a publication of BC's Pro-Choice Action Network
Spring 1996 Issue
Table of Contents
The pro-choice majority of BC suffered a major blow in a BC courtroom on January 23, 1996. Following a lengthy trial, charges against Maurice S. Lewis, the first person arrested under the Access to Abortion Services Act, were dismissed. In his controversial decision, Judge Cronin, the presiding magistrate, held that certain provisions of the Act were unconstitutional.
Maurice Lewis was arrested in September for walking through the bubble zone (the protected 50 metres outside the clinic) in front of Everywoman's Health Centre wearing a sandwich board covered in anti-choice messages. This violation of the Access to Abortion Services Act was part of increasingly aggressive anti-choice activity outside the clinic aimed at testing the new law. While Judge Cronin agreed with the sections of the Act which prohibit sidewalk counselling, he felt that certain parts of the Act infringed on a person's right to freedom of speech, religion, and association. (For more details about the Act, see the Winter 95/96 issue of this newsletter.)
Judge Cronin also stated that since 1990, the clinics have obtained injunctions that have "eliminated the more aggressive forms of protest outside the clinic." Does the attempted murder of Garson Romalis in 1994 constitute a non-aggressive act? Upon hearing Judge Cronin's decision, Paul Formby, Lewis' lawyer, stated that protesters should "keep it peaceful and respectful." Clearly Judge Cronin and Paul Formby are unaware of and underestimate the activity of the anti-choice outside the clinic and the homes of health care providers.
Cecilia von Dehn, who owns the "prayer" house and "Every Pregnant Woman's Help Centre" next to the clinic, has said, in describing the activity of the anti-choice outside the clinic, "These are rosary beads, not AK-47's." Let us not forget the legacy of violence perpetrated by members of these anti-choice organizations. The murderers of many abortion providers are members of these organizations, whose strategy of intimidation and harassment has included praying, blocking entrances to the clinics, carrying rosary beads, and for some, murder.
The day after his acquittal, Maurice Lewis resumed his vigil at the clinic wearing his sandwich board, rosary beads in hand. The Crown has launched an appeal of Judge Cronin's decision.
By Jennifer Whiteside
The Access to Abortion Services Act represents a unique consensus amongst abortion service providers, health care practitioners, abortion advocates, and government bureaucrats. After Garson Romalis was nearly assassinated in his home in November 1994, the BC government agreed to investigate the extent and nature of anti-choice harassment in BC. We suspected that the influence of the anti-choice, not just the lack of political will, was responsible for the abysmal lack of access outside of the Lower Mainland. In fact, by finally agreeing to the investigation, the government was implementing one of the recommendations of the Task Force report on access to contraception and abortion services.
After an initial round of meetings with the Criminal Harassment Unit—a section of the Vancouver City Police—there was a general feeling of dissatisfaction. The BCCAC took the initiative and called a meeting of all the stakeholders that had been involved in the investigative process.
Representatives of both clinics, the BC Medical Association, the BC Nurses' Union, Hospital Employees Union, the Medical Staff Association at Vancouver Hospital, the Health Care Employers' Association, and the BCCAC met in January 1995 to share information and develop a strategy for protecting abortion services in BC. Over the next several months, representatives from that original meeting advised an inter-ministerial government committee regarding legislation to secure protection for those involved in the delivery of abortion services. The Ministries of Health, Women's Equality, and the Attorney General drafted the Access to Abortion Services Act, which was proclaimed in Sept. 1995.
The legislative route was determined to be more effective than injunctions for several reasons. The Everywoman's Health Centre has had a difficult time getting the police to enforce the injunction at the clinic, which bars much of the activity prohibited under the legislation. But in addition to enforcement, the issue of privacy was identified as critical. One of the more important aspects of the legislation is that it provides blanket coverage (upon application and designation by the Cabinet) for health care facilities, as well as the residences of health care providers. To access the same protection, an individual would have to make a public application. Why give the anti-choice unlimited access to information about who provides abortions and where they live if what we want to do is protect providers?
What is most striking about Cronin's decision is how little it represents the reality of working at Everywoman's or trying to get an abortion there. Clinic staff, security volunteers, and advocates presented evidence during the trial about how insidious even the most peaceful protest at the clinic was. Witnesses testified about the escalation in fear and the feeling of intimidation which enveloped abortion services in BC and Canada as the level of violence around the service intensified in the US. They spoke about Gordon Watson and how his violent rhetoric and eventual assault on a clinic staff member posed a danger, and about prominent anti-choice leaders condoning the murder of abortion providers.
But in apparent disregard of evidence presented during the trial, Cronin writes: "The Court is of the opinion that the protesters are professing their Faith at the clinic ... [and] are compelled by conviction of conscience and religious duty, resulting in their activity outside the clinic." (page 4). Cronin's attitude is all the more unfathomable since he also said: "[I]n the opinion of the Court, the public perception is well-founded that the shooting of Dr. Garson Romalis was connected to the issue [of abortion]." (page 10). Cronin's reasoning for his dismissal of the charges against Lewis is clearly flawed and makes one wonder what his decision would have been if the issue were not about women and our fight to control our reproductive lives.
Would a fanatical minority be allowed to protest blood transfusions in the way that abortion is targeted? Certainly not. Cronin has allowed this important tool, one that protects women and helps them to win emancipation, to be compromised on a false alter of freedom of speech. The right to protest at the site of abortion services should not, in any truly democratic society, be held greater than the right of women to exercise control over their reproductive lives in a manner that is dignified, respectful, and safe.Salvi Gets Life
John Salvi, the mentally unbalanced killer of two women staff members at abortion clinics in Boston in December 1994, was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole on March 18. Salvi also tried to kill five other people at the clinics. He was found guilty of all counts in what has been the worst single episode of anti-choice violence ever. Many of the jurors cried as the verdicts were announced and a court officer had to hold the forewoman steady as she read them out. Although Salvi's insanity defense was rejected by the court, Salvi sees himself as a warrior fighting a worldwide, anti-Catholic conspiracy led by the Mafia, Freemasons, and the Ku Klux Klan.
Salvi is the third man to be convicted of murdering US abortion clinic workers. Paul Hill awaits execution for killing Dr. John Britton and his escort James Barrett in 1993, and Michael Griffin was sentenced to life for killing doctor David Gunn in March 1993.Realizing Choices
A Status Report on Task Force Recommendations, Part One
by Judith Brook
Elizabeth Cull, BC Minister of Health in 1992, set up a Task Force on Access to Contraception and Abortion Services and gave it the following mandate:
The Task Force consulted with many, including doctors, nurses, social workers, school counsellors and teachers, advocacy groups, Planned Parenthood representatives, and free-standing abortion clinic representatives and users of these services. In August 1994, the Task Force produced a report containing their recommendations, entitled Realizing Choices. This two-part article looks at the priority recommendations to see how well they have been implemented.
Access to both information and services have suffered a turbulent history, even within recent years. In 1983 there were large budget cuts to all preventive programs, including Planned Parenthood. In 1988, an attempt was made by the government to de-insure abortion services. Three months later, the decision was reversed on appeal. Actions such as these promote the existing barriers to information on contraception and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and also promote both regional and social availability distinctions. Access to quality reproductive health services and an open approach to sexuality would presumably lead to improvements in reproductive health status, evidenced by fewer unwanted pregnancies and lower rates of STDs.
Having access to birth control information is very important for women, particularly adolescents, who will rely on myths and the misinformation of friends when in a vacuum of facts. Although the Learning for Living program is mandatory in schools, the individual components on contraception, and particularly on abortion, are frequently omitted. This results in a varied standard of birth control education throughout our schools and province. The Task Force also identified youths not being heard as a problem.
The following Goals were identified by the Task Force as essential to quality reproductive health care:
The Task Force sought practical solutions to problems facing consumers and providers of health care services—for example, reallocation of existing resources, changes to education and training programs, and new definitions of "quality health care." The following is a summary of recommendations identified by the Task Force to accomplish the above goals; this discussion focuses only on the high priority recommendations. Most recommendations are within the provincial government's jurisdiction and are directed towards educational institutions and professional bodies.
Recommendation #A.2: that the Ministry of Health (MOH), in implementing the New Directions Program, ensure that reproductive health, including contraception and abortion, are equitably available in all regions and that mechanisms exist to ensure that these services are sustained.
Status: Community Health Councils and Health Boards have been set up. Unfortunately, anti-choice representatives are attempting to get onto Boards in the Fraser Valley.
Recommendation #B.1: that a Women's Health Bureau, as recommended by the Women's Health Conference in September 1993, be given the responsibility for coordinating and monitoring initiatives for improving access to quality contraception and abortion services as part of a comprehensive Women's Health Strategy.
Recommendation #D.1: that the Attorney General launch a province-wide investigation into the nature and extent of criminal harassment of contraception and abortion providers and that he instruct the Crown Counsel in writing to prosecute such offenses to the full extent of the law.
Status: The Attorney General has given written instructions to Crown Counsel. An investigation was only set up after the Dr. Romalis shooting. Crown Counsel has not actively or enthusiastically pursued an investigation into criminal harassment in this area.
Recommendation #J.3: that the MOH as well as the Provincial Health Officer conduct an annual review of second trimester abortions to ensure that obstacles and delays in obtaining access to services is not a contributing factor.
Status: Provincial Health Officer is monitoring, but MOH has not done a formal review.
Recommendation #K.4: that abortion be defined as critical care to enable uninsured women to obtain the service without delay.
Status: No, not done.
Recommendation #K.5: that the ancillary costs related to abortion, such as Rh testing and laminaria, be covered by the MOH.
Status: No, not done.
Recommendation #L.2: that the Women's Health Bureau develop options to overcome the economic barriers to contraception, including emergency contraception.
Status: Yes, the Women's Health Bureau is working on this.
Recommendation #M.2: that the Faculty of Medicine accredit free-standing abortion clinics as training sites for general practitioners wishing to perform first trimester abortions.
Status: Slow progress is being made.
Recommendation #M.3: that the Faculty of Medicine, in collaboration with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC, develop an appropriate training program specifically for abortion providers to perform diagnostic ultrasound for gestational dating on-site, with appropriate safeguards to maintain the highest quality care.
Status: No progress has been made on this topic, due to the Radiology Centre's protection of this function. Issues of contention are the scope of procedures and training, and professional safeguarding of the function.
Recommendation #O.1: that the BC College of Physicians and Surgeons be urged to review the criteria for accrediting clinics which provide first trimester abortions to ensure consistency with National Abortion Federation standards and with the policies in other Canadian jurisdictions.
Status: BC College of Physicians and Surgeons is reluctant to use criteria other than its own to set standards of care.
(Listing to be continued next issue.)
Overall, where recommendations were directed to the Ministry of Health, and in those situations where the Ministry had control over the outcome, the recommendations were complied with. The MOH has also directed others to act in accordance with the recommendations, but follow-up for compliance with or completion of the task has not occurred. Some agencies, such as BC College of Physicians and Surgeons or the Health Protection Branch, for example, do not fall under MOH responsibility, so the Ministry is unable to press for resolution.
(For Part 2 of this article, see the Summer 1996 issue of Pro-Choice Press.)Keely and Du
A Review by Kathleen Broome
I saw the play Keely and Du at the New Revue Stage on its last day, February 28. All the performances were top-notch and theatrically, the show is flawless. Kelli Fox as Keely plays a pregnant spousal rape victim who is kidnapped and confined by pro-lifers to prevent her from getting an abortion. The basement setting and the lighting is as secretive, sordid, and depressing as this whole issue has become. Her retired nurse caretaker, Du, is played by Patricia Hamilton. While Du's anti-choice political stance may be repugnant to feminists, Hamilton's performance renders her sympathetic and the viewer comes to believe the relationship between her and Keely to be a realistic one. Fox plays her role to great intensity, showing us a courageous woman who is flawed, many-faceted, and not just another idealized symbol of victimization. Garrison Chrisjohn plays Walter, a fundamentalist preacher who is clearly modelled after Randall Terry of Operation Rescue. Chrisjohn comes across in this very difficult role as well-rounded, fanatic yet controlled, and narrow-minded yet intelligent, making his character all the more frightening. David Lovgren as Keely's abusive ex-husband showed just the right measure of violence, vulnerability, self-loathing, and self-pity to make his role ring true.
While watching the first half of the play, I was disturbed to note that the anti-choice side was being given more of a voice than the pro-choice. For example, the statements that abortion clinics do not give pre- or post-abortion counselling, nor that they tell women about the "dangers" (both physical and emotional) of abortion, were not denied by Keely, the only pro-choice voice in the play. Du is also allowed to say, without argument, that most women who have abortions suffer post-abortion guilt and depression and that many attempt suicide, a statement that has no basis in truth.
However, the second half of the play states the abortion issue as it stands in reality—if women are not allowed to choose, they will die and their foetuses will die anyway. Since the play has now closed, I don't think I am giving the ending away by saying that after Keely's ex-husband beats her up for refusing to take him back, she performs a coat-hanger abortion on herself. At first I felt this to be a rather melodramatic and unrealistic bit of theatre. Then I remembered the case of Yvonne Jurowitz, the Toronto woman who died of a coat-hanger abortion a few years ago because she was too afraid to go to the Morgentaler clinic due to anti-choice violence. Would she have found this scene overly theatrical, I wonder?
By biasing the play towards the anti-choice in the first half of the play, pro-choice playwright Jane Martin has cleverly rendered it impossible for anyone to claim she is biased (often just what the media does say, even when the pro-choice side is just stating facts). In fact, Martin gives the anti-choice more ammunition than it needs. But when reality takes over with Keely's desperate coat-hanger abortion, the "pro-life" side is shown as not having a leg, or a moral to stand on.
One minor complaint I had was the implication the play gave that women are always ultimately "feminist" and men always oppressors. I only say this because I think we sometimes forget that Vancouver's Campaign Life Coalition is headed by a woman who once said abortion doctors should be killed. And men like Henry Morgentaler and Garson Romalis have risked their lives, while others, like David Gunn, have paid the ultimate sacrifice so that women may have the right to choose.Planned Parenthood Ban
Surrey Students Force-fed Abstinence
On Feb. 1, the Surrey school board, led by trustee Robert Pickering, successfully banned Planned Parenthood from all sex-education programs in the district. Perhaps even more alarming, the board has also given itself the power to approve the content of any presentation made in the schools about sexual health, until the board develops "policies." We shudder to think what kind of policies the board has in mind.
Pickering's motion stated that "Planned Parenthood and some public health education coordinators continually push the boundaries of common decency as it relates to sex education." Apparently, Pickering was anxious to "keep the radical elements away from the students." A little history and a few facts might throw some light on who the radical element actually is in this case.
As Province columnist Steve Burgess said (Province, Feb. 14), Pickering's comment about keeping the radical elements away reminds one of "O.J. Simpson's claim that he is hunting for the real killers."
Pickering also seems to have a problem being ethical and fair. He deliberately pushed through the anti-Planned Parenthood motion when two opposing school board trustees were conveniently absent from the meeting. (If they had been present, the motion would not have passed.) He and two other supporting trustees have refused to rescind the ban, despite complaints from the absent trustees, and strong opposition from students, parents, teachers, the parent advisory committee, public health nurses, the Surrey Teacher's Association, and Planned Parenthood.
After reading all the news reports about Pickering and the Planned Parenthood ban, we believe we've picked out the main threads of Pickering's philosophy. Hereby dubbed "Unplanned Parenthood," it seems to go something like this:
The Canadian Abortion Rights Action League is a national organization dedicated to protecting and extending women's access to abortion. CARAL has been active on many cases recently, including lobbying to make methotrexate and medical abortions available for Canadian women, working with Planned Parenthood on an anti-violence campaign, and supporting pro-choice activists and organizations across the country. CARAL is also supporting the BCCAC in our fight to protect the Access to Abortion Services Act. The following around-the-country update is taken from the Fall 1995 issue of Pro-Choice News, CARAL's newsletter.
Alberta - After a lengthy battle, pro-choice activists prevented the government from de-insuring abortion.
Saskatchewan - The government remains opposed to the establishment of free-standing clinics. Abortions are provided at one hospital in Regina, and are available in Weyburn and Saskatoon. Many women travel to Winnipeg for abortion services.
Manitoba - The anti-choice have launched a campaign to take over hospital boards. Access is concentrated in Winnipeg; patients pay $350 for a first-trimester abortion at Winnipeg's only clinic.
Ontario - Access is concentrated in the metro Toronto area; the four clinics in Toronto provide 25% of all abortions in Ontario. The Harris government has eliminated funding for new abortion clinics and the status of the injunction protecting providers and patients from anti-choice harassment is unclear.
Quebec - Access continues to be provided through Quebec's network of community health centres and hospitals. Procedures in hospitals are fully funded; clinic procedures cost $175 for facility fees.
New Brunswick - Dr. Morgentaler is preparing a court case to secure funding for abortion services. Currently, the province only pays for procedures performed in a hospital with the prior approval of two doctors, although the province is reviewing its legislation and policies. Access is limited to Moncton and Fredericton.
PEI - No health facility on the island provides abortion services and approximately 200 women per year travel to another province for procedures. The province is appealing a recent Supreme Court decision that struck down the province's funding regulation (that only abortions deemed "medically necessary" by a five-person board would be covered).
Nova Scotia - Again, clinics must charge facility fees of $300 to $500 because the government will only fund hospital procedures. Access has improved since four doctors at Victoria General Hospital received death threats for performing abortions in 1995.
Newfoundland/Labrador - Only one hospital in St. John's provides abortion services, which has resulted in long waiting lists. The Morgentaler clinic must charge $400 to $600 per procedure as only the doctor's fee portion of the procedure is paid for by the government.
Territories - Access is restricted to major centres, but travel time is covered by the government.
(Thanks to CARAL for providing this information.)The C.A.R.E. Program
Most of us are familiar with the two Vancouver abortion clinics: Elizabeth Bagshaw Women's Clinic and Everywoman's Health Centre. However, there is a third clinic which has been operating for over two years now and offers similar services, in a comfortable, supportive setting. The Women's Health Centre at B.C. Women's Hospital and Health Centre Society offers the C.A.R.E. Program, which stands for comprehensive abortion and reproductive education. This program is for women experiencing an unintended or unwanted pregnancy, and women who require an abortion for genetic reasons.
The C.A.R.E. Program offers counselling, information about safe, reliable birth control, referrals to community resources, and abortions using local anaesthetic. Although part of a hospital, the C.A.R.E. Program has a warm, friendly, and non-clinical decor and atmosphere. Like the other two clinics, the C.A.R.E. Program's counselling services help women to decide for themselves how they will deal with a pregnancy. If a woman is unsure or confused about her decision, she is encouraged to talk about her feelings and review all her options with a counsellor. For women who feel certain about their decision to have an abortion, counselling provides information about the procedure, post-abortion medical care, and birth control.
Women who have abortions at the C.A.R.E. Program must be between 7 and 14 weeks pregnant, counting from the first day of their last menstrual period. A pregnancy test, a blood test for anemia, and tests for sexually transmitted diseases are done prior to the abortion, which takes about 10 minutes. Patients can expect to stay at the centre for about three hours altogether.
The procedure is free for those who have, or are eligible for, BC Medical insurance. A small fee of $10 to $30 may be required in some cases. With no medical coverage, the cost is $350, with an additional fee of $68 if an ultrasound is required. No doctor's referral is necessary. To make an appointment, call 875-2022 between 8:30 and 4:30 Monday to Friday.Facts of Life Line
The Facts of Life Line is a new toll-free hotline managed by Planned Parenthood. Staffed by trained volunteers and a registered nurse, the Life Line provides free, confidential, and non-judgmental information on birth control, sexually transmitted infections, sexual decision-making, and pregnancy decision-making. It also provides referrals to agencies, programs, or other resources within the callers' communities. Life Line's motto is: "We don't tell you what to do, we help you get the facts you want."
The line is accessible to B.C. individuals of all ages. Outside the Lower Mainland, call 1-800-739-7367. Within the Lower Mainland, call 731-4252.New Religious Right Group
"Pro-Family" - Anti-Choice
A new political pressure group made up of conservative Protestants and Catholics has begun in Canada. Called the Christian Coalition of Canada, the group is modelled after the powerful Christian Coalition in the U.S., headed by Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson. The BC wing of the coalition is its first and strongest provincial arm. The head of the Christian Coalition of BC is Don Spratt, an anti-abortion activist and member of Operation Rescue. Another BC director is Bill Vander Zalm, former premier and well known anti-abortionist. The coalition plans to collaborate with other conservative Christian groups, such as REAL Women, Focus on the Family, and Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.
The goals of the coalition are to carry out a political battle against abortion, euthanasia, certain taxes, homosexual rights, and other threats to "traditional family values." The group wants to stop "further social and moral decay" in the country by informing and mobilizing Christians politically. Although only seven percent of Canada's population is evangelical Christian, a spokesman for the national group, Alex Parachin (head of Christian Broadcasting Associates in Toronto), said that this shouldn't stop evangelicals from having a great impact on the nation.
The upcoming BC election is a current target of the BC coalition, which plans to distribute voter guides to churches showing how provincial candidates stand on "family" issues.Nuts in the News
An unlikely victory was pulled off by the anti-choice in 1995. It welcomed to the fold Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff known as "Jane Roe" in the case that led to the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion in the United States. McCorvey, baptized in a swimming pool, quit her job at a Dallas abortion clinic and announced that she would join Operation Rescue to "save babies." Although it's well known that Operation Rescue is opposed to all abortions, McCorvey claims to still believe in a woman's right to an abortion in the first trimester. In addition, McCorvey is hardly a poster-girl for the religious right: an ex-substance abuser, she is also an acknowledged lesbian. (Free Inquiry, Winter 95/95, pp. 65)
She's a Child, Not a Choice was the title of a 12-page insert included in several community newspapers in Surrey and White Rock in October, 1994. A Toronto-based anti-choice group called "She's a Child - Canada" prepared the insert, which contained numerous inflammatory, irresponsible, misleading, and inaccurate articles. The insert was paid for and distributed by the Surrey-Delta Pro-Life Society, which bills itself as a "non-partisan, non-sectarian organization of diverse and caring people united to protect the precious gift of life from fertilization until natural death. We work on behalf of defenseless human beings, born and unborn."
Abuse of the courts is a favourite tactic of Gordon Watson, a local anti-choice activist. Since 1990, he has initiated, or threatened to initiate, at least one new lawsuit every four months. He has lost every single attempt. In many documents he has filed with the courts, he routinely uses phrases like "abortion mills," "child extermination businesses," and the "carving up of children." He stated that the Everywoman's Health Centre and the Elizabeth Bagshaw Clinic "are engaged in systematic executions of unborn children which they justify by a rascist [sic] argument; i.e., that 'the foeti are biologically different and therefore not of the human race'..." He believes his actions are his personal religious duty, stating that "... no mortal judge may constrain the defendant's Christian conduct." Watson has repeatedly used violence at pro-choice events in the past and has even been convicted of aggravated assault. Clinic staff consider him to be psychologically unstable and a genuine danger to staff, volunteers, and clients.Marching to End Poverty and Violence
On Saturday, March 9th, 1996, members of the BCCAC joined about 1000 other people to celebrate International Women's Day. The theme of the event was women and poverty. The United Nations has declared 1996 the year to eradicate poverty, a condition which affects women and children disproportionately, especially in the Third World.
During the kick-off rally outside the downtown public library, speakers also deplored the violence against women in Iran and other countries, along with the rise of religious fundamentalism and right-wing conservatism, which threaten the gains already made by women.
Participants then marched to the First United Church at Hastings and Gore, where information tables were set up by various women's groups. In the auditorium of the church, various speakers and performers took turns at the mike, all giving inspiring and informative presentations.
Unfortunately, the event was seriously marred by the presence of several female anti-choice fanatics, who had lied about their identity to gain entrance to the event. The anti-choice women set up an information table, and proceeded to smugly hand out inflammatory and misleading literature to unsuspecting women. Most attendees did their best to ignore them, but it was upsetting to many women there, who felt that an anti-choice presence clearly did not belong. We quite agree, since it was supposed to be International Women's Day, not International Anti-Women's Day!