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a publication of Canada's Pro-Choice Action Network
Spring 2005 Issue
Winning Choice on Abortion: a Book Review
By Joyce Arthur
exciting new book on the feminist "herstory" of the abortion
rights movement in BC and Canada has recently been published by
a Vancouver pro-choice activist. In her book Winning Choice on
Abortion, author Ann Thomson brings alive the struggle and the
personalities of the many women who were instrumental in securing
abortion rights in the 1960s and 1970s, the earliest days of the
feminist movement in Canada.
Thomson leaves room in her book for the integral and monumental
contribution of Dr. Henry Morgentaler to the abortion rights cause
in Canada, but she goes much further in doing what no other book
has ever done before - she pays great tribute to the achievements
of feminists and the women's rights movement in establishing abortion
rights. Even though I'm a long-time pro-choice activist myself,
many of the stories and women in the book were unknown to me. Thomson
really brings home the strength and courage of these brave women
at the forefront of the struggle. They fought for "free abortion
on demand" at a time when feminism and the idea of equality
for women were still openly ridiculed and discounted in our society.
The very first chapter opens with the beginning of BC's "women's
liberation" movement in 1968 - the formation of the Women's
Caucus by students at Simon Fraser University. Motivated by issues
such as equal jobs and equal pay, the Women's Caucus also embraced
the causes of birth control and abortion. From an early stage, abortion
became a focal point for the group, which soon began an "Abortion
Information Service". So swamped were they with calls, that
the Women's Caucus had to quickly search for doctors willing to
perform illegal abortions. They soon found Vancouver's Dr. Robert
Makaroff, as well as a doctor in Los Angeles. After Canada's abortion
law was liberalized in 1969, they were able to persuade other local
doctors to perform legal abortions at Vancouver General Hospital.
However, demand far exceeded supply at the hospital, and after the
kindly and compassionate Dr. Makaroff was arrested for performing
illegal abortions, the Women's Caucus turned their efforts to getting
rid of the abortion law completely. They began to lobby the government
and medical profession, but to no avail. Then came the idea for
the historic Abortion Caravan.
On April 27, 1970, the Abortion Caravan set out from Vancouver,
complete with several vehicles and about 19 women from Vancouver.
On its way to Ottawa, the group stopped at many towns and cities
to host demonstrations and public meetings, publicizing their cause.
Subsisting on the generosity of supporters across Canada, the women
stayed in church basements and were fed chili dinners at nearly
every stop, because some advance publicity had mentioned that as
an example of the support they needed on their journey. The Abortion
Caravan garnered a lot of valuable publicity enroute to Ottawa,
and picked up hundreds more supporters, mostly from Ontario. On
May 9, a scheduled meeting in Ottawa with the Minister of Justice
ended in disappointment after the Justice Minister refused to attend.
In response, hundreds of women decided to crash Prime Minister Trudeau's
residence at 24 Sussex Drive, where they successfully deployed a
coffin on his front lawn to represent the deaths of thousands of
Canadian women from illegal and unsafe abortion. The coffin was
ceremoniously piled high with objects women used for such abortions
- knitting needles, a Lysol container, a vacuum cleaner hose. But
the next day, Mother's Day, was the planned big event. Caravan members
selected about 30 women to attend Parliament as visitors. With their
visitors' tickets in hand, and bicycle chains and a photocopied
speech hidden in their purses, they selected seats apart from each
other in the Visitor's Gallery, and discreetly chained themselves
to their chairs.
In the middle of a dull question period in the House of Commons,
one woman stood up and began loudly reciting the speech demanding
repeal of the abortion law. When security guards made a beeline
for her, another feminist popped up on the other side of the gallery,
continuing the same speech. And so it went, with security guards
frantically dashing around to shut the women up, and more women
bolting to their feet to proclaim their demand. While some outraged
MP's protested, others just stared in alarm or amazement, while
still others laughed or thumped their desks. One MP congratulated
the "young ladies" for having "guts" and for
getting their point across. It took so long for security guards
to cut the chains off all the women, that Parliament was closed
for the first time in history. The next day, nearly every newspaper
in the country carried the story of the Abortion Caravan's climax
on page one.
Those confrontations in Ottawa were watershed events, lending strength
and momentum to the burgeoning women's movement. Winning Choice
on Abortion details the ensuing struggles to repeal the abortion
law over the next two decades, such as the painful and protracted
hospital board elections during the late 1970s and 1980s in BC.
Anti-abortionists campaigned to elect anti-choice boards, which
could then be counted upon to disband or render toothless the hospital's
therapeutic abortion committee required to approve abortions. At
some election meetings, thousands attended to vote one way or the
other. Sometimes the anti-choice side won, sometimes the pro-choice
Other groups came on board to fight for abortion rights during
those two decades, as well as to support Dr. Henry Morgentaler in
his legal battles. These groups included Concerned Citizens for
Choice on Abortion (CCCA) in BC, the Canadian Association to Repeal
the Abortion Law (CARAL - later renamed to Canadian Abortion Rights
Action League), the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics, and
later in BC, the BC Coalition for Abortion Clinics (BCCAC - which
later became the Pro-Choice Action Network).
The BCCAC opened BC's first abortion clinic in 1988, the Everywoman's
Health Centre. Winning Choice on Abortion tells the whole
dramatic story of this clinic, including the nearly impossible struggle
to raise the money to buy it, the political and media battles surrounding
it, the large Operation Rescue blockades the clinic was subjected
to in its early days, and the novel process of getting court injunctions
against the protesters.
Dr. Morgentaler's great victory at the Supreme Court in January
1988, when Canada's abortion law was finally thrown out, was a great
moment in Canadian history, one that caused great excitement and
optimism in the pro-choice movement. The aftermath in BC of the
Supreme Court decision is told with dramatic flair, starring the
flamboyant Bill VanderZalm as BC's devoutly Roman Catholic premier.
VanderZalm decided he didn't like the Supreme Court decision and
pledged not only to ignore it, but to rescind public funding for
hospital abortions. After a two-month battle in which he refused
to budge, in spite of just about everyone being against him, a BC
court ruled against his ban on abortion funding. When VanderZalm
was forced to resign in 1991 because of a financial gift scandal,
it was widely held that his arrogant stance on abortion was what
cost him his credibility. As Thomson notes, "Pro-choice activists
took satisfaction in knowing that many pundits agreed with them:
abortion toppled the BC government."
Thomson herself was intimately involved in many aspects of the
pro-choice effort in BC and spent twenty active years in the movement
before writing her book, which is both engrossing and well-written.
Trained as an historian, she interviewed nearly 50 people, drawing
on her personal background to explore the complex feminist, government,
and social forces that played a part in securing abortion rights
in Canada. The result is a richly detailed and gratifying history,
one that celebrates the accomplishments of BC women in particular.
It is highly recommended for anyone who enjoys reading about the
accomplishments of strong and courageous women, of whom Ann Thomson
is certainly one herself.
Winning Choice on Abortion: How British Columbia and Canadian
Feminists Won the Battles of the 1970s and 1980s. by Ann Thomson.
336 pages. $31.45. More information and order form: Trafford Publishing:
www.trafford.com. Or order
directly from author Ann Thomson, email@example.com
Women in chains for a long, long
Use our bodies, ignore our minds
Keep your eyes on the prize, Hold on!
The only thing we ever did right,
Was when we decided to go and fight
Keep your eyes on the prize, Hold on!
Going to Ottawa with our cause,
Sisters murdered by abortion laws
Keep your eyes on the prize, Hold on!
Hold on, hold on, keep your eyes on the prize,
page 49, Winning Choice on Abortion
Catholic Teachings Don't Help Teens
By Lisa Pelaccia
a former Catholic high school student, I would like to voice concern
about the Catholic school board's official stance on sex education,
more specifically what seems to be the central tenet of sex education:
abstain until marriage.
In teaching teens to abstain, the use of condoms and birth control
is discouraged. This is dangerous considering that some studies
have estimated that two-thirds of students will have sex before
the end of their high school careers. Plus, a teenage couple engaging
in sexual intercourse on a regular basis without using a reliable
method of birth control, are destined to be faced with an unplanned
pregnancy that can result in devastating consequences. Since women
still shoulder most of the childrearing responsibilities, despite
living in so-called enlightened times, an unplanned pregnancy will
likely have a more profound impact on the teenage girl.
For instance, teenage mothers are less likely to complete high
school, and even more unlikely to pursue a post-secondary education.
They are also more likely to be poor and dependent on government
assistance. "Counselors" at crisis pregnancy centres such
as "Birthright" fail to mention these consequences to
the desperate, naïve teenage girls who go to them seeking guidance
and support. They are unaware of the counselors' political agenda,
which is allowed to trump what is in the best interest of the girl
or woman. The anti-choice staff members do not take individual circumstances
into consideration. It does not matter to them whether the pregnancy
was a product of rape or incest, or if it could threaten a woman's
health. To them, there is only one right answer, regardless of the
situation. Abortion is wrong, and should not be permitted under
One need only walk down the halls of a Catholic high school to
see for themselves that the "Just don't do it!" message
is falling on deaf ears. At the high school I attended, it was not
uncommon to see young girls strolling down the halls, swollen bellies
protruding - some of them pregnant with their second or even third
child, most with little social support. Furthermore, these visible
reminders do not include those girls who chose to terminate their
pregnancies, despite the self-righteous condemnation of their choice
by the Catholic Church.
Depriving teens of access to sexual health information is foolish
and irresponsible. While "abstinence only" education might
delay the initiation of sexual activity for some youth, it does
nothing for those students who are already involved in a sexual
relationship. More importantly, studies have shown that having effective
sex education programs in place, rather than increasing the likelihood
that teens will go out and have sex, instead increases the chances
that students will be safe and protected when they do decide to
Good sex education programs provide teens with accurate, unbiased
information on disease and pregnancy prevention, and also include
information on same-sex relationships, emergency contraception,
and abortion, without resorting to scare tactics or moralizing.
The goal is not to make sex seem frightening and unpleasurable,
but to equip teens with the information they need to make thoughtful
and responsible decision regarding their sexual behaviour.
All too often in Catholic learning institutions, the teachings
of the Catholic Church are emphasized in the classroom, and presented
as absolute truth. There is no room for discussion or debate. For
instance, I remember one teacher in particular who used her classroom
as a pulpit to preach her anti-choice views, with no consideration
or regard for those students who might take offence, or how a girl
who might have had an abortion might feel, as she was forced to
listen to her mindless rhetoric.
She kept a copy of "Pro-life News" in plain sight on her
desk, and distributed literature that described various abortion
procedures in an inaccurate and sensational manner, which had been
produced by none other than the local "Right to Life Association."
When I dared to object, I was promptly removed from the classroom
at the teacher's insistence, despite the fact that she admitted
that prior to this "incident" I had been an exemplary
student who excelled in class, and had never given her any problems.
This same teacher allowed a statement by a fellow classmate blaming
the AIDS epidemic on the homosexual population to go unchallenged,
and referred to a trans-gendered student as an "it," much
to the amusement of a group of homophobic students who took great
pleasure in taunting and teasing this individual. At one point,
I voiced my concerns to the principal, and was told that if I took
issue with the "values" espoused by the Catholic Church,
perhaps I should consider attending a public school instead. And
that was the end of that conversation. Apparently, ignorance, hatred,
and intolerance are "values" that the Catholic Church
hold dear, and would like to pass on to young people.
What bothered me the most was not that this particular teacher's
view on abortion and homosexuality different substantially from
my own, but that she chose to ignore her most important role as
an educator. Instead of teaching her students how to think for themselves
(not what to think) and encouraging thought and dialogue, she attempted
to impose her own personal religious and philosophical views on
her students. While she had the right to voice an opinion, she should
have emphasized that it was just an opinion, not a fact, and at
least took some time to present and examine a differing viewpoint.
Knowing what I do about the teachings of the Catholic Church, and
their bearing on the curriculum, I firmly believe that children
attending public schools are not only receiving a better quality
of education, but are learning important values such as respect
and tolerance for other people's differences, including differences
of religious, philosophical, and political opinions. Much of what
is taught in Catholic schools is not fact, but propaganda, and is
based on antiquated religious views about sexuality and the role
of women in society.
I agree that sex education is primarily the responsibility of a
young person's parents. In an ideal world, a teen should be able
to approach her parents with sexual questions and concerns, and
expect open and knowledgeable dialogue to follow.
However, many parents do not know how to handle this delicate subject.
Because their own parents never discussed sex with them, the subject
remains taboo in their minds. Many are still struggling to deal
with feelings of guilt and shame about their own sexual needs and
desires, resulting from growing up in a sex-phobic culture that
sends mixed messages. Others may erroneously believe that if they
broach the subject, their teens might see it as encouragement of
sexual experimentation or activity. This is just not the case.
While I agree that teens should be encouraged to abstain until
they are mature enough to understand and deal with any potential
problems that might arise, it is also important to let them know
that having sexual feelings, desires, or curiosities is normal and
healthy and nothing to be ashamed of. It's also important to let
them know that at the right time and with the right person, sex
can be a fulfilling and enriching aspect of their lives. And let's
not forget fun!
Conservative Party: Finally Pro-Choice?
The abortion issue may finally
be dead in Canada, politically speaking. At the March convention
for the federal Conservative Party of Canada in Montreal, delegates
formally rejected re-opening the abortion debate when they voted
not to try and pass new legislation regulating abortion. The convention's
2,900 delegates voted 55% in favour of maintaining the status quo
on abortion, with 45% opposed.
The move was an endorsement
of the stand taken by leader Stephen Harper, who earlier announced
he would not introduce legislation to regulate abortion if he was
elected prime minister. A second resolution had also been up for
debate, calling for a "ban on the performing and funding of
third trimester partial birth abortions, also known as dilation
and evacuation." This resolution was not dealt with after the
first resolution passed.
The two contradictory motions
highlighted the deep divisions in the party over the abortion issue.
The social-conservative faction tried to return the party to its
right-wing Alliance roots, while more moderate conservatives, including
the remnants of the former Progressive Conservative Party, advocated
a tolerant position on social issues. Relieved pro-choice delegates
said the decision would "instantly" make the party a viable
force in the next election, especially for female voters.
According to the Canadian Press, the vote
represents what may be a "historic shift" in the abortion
issue, which a reporter called "one of the most divisive, bitter,
and longstanding morality debates this country has ever seen."
The article noted that the Conservative Party was the "lone
remaining mainstream political vehicle for the anti-abortion movement."
(March 19, 2005, Conservatives reject legislating on abortion
in historic party vote, Alexander Panetta).
The Conservative Party's
internal battle with abortion stems from last June's federal election,
when several right-wing candidates spoke out against abortion or
called for regulations on abortion. They were soundly vilified by
the media and Liberal candidates during the campaign, forcing Stephen
Harper to proclaim at every turn that he would not be supporting
any new legislation against abortion. Many pundits blamed the ensuing
Conservative election loss, at least in part, on the intemperate
outbursts of its anti-abortion candidates.
However, that election lesson did not stop Conservative MP Garry
Breitkreuz (Yorkton-Melville, Saskatchewan) from introducing Private
Members Motion M-6 last October. The bill would have granted pregnant
women the "right" to full disclosure from their doctors
of the "dangers" of abortion. It also called for "penalties
for physicians who perform an abortion without the informed consent
of the mother or perform an abortion that is not medically necessary."
Given the new official pro-choice stance for the Conservatives,
this bill will hopefully die a quick and quiet death.
It remains to be seen, however, whether the
new pro-choice policy will really end divisions in the party, let
alone curb the introduction of private members' bills trying to
regulate abortion. Anti-choice delegates at the convention unanimously
declared that they would live to debate the abortion issue another
day. Something that might help them do that is a resolution that
delegates passed to allow free votes on issues such as "abortion,
the definition of marriage, and euthanasia." On the plus side,
removed from the party's platform were planks calling for general
referendums, as well as referendums for constitutional amendments.
Enforcing the Law: Provinces vs. the Canada
By Shannon Stettner
Although the Supreme Court of Canada struck down restrictions against
abortion 17 years ago, Canadian women still confront barriers to
reproductive control. Access to abortion facilities and funding
for abortions remain hurdles yet to be overcome in many regions.
The failure of provinces to pay for the procedure in clinics contravenes
the Canada Health Act. Yet, two provinces, Quebec and New
Brunswick, have still not rectified this problem. Pro-choice proponents
have instigated court challenges in both provinces that will hopefully
lead to a long overdue, just ruling.
The battle for clinic funding has finally been won in Manitoba.
In 2001, two Manitoba women known as Jane Doe No. 1 and Jane Doe
No. 2, filed a class-action suit on behalf of all women in that
province. Their complaint focused on the province's refusal to fund
abortions at the private Morgentaler Clinic in Winnipeg. Facing
waits of four to eight weeks for province-paid procedures at the
hospital, both women opted to pay for their abortions at the clinic
where they received the procedures within a week. Refusing to pay,
the Manitoba government argued in court that women do not have the
right to dictate when and where they can have therapeutic abortions.
In December however, Associate Chief Justice Jeffrey Oliphant ruled
in favour of the Jane Does, stating that the government had committed
a "gross violation" of their rights. Specifically, he
ruled, "In my view, legislation that forces women to have to
stand in line in an overburdened, publicly funded health-care system
and to have to wait for a therapeutic abortion, a procedure that
probably must be performed in a timely manner, is a gross violation
of the right of women to both liberty and security of the person."
Oliphant's 25-page decision struck down sections of Manitoba's Health
Insurance Act on the grounds that they violate the Charter.
This finding allows for thousands of Manitoban women to seek compensation
for the hundreds of dollars they spent procuring private abortions.
In January, the Manitoba government appealed the court ruling, saying
it had to protect its right to decide how health-care dollars are
Another important development in Manitoba occurred in April 2004,
when eighteen pro-choice women bought the Morgentaler Clinic, renaming
it Jane's Clinic. Three months later and before Oliphant's decision,
Manitoba began funding abortions at the clinic, finally bringing
the province into compliance with the Canada Health Act.
Soon after his appointment as Federal Health Minister, Ujjal Dosanjh
began to address the issue of provincial funding of abortions at
clinics. In October 2004, he launched new talks with New Brunswick
over its refusal to pay for abortions at the Morgentaler Clinic
in Fredericton. Dosajnh said he was "very concerned" that
New Brunswick consistently ranked among the most difficult provinces
for a woman to get an abortion and instructed the province in its
responsibility to cover the cost of all abortions performed by doctors
in the province: "You have right across the country, provinces
saying [abortion] is a medically necessary service," said Dosanjh.
"And when it's a medically necessary service, whether it's
provided in a hospital or a clinic, it must be funded. It's as simple
In 2003, 602 women paid between $500 and $750 to have an abortion
at the Freder-icton clinic. Currently, the province only pays for
abortions that are both performed in hospitals and approved by two
doctors, as per a provincial regulation that is both illegal and
unconstitutional (see press release below). In January, Dosanjh
told provincial Health Minister Elvy Robichaud that he will enforce
the Canada Health Act against New Brunswick. Dosanjh said
if it can't be settled amicably, a dispute avoidance and resolution
process will be invoked, and financial penalties may apply from
the federal government.
"This is about a fundamental issue of a right to choose, and
the right to choose is meaningless unless you fund abortions adequately
and appropriately across the country. There is no exception to that
rule," Dosanjh said. Robichaud has repeatedly vowed that the
province will not fund abortions at the Morgentaler Clinic, saying
that access is adequate at hospitals, even though only one hospital
in New Brunswick regularly performs abortions and women usually
have to travel to access services.
In 2003, Dr. Henry Morgentaler initiated a still-ongoing lawsuit
against the New Brunswick government for failure to pay physician
and facilities fees at his clinic. A coalition of anti-choice groups
tried to obtain intervener status in the lawsuit, but a judge denied
the coalition's application, noting the lawsuit dealt primarily
with financial issues, and the coalition's preoccupation with the
morality of abortion was not relevant. The coalition appealed to
the province's highest court, but lost again in January.
"It is not my right, and it
is not really my place, to tell the women of the country what
they should or shouldn't do. It's their choice and we must
respect that choice in the way we deal with our health-care
Minister Ujjal Dosanjh
New Brunswick Telegraph Journal
October 9, 2004
Anti-Abortion Law an "Embarrassment" to Canada
Pro-CAN press release issued January 31,
Pro-choice activists applaud Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh's determination
to ensure that New Brunswick obeys the law by funding abortions
at the Fredericton Morgentaler Clinic. New Brunswick is the only
province in Canada that is still enforcing an illegal law that restricts
"New Brunswick's regulation is unconstitutional on its face,
and insulting to women," said Joyce Arthur of the Pro-Choice
Action Network. "It imposes completely arbitrary and unnecessary
obstacles to abortion that discriminate against women who can't
pay or who can't negotiate the bureaucratic process. As a result,
many women can't get an abortion in time, or at all."
Calling the abortion regulation an "an embarrassment to Canada,"
Arthur explained that "Canada is respected internationally
as one of the most pro-choice countries in the world because we
have no laws against abortion. That's because our Charter of
Rights guarantees equality to women, which includes freedom
of choice on abortion. Yet here's New Brunswick, forcing women to
jump through unconstitutional hoops before they can access a necessary
Arthur noted that New Brunswick could easily resolve the situation
by converting the Morgentaler Clinic into a publicly funded clinic
and repealing the province's illegal regulation. "Dosanjh is
absolutely right to go after New Brunswick," said Arthur. "He
must - because the Province is wrongly imposing its anti-choice
religious beliefs on all women there."
The Pro-Choice Action Network also supports Dr. Henry Morgentaler's
current lawsuit against the province, to force it to fund his clinic.
"He'll win because New Brunswick is clearly acting outside
the law," said Arthur. "Anti-abortion ideology won't stand
up in court, because it amounts to discrimination against women."
New Brunswick's Illegal Law Restricting Abortion
New Brunswick's Medical Services Payment Act, Regulation 84-20,
Schedule 2(a.1)) states that abortion is only eligible for payment
by Medicare when:
performed by a specialist in the field of obstetrics
and gynaecology in a hospital facility approved by the jurisdiction
in which the hospital facility is located, and two medical practitioners
certify in writing that the abortion was medically required."
This regulation violates women's constitutional rights, as well
as all five principles of the Canada Health Act (comprehensiveness,
universality, accessibility, portability, and public administration).
- It forces women to pay out-of-pocket for abortions at the Morgentaler
Clinic, while funding them at hospitals. But Health Canada says
that medically required treatments must be fully funded regardless
of where they are performed, hospitals or clinics.
- It forces women to obtain approval from two doctors before they
can get a funded abortion at a hospital. This violates women's
constitutional rights to freedom of conscience, liberty, and bodily
security. The Supreme Court of Canada said (in the 1988 Morgentaler
decision that threw out Canada's abortion law) that abortion is
a woman's private decision that the state is required to respect,
- It forces the two doctors to certify in writing that the abortion
is "medically required." This is redundant because the
province has already deemed abortion to be medically required
by funding some of them at hospitals. By definition, all abortions
are medically required and must be funded, just like all childbirths
are medically required and funded - regardless of the woman's
reasons for wanting an abortion or a baby.
- It requires abortions to be performed by a specialist in Obstetrics/Gynecology.
This limits access unnecessarily, because abortions can easily
be done by family physicians, who are far more numerous than Ob/Gyns.
- It violates the rights of New Brunswick women who need an abortion
while outside the province. All Canadian citizens are covered
by Medicare when they move or travel to another province. However,
New Brunswick has used its abortion regulation to justify keeping
abortion on the list of services excluded from its reciprocal
billing agreement with other provinces.
Also, hospitals in New Brunswick perform abortions only up to 12
weeks gestation. This arbitrary policy exists even though the province
forces women to wade through red tape that often delays the procedure
past 12 weeks. There is no legal or medical justification for imposing
gestational limits on abortion.
Canada News Bytes
Campaign to Defund Abortion in BC - In December, the Surrey-Delta
Pro-Life Society announced in their newsletter that they are launching
a campaign to defund abortion in BC, in conjunction with the upcoming
provincial election. Working with Campaign Life Coalition (Canada's
national, political anti-choice group), the group plans to raise
$68,000 via "coffee parties" and spend it on radio ads
and other initiatives.
Anti-choicer Refuses to Pay Taxes For Abortion - David Little of
Fredericton, New Brunswick went to court in February to face three
counts of refusing to pay his taxes. He will return to court to
enter a plea in April. Little has not paid taxes for 7 years and
said his tax money should not be used to fund abortions. He plans
to use the Charter's guarantees of freedom of religion and conscience
clauses to make his arguments, and ultimately hopes to reach the
Supreme Court of Canada.
Pro-Choice Policy Upheld at University of Victoria BC -
The campus anti-abortion group Youth Protecting Youth introduced
a motion to delete the pro-choice policy of the UVic Student Society,
saying the Society should be more "neutral." The policy
supported a woman's right to control her body and said no new law
should be introduced to regulate abortion. The Society was forced
to hold a vote in February on the anti-choice motion. A panel of
pro-choice speakers appeared on the evening before the vote to defend
the policy and help get out the pro-choice vote, and a rally was
also held the next day. The motion was defeated by a wide margin.
"I Had an Abortion" T-shirts spark outcry -
Last July, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America's decision
to sell "I had an abortion" T-shirts drew a sharp rebuke
from Calgary's Roman Catholic Bishop Fred Henry. He called the promotion
"callous" and a sign of the "deadly blindness come
upon our society." He said it was tantamount to someone wearing
a T-shirt that says "I killed my baby." The issue sparked
heated public debate and countless letters to newspapers across
Canada, mostly from outraged anti-choicers.
New Brunswick Woman Murdered for Having Abortion - In a
Fredericton murder case last September, the court was told that
a murder suspect's estranged wife, who later turned up dead, had
an abortion without his knowledge and it enraged him. A Fredericton
psychiatrist testified that Abdul Bari was referred to him by his
family physician in April 2003 for depression. His wife, Shaila
Akther Bari, was found dead in her apartment on July 16, 2003. Bari
pled innocent, but a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder.
Loss of a Fetus Cannot be Charged as Homicide - In November,
an 8-month pregnant woman lost her fetus in a car accident. Aimee
Wilson of Vancouver, 25, lashed out at the law, upset because her
unborn child was not considered a person under the law. She said
the driver of the other car, a young man, killed her baby and she
wanted him charged accordingly. Police replied that such charges
cannot be laid because under the Criminal Code, because a fetus
does not become a legal person with rights until it is born alive.
CTV Airs Movie on Dr. Henry Morgentaler - In January, a
dramatized biography of Canada's abortion pioneer was broadcast.
Choice: The Henry Morgentaler Story covered the two-decade
span beginning in 1967 when Morgentaler ignited the abortion debate,
and culminating with the 1988 Supreme Court decision that vindicated
him and struck down Canada's abortion law as unconstitutional. The
movie starred David Eisner as the doctor and was well-received by
critics. It portrayed Dr. Morgentaler in a human and compassionate
manner, highlighting his courage, persistence, and unwavering commitment
to women's free choice on abortion without having to provide a reason.
Also: The University of Western Ontario will award Dr. Morgentaler
an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in June for his accomplishments.
Most Young Women Unaware of Dr. Morgentaler -Globe &
Mail journalist Ian Brown reported in December that 62% of women
aged 18-34 said they had never heard of Dr. Henry Morgentaler. Of
those who had at least heard of him, 27% couldn't accurately identify
him. That means 73% of 18-to-34-year-old Canadian women have either
not heard of Dr. Morgentaler or couldn't identify him accurately.
The GAP Comes Back - Anti-choice students at the University
of BC put up the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) display on campus
in November, and again at the end of March. The display equates
abortion in Canada to genocide in Nazi Germany, Rwanda, and Cambodia.
Pro-choice protesters were required to stay outside a 9.75-metre
bubble zone, under university rules for the GAP display. Paul Sutton,
safety coordinator for the UBC student society, said in November
that GAP displays have led to a spike in student visits to counseling
services. GAP displays have become more common on Canadian university
campuses over the last year, causing a spike in pro-choice activism
on many campuses.
Bank of Montreal Supports Anti-Choice Card - Anti-choice
group Life Canada-Vie Canada in Ottawa has been offering a fundraising
affinity MasterCard to its members for the last 10 years. In March,
however, the Bank of Montreal asked the group to remove a link on
its website allowing members to sign up for the card. The bank said
they had started to receive angry complaints from the pro-choice
movement. E-mails were circulating across the country, calling on
pro-choice supporters to cut up their MasterCards and boycott the
bank. Carroll Rees, executive director of Life Canada-Vie Canada,
said the group complied with the bank's request.
Abortion Rates Drop Slightly in 2002 - Statistics Canada
reported that Canadian women obtained 105,154 abortions in 2002,
down one percent from 106,270 in 2001. The rate of abortion fell
marginally to 15.4 abortions per 1,000 women in 2002 from 15.6 abortions
per 1,000 women in 2001.
Anti-Choice Poll Reveals Ambivalence About Abortion - An
anti-choice poll commissioned by Life Canada and conducted by Environics
Research in September and October 2004, showed that 68% of the 2,027
Canadians polled said Canadian law should protect human life at
some point before birth. 33% said legal protection should begin
at conception, 24% said it should begin after three months of pregnancy,
and 11% said after six months. 28% said legal protection should
begin at birth. 54% said abortions should be paid for by taxpayers
"only in medical emergencies such as a threat to the mother's
life or in cases of rape or incest." 55% said parental consent
should be required before minors under the age of 18 could have
Busy Bill Whatcott - In a 2002 anti-choice protest in Prince
Albert, Saskatchewan, Bill Whatcott was arrested for being (among
other things) a traffic hazard. He was jailed for a day and fined
$500. In October 2004, however, he won his appeal for the conviction,
with the court upholding his right to publicly protest and finding
that police wrongly restricted his free expression. Last November,
Whatcott, a nurse, was found guilty of unprofessional conduct by
the Saskatchewan Association of Licensed Practical Nurses (SALPN).
The charges stemmed from Whatcott's 2002 public demonstrations against
Planned Parenthood Regina. In January, Whatcott was sentenced by
the SALPN Tribunal to a 45-day suspension and ordered to pay $15,000
costs for the trial. A refusal to pay costs could result in permanent
suspension. That same month, Whatcott was arrested for trespassing
at the University of Calgary after leafleting car windshields. He
was released on condition that he stop leafleting and was prohibited
from the campus indefinitely.
Quebec Wants to Do Late Term Abortions - In September 2004,
Quebec health officials announced plans to hire a physician to provide
late-term abortions. Currently, Canadian women go to Kansas, Colorado
and Washington State for abortions after 22 weeks that are required
for compelling maternal health reasons or for severe fetal abnormalities.
While anti-choicers reported that Ontario taxpayers paid $400,000
last year to send 56 women to the U.S. for late term abortions,
the Ontario Ministry of Health claimed that 15 women from Ontario
and 30 from Quebec were sent south for the procedure. Quebec's Roman
Catholic bishops objected, arguing that since Canada has no law
governing abortion, it is unethical for Quebec to make it easier
to obtain one.
Canada Funds UN Population Fund - Canada's International
Co-operation Minister Aileen Carroll announced in December that
Canada is increasing its annual $13.1-million contribution to the
U.N. Population Fund to $67.4 million over four years - about $16.9
million each year. Most of that will go toward core financing of
the reproductive health program that has been seriously damaged
by the U.S. boycott over the past three years.
The War Against Women
New Federal Anti-Choice Laws
Several new federal laws restricting abortion are slated to be
passed in the United States by the Republican-controlled Congress
this spring or later this year. President Bush is expected to sign
The Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act will force abortion
providers to warn women having abortions at 20 weeks or later that
their fetuses will feel pain, and offer them the option of pain
medication for their fetuses. However, there is no sound scientific
evidence that fetuses feel pain, plus telling this to a woman could
cause unnecessary emotional trauma and guilt. Abortion providers
have also pointed out that giving medication to the fetus would
not only increase the woman's medical risks, but would be technically
difficult, if not impossible to do.
The second new bill is the Child Custody Protection Act,
which criminalizes non-parental adults from helping pregnant minors
cross state lines to circumvent abortion laws requiring parental
notification. This law would jail well-meaning adults like grandmothers
who try to help young girls who are unable to confide in their parents,
such as girls from abusive families. 33 states currently enforce
laws requiring parental notification or consent for minors' abortions.
However, not a single state has a law requiring parental consent
for teens to have a baby.
In March, it became clear sailing for a new federal law making
it harder for consumers to erase their debts in bankruptcy court.
Republicans in the Senate succeeded in removing a clause prohibiting
abortion protesters from declaring bankruptcy to escape court fines
for illegal protests and harassment. The new law gives the stamp
of approval to anti-choice terrorism and harassment, while condemning
to poverty the majority of people who must resort to bankruptcy
In November, Congress passed a major anti-abortion bill, the Weldon
Amendment, by inserting a last-minute clause into a budget bill.
The sweeping clause permits health care entities to collect federal,
state, and local tax dollars while refusing to provide abortion
services, counseling, or referrals (even in cases of rape, incest,
or danger to the woman's life). Opponents say the bill's impact
would be felt primarily by low-income women who depend on federally-subsidized
health care and use Roman Catholic hospitals. California's pro-choice
attorney general Bill Lockyer filed a lawsuit to block the Weldon
Amendment, since the law would take away the state's ability to
enforce its own laws protecting women's reproductive health and
rights. The National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association
also asked a judge to halt the Weldon Amendment, because it conflicts
with Title X law that requires health care providers to inform women
The passage of the Weldon amendment mirrors a growing trend
for anti-choice health professionals to refuse to dispense contraception,
as well. In 2004, 12 states took steps to try to introduce so-called
conscience clauses that would allow pharmacists to refuse to dispense
drugs, including emergency contraception and the Pill, on moral
grounds, without losing their jobs. In many states, anti-choice
groups and Pharmacists for Life are encouraging pharmacists to refuse
to distribute emergency contraception.
Democratic lawmakers recently introduced a bill, the Putting
Prevention First Act, to increase access to family planning
services and contraception in order to prevent abortion. However,
anti-choice legislators defeated it, with one denouncing the Act
Abortion: Few Risks and Positive Outcomes
The American Psychological Association released a briefing paper
last year called: The Impact of Abortion on Women: What Does
the Psychological Research Say? The report cites research showing
that the ability of women to make decisions about their own childbearing
is a necessary condition for their health and mental health, as
well as for their families.
Following are some highlights of the report. The full report, with
recommendations and citations, is available at www.apa.org/ppo/issues/womenabortfacts.html
Physical risks and consequences of abortion - Legal abortion
is less dangerous than pregnancy. In 1999, as in previous years,
deaths related to legal abortions occurred very rarely, at a rate
of less than one per 100,000 abortions. The overall pregnancy-related
mortality rate was nearly ten times higher.
Abortion may avoid negative health consequences, especially
for teenage mothers - Unintended and unwanted childbearing can
have negative health consequences, including greater chances for
illness for both the mother and child. The adverse consequences
of teenagers' inability to control their childbearing can be particularly
severe. Teenage mothers are more likely to suffer toxemia, anemia,
birth complications, and death. Babies of teenage mothers are more
likely to have low birth weight and suffer birth injury and neurological
defects. Such babies are twice as likely to die in the first year
of birth as babies born to mothers who delay childbearing until
after age 20.
Low risk of psychological harm - Well-designed studies of
psychological responses following abortion have consistently shown
that risk of psychological harm is low. Some women experience psychological
dysfunction following abortion, but post-abortion rates of distress
and dysfunction are lower than pre-abortion rates. Moreover, the
percentage of women who experience clinically relevant distress
is small and appears to be no greater than in general samples of
women of reproductive age. A recent study showed not only that rates
of depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), were not
elevated in a large sample of 442 women followed for two years post-abortion,
but also that the incidence of PTSD was actually lower in women
post-abortion than the rate in the general population.
Positive functioning and educational attainment two years later
- A study of adolescent abortion followed 360 adolescents over
two years after they had been interviewed when seeking a pregnancy
test. Some had a negative pregnancy test, some were pregnant and
carried to term, and some were pregnant and aborted their pregnancy.
The adolescents who chose abortion showed significant drops in anxiety
and significant increases in self-esteem and internal control in
the period immediately following the abortion to two years later.
They appeared to be functioning as well as, or even better than,
adolescents who had a negative pregnancy test or had carried to
term. They were also most likely to have higher economic well-being;
most likely to be in high school (and performing at grade level)
or to have graduated; and less likely to have a subsequent pregnancy.
Positive emotions more often experienced - Freely chosen
legal abortion, particularly in the first trimester, has not been
found to be associated with severe psychological trauma, despite
the fact that it occurs in the stressful context of unwanted pregnancy.
The time of greatest stress is before the abortion. A woman's emotional
responses after experiencing an unwanted pregnancy terminated by
abortion are complex and may involve a combination of positive and
negative emotions. Positive emotions are more often experienced,
and they are experienced more strongly than negative emotions, both
immediately after the abortion and during the months following it.
Effects of stress are relative - Abortion may be a stressful
experience; however, it may also reduce the stress resulting from
an unwanted pregnancy and from the events that led to the pregnancy
being unwanted. The effects of abortion cannot be separated from
the effects of the experience of unwanted pregnancy and from the
effects of the context in which the pregnancy occurred.
Poor social outcomes often arise for unwanted children -
Unintended and unwanted childbearing has been linked with a variety
of social problems, including divorce, poverty, child abuse, and
juvenile delinquency. One study found that unwanted children were
less likely to have a secure family life. As adults, they were more
likely to engage in criminal behavior, be on welfare, and receive
psychiatric services. Another study found that children who were
unintended by their mothers had lower self-esteem than their intended
peers 23 years later. Research has shown that social and psychological
problems persist into adulthood, partially because the mothers are
themselves from disadvantaged backgrounds with poor future prospects.
Children born to teenage mothers are more likely to have lower achievement
scores, poorer school adjustment, and more problem behaviors than
children born to older women.
What If Roe Fell?
The Center for Reproductive Rights'
What if Roe Fell? Report
By Shannon Stettner
According to public opinion polls, a majority of Canadian men and
women are pro-choice. Overwhelmingly, they are a silent majority;
few support their beliefs with action. Indeed, in 2004, one could
argue that many women in Canada and the United States are complacently
pro-choice. This complacency has contributed, in the U.S. at least,
to reproductive rights being jeopardized. A September 2004 study
by the Center for Reproductive Rights, What if Roe Fell?,
outlines the fragility of a woman's right to choose in that country.
Prepared in anticipation of a Republican electoral victory, the
study outlines the direct threats to abortion rights, and the ways
women and men can begin to work now to minimize these threats.
Presently, one in three American women have an abortion during
their reproductive years. Moreover, there are three million unplanned
pregnancies in the U.S. yearly, one-third of which end in abortion.
Yet, the report acknowledges that should Roe v. Wade be overturned
(the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion throughout
the U.S.), more than 70 million women could lose their right to
access safe, legal abortions. Abortion would come under state jurisdiction,
with many states probably moving quickly to ban abortion. The report
offers a state-by-state analysis of abortion laws, and state constitutions
If Roe v. Wade were overturned, different scenarios would
affect different states. Some states have old pre-Roe anti-abortion
laws that would be in effect immediately; new laws would not need
to be passed in those states. Some states have pre-Roe anti-abortion
bans that have been blocked by courts and would have to be overturned
before abortion could be prohibited. Other states may not have pre-Roe
anti-abortion laws, but also lack laws protecting a woman's right
to choose, meaning that anti-abortion laws would likely be introduced
quickly. Indeed, many anti-choice advocates have been busy enacting
laws across the U.S. Even though abortion is protected under Roe
v. Wade, 409 measures restricting abortion have been enacted
in state legislatures since 1995, and in November 2003, the first
federal ban on some abortion procedures was passed. A further risk
should Roe v. Wade be overturned, would be for Congress to
pass a federal ban on abortion nullifying any pro-choice state laws.
What is the likelihood of Roe v. Wade being overturned?
There are three U.S. Supreme Court judges who favour a repeal of
Roe v. Wade: William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence
Thomas. Five others support a woman's right to obtain an abortion
before viability and, in the case of protecting a woman's life or
health, after viability: John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor,
David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. These five
have repeatedly reaffirmed that restrictions on abortion must not
compromise a woman's health. The final judge, Anthony Kennedy, has
come down on different sides of the issue and cannot be counted
on to uphold the principles of Roe v. Wade. The What if
Roe Fell? report quotes former Justice Blackmun on the significance
of the risk to Roe v. Wade: "[t]o overturn a constitutional
decision that secured a fundamental personal liberty to millions
of persons would be unprecedented in our 200 years of constitutional
history." Indeed, the appointment of an anti-choice Supreme
Court judge would likely mean someone interested in making law,
not interpreting existing law.
What if Roe Fell? outlines what activists can do now to
safeguard abortion rights should Roe v. Wade be overturned.
In some states, activists can consider sponsoring legislation to
protect the right to choose, including a Reproductive Privacy
Act. They warn, however, that many factors should be considered
before proposing such legislation. For example, Republican state
legislatures may introduce retaliatory anti-choice initiatives.
In states with pre-Roe anti-abortion bans still on record, activists
may want to sponsor a repeal of those bans now. Planned Parenthood's
Post-Roe Service Delivery Task Force is also exploring other options,
including providing abortion services on Native American reservations,
which are independent of federal laws, launching programs like Women
on Waves, and equipping clinics along the border of Canada to provide
services for American women. Ultimately, activists need to inform
themselves of existing state laws, monitor developments, and be
prepared to act if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
The report assesses the risks to women's access to safe, legal
abortions in each state, and includes details on each state's political
and legal environment.
States Deemed at High Risk (21) - Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado,
Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri,
Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode island,
South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin.
States Deemed at Middle Risk (9) - Arizona, Georgia, Idaho,
Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania.
States Deemed Likely Protected (20) - Alaska, California,
Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota,
Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Tennessee,
Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming.
The full report can be read or ordered by visiting: www.reproductiverights.org
U.S. News Bytes
Abstinence Curricula Biased, Inaccurate, and Ineffective -
A Congressional study released by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.)
in December found that of 13 most commonly used abstinence-based
sex-ed curricula, only two were accurate and 11 others contained
unproved claims, subjective conclusions, or outright falsehoods
regarding reproductive health, gender traits, and when life begins.
The ACLU called for an extensive review of curricula, and Lambda
Legal announced a state-by-state investigation into "abstinence-only"
education programs to see if they meet medical accuracy laws. For
example, some curricula taught that condoms do not help prevent
the spread of STDs, while others promoted stereotypes about boys
and girls, such as "Women gauge their happiness and judge their
success by their relationships. Men's happiness and success hinge
on their accomplishments.'' The Bush Administration plans to increase
funding for abstinence-only based programs, from $39 million U.S.
to $270 million, but numerous studies of such programs have failed
to find any measurable impact. In one of the latest, conducted by
researchers in President Bush's home state of Texas and released
last month, teenagers in 29 high schools became even more sexually
active after taking abstinence-only courses, mirroring overall state
trends. In another new study from Yale and Columbia Universities,
students who took a pledge to remain abstinent tended to delay their
sexual activity, but generally failed to use condoms when they did
have sex, so they suffered almost the same rates of sexually-transmitted
diseases as teens who did not take an abstinence pledge. Also, pledgers
were more likely to engage in anal and oral sex than non-pledgers.
"Jane Roe" Fails to Overturn Decision Legalizing Abortion
- Since 2003, Norma McCorvey, the former "Jane Roe"
plaintiff in the famous 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized
abortion across America, has been trying to get that decision overturned.
She has failed at every turn. McCorvey converted to the anti-choice
movement in 1995, and in 2003, asked a federal district court in
Dallas to re-open the case. She urged a wide-ranging inquiry into
scientific and anecdotal evidence (consisting of affidavits from
1,000 women) that shows legal abortion hurts women and violates
their constitutional rights. The court dismissed her request because
it wasn't made within a "reasonable time" after the 1973
judgment. McCorvey appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
in New Orleans, which dismissed her case as "moot" because
the Texas laws declared unconstitutional in Roe v. Wade had
since been repealed. Finally in January of this year, McCorvey appealed
to the U.S. Supreme Court, which denied her appeal several days
later without comment.
Abortion Rates Increasing Under Bush's Watch - An independent
study by an ethics professor, Glen Stassen of the Fuller Theological
Seminary, found that abortion rates rose during Bush's presidency
and that the increase is linked to economic policy. The study, released
in October 2004, found linkages between economic hardship and abortion.
Two-thirds of women who abort say they cannot afford a child; half
of women who abort say they do not have a reliable mate and co-breadwinner.
Women of childbearing age are over-represented in the 5.2 million
additional persons without health coverage since Bush's 2000 electoral
"win." (Abortion rates went down during Bill Clinton's
presidency, in which he presided over a booming economy.) In March,
the Bush Administration proposed major new cuts to its budgets for
health, education, and community development, including a $15 billion
cut to Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income people.
Fortunately, the Senate rejected the bulk of these cuts, which would
have impacted mostly women and further increased the abortion rate.
Hillary Clinton Migrates to Mushy Middle on Abortion - In
January, Senator Hillary Clinton spoke to 1000 abortion rights supporters
at the New York State Family Planning Providers conference, with
a theme of a more moderate stance on abortion. She said abortion
"in many ways represents a sad, even tragic choice to many,
many women." And that "people of good faith" on both
sides should seek "common ground." Her speech made national
headlines, and was widely seen as an attempt to soften her image
so she can run for President in 2008.
Parents of Teenager Sue over Abortion Death -An American
teenager named Holly Patterson developed an infection and died in
a San Francisco hospital in September 2003, after using the abortion
drug mifepristone (RU-486). Last December, her parents filed wrongful
death and product liability lawsuits, which named Population Council,
which sponsored the development of mifepristone; Danco, the New
York distributor; Planned Parenthood Golden Gate, the clinic where
she got the abortion pill; and ValleyCare Health System, which runs
the hospital where Patterson died. Additionally, the FDA announced
a new "black box labeling" safety warning for Mifeprex
to advise of the rare, but serious risk of bacterial infections,
sepsis, bleeding, and death that may occur following any abortion.
This labeling, however, was likely prompted by political pressure
exerted by anti-choicers and by the lack of financial backing for
the drug from its foreign manufacturer. All drugs have adverse side-effects
and mifepristone is far safer than many other drugs on the market,
such as Viagra. However, mifepristone was not even proved to be
the causal factor in the several U.S. deaths where women had taken
it. In the last 20 years, tens of millions of women worldwide have
taken it safely.
"Partial-Birth" Abortion Ban Thrown Out, U.S. Government
Appeals - Several abortion rights groups and doctors launched
three separate legal challenges against the Bush Administration's
November 2003 "partial birth" abortion ban. In 2004, three
judges in New York (Richard Casey), Nebraska (Richard Kopf), and
Virginia (Richard L. Williams) all independently ruled the ban unconstitutional
because there was no exemption for a woman's health. Kopf ruled
that Congress ignored the most experienced doctors in determining
that the banned procedure would never be necessary. The Justice
Department appealed, contending that Kopf ignored Congressional
"evidence" that the procedure is never medically necessary
(apparently missing Kopf's point that Congress never even consulted
any abortion providers.) The Justice Department further denied that
the ban places an undue burden on women seeking abortions, even
though the law actually bans the majority of second-trimester abortions
across the U.S. The department is appealing all three rulings, and
all three will be affected by the appeal.
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