a publication of BC's Pro-Choice Action Network
Autumn / Winter 2002 Issue
Table of Contents
U.S. / International News
Miscellaneous:Killer Kopp Confesses
"I did it and I'm admitting it"
James Kopp has admitted he shot and killed Dr. Barnett Slepian. Kopp confessed to two reporters who interviewed him for four hours from the Buffalo New York jail where Kopp is being held.
In an exclusive story published on Nov. 20 in The Buffalo News, Kopp said he planned the sniper shooting for a year, hid in the woods behind Slepian's home in Amherst New York, and fired the shot that killed the abortion provider, on October 23, 1998. He claimed his outrage over abortion prompted him to shoot Slepian.
Kopp said he scouted Slepian's neighbourhood several times and also checked out at least six other local doctors who provided abortions before deciding to target Slepian. However, Kopp claims he is innocent of any crime, because his action was necessary to stop the doctor from performing more abortions.
He also insists that he meant only to wound Slepian to prevent him from performing more abortions. "The truth is not that I regret shooting Dr. Slepian. I regret that he died," Kopp said. "I aimed at his shoulder. The bullet took a crazy ricochet, and that's what killed him. One of my goals was to keep Dr. Slepian alive, and I failed at that goal."
Kopp said he decided to make a public confession because he felt bad about misleading his supporters, and he wanted them to know "the truth" about his actions and the reasons behind them. Prior to Kopp's confession, most of the anti-choice movement was convinced of his innocence, and had spent much time and resources to "prove" that Kopp was being framed by police. Many anti-choice organizations expressed shock and outrage over Kopp's confession.
Kopp refused to say whether he was involved in four similar, nonfatal shootings of abortion doctors in Perinton New York, Ancaster Ontario, Vancouver British Columbia, and Winnipeg Manitoba. He also declined to explain why he buried his gun and other evidence in the woods behind the Slepian home, although perhaps it was because he had to return to the spot several times and left the weapon there for convenience.
Kopp said he decided to target Slepian because the woods behind the home offered a good hiding place and because there was a rear window where he would be able to spot Slepian. He thought that gunning down a doctor at home was the easiest way to do it, because the doctor would be a much harder target at a fortified clinic, where innocent bystanders might also get hurt.
Kopp made clear that his tactical goal was to frighten and intimidate doctors. He warned that other abortion foes might follow his lead and target people involved in providing abortions. "If they value their own souls, [they should] get out...right away. They're still in danger, absolutely," he said. "I'm not the first, and I probably won't be the last." At one point, the reporters asked Kopp what he would do if he were acquitted and released. Would he shoot other doctors? Kopp replied, "I would do something," but would not elaborate.
A couple of weeks before his confession, Kopp fired his highly-respected lawyer, Paul Cambria, and replaced him with Bruce Barket, an extremist anti-choice lawyer. Barket plans to use Kopp's trial to argue against the morality of abortion and justify Kopp's actions as necessary to save babies. However, a judge has now prohibited Barket from being Kopp's lawyer because of a conflict of interest. Barket also represents Kopp's friend and alleged accomplice, Loretta Marra.Kopp's "Underground Railroad"
Although James Kopp said he "acted alone" in the Slepian shooting, he did not actually deny ever receiving assistance from anyone. Dr. Slepian had long been a target of anti-abortion protests, but Kopp said he knew nothing about Slepian when he began scouting locations in 1997. "I got his name from the Yellow Pages," Kopp said. "No one in the pro-life community handed me a dossier on Dr. Slepian. That would have made my job easier."
Kopp's explanation is not credible, because Dr. Slepian was identified in the phone book only as an obstetrician/gynecologist, not an abortion provider. Plus, we know that Kopp had two accomplices who aided and abetted his fugitive status while he was on the run. Dennis Malvasi and Lorretta Marra, a married couple from Brooklyn, were arrested a few days after Kopp's capture in France and charged with harbouring a fugitive. They had been helping Kopp evade capture and giving him money, advice, and support. Both Malvasi and Marra are pro-violence anti-abortion terrorists; Malvasi is a convicted clinic bomber and Marra was planning to attack clinics with butyric acid at the time of her arrest. The pair were indicted in December and have been denied bail pending their trial in the new year. Another woman, who prosecutors view as a witness, not an accomplice, has admitted to driving Slepian to Mexico, Kopp's first destination after fleeing the country.
Although most anti-choice groups expressed outrage for Kopp's crime after he confessed, most had blindly supported him up until that point. Some, however, continue to praise him and his violent act, including convicted clinic bomber Michael Bray. In fact, one week before Kopp even confessed, Bray confidently stated on the Army of God website that Kopp had indeed shot Dr. Slepian. Ominously, Bray revealed to the Buffalo News ("Did Kopp Have Help?" Dec 29/02) that he is "in touch" with Bruce Barket, Kopp's current lawyer.
The pro-choice movement has long suspected the existence of a radical anti-abortion "Underground Railroad" that offers help to domestic terrorists like Kopp. Some anti-choice groups and individuals defend terrorists or raise money to support them and their families, including Missionaries to the Pre-born, Army of God adherents, and others. The White Rose Banquet is an annual event hosted by U.S. extremists to honour anti-abortion terrorists and collect donations for them. Eric Rudolph, the alleged bomber of an abortion clinic in Atlanta, is still at large in North Carolina (presumably), and many local anti-abortionists have refused to cooperate with the police search because they consider Rudolph a hero. David Trosch, a Catholic priest who signed the “Defensive Action” petition advocating the "justifiable homicide" of doctors, said that a network of support for abortion opponents could very well exist. "I know I've had offers for safe havens," he said. Although no extremist verified that safe houses actually exist, several told the Buffalo News that they would be a good thing.
Kopp himself is no lone wolf. According to the Buffalo News, he travelled widely and was well-connected with other anti-abortionists throughout the U.S. and Europe, which he visited at least three times in the years before the Slepian shooting. "James Kopp had friends everywhere," said Rev. Robert Pearson, a Kopp friend and New Jersey priest who signed the “Defensive Action” petition. Kopp attended many organized protests at clinics across the country during the 1990's and was arrested at least twice in the U.S. and once in Europe. He was closely allied with the pro-violence group Army of God, for which he served as an "inspiration," says Kopp's friend Bill Koehler. According to former Planned Parenthood investigator Frederick Clarkson, Kopp also used to act as chief strategist and "advance intelligence agent" for the Lambs of Christ, a group known for aggressive clinic protests. "He was absolutely the guy with the connections," said Clarkson. Finally, Kopp is linked with the Society of St. Pius X, a rebel Catholic sect that once harboured a Nazi war criminal and has many parishes throughout Europe, the U.S, and Canada. "Our conclusion was that he was absolutely not acting alone and not acting with just one or two people," said Ann Glazier, director of a Planned Parenthood security group that investigated the Slepian murder. "There had to be many people involved."
Investigators in the Slepian shooting case presume that Kopp had help based on various indicators. They wonder how Kopp could have had enough time to escape when he had to bury his rifle behind Slepian's house and bury more evidence in another spot. Plus, Kopp's driver's license was suspended at the time of the shooting. Both factors lead investigators to suspect an accomplice at the scene.
This brings us to the three unsolved shootings in Canada, all very similar to the Slepian shooting. The gunman hid behind the doctors' homes and shot into the home through glass windows. First, Dr. Garson Romalis was shot in Vancouver in November 1994, while he was sitting in his kitchen eating breakfast. The doctor suffered a serious upper leg wound and narrowly escaped bleeding to death. In November 1995, Dr. Hugh Short was shot in the same manner in his home near Hamilton Ontario. The bullet hit his elbow, permanently disabling his arm. Two doctors were shot in 1997: In Perinton, New York, a suburb of Rochester, a doctor who wishes to remain anonymous was shot at in his home on October 28. The bullets missed his head by two inches, but the doctor suffered slight wounds from flying debris. Two weeks later on November 11, Dr. Jack Fainman was shot at his home in Winnipeg Manitoba. The bullet entered his shoulder, narrowly missing an artery.
Kopp has been charged with the shooting of Dr. Hugh Short in Hamilton, and is the main suspect in the other three shootings. Another Buffalo News article ("Kopp Suspected in 4 Other Attacks", Dec 30/02) revealed that the evidence leading to the charge in the Short case was hair strands found in a ski mask near the scene. A DNA test showed a match with Kopp's hairs taken from a house where he had stayed.
Other evidence listed by the Buffalo News, most of which has never been publicly revealed before, includes:
Vancouver's own Barrie Norman is quoted by the Buffalo News as recalling that he may have planted the seed for violence against doctors in Kopp's mind in 1989. He and his wife Connie were jailed with Kopp and other protesters in Manchester England for blockading clinics. Norman said the group of prisoners discussed how to stop doctors from performing abortions, with Norman himself suggesting that "You just can't kill them" because "That's not pro-life", but "You could shoot them." Norman said it was laughed off as a joke, but that Kopp listened intently to the ensuing conversation about how such a deed might be done. "You'd have some guy from out of town come into town, do the job, talk to nobody, leave and never come back," Norman said. "If he talked to anyone, you could involve someone else."
Investigators dispute Kopp's claim that he only meant to wound Slepian, and are likewise convinced that the gunman responsible for the other four shootings was shooting to kill. The weapon used was a deadly assault rifle, and the four wounded doctors were all lucky to have survived.
We reported on Kopp's possible connections to Vancouver anti-abortion activists in the Spring and Summer 2002 issues of Pro-Choice Press. They include Maurice Lewis, Barrie Norman, Cecilia von Dehn, and Gordon Watson. These activists either knew Kopp personally, or indications arose that they may have knowledge of his travels in Canada. Pro-CAN passed on the information to the Canadian Task Force looking into the doctor shootings. After Kopp's confession, the Vancouver Sun reported that two new Vancouver police detectives have been assigned to review the Romalis case and hopefully, look into new leads.
A spokesperson for the Winnipeg-based Task Force, Inspector Keith McCaskill, confirmed in November that despite Kopp's insistence that he acted alone in the Slepian shooting, he may have had help. "We have never closed our eyes to the fact that he could have had accomplices in Canada. That's a strong possibility," McCaskill said. (Hamilton Spectator, Nov 22, 2002)
But five years have passed since the last shooting in Canada and this may dim hopes of catching any co-conspirators and bringing them to justice. Canadian police have no plans to question or extradite Kopp. "The determination is not to seek to speak to him now, but to assist the U.S. authorities as much as possible," McCaskill said.
The task force does not have a single investigator working full-time on any of the three shootings. "We think we've investigated it as much as we can in Canada," McCaskill said, adding that "anytime any additional information comes up, we will investigate it fully."
"There must have been a support network that moved [Kopp] to Mexico to Heathrow to Manchester to Scotland to Ireland, and finally to France. He was of such stature that he would be welcomed at the house of anybody in the movement." — Michael Reynolds, former investigator for Southern Poverty Law Center, who is studying the Kopp case. (Buffalo News, December 29, 2002)Protester's Appeal Heard
Jim Demers Argues for Fetal Rights
An anti-abortion protester recently heard his appeal of his conviction for violating an abortion clinic bubble zone. Jim Demers of Nelson BC, was arrested on Dec 11, 1996 for contravening BC's Access to Abortion Services Act—he stood outside the Everywoman’s Health Centre in Vancouver holding a protest sign against abortion. Convicted a year later, he appealed to the BC Supreme Court in 1999 but lost. He appealed again to the BC Court of Appeal and the appeal was heard on December 10 and 11, 2002, with the judges’ decision reserved for sometime in the New Year.
For this appeal, Demers’ case was combined with the case of Maurice Lewis, another convicted anti-abortion protester from Vancouver who was in the process of appealing his 1996 conviction when he died. (Lewis was originally acquitted, then convicted when the Crown appealed.)
Demers was defended by an anti-choice lawyer from Alabama, Jeff Tuomala. Because of his unfamiliarity with Canadian law or precedent and his narrow focus on international law, Tuomala was a poor choice for Demers’ defense. He is a professor at Thomas Goode Jones, a fundamentalist law school in Alabama that advocates Biblical principles as a foundation for law. Tuomala spent most of his time discussing international law and human rights codes, and various international court cases. His intent was to show that fetuses should be protected under the word “Everyone” in Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which says "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person...”
Crown lawyers Roger Cutler and Lisa Mrozinski made a clear, concise rebuttal, pointing out that all of the examples raised by Tuomala were out-of-date or not relevant to fetal rights, and that modern human rights codes to which Canada is a signatory have been found by courts not to support fetal rights.
Tuomala claimed that the “rule of law” is derived ultimately from God and that secular legislators can't subjectively confer or withhold fundamental rights, which are a gift of God, not the state. He also declared that the concept of "balancing" rights was wrong—in this case, balancing the rights of the woman with the fetus—because the fetal right-to-life is "non-derogable," meaning that it's pretty much sacred in his view. However, Canada's Charter itself requires that rights be balanced with each other, as the Crown pointed out.
The Pro-Choice Action Network was part of a coalition that intervened in the appeal. We were joined by the Women's Legal and Education Action Fund, Everywoman's Health Centre Society, Elizabeth Bagshaw Society, and the BC Women's C.A.R.E. Program. The factum presented to the court by our lawyer Nitya Iyer argued that the bubble zone law was carefully tailored to meet a vital need—protecting women's access to a legal medical service, and that any alleged infringement of freedom of speech was justified in order to meet that pressing objective.
This case was really about nothing more than whether Jim Demers was guilty of violating the Access to Abortion Services Act. Since he admitted being in the bubble zone, the only plausible defense he could argue was that the Act violated his freedom of expression rights under Section 2 of the Charter. But Tuomala failed to make any Section 2 arguments except near the very end when the judges (a panel of three) forced him into a corner. After he concluded his arguments, one judge had to ask him, “What if we decide that a fetus is NOT protected under Section 7, what is your position on Section 2?” (paraphrased). Tuomala then had to take a break to confer with his client on a new strategy, which failed. He claimed that the decision in the Crown's appeal of the trial that acquitted Maurice Lewis was "wrong", but he was unable to specify exactly where it supposedly went wrong. The Crown noted that no errors had ever been found in the appeal judge's decision, which reinstated the bubble zone law and convicted Lewis. Because Tuomala couldn't cite any errors, the judges said their hands were tied. Tuomala concluded by apologizing to the judges.
Based on the Crown evidence presented at this appeal and the utter failure of Demers and his lawyer to actually deal with the case at hand, the Pro-Choice Action Network is confident that Demers will lose. Demers probably hopes to continue his appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada in an effort to establish rights for fetuses, but we consider it highly unlikely that the Supreme Court would accept such a case. Various courts over the years, including previous Supreme Court decisions, have conclusively denied that a fetus has any rights. This leaves us questioning why the anti-choice movement continues to waste everyone’s time by launching more futile cases. However, at least women’s constitutional rights become further entrenched every time.Romanow Report Dismisses Abortion Clinics
Roy Romanow’s report on the future of healthcare, released on November 28, overlooks the valuable role of private abortion clinics in delivering quality, cost-effective healthcare to women. The only mention of abortion in the entire report occurs when Romanow lumps abortion clinics together with other private, for-profit clinics such as MRI clinics. He goes on to say that direct health care services should be performed in public facilities, not for-profit clinics. In a properly funded public health system, there should be no need for private clinics offering MRI scans or minor surgery, he said. In a later press conference, however, Romanow clarified that it would likely be impossible to eliminate private clinics, and there would always be room for them on the "fringe" of the health care system.
But private abortion clinics play a vital role. They exist because the public health care system has often failed to deliver prompt, accessible abortion services. Leading abortion providers in Canada such as Dr. Henry Morgentaler have had to work outside the system in order to provide quality abortion services to women.
The Pro-Choice Action Network supports public health care and the Romanow report's recommendations in general. We also acknowledge the important role of public hospitals in providing about two-thirds of all abortions in Canada, especially for women outside major centres. Hospital care is usually adequate to good, and hospitals enjoy a few advantages over clinics, such as better security from anti-choice interference and quick access to emergency care in case of complications.
However, abortion clinics generally provide superior services when compared to hospitals and at a much lower price. “The average cost for an early surgical abortion at a private abortion clinic is about $500, while the cost for the same abortion at a hospital can exceed $1000,” said Joyce Arthur of Pro-CAN. “Hospitals have bigger bureaucracies and more overhead. Most use general anesthesia for abortions, while clinics use less expensive local anesthesia and conscious sedation. Abortion clinics deliver more ‘bang for the buck’ than hospitals.”
Arthur noted that hospitals require a doctor’s referral, but at clinics, women can simply call and make an appointment themselves. “That’s a huge benefit for a procedure as personal and private as abortion,” said Arthur. “Also, many hospitals have longer waiting lists for abortions than clinics, which is unacceptable because later abortions carry greater medical risk.”
Abortion clinics also help overcome the politicization of abortion by being woman-centred. “Women may not get much privacy in hospitals, and often there's no counseling, either,” said Kristen Gilbert, another Pro-CAN spokesperson. “At clinics, women are professionally counseled by non-judgmental staff.”
Finally, Romanow seems to have confused private clinics with “for-profit” clinics. Most abortion clinics in Canada are private or semi-private, but some are also legal non-profit entities, and most receive public funding from the province. Although many clinics are technically "for-profit," in reality, these clinics plough extra funds back into services and equipment. Also, it's worth noting that significant portions of our public health care system, including private hospitals, medical laboratories, and all doctors' practices, are "for-profit" but bill Medicare for most of their services. Abortion clinics should not be unfairly singled out.
Clinics in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Manitoba are forced to charge patients directly for their abortions, which amount to illegal "user fees". But that's not the clinics' fault. “Some provincial governments refuse to fund clinic abortions in violation of the Canada Health Act because of an anti-abortion bias,” said Gilbert. “Profits are not the goal of these clinics. Their goal is to provide quality abortion services to women under Medicare.” She noted that all provinces have deemed abortion to be a medically necessary service, meaning it must be fully funded.
The Pro-Choice Action Network would prefer to see more abortion services moved out of the general hospital environment and into publicly-funded clinics devoted to women's reproductive health care. To that end, we support the model of a self-contained clinic inside a public hospital because that combines all of the advantages of both clinics and hospitals.
 See the Romanow report (in PDF format) at http://finalreport.healthcarecommission.ca/pdf/HCC_Final_Report.pdfDr. Morgentaler Launches New Lawsuits
Dr. Henry Morgentaler announced in September that he will soon launch lawsuits against New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for refusing to fund abortions at his clinics in Fredericton and Halifax. Five provinces contravene the Canada Health Act because they will not fully fund abortions at clinics (the other three are Quebec, Manitoba, and Prince Edward Island).
"I'm on the warpath again," Morgentaler told the Globe & Mail. "I have made it my goal to bring reproductive freedom to the women of Canada. We thought the battle was over when the Supreme Court of Canada legalized abortion, but some provinces have blatantly defied the law."
Morgentaler feels compelled to sue the provinces because of the "passivity" of the federal health minister, Anne McLellan, who will not enforce the law against the provinces. "I think the only way to get justice for women is to go through the courts," he said.
The federal government has the power to withhold a percentage of transfer payments to the provinces, but so far, only Nova Scotia is being penalized at a rate of about $50,000 per year. "She's afraid," Morgentaler said of McLellan. "She doesn't want to antagonize anybody. She has a position of power where she could tell the provinces 'If you don't follow and obey the Canada Health Act we will withhold substantial federal transfer payments'," he said.
When confronted by the media, McLellan disingenuously claimed she has little power. She said her only enforcement mechanism is to withhold part of the federal transfer payments from provinces, which she is prepared to do if a province's hardline approach to funding abortions contravenes the law. McLellan ignores the fact that this is the only thing Morgentaler has ever asked her to do, repeatedly over the years, and she has failed to do even that. She has not responded to his letters. Morgentaler noted that at a recent meeting of all provincial ministers of health, McLellan did not even put the issue on the agenda. "What do you do at these conferences?" he asked. "Chitchat and make pleasant conversation, while women are suffering needlessly because these provincial ministers are more concerned about their own moral purity based on religious and ideological prejudice than about protecting the health of women?"
Morgentaler said that women in many parts of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick face lengthy delays in obtaining a hospital abortion. If they travel instead to a private clinic, they must pay at least $500 for the procedure. "I've been getting more and more frustrated," he said. "The promise of the Supreme Court ruling has not been kept, it has not been fulfilled."
Class-action suits are already underway in Manitoba and Quebec, where women are suing the government to recover money they had to pay for abortions that should have been covered under Medicare. The only province not currently under threat of legal action is Prince Edward Island, which refuses to provide any abortion services whatsoever for women, even at hospitals. However, Morgentaler said that because of its tiny population, suing PEI would be a "waste of time and money and effort".
The Maritime province lawsuits are expected to take 2-3 years to wind their way through the court system. Morgentaler estimates his legal bill will be at least $1 million. The Canadian Abortion Rights Action League (CARAL) is supporting his battle and raising funds. "We're sorry that our hard-earned money has to go to another legal battle, but it's obvious over the past 14 years since the decriminalization, this seems to be the only language the government understands," said Marilyn Wilson, Executive Director of CARAL.Moncton Stops Abortion Services
Ironically, while politicians in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were responding to Dr. Morgentaler's lawsuit threats by insisting that access to abortion is just fine in their respective provinces, Moncton Hospital announced it will stop performing abortions as of Dec. 31. Pro-choice advocates say the decision will wipe out access for women in the eastern part of New Brunswick.
Gynecologists at the Moncton Hospital don't want to continue doing the procedures, citing a fifty percent no-show rate that wastes expensive operating time. The Moncton Hospital performs over half the abortions in New Brunswick, with many patients coming from other parts of the province. Doctors claimed that out-of-town patients in particular, often show up without accurate information on how far along their pregnancy is, without critical information they need to make an informed decision, and without having arranged pre-abortion or post-abortion counseling.
"It clearly shows the needs of women are not being met," said Dr. David Kogan, the hospital's chief of obstetrics and gynecology. "And they can't be met until big changes are made, such as a clinic that offers information, counseling, spiritual guidance along with medical care."
New Brunswick has a regulation that says abortions are only covered by Medicare when performed in approved hospitals by a gynecologist during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy with the written permission of two doctors. This regulation is blatantly unconstitutional—it contravenes the 1988 Morgentaler Supreme Court decision that threw out Canada's discriminatory abortion law that resulted in unequal access for women.
Women's groups have long complained that New Brunswick's policy discriminates against women in rural areas and teenagers who find it difficult to locate and receive certificates from two doctors. Wait times to see doctors also make it difficult for women to get an abortion in a hospital before the 12th week of pregnancy. Moncton Hospital's recent decision will only serve to hurt access even further."Get Religion Out of Hospitals"
Says Dr. Morgentaler
Dr. Henry Morgentaler wants public hospitals to end any affiliation they have with religious bodies because their biases—including the Catholic thinking that abortion is a "serious sin"—are interfering with the reproductive rights of Canadian women. "We live in a multicultural, non-sectarian society," he said. "It's abnormal that hospitals should remain with religious denominations."
In a news release, Dr. Morgentaler, who operates eight private abortion clinics across Canada, called for a "complete secularization" of all public hospitals. "Public hospitals are all paid for with public money," he said. "There's no reason that hospitals should be Catholic or Protestant or Jewish." He said the religious ban should include hospitals that gain Catholic ties as a result of a merger, "thereby imposing a religious doctrine on public tax-supported hospitals." Religiously-linked hospitals often deprive patients of access to abortion, contraception, and AIDS prevention.
Between 1997 and '98, the number of Catholic-operated hospitals in Canada grew by eleven percent, while the number of secular facilities declined by two percent, said Marilyn Wilson of the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League in Ottawa. Of the 127 mergers between Catholic and non-Catholic hospitals from 1990 to 1998, she said, about half resulted in the elimination of all or some reproductive health services. Wilson noted that when hospitals merge, the Catholic institutions invariably become the primary health-care providers because they're perceived to operate more cost-effectively. For example, the merger of Wellesley and St. Michael's hospitals in Toronto resulted in the loss of more than 1,000 abortion procedures a year, said Wilson and Carolyn Egan of the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics.
"We live in a multicultural, non-sectarian society. It's abnormal that hospitals should remain with religious denominations. Public hospitals are all paid for with public money." — Dr. Henry Morgentaler, (Chronicle-Herald, December 5, 2002)Whatcott Quits, Wife Too
Bill Whatcott, the anti-choice, anti-gay activist from Regina, has announced he is quitting his protest activities for the time being, in order to "heal" his family and retrain for a new career in teaching, perhaps in Edmonton. Whatcott's wife left him after he was arrested in August for illegally crossing the U.S. border and getting tossed into a North Dakota jail for one month. He is banned from entering the U.S. for ten years. In October, he lost his nursing license because of his protests and arrest record.
Whatcott was a regular fixture outside of Toronto abortion clinics for years, where he was arrested at least once, in 1999. He moved to Regina around the turn of the century and has been disturbing the peace ever since, under the banner of his motley group "Christian Truth Activists."
His antics and arrests are too numerous to list, but he was known for demonstrating on streets holding graphic anti-abortion signs, organizing annual "Heterosexual Family Pride Day" marches, attacking PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) for its "anti-Christian" animal rights philosophy, and leafletting cars and homes with offensive anti-abortion and anti-gay literature. Planned Parenthood of Regina even sued him this year after Whatcott and others displayed defamatory signs in front of its office and yelled obscenities and insults at clients.Catholic Priest Cancels Pro-Choicer's Wedding
Father John Maes, a Catholic pastor in Medicine Hat, Alberta refused to allow a Planned Parenthood employee to marry in a Catholic Church, unless she renounced her pro-choice beliefs and employment.
Celina Ling and her fiancé Robert Symmonds were to be married on September 21. The priest cancelled their wedding on August 27 after reading a newspaper article quoting Ling as a representative of Planned Parenthood. Ling had already told the priest about her employment during marriage preparation nine months earlier, but he apparently hadn't been listening.
Calgary Catholic Bishop Fred Henry threatened Ling with excommunication. "If they excommunicate me, they excommunicate me," said Ling. "One of my favourite sayings from the Bible is that, 'He who has never sinned can cast the first stone.' And that's how I feel."
A justice of the peace married the couple at a reception hall on September 21.
Melanie Anderson, executive director of Planned Parenthood Alberta, said Ling's situation "demonstrates that the Catholic Church continues to be out of step with the vast majority of Canadians and Catholics." She said a 1990 survey of Canadians showed that 77 per cent of Protestants and 76 per cent of Catholics support a woman's right to choose, and that Ling is one among many practicing Catholics working with Planned Parenthood.Right-Wing Extremists Lead the "Free" World
Women Drowning in Flood of Anti-Choice Measures
The November mid-term elections gave President Bush and the Republican Party complete control in Congress, which includes the House of Representatives and the Senate. The negative impacts on reproductive rights are expected to be major.
In the past, the Senate has been the last firewall against enactment of anti-choice laws because it was controlled by Democrats (unlike the House). But the new Senate Majority leader, Trent Lott (recently replaced with equally anti-choice Bill Frist), vowed to pass a restrictive ban against "partial-birth abortion," an invented anti-choice term that is being used to try and ban most or all abortions. President Bush has promised to sign the bill, which the House of Representatives passed in July despite the fact that the Supreme Court has already struck down such legislation because it doesn't have an adequate exemption for the woman's health.
But even the Democratic Senate enacted an unnecessary anti-choice law in July, called the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act. The law supposedly will protect the lives of infants who may be born alive after an abortion. Since existing laws in all 50 states already recognize the full legal rights of born infants, the pro-choice community did not oppose the bill. But President Bush signed the law in August with a strong anti-abortion speech, thereby exposing the anti-choice sentiment behind the bill.
Three other acts are expected to pass the Senate and be enacted in the coming months:
New federal regulations went into effect in November that extend health insurance to fetuses—but not pregnant women. The move was unnecessary because states can already extend their Children's Health Insurance Program to pregnant women and some have done so. It is widely believed that the new regulations are another foot-in-the-door to establish legal personhood for fetuses.
Pro-choice groups fear that one or two Supreme Court justices may retire over the next two years and that Bush will replace them with right-wing ideologues. This could jeopardize Roe v. Wade, the court decision that legalized abortion in all 50 states. And with a Republican-controlled Senate and House, it will be much harder to oppose Bush's ultra-conservative judicial nominations at all levels of the court system. Nominees that were previously defeated by the old Democratic majority in the Senate are being recycled back into the nomination process.
The Bush administration recently "revised" information on government websites that refuted a link between abortion and breast cancer, and promoted the use of condoms as a way to protect against sexually-transmitted diseases. The National Cancer Institute website used to say that the best studies showed "no association between abortion and breast cancer." The revised website now says the evidence is inconclusive. A previous web page of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention focused on the advantages of using condoms and said their use did not lead to earlier or increased sexual activity. The revised website omits the latter statement, and emphasizes that condoms may not prevent sexually transmitted diseases. Critics say the changes are evidence that the Bush administration is sacrificing science to satisfy its conservative constituents.
Scientists are also complaining that the Bush administration is using political ideology to screen its consultants on over 250 scientific committees, to ensure they will not recommend policies that contradict the political agenda of the White House. Critics cite numerous examples of qualified nominees being rejected by senior government officials because they apparently did not share the administration's views on cloning, reproductive health, workplace safety regulations, or even because they did not vote for Bush. The administration has placed people sympathetic to industry on panels where that is a conflict of interest. In October, the government also directed a panel to study the protections offered to embryos during medical experiments, using language that equated embryos with "human subjects." Even many lower-level committees have been subject to screening, something that was unheard of in previous administrations. "I don't think any administration has penetrated so deeply into the advisory committee structure as this one, and I think it matters," said Donald Kennedy, past president of Stanford University and editor of Science, the premier U.S. scientific journal. "If you start picking people by their ideology instead of their scientific credentials, you are inevitably reducing the quality of the advisory group."
On the international front, the Bush administration has officially withheld $34 million from the UN's Population Fund that offers contraceptive and reproductive services to women in other countries. The U.S. based its decision on groundless claims that the Population Fund was aiding coercive abortions in China.
The U.S. has joined forces with the Vatican and fundamentalist Islamic regimes to oppose the Program of Action adopted at the UN's 1994 Conference on Population and Development in Cairo. The U.S., which originally endorsed the Program under President Clinton, recently sent a letter to the UN announcing it would not reaffirm its support, insisting that the phrases "reproductive health services" and "reproductive rights" are code words for abortion. In fact, the Cairo agreement specifically states that "In no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning." The U.S. decision drew immediate criticism from officials around the globe, who argued that the American position would undermine a global consensus on population policy and increase poverty and suffering, mostly of women and children.
In a remarkable vote, however, every single country attending the UN's mid-December Fifth Asian and Pacific Conference in Bangkok repudiated an American resolution calling for the removal of the "reproductive rights and health" phrases. The vote was courageous because many of these countries depend on American foreign aid.
Other encouraging news comes out of California. Pro-choice Governor Gray Davis recently enacted four new state laws or amendments to ensure that abortion services will be protected in California despite the federal right-wing climate: 1) The new Reproductive Privacy Act will safeguard California abortion rights if Roe v. Wade is overturned; 2) Abortion clinic staff and patients are now included in the anti-stalking law, Safe at Home Act; 3) California hospitals must offer emergency contraception to rape victims, and midwives and nurse practitioners can dispense mifepristone; and 4) All California medical schools must provide abortion education and training.
In the U.S., there are 14 states that still have criminal laws against abortion on the books, dating from the days before Roe v. Wade. If that historic decision is overturned, these state laws could be used to obtain injunctions against abortion clinics and providers.U.S. / International News Bytes
U.S. Abortion Rates Decline — The Alan Guttmacher Institute, a respected reproductive health research group, released a study in October showing that U.S. abortion rates are continuing to decline. In 1994, there were 24 abortions for every 1,000 women of childbearing age, but this went down to 21 by 2000, an overall decline of 11%. However, abortions rose 25% for women below the poverty line. The rise for low-income women was blamed on a lack of affordable access to contraceptives. Researchers cited 1990's welfare reform that scaled back Medicaid coverage. But the study showed an almost 40% drop in the abortion rate for women 15 to 17 years old. It fell from 24 per 1,000 young women in 1994 to just 15 in 2000. The overall decline in abortion rates was credited to increased use of contraceptives—especially by teens, delayed or less frequent sexual activity by teens, and reduced access to abortion.
Anti-Abortion "Racketeers" Appeal to Supreme Court — In December, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Scheidler vs. National Organization for Women (NOW). Anti-choice radical Joseph Scheidler, his group Pro-Life Action League, and other defendants were federally prosecuted for using violence against abortion clinics, including attacking people and destroying property. The charges date back to 1986, when NOW filed suit alleging that the defendants violated anti-trust laws and interfered with interstate commerce in attempts to shut down abortion clinics. They were finally convicted in 1998 under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), a law originally targeted at organized crime. Their conviction resulted in a nation-wide injunction against clinic protests by the defendants. The Supreme Court is now deciding whether RICO can only be used by government, not private parties like NOW, and whether the defendants' activities fit the definition of extortion. Some people fear that if the anti-choice defendants lose, it may negatively impact other kinds of social protest and civil disobedience. However, NOW says their legal action is targeted only against violence perpetrated during protests.
Nepal Legalizes Abortion — Nepal's king signed legislation in September that legalizes abortion up to twelve weeks upon request, and up to eighteen weeks under special circumstances. Abortion is also permitted at any stage of pregnancy if the health of the woman is in danger. Previously, abortion in Nepal was punishable by no less than three years in prison. The Nepalese government has not indicated what will happen to the women currently in prison on charges of "infanticide.' The bill also removes current restrictions on Nepalese women owning property.
Pregnant Women May Use Deadly Force to Protect Fetus — In October, a Michigan appeals court ruled that a pregnant woman may use deadly force to protect her fetus even if her own life is not in danger. The court reversed a lower court's conviction of Jaclyn Kurr for voluntary manslaughter in the death of her boyfriend and ordered a new trial. Kurr stabbed her boyfriend after he punched her twice in the stomach and came after her again. The lower court ruled that she could not legally use deadly force "in defense of others" because her fetus was not yet viable and thus not an "other." But the appeals court said a woman may defend a fetus with deadly force if she believes the fetus is in danger of imminent death or great bodily harm. The state plans to ask the Michigan Supreme Court to hear the case.
Anti-Abortion Terrorist Pleads Not Guilty — Clayton Waagner pled not guilty in October to federal terrorism charges, including sending 550 anthrax hoax letters to abortion clinics across the country. Waagner was indicted in September on 79 counts of threatening to use a weapon of mass destruction, violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE), extortion, and making and mailing threatening communications. Waagner will serve as his own defense counsel when the case comes to trial. In August, Waagner was sentenced to 19 years and seven months in prison on firearms and theft charges stemming from his terrorist escapades as a fugitive. He had escaped from an Illinois jail in early 2001 and was captured later that year. The 19-year sentence is in addition to a previous 30 year sentence for his prison escape and for other weapons violations.
United Kingdom Marks 35th Anniversary of Abortion Act — Pro-choice activists in the UK celebrated the 35th anniversary of the Abortion Act, but called for its long-overdue reform. Abortion is legal in the United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) only when performed in approved locations and with certification by two doctors that certain criteria have been met. A recent survey by Marie Stopes International discovered that less than one-quarter of British women are aware of the two doctors requirement and less than four percent of the women surveyed think that the abortion decision should rest with the two doctors.
Australian Clinic Killer Sentenced to Life in Prison — Peter Knight, the Australian man convicted of killing abortion clinic security guard Steven Rogers, was sentenced in November to life in prison. He will not be eligible for parole for at least 23 years. The Supreme Court Judge said, "You have murdered one man in the context of having planned a massacre of many." He also said he believed Knight was "a considerable danger to the community." Knight entered a Melbourne, Australia abortion clinic in July 2001 with a high-caliber rifle, ammunition, kerosene, and other equipment. He planned to block the clinic doors, set it on fire, and kill those inside. Knight shot the guard and turned his gun on a woman patient, but was then tackled and subdued by two men in the clinic's waiting room.Thanks for Your Letters!
Christianity and Abortion: Another View
I've heard many notions about abortion and the Christian religion circulated with much zeal by pro-life politicians in Canada, but talk of the supposed sale of fetal tissue really does it. What do the likes of Stockwell Day refer to, to substantiate this latest tale? One single, highly questionable article that appeared in Alberta Report magazine a few years ago. Surely Day and his cohorts don't seriously believe that the sale of fetal tissue is actually taking place in this country, never mind to the extent that the article claims. How could any follower of Jesus justify spreading this, at best, poorly-substantiated but serious charge against abortion providers, at any opportunity they can? Is there not some injunction in the Bible against bearing false witness against thy neighbour?
But, in my mind's eye, a reply came to me: "God will bless us for spreading the word about the evils of abortion, even if it only prevents one innocent baby from being killed..."
Piffle! Pro-life politicians, far from contributing to civilized debate about abortion in this country, are systematically using manipulative language, flimsily-proven claims, and barefaced lies to try and prevent women from deciding for ourselves if we want to go through with a pregnancy. These politicians figure they're doing this country a favour, by saving us all from the wrath of God on Judgement Day, when true believers will get their reward in Heaven. In reality, these misguided politicians seek no more than to use government policy to impose their personal beliefs about abortion and Jesus on the rest of us.
Enough to make me ashamed of being a Christian, as my beliefs are quite different from the religious right. Canada is supposed to be a free country, where religion, spirituality, political opinion, etc., are entirely personal matters. What's this about "I'm going to Heaven, because I'm a true believer, but you aren't, because you're not a true believer"? It strikes me as rather presumptuous, as but for the grace of God, no-one would be going to Heaven.
Pro-life politicians have no business trying to impose their opinions on the rest of us, never mind in the shabby manner they're resorting to. Falsehood is falsehood, and cannot be justified. Women must maintain control over our bodies, and are entirely capable of deciding for ourselves if we want to go through with a pregnancy. Abortion is a matter of personal conscience, and must remain so.
— Wendy Feilden
 Unholy Harvest, Celeste McGovern, Alberta Report, August 30, 1999. (www.fotf.ca/familyfacts/commentaries/030100.html) Editor's Note: Also see coverage in the Pro-Choice Press refuting the "baby parts racket" — Summer 2000, Spring 2000, Winter 99/00.Genetic Terminations: The "No" Side
"Abortion should be permitted for the avoidance of severe genetic illnesses."
The last issue of Pro-Choice Press (Summer 2002) featured the pro-choice position in response to the above debate statement, by Joyce Arthur. Following is the "pro-life" position by Natalie Hudson, followed by Joyce Arthur's rebuttal. The entire debate, including Natalie's rebuttal to Joyce, is posted on a University of Toronto website, The Great Debate, at http://greatdebate.info/hm/gd.html
By Natalie Hudson. Toronto Right-to-Life Association
NO. It is a grave moral evil to take innocent human life even if the probability of suffering due to a genetic illness exists.
Summary: No human being has the right to decide who shall live and who shall die. The right to life is not something that is given to human beings by a government, judicial body, parents, or institutions of any kind. The right to life is the most fundamental, inalienable, intrinsic right that exists by the very nature of a human person’s being. We must not weigh human suffering with the value of human life and determine that some shall live and some shall die in virtue of the amount of suffering we perceive they might endure, or unwillingly inflict on others. The sake for which we exist is not to avoid suffering, but to find meaning in the suffering that is unavoidable. Killing human beings can never be an answer to suffering, no matter how great that suffering may be. A truly compassionate response to the mother who has found out that her child has a genetic illness, is not to kill her child, but to create a society that welcomes and cares for both the mother and her baby. We must strive for a society that values all human life, and does not seek the easy way out through the destruction of human life.
Although the right to have an abortion is upheld under “freedom of choice”, most women have abortions precisely because they have no choice. They are in a binding predicament and they turn to abortion as the means of avoiding a life-altering situation that their pregnancy causes.
In the specific case of a pregnancy where the mother knows her child has a severe genetic disorder, this suffering can be acute. How will she care for her child? What kind of a life will her child live? The suffering of parents and their children causes untold anguish.
Part of the “human condition” is mankind’s attempt to avoid suffering precisely because it causes pain, the antithesis of the universal and innate desire for happiness. Driven by a desire for happiness, mankind legitimately seeks to alleviate suffering, which often entails getting rid of the very thing that causes it.
But this is where abortion becomes a controversy. Can we, in our attempt to find happiness, “get rid” of those who cause us suffering, even if they are still developing within the womb of their mother? How do we balance the value of human life with the reality of human suffering? Can suffering be a legitimate reason to kill people? Can we consider life in the womb a person with the same claim to a right to life as that of the mother? The fundamental questions, then, that surround abortion as the means of avoiding severe genetic illnesses have to do with the value of human life and the meaning of human suffering.
What does it mean to be human? Definitions are important because they give us a working knowledge of the things we are talking about. A description of what something looks like is not always an adequate definition. It does not help us understand what a human being is since we all look different. Understanding the powers inherent in things is a better way of knowing what a thing is, because the powers are specific to the END for which the thing exists.
To illustrate this, take for example, an acorn. Describing its texture, colour, and shape would not adequately tell one “what it is”. However if the definition included the fact that an acorn has the powers inherent in the acorn that make it an oak tree, this would give us a better working knowledge of what an acorn is. So to apply the manner of knowing “what something is” to our own human nature, we need only to look at what our END is, namely that for the sake of which we exist, and the powers that we have to attain that end.
The END of human existence, or that for the sake of which we exist, is happiness. All of our powers, intellectual, appetitive, and sentient are ordered towards happiness. I shower every day to stay clean and keep my friends, thus furthering my happiness. I study hard at school to achieve, which boosts both my self-esteem and my chances of a good job, which make me happy. I may do harmful things because I believe that they will further my happiness. For instance, I might take drugs believing that being “high” will contribute to my happiness. To be human then is to be a being that has the powers of attaining happiness.
But what is happiness? Throughout the centuries, philosophers, theologians, and more recently, psychologists and sociologists have found that happiness can be understood in four basic ways. The first kind of happiness is sensory pleasure caused by a physical stimulus. The second form comes from ego gratification or the sense of accomplishment, power or control that is felt by the exercise of our powers. Both of these forms are dependent on exterior things and last only as long as the external stimulus does. A third kind of happiness involves our will to do the good for others and society as a whole. A deep sense of happiness can be derived from self-abandonment in the service of others. Both Mother Teresa and Lady Diana serve as fitting examples of this kind of happiness; to be more willing to do the good for someone else than we are for ourselves.
But the fourth and ultimate level of happiness consists in the Transcendentals, those realities that transcend the material world, such as love, truth, beauty, goodness and justice. Human beings pursue the fulfillment of their powers unconditionally, perfectly and absolutely. We find a proportionate amount of happiness in perfect justice, as we feel discontent when things are not perfectly fair or equal. We feel anguish when we are only partially loved, when we are told half-truths, when we find things that are somewhat beautiful, and only fairly good. We rejoice in complete love, absolute truth, unconditional goodness and perfect beauty. The ultimate level of happiness can be understood as “the pursuit of the unconditional”.
To be human then is to have the powers to seek, relate to and participate in perfect justice, goodness, beauty, truth and love. Is the unborn child a human being? Yes. The power to “pursue the unconditional” is written into human nature from the moment of conception. The genetic material present at that moment is 50 times greater than an entire set of the Encyclopedia Britannica. It not only delineates physical characteristics, but it determines the very nature of this being; the kind of being this is. The dignity that accompanies a being who can seek and attain perfect goodness, justice, beauty, truth and love is unfathomable. Genetic illnesses do not inhibit the participation of a human being in the highest forms of happiness. Perfect love, beauty, justice, goodness and truth are attainable by those who are infirm, disabled, elderly, or even dying.
Even if we doubt the personhood of the unborn child, or their ability to participate in what we might consider “quality of life”, we cannot kill in the absence of certainty. We cannot risk taking away the intrinsic, inalienable rights of any person. It would be like saying, “We are not sure if there are people in that building over there, so we will just go ahead and blow it up anyway.” Human life, no matter what its condition or level of development is sacred.
A beautiful irony lies in the fact that the inescapable suffering that comes in our inevitable death, or in the discomfort of sickness often frees us from shallower forms of human happiness and drives us more deeply into an understanding of love, goodness, truth, beauty and justice. The sake for which we exist is not to avoid suffering, but to find meaning in the suffering that is unavoidable. Killing human beings can never be an answer to suffering, no matter how great that suffering may be.
Plato said it is worse to do evil than to suffer it. To participate in the evil of taking an innocent human life does greater harm than involuntary suffering. Participation in an act that is intrinsically wrong destroys innocence and rains confusion and angst on the conscience of the individual who participates in it. A woman seeking to avoid the suffering of a child with a genetic illness may find that she incurs greater unhappiness through her participation in something that is so contrary to true human happiness.
The “easy way out” never brings with it true happiness. Our society must learn to embrace those who are suffering and those who suffer with them. We have to look beyond an understanding of happiness that only involves the pleasures of bodies and minds that are strong and able to achieve. People who suffer from genetic illnesses have valuable lives to lead and valuable contributions to make. Those who assist them in their struggles have immeasurable lessons to learn.
I thank Ms. Hudson for her thoughtful and heartfelt essay. However, I believe her arguments are weak on two levels: First, many of her comments can be applied to women instead of disabled people. Second, Ms. Hudson yearns for an idealized world where happiness can be achieved through suffering, but this is naive, even cruel.
First, let's steer this discussion back to its proper premise. Ms. Hudson says, "People who suffer from genetic illnesses have valuable lives to lead and valuable contributions to make. Those who assist them in their struggles have immeasurable lessons to learn." But this is not a debate on the value of the lives of disabled people, which is a given. Every person has value. That's why a woman gets to decide how her body should be used, how her future should unfold, and how much love she can give to a disabled child. If there are lessons to learn, it's her choice to become a student—we can't chain her to her desk.
"It is a grave moral evil to take innocent human life even if the probability of suffering due to a genetic illness exists," says Ms. Hudson. I reply that it is a grave moral evil to take (exploit) the mother's innocent human life and force her to suffer along with the disabled child.
Ms. Hudson says, "No human being has the right to decide who shall live and who shall die." I reply that people do have the right to decide who will live or die when it's their body being used to sustain a life.
Ms. Hudson says, "The right to life is the most fundamental, inalienable, intrinsic right that exists..." I reply that the right to choose one's own life and destiny is the most fundamental right; otherwise, we might as well be slaves.
Ms. Hudson says, "Even if we doubt the personhood of the unborn child, or their ability to participate in what we might consider 'quality of life', we cannot kill in the absence of certainty." I say that if in doubt (and an acorn is not an oak tree), we must cede this moral judgment to women pregnant with a disabled fetus, because women are already persons participating in the quality of life. If life is sacred, then women's lives are unquestionably sacred. We cannot risk taking away their intrinsic, inalienable rights.
How wonderful if everyone would use their human powers to "attain perfect justice, goodness, beauty, truth, and love". But we live in a complicated and difficult world—the real world—with widespread poverty and hunger, war and bloodshed, and human rights abuses. Billions of people in the world just struggle for basic survival. They don't have time to ponder noble philosophical ideals. When able-bodied persons can barely manage, how much more difficult is it for people with genetic illnesses and those who must care for them? We must be realistic and extend compassion to those who don't have the luxury of being noble.
Ms. Hudson says, "The sake for which we exist is not to avoid suffering, but to find meaning in the suffering that is unavoidable." She says we should not take the "easy way out through the destruction of human life". But the easy way out is to let women bear the burden, like they always have, and to let children suffer, like they always have. THAT is destruction of life, on a grand scale. It is senseless, avoidable suffering. Ms. Hudson seems to think it is worthy for people (especially women) to suffer, and that suffering leads to happiness and gives life meaning. I reject this cruel doctrine. Suffering does irreparable damage to so many. It is a twisted and rare route to happiness, if ever it leads there at all. Happiness and good character can far better be achieved through love, education, adequate resources, good health, and a moral upbringing. It's sentiments like Ms. Hudson's that have made it difficult to persuade governments to uphold the human rights and dignity of citizens, especially women and children.Humour Spot — A True Story
A fellow I know from work used to run his own tree-pruning company years ago. He drove a white, windowless panel van with the words "Dave the Arborist" painted on the side. After awhile, he had to change the name of his company because he kept getting threatening phone calls from anti-abortion people. They thought his truck said "Dave the Abortionist" and that he was driving around performing abortions on women in the back of his truck.
(contributed by Angie R.)