, and that was sufficient to strip the defendants of First Amendment protection, the majority said. Regarding the website, the names of doctors who had been killed were crossed out, and the wounded were grayed out. Rymer said this went beyond vilifying or ostracizing doctors to intentionally instilling fear so intense that doctors on the list felt they had to wear bullet-proof vests and hire bodyguards. Shortly after the ruling, Neal Horsley, the anti-choicer who runs the Nuremberg Files website, removed the strikeouts and gray-outs to comply with the court ruling. However, after years of shopping his website around to countless Internet Service Providers (ISP), who would remove his illegal website after complaints, Horsley has now started his own web-hosting company to cater to other anti-choicers on the Web, as well as host his own websites.

Privacy Violated at Clinics by Anti-Choice Webcams — Neal Horsley, creator of the infamous Nuremberg Files website listing names of abortion doctors, has created a new website called The site collects and posts pictures of staff and clients taken by anti-choicers outside abortion clinics. Horsley labels women who have abortions as "homicidal mothers" who "must be held up for the world to see." Clinics and women's groups condemn the tactic as a serious danger to women, who could be intimidated, injured, or killed after being identified, either by an abusive partner or someone with a hatred of abortion. "This violates a sacred trust in medical privacy," said Roger Evans, a senior legal adviser with the national Planned Parenthood office. "It is inevitable that a woman pictured on a website will be caused great anguish, pain, and perhaps great danger." Horsley has collected pictures from 25 states so far, relying on campaigners throughout the country. Legal experts say that privacy laws don't appear to protect a person from being photographed while in a public place, but women could potentially sue photographers for emotional harm inflicted or illegal intimidation. Meanwhile, the militant UK Life League has been recruiting spies to secretly film inside abortion clinics in Scotland and England, in order to "name and shame" the staff.

Anthrax Terrorist Clayton Waagner Convicted — In April, a federal court in Cincinnati convicted Clayton Lee Waagner of illegal possession of weapons and possessing a stolen handgun and car. He will be sentenced later this summer. The charges stemmed from Waagner's life of crime and terrorism while he was an escaped convict last year. Waagner has confessed to mailing hundreds of anthrax threat letters to abortion clinics across the nation shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks. None actually contained anthrax, but a few clinics were forced to close briefly, and some staff were traumatized. During his trial, in which he represented himself, Waagner repeatedly introduced evidence that incriminated him in crimes, including many that were not part of the trial. For example, he insisted on playing tapes for the jury of his interviews with law enforcement, in which he confessed to a string of bank robberies, other firearm and car thefts, and the anthrax threats. He has yet to be charged with the anthrax threat letters, but he is already serving a 27-year jail sentence for a previous conviction of firearms possession and car theft.

Women on Waves to Sail Again — In July, the Dutch government finally licensed the world's first floating abortion clinic to dispense mifepristone (RU-486). The "Aurora" is a converted fishing boat with a fully-equipped operating room inside a shipping container. Led by Dutch doctor Rebecca Gomperts and her group Women on Waves, the boat will dock in countries where abortion is illegal, pick up women needing abortions, and take them out to international waters where Dutch laws will apply on the boat. The licence prohibits them from performing first-trimester surgical abortions, because of a requirement that women be near a hospital after surgery. But Gomperts may appeal this, arguing that the surgery would be very safe at sea, a conclusion endorsed by more than 100 doctors and other experts who supported her application. The ship traveled to Ireland from The Netherlands last year but foundered in a sea of bureaucracy—it was only able to provide birth control and information to Irish women, not abortions, because of a technical glitch in the licensing process. Gomperts plans to set sail on the Aurora within six months, but has not announced the first destination. She said several countries have invited the boat to visit, and she also plans to return to Ireland.

Switzerland Legalizes Abortion — In June, 72% of Swiss voters approved a measure to reform Switzerland's restrictive abortion law. Under the new law, abortions are legal upon request within the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, or later in special cases. Under the previous law, abortions were permitted only if the woman's health was in danger, with criminal sanctions against doctors and women. Still, an estimated 12,000 to 13,000 abortions were being performed each year, by doctors interpreting the law liberally. An anti-choice alternative measure was also on the ballot, which would have tightened the previous law by prohibiting abortion in cases of rape. The referendum was actually forced by a coalition of anti-choicers, who were apparent victims of the common anti-choice delusion that the majority are on their side—or would be, if they really "understood" what abortion was, or took just one look at the aborted fetus posters lovingly displayed by anti-choicers, but which cause most people to dismiss them as repulsive fanatics.

Australian Clinic Killer Convicted — Peter James Knight was convicted in July for the murder of an abortion clinic security guard in Melbourne, Australia. Last July 2001, Knight burst into the clinic wielding a rifle and fatally shot guard Steve Rogers after Rogers challenged him. Knight then pointed the gun at a woman patient, but two men in the waiting room tackled him and wrestled the gun away, heroically averting further tragedy. Knight's stolen rifle had 14 rounds of ammunition, and he was also equipped with 16 litres of kerosene, three cigarette lighters, foam rubber "torches", gags for binding the staff and clients, metal devices for sealing the clinic doors, and a note to post outside, reading, "As a result of a fatal accident of one of the staff, we have been forced to cancel all appointments today." Police later found Knight's bicycle nearby, with a bag containing a change of clothes and another note declaring, "Anyone who protects sewerage will be treated like sewerage. ... By the time I get through, there will not be an abortionist in Melbourne left deathless." Knight was arrested at the scene, but refused to give his name. He was known simply as "Mr. X" for two months, until police identified him as a hermit who had been living in the woods outside Melbourne. Psychiatrists disagreed as to whether he was mentally ill, or just had an asocial and paranoid personality. Knight pled innocent and conducted his own "defence", sometimes addressing the court in a shrill scream. His victim, Steve Rogers, was a 44-year old father of seven.

Abortion for Genetic Reasons:

The 'Yes' Side

by Joyce Arthur

Debate Statement: Abortions should be permitted for the avoidance of severe genetic illnesses.

This essay is the initial statement for a written debate sponsored by the University of Toronto's University College, and to be published in the fall on its "GreatDebate" website, as part of a collection of debates on diverse issues. The initial statement for the 'No' position, plus rebuttals by both sides, will be published in future issues of Pro-Choice Press.

The issue of abortion for genetic reasons is not about eugenics or discrimination against disabled people. It's about the woman's ability and willingness to bear and raise a disabled child, or any child. It's about a woman's choice. It's no different than her right to decide about any other pregnancy. Only SHE can decide what she can do, because she must bear the child and do the raising.

To presume the right of a disabled fetus to survive, presumes the obligation of the woman to care for the resulting child. This completely negates a woman's autonomy and rights. It's based on an antiquated, sexist notion that women are supposed to sacrifice themselves for the good of others, without regard for their own needs or wants. This view is no longer legitimate, if it ever was.

Being disabled, in and of itself, is unrelated to the quality and importance of life. Once born, the disabled have rights like everyone else, and very often lead full, productive lives. But should women be forced to have disabled children just because the disabled community believes they have a right to live? Of course not. Because it's not about the rights of the disabled, or whether it's better to live with or without a disability. It's about whether any child, disabled or not, will be truly loved and cared for by a family. Unfortunately, that's a less likely scenario for a severely disabled child, making abortion a moral choice.

Many disabled people, especially the severely disabled, depend upon the care of others. Such care consumes substantial time and resources on the part of the caregiver. It also can involve much heartache and trauma, especially where the child's life may be tragically cut short because of the illness or disability. What right does society have to demand that a woman sacrifice a large part of her life—for free, by the way—in order to care for a severely disabled child? What entitles us to inflict emotional distress on her by forcing her to become a primary caregiver of a terminally ill child? It is wrong to force women to have babies they don't want, then expect them to shoulder the cost and responsibility for raising them.

One could argue that others could care for the disabled child, not the woman, but this is unrealistic. Most pregnant women end up raising the child themselves, because they feel it's irresponsible to hand off their child to someone else, and because it's a very traumatic and difficult thing to do—most women simply can't do it! (no matter how much anti-choicers promote adoption). And childcare responsibilities still fall mostly on the mother, not the father. Besides, even if others raise the child, this just shifts the burden, it doesn't justify it. Why should taxpayers foot the bill for the institutionalized care of a severely disabled child if the parents don't want the responsibility themselves?

Another objection is that genetic screening tests can be inaccurate, and the child could turn out to be normal—therefore, an abortion would be unnecessary and tragic. But the risk of inaccurate diagnosis after further tests is extremely low, and it is the parents who must weigh this risk and make the final decision, no-one else. They would be taking a far greater risk, with devastating consequences, if they ignored warnings and took a gamble, but ended up with a severely disabled child instead.

Also, let's not forget about wrongful birth lawsuits. Doctors can be held liable if they don't inform pregnant women of detected abnormalities, because a woman might make a different decision than the doctor made for her. Informed consent is the cornerstone of ethical medical practice.

A planned birth of a disabled child could even be considered a form of child abuse. We must remember that being alive is not always the sacred, precious thing that misnamed "pro-lifers" assume it is. Life can be a burden of suffering for many, and it's undeniable that severe genetic defects or illnesses tend to impose a poor quality of life on people. What right do we have to force them to be born, inflict a life of pain or depression onto them, or make them confront an early death? Some people really wish their mothers had aborted them, sad as that sounds. And many people commit suicide because they no longer want to live. To be truly meaningful, the right to life must include its flip side, the right to die. I would argue that fetuses have a right not to be born when the parents-to-be know they can't do justice to the needs of a child whose life they know will be very difficult. Being pro-choice means valuing quality of life over quantity of life. Creating life just for the sake of life is not enough, it's not even ethical.

We have a responsibility to give our children the best possible chance in life. The parents are the only ones in a position to evaluate what is in the child's best interests and to decide whether they are willing and able to raise a disabled child. The most loving and responsible parents will consider all options and circumstances and make the wisest choice for themselves and their family. If society requires people to have disabled children against their better judgment, that is a violation of their rights. It places the "rights" of the fetus in direct conflict with those of the woman who must bear the child. But in Canadian law, women have established constitutional rights and fetuses have none. Regardless, society cannot compel people to forfeit their own rights (or life) to save the life of another. Such a supreme sacrifice must be entirely voluntary.

It all comes back to the woman's choice. A woman pregnant with a disabled fetus has the same rights and autonomy as a woman pregnant with a healthy fetus. She can decide to terminate the pregnancy—not because the child will be disabled—but because she's not ready to have a child, or because her partner is abusive, or because she can't afford another child, or for any other reason a woman might abort a pregnancy. A woman's right to choose abortion doesn't stop as soon as she becomes pregnant with a genetically flawed child. In fact, this situation is a widely-accepted moral justification for abortion, even by anti-choice people. That's because bringing a severely ill or disabled child in the world has momentous and lifelong consequences for everyone involved.

Why I Provide Abortions

By William F. Harrison, MD (Arkansas)

I provide abortions for my patients and for any other girl or woman who feels this is her best option after making what is, for most women and their families, a soul-searing self-examination before arriving at the decision to abort a pregnancy. Why would I or any other reputable physician provide abortions? Good question.

First the long answer.

In 1964, I was admitted to medical school on the day that our second child was born. I sat with my wife through her labor, and at the last minute they took her into the delivery room where our son was born. My mother and father, her mother, my sister, and about a half-dozen friends were at the hospital with us. All came into her room a few minutes after delivery. There was such a tremendous feeling of love and goodwill in that room that I decided then and there that if I were granted the opportunity, I was going to become an Obstetrician.

I started medical school in the fall of 1964 at age twenty-nine, the father of two wonderful children, the husband of a wonderful wife, and the happiest man in the world.

But a large part of this answer began years before the night I decided to become an Obstetrician. I had grown up in a small town, the son of small town teachers. We were Methodists but we went to whichever of the two churches (they alternated services) was open on a particular day for worship, Sunday School, MYF, BTU, prayer meeting or revival; the Baptist or the Methodist, it didn't matter...we were there! My father was the Sunday school superintendent (at the Methodist church) and my mother played the piano at both churches. Obviously we were well-churched. We were also poor as church mice since my parents had five children on a very limited income.

I had no concept that I would ever be able to go to medical school when I was young, and when we started in 1964, I had no idea how we were going to be able to finish. But my mother always said to me, "the Lord has a special purpose for your life." (I suspect that she told all her children that.) The longer I live, even though I am not a particularly superstitious man, the more I have come to believe that to be true for each of us—if we make it happen.

By 1967, I was a third year medical student, still with no visible means of support, and we were pregnant with our third child. It was the spring of that year and I was ending my rotation in the Ob-Gyn Service clinic. I was assigned a 40-plus year old, poverty stricken mother of several children. I think she was unmarried but I am not sure of that now. This careworn mother-of-several had a large abdominal mass that I rapidly determined to be a well-advanced pregnancy. I asked my resident to come and break the news to this woman; it was very obvious to me that she was not going to be happy about the news of another pregnancy. When told that she—already unable to adequately feed and clothe her family—was again pregnant, she looked up at the resident and me. There we stood, two white males, well-clothed, well-fed young men with superior educations. We were, in her eyes, stunningly blessed, obviously going places in the world. She began to weep silently. She must have assumed, for good reason, that there was no way that we would, even could, understand her problems; she knew also that there was nothing that we could or would do to relieve her lacerating misery.

"Oh God, doctor," she said quietly weeping, "I was hoping it was cancer."

That mother's anguished whisper eventually became a shriek of despair and hopelessness that has reverberated in my heart and mind and soul for well over thirty years. Before that moment, forever seared like a brand on my memory, I would have described myself as "Pro-Life" had I then known this political term.

Over the next few years, I was exposed to real life as it is lived by millions of people who don't have the sanctification granted in America to those who are white, male, well-educated, well-gene-ed, well-nurtured, well-advantaged. I learned that what this woman knew was a personal tragedy for her family and herself, was only one face in a multifaceted problem confronting thousands of girls and women, couples and families every day.

How did I learn this?

I learned it—really made it a part of my essential being—by seeing the repercussions of desperation walk, and crawl, and be carried through our emergency room door three, four, five times, every night for four years. Each night we would admit to the wards of University Hospital in Little Rock (a fairly small hospital, as metropolitan hospitals go) girls and women with raging fevers, extraordinary uterine and pelvic infections, enormous blood loss, and a multitude of serious injuries of the pelvic and intra-abdominal organs as a result of illegal and self-induced abortions. During the years 1971 through the end of my residency in June 1972, we did in the same hospital perhaps twenty to thirty safe, legal abortions a month on girls and women of various ages for mostly elective reasons. The contrast between the outcomes for these two sets of women was dramatic, not only for what happened to them immediately—that is, the almost total lack of complications in those undergoing legal abortions and the terrible consequences of some of the illegal abortions that we saw—but also for what happened over the next few years to those who had illegal abortions, as they discovered that they were sterile, or faced total hysterectomy for the effects of injuries suffered during their illegal procedures.

I could and sometimes do go on for hours about what I saw during those years of training and in early private practice, before abortion became universally legal in the United States and affordable in the first few months of pregnancy for any woman who determined, for a myriad of reasons, that carrying a pregnancy to term and delivering a baby was not in her best interest, or perhaps not in the best interests of her family. (The very poor in those early days of legal abortion were covered by Medicaid.)

But what of our concern for, as a ninth grader expressed it, "someone who is often forgotten, the little life who doesn't even have a chance to live."

No one, neither the patient receiving an abortion, nor the person doing the abortion, is ever, at anytime, unaware that they are ending a life. We just don't believe that a developing embryo or fetus whose mother cannot or will not accept it, has the same moral claims on us, claims to autonomy and justice that an adolescent or adult woman has. I have never seen an abortion decision entered into lightly by anyone involved. The decision to have an abortion is usually made in the time of the first great personal moral crisis that ever faces a girl, a woman, her family, and the people who love them. It is only those who stand outside and condemn the women and families who are faced with these dilemmas that take lightly the decisions made in these straits and trivialize the circumstances in which they are made.

Moral dilemmas are always about difficult problems. Decisions between right and wrong are not moral dilemmas; decisions between right and wrong should be no-brainers and they should never be difficult.

It is in deciding between what we consider morally near-equal alternatives that we are forced to make agonizing appraisals. The decision between competing evils or competing goods—these are the judgments that may burn in your mind and forever live in your memory, that fry your soul. And it matters not whether one believes elective abortion a good or an evil, for every abortion decision is made between self-perceived competing goods or competing evils, not between obvious good and self-evident evil.

Is legal abortion dangerous? I personally have not seen an abortion injury to a woman since 1974, with three exceptions: One was a young women who became sterile after a post-abortion infection in 1974 in my practice; another was a woman from my practice who had a ruptured uterus in about 1975 as the result of an abortion done in Little Rock at about twenty-four weeks by a resident using a no-longer-used method of abortion. The last exception was a mother of five whom I admitted to my hospital around 1991 with a septic abortion at about twenty-six weeks pregnant. She or someone else had obviously tried to abort her. The fetus was alive, but the fetal membranes were ruptured and blood from the uterus was mixed with stinking pus, fouling her body, her clothes, and her bedclothes. (She was the sickest obstetric patient I had seen in a number of years, and the sickest abortion patient I had seen since June 1, 1971.) She had a fever of about 104 on admission and was threatening to go into septic shock. We got her stabilized and loaded her with massive doses of antibiotics. She was lucky. We were able to induce labor, deliver the extremely premature and septic fetus that died almost immediately, and she went home in about three days. Arkansas Medicaid would not pay for a safe abortion for her, but it did pay part of the bill for her recovery from an unsafe and therefore almost disastrous one, which was well over ten times the cost of a first-trimester abortion.

I know of only two deaths from legal abortions in the state of Arkansas since 1970. One was in about 1980 or 1981, a young woman from Springdale, Arkansas with severe heart disease who died as a result of complications of her heart disease, who had the abortion done by another physician at my hospital where she died in the recovery room, before she was to go to Houston for open heart surgery; the other was probably a patient of Dr. Bernard Nathanson, an early abortion provider in New York state and maker of The Silent Scream. This was a doctor's daughter from Northeast Arkansas who died after she came home, in about 1970 or 1971, as a result of self-neglected complications of an abortion that Dr. Nathanson may have performed in New York. The girl came home, started having serious problems and died rather than tell her parents of the abortion. The cause of death was only discovered at autopsy, and her story was then told by a friend. There may have been others; if so, I am not aware of them.

There are risks to any medical procedure; however, legal abortion, done by competent medical personnel is among the safest operative procedures performed today in the United States. From 1972 through 1990, there were 563 deaths from abortions of all types—legal, illegal and spontaneous—in the U.S.; fewer than half that number were from legal abortions. In 1990, there were in the United States a total of 5 women who died from legal abortions and another 5 from spontaneous abortions.*

I mentioned earlier that my mother always said to me, "the Lord has a special purpose for your life," and that the older I get, the more I think she may have been right; not just for my life, but for all of us. (But we have to find that purpose ourselves.) We each have unique skills, talents, and abilities to be used in the service of our fellow human beings. What I mean by this is, that I was led into OB-Gyn by my love for delivering babies. Gynecology was really to be only an appendage to my obstetrical practice and I am sure that providing abortions, even thinking about abortions, would never have been a major part of my life had other physicians in my area continued to provide them as was being done prior to 1984.

However, I soon found my practice inundated with abortion patients because other physicians who had also been providing abortions stopped doing so. In late 1983 it suddenly became uncomfortable, and very soon dangerous, to provide abortions. I literally had no option but to make a "Sophie's choice" between delivering babies, which I loved, or making what for me would be an immoral and unethical decision, that is, to choose to abandon those girls, women, and families who started coming to my office by the dozens. How could I look my children, my wife, my mother, my friends—myself—in the face and say, "I believe that abortion should be legal, safe, and available. But now some people disapprove and it's become very uncomfortable, perhaps even dangerous, to provide them. And so I am going to stop doing what I know to be absolutely right. When it gets uncomfortable or dangerous, it's OK to say, 'not me, coach.'"

Was that the morality that I wanted to demonstrate to my children? To parade in front of my wife, my family and friends?

Not me, coach!

Why do I provide abortions? Here is the short answer.

Like multitudes before me and, I trust, multitudes to come, I eventually heard (try as I might to avoid hearing it!) in that mother's grief-filled declaration, "Oh God, Doctor, I was hoping it was cancer", a still, small voice asking, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" to which I was at last compelled to reply, "Here am I, send me."

This essay was written in 1996.

* Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report (MMWR) published by the Center for Disease Control (1990 figures were the latest available in 1996)

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