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Pro-Choice Press

a publication of BC's Pro-Choice Action Network

Spring 2003 Issue

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Table of Contents

Features

BC/Canadian News

U.S. / International News

The Indomitable Dr. Morgentaler





“Why doesn’t this man have the Order of Canada?” — was the title of a complimentary article on Dr. Henry Morgentaler, by journalist Heather Mallick of the Globe & Mail. The article, published on January 18, was written in honour of the 15th anniversary of the Morgentaler Supreme Court decision. Mallick also wrote another piece, a realistic and heart-warming eyewitness account of what actually happens at an abortion clinic, titled “Music, warmth and relief at the Morgentaler clinic.” (Globe & Mail, Jan. 18).

Mallick called Dr. Morgentaler a “prophet without honour” and detailed his history with grace and sympathy, including his dangerous life as a Jew in wartime Poland. Morgentaler weighed just 70 pounds when he got out of Auschwitz, where his mother died. It took 20 years from the time he began performing safe abortions illegally in his Montreal office in 1968 before he was completely vindicated in January 1988 when the Supreme Court of Canada threw out the entire criminal abortion law. During those two decades, Dr. Morgentaler endured numerous arrests and trials, eight raids on his clinics, a fire-bombing, ten months in jail, and an attempted murder by a crazed man with garden shears.

Although Dr. Morgentaler doesn’t expect to receive an Order of Canada, he is getting some other recognition. CTV has just finished a TV movie about him called Choice, filmed in Montreal last year.

Not only does Dr. Morgentaler plan to continue the battle, but he is opening new fronts. He told Mallick: "Who said that life starts at 40? Life starts at 79". (In March, Dr. Morgentaler celebrated his 80th birthday.) In addition to two new lawsuits he is launching against the New Brunswick and Nova Scotia governments for not fully funding clinic abortions, Dr. Morgentaler announced plans in January to sue the Manitoba government for not funding abortions at his Winnipeg clinic. The province is illegally forcing patients to pay the entire $500 cost of their abortions themselves. Morgentaler said the province is violating the Canada Health Act "and the spirit of the Morgentaler Supreme Court of Canada decision." The grounds for the lawsuit include discrimination against the clinic, discrimination against women seeking abortions, and the endangerment of women's health. There is already another pending lawsuit against the province over the abortion issue, a class-action suit filed by two women who had to pay for their own abortions at the Morgentaler clinic.

"Manitoba is a province where access to abortion has always been difficult but it has now assumed the proportions of a medical emergency," said Morgentaler. Only one facility in Manitoba offers Medicare-funded abortions, the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg, and waiting lists are often long. He also said that Premier Gary Doer has "spurned" his offer to turn over his Winnipeg clinic to the province at no cost. Under provincial control, Morgentaler said that women could have abortions at the facility without undue delay.

In an effort to increase access for poor women and shame the Manitoba government at the same time, Dr. Morgentaler has now reduced the fee for abortions at his clinic to $250.

Dr. Morgentaler held a press conference at his Toronto clinic on January 28 to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the 1988 Supreme Court Morgentaler decision. He took the opportunity to highlight problems in provinces where women are still denied access, including Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Manitoba. Except for PEI, every offending province now has legal action pending against it. In Quebec, a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Quebec women has been launched by an anonymous woman who had to pay for her abortion at a private Montreal clinic. A court date is scheduled for early May.

On Oct. 19, 1967, Dr. Henry Morgentaler took his first step in throwing away his safe, prosperous existence in Montreal. He publicly testified before a federal government committee about his belief that any pregnant woman should have the right to an abortion, a safe one. It made headlines, and women began to show up at his office begging for abortions. He had to look them in the eye and say he could not help them. He was perfectly able to, of course, but it was against the law. “I was caught in my own rhetoric. I felt like a coward and a hypocrite.” So, in 1968, he secretly performed an abortion on the daughter of a close friend. In 1969, he gave up his family practice, and began openly doing illegal abortions. In doing so, he launched a 20-year battle with the national government, the judicial system, the police force, religions of every brand, snipers, and a social system that Dr. Morgentaler says is still very much a patriarchy. His weapon was his belief in the common sense of Canadians; he simply did not think a jury would convict him of a crime. He was right.
— Heather Mallick, Excerpt from “Why doesn’t this man have the Order of Canada?” Globe & Mail, Jan. 18, 2003

Celebrating 15 Years of Abortion on Request

On January 28, Canadian women and the pro-choice movement celebrated the 15th anniversary of the historic Supreme Court decision that threw out Canada's criminal abortion law. In the Morgentaler decision of January 28, 1988, the Supreme Court said that Canada's abortion law resulted in unequal access and arbitrary limits on abortion services, thereby violating women's constitutional rights of "security of the person" and "liberty". The ruling effectively gave women the constitutional right to control their own lives. It was the courage and perseverance of Dr. Henry Morgentaler over the previous two decades that really secured abortion rights for women in Canada. With the support of women's groups and many other groups and individuals, including the public, he challenged the law continuously. He finally won the battle in 1988.

Although new legislation to restrict abortion was proposed by Mulroney's Conservative government the following year, it was defeated in the Senate in 1991. The next Liberal government said they would not try to bring back an abortion law, and this promise was recently repeated by federal Health Minister Anne McLellan. In a January 2003 letter (sent to the Pro-Choice Action Network through MP Svend Robinson), McLellan said, "The Government of Canada does not intend to revisit the issues of the 1991 debate."

Since 1988, new abortion clinics have sprung up in many major cities in Canada, providing a range of high quality reproductive health care services to women. But abortion access is still a problem and many inequities remain that must be addressed. "Rates of unintended pregnancy are still high, especially among teens. Canada needs to invest more in comprehensive sex education programs, plus ensure that effective contraception is accessible to all who need it," said Joyce Arthur, spokesperson for the Pro-Choice Action Network.

Canada needs more abortion providers and more training in medical schools. "Many doctors are older and they're now retiring; a few have even quit because of the threat of anti-choice violence," said Arthur. "Abortion is the most common surgical procedure performed on women, but medical schools don't even require students to learn it."

Politicians in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Manitoba force women to pay for their own abortions because they refuse to fund abortions at clinics. "That's a violation of the Canada Health Act," said Kristen Gilbert, another spokesperson for the Pro-Choice Action Network. "The federal Health Minister's position is clear. She says abortion clinics must be fully funded because they are facilities providing medically necessary hospital care."

In rural areas across Canada, women often have to travel far outside their community to find abortion services, and they frequently face anti-choice doctors or long waiting lists at hospitals. In New Brunswick, women have to get permission from two doctors and have their abortion performed by a specialist before the province will fund it. "New Brunswick's regulation is a flagrant violation of the Morgentaler decision because it puts up arbitrary barriers, and it takes away the abortion decision from women and gives it to doctors," said Gilbert.

Medical Students for Choice

Riding a Wave Across Canada

By Tiffany Wells
Member, Board of Directors, MSFC Canada

Medical Students for Choice (MSFC) was founded in the United States in 1993 by students concerned about the practitioner shortage, the lack of abortion education in medical schools, and escalating violence against abortion providers. MSFC is dedicated to ensuring that women receive the full range of reproductive health care choices, and recognizes that one of the greatest obstacles to safe and legal abortion is the absence of trained providers. As medical students, we work to make reproductive health care, including abortion, a part of standard medical education and residency training.

MSFC Presence in Canada

Between 1993 and 2000, only a handful of MSFC chapters existed within Canadian medical schools. However, within the last three years, the number of active Canadian MSFC groups has nearly doubled. Today, MSFC chapters are present in ten of Canada’s sixteen medical schools.

Medical Schools with MSFC Chapters Medical Schools without MSFC Chapters
Dalhousie University Université Laval
McGill University Memorial University of Newfoundland
McMaster University Université de Sherbrooke
Queen’s University University of Alberta
Université de Montreal University of Manitoba
University of BC University of Saskatchewan
University of Calgary  
University of Ottawa  
University of Toronto  
University of Western Ontario  

A Canadian Region

Canadian MSFC members recently celebrated the formation of MSFC–Canada as a distinct region within MSFC. With the development of a solely Canadian region, Canada is now represented by a national and regional coordinator on the MSFC Board of Directors and Student Advisory Committee. Since many Canadian MSFC groups found it challenging to fully identify with American politics, health care, and abortion law, the restructuring of the MSFC to include a separate Canadian region is a welcome change.

Recent Accomplishments

In February of 2003, the 1st Annual MSFC Canadian Conference was held in London, Ontario at the University of Western Ontario. Entitled Reproductive Choice in Canada: Past, Present & Future, the national conference featured a keynote address by Judy Rebick and breakout sessions encompassing such topics as emergency contraception, barriers to accessible abortion in Canada, sexually transmitted diseases, and curriculum reform in medical education. The successful event attracted over 100 participants from medical schools, pro-choice organizations, and women’s clinics from Halifax to Vancouver.

MSFC chapters across Canada have been successful in their efforts to recruit interested students, effect significant curriculum change, and increase awareness of reproductive choice within their campuses and communities. Canadian students are beginning to gain recognition for their contributions toward alleviating barriers to abortion access and the provider shortage. This year marks the first time that a Canadian MSFC chapter has been named as the recipient of the MSFC Liz Karlin Campus Organizing Award for making significant and permanent improvements in its school curriculum.

Becoming Involved

It is an exciting time of growth and development for MSFC–Canada. We have begun to address the abortion provider shortage, the lack of abortion education in Canadian medical education, and barriers to accessible abortion on a national level. The current work of MSFC–Canada can only be furthered by support from current reproductive health care providers. As Canada’s future pro-choice physicians and abortion providers, we look to practicing health care professionals for education, guidance, and support.

The development of mentoring relationships between future and current providers is an integral part of alleviating the abortion provider shortage. Write to us at msfccanada@yahoo.ca and let us know you want to be involved!

Locally…

  • Become an MSFC Faculty Advisor for new MSFC chapters.
  • Be a mentor and role-model for MSFC members. We need to know that you are proud to be a provider of choice for women and that you love what you do!
  • Support our efforts to effect curriculum change. The full implementation of curriculum change can be hindered by the lack of physicians willing to present to medical students on such topics as unplanned pregnancy and abortion.
  • Be a source of information. Educate us about Canadian choice issues and help us access Canadian-specific reproductive health care data.
  • Let us know how we can help you. If you need escorts for clinic staff or patients, require media support or are simply willing to receive our words of thanks on National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers, please let us know!

Nationally…

  • Be an active participant in our Annual Canadian Conference. Run a workshop, deliver a presentation, or simply attend.
  • Offer your clinic or hospital practice to become a site for an MSFC Reproductive Health Extern-ship (RHE). The RHE is an intensive full-time -week program that provides medical students at all levels of training with an opportunity to participate in reproductive health services and abortion care in a clinical setting. Please contact msfccanada@yahoo.ca.
  • Contribute financially to help us fund our events!

Hospital Abortions Not Accessible

The Canadian Abortion Rights Action League (CARAL) has just issued a groundbreaking new study on access to hospital abortions in Canada, entitled Protecting Abortion Rights in Canada. Although abortions are safe and legal in Canada, there are still many barriers facing women.

The study consisted of a questionnaire sent to 692 hospitals, a written survey sent to Planned Parenthood offices, and a researcher who called 612 hospitals across Canada, posing as a young woman needing an abortion.

Two-thirds of all abortions in Canada are done in hospitals, but the study found that only 17.8% of hospitals in Canada perform abortions, with Prince Edward Island and Nunavut offering no hospital abortion services at all. Hospitals that do provide abortions often place obstacles in the way of women trying to obtain one, such as requiring physician referrals or the approval of two doctors, long wait times, and gestational limits. In many cases, hospital employees were unable to provide women with information on alternative resources, or even accurate information about their own services. Some physicians and hospital employees denied women access by refusing information and referrals, sometimes even referring women to anti-choice agencies.

Planned Parenthood affiliates cited the need for women to travel as the top barrier to access, followed closely by anti-choice doctors. These two obstacles far outstripped other barriers cited, including lack of information, hospital gestational limits, and waiting periods. Also, in some urban areas, up to 90% of the calls received by Planned Parenthood offices are abortion-related.

The report concludes that lack of access to abortion violates women's constitutional rights, but governments lack the political will to make abortion accessible to women. Provision of abortion services is generally not compliant with the Canada Health Act. Even the medical profession has succumbed to anti-abortion pressure by not performing abortions or training providers. The report includes 27 recommendations to improve access to services, plus a 15-point action plan. The full report can be found at www.caral.ca

Protester Assaulted for Hateful Anti-Abortion Display





Long-time anti-choice protester John Hof of Langley, who is also President of the Campaign Life Coalition BC chapter, was reportedly assaulted by a male passer-by outside the Everywoman's Health Centre in Vancouver on March 14.

Hof and other protesters were standing outside the bubble zone, as they do every Friday at lunchtime, holding offensive signs depicting alleged aborted fetuses alongside photos of black lynching victims and Nazi holocaust victims. The passer-by, who was dark-skinned, was with an African-Canadian female friend who had come across the display earlier. The woman was apparently deeply offended by the display's exploitation of and insensitivity to black people and their history of slavery. She angrily demanded that the signs be covered up or removed, but the protesters refused. The woman then apparently covered up at least one of the signs herself. Her male friend arrived on the scene shortly after and got into an altercation with Hof. The man reportedly twisted Hof's nose, causing him to fall to the sidewalk in surprise. An anti-choice report also claimed that the man pushed and kicked Hof's sign. A police officer at the scene arrested the man after Hof affirmed that he wanted charges to be laid. The man's identity has not been released by police pending a possible assault charge.

Protester Loses Bubble Zone Appeal

In January, a three-judge panel of the BC Court of Appeal unanimously upheld BC’s Access to Abortion Services Act (the bubble zone law) and rejected the appeal of convicted protester Jim Demers, along with his argument that fetuses should have legal rights as persons under Section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Demers, a carpenter from Nelson BC, was arrested on Dec. 11, 1996 for violating BC's Access to Abortion Services Act by protesting outside the Everywoman’s Health Centre in Vancouver. He was initially convicted, he appealed and lost, then he appealed again to the BC Court of Appeal, which heard the case in December 2002. For details of the appeal, see the Autumn/Winter 2002 issue of Pro-Choice Press.

Demers is now appealing this latest decision to the Supreme Court of Canada in an attempt to establish constitutional rights for fetuses. He hopes to show that fetuses are persons under the Charter; therefore abortion is murder; and therefore the bubble zone law must be discarded because its purpose is to protect access to a violent crime. It is very unlikely that the Supreme Court will agree to take on the case, since previous precedent has already established that fetuses do not have legal rights. However, there’s a chance the court might be interested in the freedom of speech implications of BC’s bubble zone law, if Demers’ application and the Crown’s response to it include this issue. The law does in fact limit protesters’ freedom of speech, but a previous BC court decision ruled that the restriction was justified to protect access to a legal medical service. Because the legislation applies only to BC, however, the court may dismiss the appeal as lacking in national significance. In any event, BC’s pro-choice community is more than ready to fight the case should the court accept it.

New Mifepristone Trial Delayed

The abortion pill mifepristone (formerly called RU-486) has not been available in Canada since September 2001, when a patient died of a rare gynecological infection unrelated to the abortion drug itself (see Autumn 2001 issue of Pro-Choice Press). This occurred during a cross-Canada drug trial conducted by Dr. Ellen Wiebe of Vancouver. Health Canada suspended Dr. Wiebe's study so that Health Canada, the U.S. Population Council, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) could complete a routine investigation. The Population Council was the financial sponsor of the trial.

Health Canada's investigation is complete, and formal approval for a new drug trial is expected shortly. However, the study is being delayed by bureaucracy and supply problems. Although the drug company that previously supplied the drug is reluctant to continue and the Population Council is hesitant to resume funding. Although a group of Canadian doctors are taking steps to form an independent distribution company to import and market mifepristone in Canada, a committed supplier for the drug still needs to be secured.

The suspended trial was Dr. Wiebe's second trial of mifepristone. The first trial began in July 2000, comparing the abortion pill to methotrexate, another abortion drug. After successfully providing the drug to 500 women in several cities across Canada (another 500 received methotrexate), a second trial began early in 2001 for 1500 women and was over halfway complete before the tragic patient death. This study was comparing different doses of misoprostol, a supplementary drug given with the abortion pill to induce uterine contractions.

The Canadian pro-choice community hopes that the studies will lead to full Health Canada approval of the drug, making another abortion option available for Canadian women. The drug has been approved for use in the United States since September 2000.

Abortions Down Slightly in 2000

Statistics Canada has released its statistics for abortion rates in Canada for the year 2000.

The abortion rate decreased slightly from 1999. In 2000, Canadian women obtained 105,427 abortions, down 0.2% from 105,666 in 1999. However, induced abortion rates increased in all provinces except Ontario, Manitoba, and British Columbia. The rate of abortion remained steady at 15.4 abortions per 1,000 women. The ratio of the number of induced abortions per 100 live births increased from 31.3 in 1999 to 32.2 in 2000.

For more information, see The Statistics Canada Website at www.statcan.ca/Daily/English/today/d030328e.htm (The Daily, March 28, 2003)

Abortion rates by province of residence, and rates per 1,000 female population

  1998 1999 2000 99 to '00 Rate per 1,000 women
  Number of abortions % change 1999 2000
Total[1] 110,331 105,666 105,427

-0.2

15.4 15.4
Newfoundland and Labrador 820 851 898 5.5 6.8 7.3
Prince Edward Island 149 145 158 9.0 4.8 5.2
Nova Scotia 2,053 1,917 1,989 3.8 9.1 9.5
New Brunswick 1,106 1,031 1,098 6.5 6.1 6.6
Quebec 31,673 30,722 31,125 1.3 18.9 19.4
Ontario[2] 42,452 39,981 39,544 -1.1 15.4 15.1
Manitoba 3,447 3,517 3,366 -4.3 14.3 13.8
Saskatchewan 2,010 1,898 1,956 3.1 8.7 9.0
Alberta 10,355 10,188 10,432 2.4 14.7 14.9
British Columbia 15,482 14,642 14,009 -4.3 16.2 15.5
Yukon 150 111 135 21.6 14.6 18.2
Northwest Territories 292 238 281 18.1 23.2 27.8
Nunavut ... 155 178 14.8 25.3 28.2
US reporting 297 231 215 -6.9 ... ...
Residence unknown 45 39 43 10.3 ... ...

[1] Rates are calculated using female population aged 15 to 44 years.

[2] Use caution with Ontario data. As of 1999, Ontario no longer collects detailed information on abortions performed in Ontario clinics, relying instead on the OHIP billing system (Ontario Health Insurance Plan) to provide counts of clinic abortions. As a result, data is no longer available for clinic abortions performed on non-residents of Ontario or on Ontario residents who do not submit a claim to OHIP. The new data source has been found to underestimate clinic abortions performed on Ontario residents by an average of 5.4% (950 cases) per year since 1995, or about 1% of all abortions performed in Canada. Also not included are abortions performed on non-residents of Ontario, which average 70 cases per year since 1995 or 0.4% of total clinic abortions performed in Ontario.

Rock for Choice a Great Success

This year’s Rock for Choice was a successful five-day extravaganza held from January 8 to 12. Five nights of music at several venues across town saw packed crowds at four out of five of the concerts. Some of the highlights included The Be Good Tanyas, Neil Osborne (of 54.40), Stink Mitt, Radio Berlin, Che: Chapter 127, The Gossip, and many other artists.

For the first time ever, Rock for Choice hosted a free all-day conference on Saturday January 11. The event was extremely well-attended and well-received, with standing room only at some of the workshops as well as for the screening of Group, a critically-acclaimed mock documentary about a women's therapy group starring Sleater Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein. The resourcefulness of the Rock for Choice committee in obtaining donated services and venues resulted in virtually no expenses or overhead for the conference. A truly free event! Conference organizers were so thrilled with the turnout and enthusiastic response, they have decided to make the conference an annual event.

On Sunday January 12, Rock for Choice’s Chain of Resistance took place on the streets of downtown Vancouver. About 150 supporters turned out to stand along Georgia Street holding signs to celebrate choice and to protest the lack of rural access to abortion and Liberal cutbacks to healthcare and women’s services. As fate would have it, the timing of the chain coincided exactly with Premier Gordon Campbell’s press conference to explain his drunk driving charge in Maui. Although this meant no media coverage for the Chain of Resistance, the participants were energized by the ongoing chorus of honks from appreciative motorists passing by.

All of the money raised from the Rock for Choice concert events—several thousand dollars—went directly to the Everywoman's Health Centre, the Elizabeth Bagshaw Women's Clinic, and the Pro-Choice Action Network. Thank you so much, Rock for Choice! Like usual, the committee did an extraordinary job organizing and publicizing the event. We look forward to another great event next year.

Pro-CAN Goes to Seattle

for National Abortion Federation Conference

The annual National Abortion Federation (NAF) conference was held in Seattle on April 5-8, attracting over 600 delegates. Many Canadians providers and activists were able to attend, including two representatives from the Pro-Choice Action Network. Most abortion clinics in Canada, as well as CARAL and Pro-CAN, are NAF members. NAF supports abortion providers in all aspects of reproductive healthcare and works to keep abortion safe, legal, and accessible. It started out as an American organization and is based in Washington DC, but now serves abortion providers in Canada as well as other parts of the world.

The annual Canadian Providers Day on April 5 was a chance for Canadians to meet and share news and experiences from across the country. Hosted by Dr. Ellen Wiebe of Vancouver, presentations included the current status of the mifepristone (RU-486) trials in Canada, an update on the investigation into the Canadian doctor shootings and suspect James Kopp, news from Canadian Medical Students for Choice, and abortion statistics in Canada.

The keynote speaker for this year's NAF conference was theologian Dr. Daniel McGuire (author/editor of the book Sacred Choices: The Right to Contraception and Abortion in Ten World Religions) who had the audience in stitches with his brilliant speech criticizing the war in Iraq and American politics and prudery. McGuire's book is a collection of essays from scholars and theologians of major world religions showing how all religions have liberal traditions supporting a pro-choice viewpoint. It is highly recommended.

There was something for everyone in the wide variety of workshops and presentations at the conference. Just a few of the areas covered included several sessions of accredited medical education for doctors, promotion of cultural competency in reproductive healthcare (i.e., helping women from diverse communities), the evolution of media messages around abortion since 1973, patient privacy, medical abortion, legal strategies to defeat anti-choice initiatives, and how to fight Crisis Pregnancy Centres in your community.

Tiffany Wells of Medical Students for Choice-Canada (MSFC) took home the Elizabeth Karlin Early Achievement Award (equivalent to a "Medical Student of the Year" award), graciously presented by Vancouver's Dr. Garson Romalis at the conference awards luncheon. Also, the University of Western Ontario chapter of MSFC-Canada was the recipient of the MSFC Liz Karlin Campus Organizing Award for making significant and permanent improvements in its school curriculum. We are extremely proud of our MFSC chapters in Canada, and the hard work of Tiffany and all other MSFC members in Canada to educate and groom a new generation of committed abortion providers. (See previous article).

Our thanks go to the staff from the National Abortion Federation who once again did a superb job of selecting great workshops, speakers, and venues; and ensuring our safety with ample professional security.

Canada News Bytes

Anti-Choice Ontario Doctor Keeps License — Dr. Stephen Dawson, an anti-choice doctor from Barrie Ontario, had charges of professional misconduct against him dropped earlier this year. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario had threatened to remove Dr. Dawson's license last year after he refused to prescribe birth control pills to unmarried women for personal religious reasons. The Toronto Star reported that under the agreement Dawson must advise his patients of his views upfront. Dawson will post a policy statement in his waiting room and provide a prepared statement to patients that reads: “As a Christian physician, the prescription of birth control pills to unmarried women for birth control purposes is contrary to the dictates of my conscience and religion. Similarly, arranging for abortions and the prescription of Viagra to unmarried men is contrary to the dictates of my conscience and religion.”

Bill Whatcott Goes to Court — In March, a Saskatchewan judge threw out a "stunting" charge against anti-abortion protester Bill Whatcott, because he was not technically on a street or highway at the time of the July 2, 2002 incident in Prince Albert. Whatcott was displaying pictures of alleged aborted fetuses at a busy intersection. He still has to stand trial on obstruction charges after allegedly disobeying instructions from police to stop displaying the pictures because of the traffic hazard. In February, Whatcott was ordered to pay a $20,000 fine by a human rights tribunal in Regina. Four complaints alleged that Whatcott promoted hatred on the basis of sexual orientation, in violation of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code. The complaints related to homophobic leaflets that he distributed randomly to thousands of homes in Saskatchewan. Whatcott argued that he had a right to freedom of speech, but the plaintiffs argued that right is limited when it promotes hatred. The tribunal agreed. Whatcott has refused to pay the fine.

Anti-choice MP Disputes “Medically Necessary” Abortions — In late March, Garry Breitkreuz, MP for Yorkton-Melville Sask, had his Private Member's Motion M-83 drawn for a debate in Parliament. It will be the first anti-choice motion to go to a vote in Parliament in 12 years. The motion asks the Standing Committee on Health to study and report on whether abortions are medically necessary under the Canada Health Act, and what are the health risks for women undergoing abortions compared to women going full-term. The anti-choice movement has equipped itself with several flawed studies by anti-abortion “researchers” who mistakenly claim that abortion leads to premature death because women are more likely to die from any cause within a year after an abortion than after a full-term birth.

Filipino Domestic Worker Fired for Not Having Abortion — The Montreal Gazette reported on March 18 that a Filipino live-in domestic worker called Marisa was taken to a hospital by her Montreal employer in early March to have an abortion. Hospital staff did not perform the abortion when they learned that Marisa did not even know why she was there. Once she realized what was happening, she refused to have an abortion. It turned out the abortion was her employer’s idea, because it would have "inconvenienced" him for her to have the baby. He fired Marisa for not having the abortion.

Pepper-Spraying Incident Ends in Absolute Discharge — In March, a Toronto women's centre worker, Carol Ann Trueman, pled guilty and was convicted on a reduced charge of common assault, after she pepper-sprayed anti-abortion protester Robert Hinchey in August 2002. Hinchey had taken one of the women’s centre’s clients to a hospital to have her laminaria removed after she allegedly changed her mind about having an abortion. Trueman and a colleague went to the hospital to rescue the woman, fearing she had been taken there against her will. They ended up pepper-spraying Hinchey before hustling the woman out of the hospital. She later had an abortion. Trueman was granted an absolute discharge after expressing remorse. The judge said she acted out of fear, not aggression.

Access a Serious Problem for Moncton Women — In January, the Fredericton Morgentaler Clinic reported a significant increase in women from the Moncton area seeking abortions at the clinic. The Moncton Hospital stopped providing abortions in November because it claimed that half of the procedures scheduled were no-shows. By February 4, the clinic reported that 27 Moncton-area women had had abortions at the clinic since Dec. 1, almost matching the number of Moncton-area women who accessed the procedure at the clinic for an 11-month period last year. However, because of outright denials by the New Brunswick government that access has become a problem, the clinic has had to resort to documenting women's stories so they can present irrefutable evidence to the government.

Judge Recommends Law to Protect Fetuses from Their Mothers — Manitoba judge Linda Giesbrecht recommended in January that new legislation be drafted to protect fetuses from the substance abuse of their mothers. The recommendation appeared in an inquest report into the suicide of an aboriginal child in 1999, Patrick Redhead, whose mother was an alcoholic during pregnancy. However, in 1997, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that courts cannot force pregnant women to undergo treatment programs to prevent harm to their fetus (Winnipeg Child and Family Services vs. Ms. G).

New Contraceptive Choice for Canadian Women — A unique intrauterine system called Mirena is now available in Canada. Mirena is similar to ordinary IUDs, except the T-shaped frame is surrounded by a narrow cylindrical reservoir that contains levonorgestrel, a hormone commonly used in birth-control pills. It works by releasing small amounts of the hormone into the uterus each day for five years. It prevents pregnancy by increasing the thickness of cervical mucus to help block sperm and decreasing the thickness of the lining of the uterus. Studies show that Mirena has a high effectiveness rate, equal to that of oral contraceptives or sterilization. It also results in shorter, lighter periods for most women. A few women may suffer mild side effects such as mild headache, breast tenderness, nausea, or depression, but these normally subside over time.

James Kopp Convicted

For Murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian

After a rather bizarre and disappointing change to confessed sniper James Kopp's murder trial, Kopp was convicted on March 18 of second degree "intentional" murder in the slaying of abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian in October 1998, in Amherst, New York. Slepian was shot dead in his kitchen in front of his wife and children, by a sniper hiding in his back yard.

Kopp, an anti-choice radical from New Jersey, confessed to the Slepian murder last November during a jailhouse interview with two Buffalo News reporters. After Kopp's confession, in which he claimed he meant only to wound Slepian, not kill him, New York state prosecutors added another charge to the original murder charge—"depraved second-degree murder" with "a depraved indifference to human life". The purpose was to ensure they could convict Kopp on this lesser charge in case his "wounding" defence held up in court.

In pre-trial testimony in February, anti-choice activist Jennifer Rock testified that she gave Kopp a fake driver's license and cash and drove him to Mexico on November 5, 1998, days after federal authorities announced Kopp's name as a "material witness" in the Slepian murder case. Rock, who has been arrested ten times for protesting abortion, said she helped Kopp die his hair red, but believed in his innocence at the time. Kopp later fled to Ireland and then France, where he was arrested by police after more than two years on the run. He was extradited to New York to stand trial in July 2002.

Kopp’s state murder trial was scheduled to begin in mid-March and expected to last about four weeks. It was shaping up to be a major media circus. Jury selection began on March 3 and several hundred potential jurors were processed and questioned. Then unexpectedly, on March 11, Kopp waived his right to a jury trial and requested a "stipulated bench trial" before a judge only, in which the defense and prosecutors agree on a set of facts and simply argue about their legal implications. The judge reluctantly granted the request after warning Kopp that it was probably not in his best interests. The change meant that Kopp's trial would be reduced from four weeks to a single day. Kopp also gave up the right to testify, the right to call witnesses on his behalf, and the chance of a manslaughter verdict by a jury.

In the months leading up to the trial, Kopp's anti-choice lawyer Bruce Barket boasted of his plan to transform Kopp's murder trial into a political show trial against abortion and capture as much media attention as possible. Barket must have realized later that the evidence against Kopp was so strong, he didn’t stand a chance of being acquitted at a jury trial. But he never gave a rational explanation for the sudden change to a judge-only trial. Lamely contradicting his previous hype, he claimed that the opportunity to make political points in a jury trial would be limited, as would the odds of Kopp being convicted on the lesser charge of manslaughter. Barket said that in a judge-only trial, "The public forum is still there, albeit much shorter. We will make our point through our submission to the court." He also tried to save face by claiming that while Kopp was agreeing to the facts in the state trial, it did not mean he wouldn’t challenge the same facts at future proceedings in other courts (Kopp faces a federal trial this summer.)

It was left to savvy pro-choice commentators to fill in the blanks, which wasn’t difficult given the circumstances of the case. Kopp and Barket must have opted for a non-jury trial for at least one of these reasons:

  • Kopp would not have to take the stand and further implicate his accomplice Loretta Marra in his crimes, or implicate anyone else, thereby protecting the anti-abortion underground that aids and abets violence against providers.
  • Kopp would not have to answer questions about the other four unsolved doctor shootings, including three in Canada (all non-fatal). Kopp has been charged in the Hamilton Ontario shooting and is the main suspect in the other three shootings. It is now unlikely that these cases will ever be resolved.
  • A four-week trial would have resulted in widespread publicity for the case, giving a national platform for the extreme violent fringe of the anti-choice movement, and creating a public relations disaster for the movement as a whole. It is likely that Kopp and Barket came under intense pressure to make it a quick trial with as little publicity as possible.
  • A four-week trial would have drawn out the details of exactly how calculating and heartless the Slepian murder really was, showing Kopp in a very damaging light and shattering the meek and earnest public image he has tried to generate for himself.

The one-day trial took place on March 17. James Kopp pled innocent. Deputy District Attorney Joseph Marusak and Kopp’s defense attorney Bruce Barket submitted into evidence 35 pages of stipulated facts and 45 exhibits that they had previously agreed on. Barket admitted that Kopp wanted to use force to “defend children” but that he tried his best to use “non-lethal force." Marusak dismissed Kopp's claim that he meant only to wound Slepian as “self-serving.” He said every step that Kopp took in planning for the attack—from his choice of weapon and bullets, to using aliases when buying the rifle and again while target practicing with it—pointed to an intention to kill. He likened the high-calibre bullet Kopp fired to a "little miniature supersonic missile" — "It is a killing bullet," he said. Barket called Kopp the "spiritual founder" of the “peaceful” Operation Rescue anti-abortion group, even comparing him to an apostle of Jesus. Marusak took a dimmer view of Kopp, describing him as an arrogant but highly intelligent zealot who meticulously planned his crime. He lampooned the defence's argument: "I was aiming for his shoulder and I didn't want to hurt him—I'm a good Catholic. So say grace and pass the ammunition." He called Barket’s argument an "insult to Christians."

Eyewitness accounts described the prosecution’s case as extremely comprehensive and solid, and devastating to Kopp’s defense. Marilynn Buckham, executive director of the Buffalo clinic where Slepian practiced, reported that Kopp began the day looking cheerful and cocky and ended the day downcast and subdued. As prosecutor Marusak commented during the trial, “He knows his goose is cooked.”

The next day, Judge Michael D'Amico found Kopp guilty of the original “intentional” second-degree murder charge. Kopp will be sentenced on May 9th to a maximum jail term of 25 years. He will not face the death penalty because that was waived in order to get Kopp extradited from France.

Kopp also faces a second trial this summer on federal charges of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) by using deadly force to prevent Dr. Slepian from providing reproductive health services, and of using a firearm to commit a crime. Unfortunately, legal sources also predict a similar non-jury trial in federal court, using evidence agreed to by the prosecution and defense. It’s possible that the judge might deny Kopp’s wishes and order a jury trial, but legal sources still expect some other resolution of the federal charges short of a traditional trial.

The pro-choice movement fears that with Kopp put away, the extremist anti-choice movement may find another killer to replace him. "No doubt about it, they are recruiting somebody now to replace James Kopp, and we need to make sure that law enforcement and our clinics do not relax," said Vicki Saporta, executive director of the National Abortion Federation in Washington, DC. Saporta, who was attending Kopp's trial, said that the federation had just put its clinics on high alert because their careful 35-year tracking of violence shows that another shooting often follows a conviction such as Kopp's.

The Feminist Majority Foundation also keeps tabs on anti-choice violence and recently released a report showing an increase in violence, as well as aggressive interference and intimidation of clinic staff and patients as they enter clinics. “Our national Clinic Violence Survey reveals that violence is still threatening our nation’s clinics at an intolerable level,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “Once again only one person has been convicted in the Slepian murder, even though it is clear that Kopp did not get Slepian’s name from a phone book and that he has worked with others in his some 15 years of harassing clinics.”

Kopp’s known accomplices, married couple Loretta Marra and Dennis Malvasi of Brooklyn, pled guilty on April 15 to charges of aiding Kopp’s flight from justice and conspiring to harbour a fugitive. As part of their plea deal, the couple will be sentenced to no more than five years in prison. They had been sending Kopp money while he was on the run and offering support and advice. Kopp had been planning to return to the U.S. just before his capture—authorities believed he intended to start shooting doctors again—and Marra and Malvasi had arranged for him to live with them in New York City. The couple are both pro-violence extremists. Malvasi spent five years in prison for bombing two New York abortion clinics in the 1980’s and Marra had been planning a series of butyric acid attacks against clinics at the time of her arrest in March 2001. While Malvasi claims that he has never actually met Kopp, Marra and Kopp are close friends, having been arrested and jailed together several times because of aggressive clinic protests, starting in 1990. She has been called the “brains” behind James Kopp and is thought to be a major figure in the anti-abortion underground. Although a car registered to Marra was spotted in Vancouver both before and after the Dr. Garson Romalis shooting in 1994, it is not known whether Marra has ever been to Canada or has any connections here.

Both police and the pro-choice community have long believed that Kopp had help in carrying out the three shootings in Canada, as well as the two in New York. However, prosecutors have admitted they have no hard evidence indicating that Marra (or anyone else) was complicit in any of the actual shootings. Vicki Saporta, executive director of the National Abortion Federation, worries that many questions remain unanswered about Marra. “Was she involved in the planning of Dr. Slepian’s shooting? Did she drive Kopp’s getaway car? Was she involved in targeting doctors? Was she in Canada with Kopp when he shot doctors there?” Saporta added, “I think she was involved with Kopp from the beginning. People who help assassins should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” But because of the shortened trial format, we may never learn what really happened. “If the full truth about these shootings and James Kopp, Loretta Marra, and others in their network never comes out, that would be a shame,” said Saporta.

U.S. Marks 30th Anniversary of Legal Abortion

American women celebrated the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade on January 23. On that day in 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in all 50 states in the famous Roe v. Wade decision. In that case, an unmarried Texas woman appealed to the Supreme Court after Texas denied her right to abortion because of restrictive and unconstitutional criminal laws.

The anniversary was marked by countless anti-choice demonstrations, vigils, and marches across the country, including the annual March for Life in Washington. Some pro-choice events also occurred, although some national pro-choice groups held strategizing meetings instead, in light of America's predominant right-wing agenda.

Over the years, the Roe v. Wade decision has led to onerous restrictions on abortion. Although the ruling freed women to choose abortion for any reason during the first trimester, the court rejected an absolute right to choose, and instead tried to balance women’s and fetal rights with a “trimester framework.” States could regulate abortion during the second trimester only to protect the woman’s health, but during the third trimester (i.e., after "viability"), states could protect fetal life except when abortion was "necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother." Today, 41 states have laws that restrict post-viability abortion.

The first major abortion restriction occurred in 1976, when Congress passed the Hyde amendment prohibiting the use of Medicaid funds to pay for poor women’s abortions. It's estimated that up to one-third of poor women are forced to carry to term because they can't afford an abortion. For those poor women who do manage to get one, almost half delay their procedure by 2-3 weeks while trying to find money, which usually comes out of basic subsistence funds. Some poor women even resort to theft or prostitution to pay the bill.

The trimester framework, as well as subsequent Supreme Court decisions that weakened Roe v. Wade, provided a basis on which to craft anti-choice laws (as well as pro-choice ones). Every year, dozens of anti-abortion bills are introduced in state and federal legislatures. In the first part of 2003 alone, over 200 anti-choice measures were introduced by states, more than ever before. Tremendous amounts of time and money must be spent by the American pro-choice movement to defeat the passage of these laws, and too often they are not defeated. Once passed and challenged in court, some judges have proved willing to uphold limits on abortion.

Further Supreme Court decisions allowed states to require parental consent for teenagers' abortions, prohibit the use of public funds and facilities for abortion, and require viability tests after 20 weeks. Many states also mandate waiting periods for abortion, forcing women to visit the clinic at least twice. The latest strategy is passing "informed consent" laws that compel abortion providers to give anti-choice propaganda to their patients. And a federal law is expected to pass soon that will ban a particular abortion method at the expense of women's health and rights (see next story).

In spite of all the legal obstacles, as well as over 20 years of anti-choice harassment and violence, American abortion clinics have been remarkably successful and resourceful at providing abortions to women who want them. Although the overall abortion rate has declined in recent years, much of the decline has been attributed to increased use of contraception, and perhaps reduced sexual activity by teenagers. It's often been repeated that 87% of USA counties do not have an abortion provider, but that might be because abortions are generally not performed in hospitals and the demand for abortion is concentrated in large cities. Nevertheless, the number of abortion providers has declined more than the abortion rate, meaning that fewer providers are performing more abortions.

It is widely feared that President Bush may appoint one or two conservative Supreme Court justices, which would bring an anti-choice majority to the court and endanger Roe v. Wade. If this historic ruling is overturned, the legality of abortion will revert back to individual states. Most states still have pre-Roe criminal laws against abortion and many could start enforcing them.

To make matters worse, the world's lone superpower is busy imposing Bush's anti-abortion policies on developing countries, policies that would be unconstitutional at home. The situation is dire, but the resilient and battle-hardened pro-choice community in the USA is mobilizing like never before to defeat barriers to women's reproductive rights, both at home and abroad. All American providers and activists deserve our gratitude and praise for their courage, dedication, and genuine caring for women over the past 30 years and through these difficult times.

Return of Criminal Abortion to U.S.




The U.S. Senate is about to pass a ban on a phantom abortion procedure dubbed “partial-birth” abortion by the anti-choice movement. The ban, which President Bush has promised to sign into law, has many doctors confused about what will be banned. They fear it will apply to other procedures used in the second or even first trimester of pregnancy.

The proposed law is vaguely worded and does not specify any known abortion technique. Dr. Warren Hern, director of the Boulder Abortion Clinic in Colorado, questioned whether any doctors are even using a so-called “partial-birth” procedure, because no such method has ever been described in a medical journal. “We have no idea how this is done or even whether it is done,” he said. “Until it’s published in a peer-reviewed journal, it’s folklore.”

Anti-choice legislators have refused to modify the bill to specify a particular abortion method, raising concerns that their real agenda is to try and intimidate doctors into stopping abortions altogether, out of fear and uncertainty about whether they’re breaking the law. The bill contains criminal penalties for doctors, including fines and prison terms of up to two years.

The ban is often assumed to refer to intact dilatation and extraction—“intact D&X,” an abortion procedure used in the third trimester for serious fetal abnormalities, or in the late second trimester for women whose abortions have been delayed for whatever reason. It involves delivering the fetus feet first and collapsing the skull to make it easier to pass through the birth canal. The technique is rarely performed in the U.S., accounting for less than a quarter of a percent of all abortions, almost all prior to viability.

Many doctors agree that in certain situations it may be the safest abortion method, with fewer complications and risks to the woman than other later-term abortion methods. Doctors who use the technique say it lowers the risk of perforating the uterus and lacerating the cervix, reduces blood loss and other complications, protects fertility, and is less physically stressful to the patient. Other late-term abortion methods, such as induction of labour, hysterotomy (Caesarean section), and hysterectomy have been mostly abandoned by all but a few doctors because they generally entail greater risks to the woman's health and fertility.

Doctors are concerned that the proposed law could also apply to abortions done by dilatation and evacuation (D&E). In this method, an early second-trimester fetus is removed in fragments. D&E is the safest and most common method for abortions between 12 and 18 weeks. However, the larger the fetus, the greater the risk to the woman—hence the use of the intact D&X procedure in later pregnancies.

But the ban could potentially apply to almost any abortion method, even in the first-trimester. The definition of “partial birth” abortion in the proposed law covers a vaginal abortion where a doctor “performs the overt act, other than completion of delivery, that kills the partially delivered living fetus.” In many cases, it’s impossible for doctors to tell for sure at what point a fetus (or embryo) actually dies during an abortion, or which specific action of the doctor caused the death. Even in a D&E abortion, the intact fetus sometimes slides partway down the birth canal before the procedure is performed.

In fact, varied medical circum-stances and differing patient needs means that the bill will seriously infringe on doctors’ professional medical judgment. As one doctor said, “In medicine, things happen quickly. You have a patient who is bleeding. We are trained to deal with the unexpected.” A doctor must be free to decide the best course of treatment for a particular patient, and in emergency situations, must be free to do whatever is necessary to save the patient. Legislators have no business telling doctors how to do their jobs. Such interference jeopardizes the safety and health of patients by usurping doctors’ medical judgment and constraining their options.

The “partial-birth” abortion ban also contains no health exception for the pregnant woman. The bill’s proponents assert that “a partial-birth abortion is never necessary to preserve the health of a woman.” Considering that many doctors and professional medical groups have evidence to support the health benefits to women of intact D&X and other abortion methods, there is good reason to hope that once the law is passed, it will not withstand a Supreme Court challenge.

In 2000, the Supreme Court struck down a similar law in Nebraska because it did not include a health exemption for the woman. Anti-choice legislators may be hoping, however, that by the time the “partial-birth” abortion law challenge reaches the Supreme Court, a new right-wing judge may be appointed by President Bush, tipping the balance of the court to an anti-choice majority.

U.S. / International News Bytes

Scientists Declare No Link Between Abortion and Breast Cancer — There is no evidence that having an abortion increases the risk of getting breast cancer later in life, says the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI). Last year, NCI removed a fact sheet from its website that said there appeared to be no link between abortion and breast cancer and replaced it with one saying the evidence wasn't clear. A scandal ensued because the revised web page was widely believed to reflect political pressure from the Bush administration. In response, NCI convened a meeting of over 100 scientific experts to review the data and released its report in March. It concluded that according to the best scientific studies, "Induced abortion is not associated with an increase in breast cancer risk." The NCI scientists were also asked to assess how pregnancy affects breast cancer risk overall. They reaffirmed earlier findings that: Miscarriage does not increase the risk • Delivering a full-term baby early in life lowers the risk. • Breast-feeding lowers the risk. • Women who never give birth have the same lifetime risk as a woman whose first birth occurs around age 30.

Anti-Choice Launch "Silent No More" Campaign — Coinciding with the 30th anniversary of legalized abortion in the U.S., the Elliot Institute, an anti-choice propaganda agency that "researches" the alleged dangers of abortion, launched their "Silent No More" campaign. Women who have had abortions they regret were brought together at state capitols and in Washington DC to speak out about their abortion experiences. The campaign organizers made numerous irresponsible statements and distortions about the prevalence of negative mental health effects of abortion, for example claiming that "legal abortion might be causing even more harm to women than illegal abortions had". Scientific evidence has conclusively demonstrated that legal abortion is far safer and less stressful for women than criminal abortions. In fact, abortion today is generally beneficial for women, and most women suffer no serious or long-term effects from abortion, either physical or psychological.

Support for Legal Abortion Down Among Youth — Two recent surveys have shown that young Americans are increasingly conservative on the abortion issue. A 2002 UCLA study of 283,000 first-year college students at 437 institutions found that 54% of respondents supported legalized abortion, compared to 67% in 1992. A New York Times/CBS News poll conducted in January polled U.S. residents aged 18 to 29 and found that only 39% agreed that “abortion should be generally available to those who want it,” compared to 48% in 1993. Reasons cited for the trend include a decrease in teenage pregnancy and the reduced stigma of both single parenthood and adoption. However, the reason most commonly cited by youth was receptiveness to the anti-abortion message emphasizing fetal rights.

NOW Loses Extortion and Racketeering Lawsuit — The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in February that the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) was improperly applied to punish anti-choice protesters who attempted to shut down abortion clinics. The ruling lifted a $250,000 damage award and a nationwide injunction enacted by an Illinois jury in 1998. The case was launched by the National Organization of Women (NOW) in 1986 against Joseph Scheidler and his group Pro-Life Action League. The court decided that the violent and illegal actions of the protesters did not meet the definition of extortion under RICO because property was not actually being "obtained" as a result of the crimes. Justice John Paul Stevens' dissent criticized the majority's "murky" opinion and said the main beneficiary of the ruling would be organized crime. U.S. clinics must now rely solely on the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE), which prohibits the use of force, threats, or physical obstruction to injure, intimidate, or interfere with someone trying to obtain or provide an abortion. However, NOW considers FACE to be limited in scope, as it does not reach the organizers of the violence.

Nine-year-old Nicaragua Rape Victim Prohibited From Having Abortion — After pressure from Nicaragua's Catholic church hierarchy, a government medical board ruled against a legal abortion for a 9-year-old Nicaraguan girl, "Rosa," who became pregnant after being raped. Rosa said she didn't want to have a baby because "I don't want to share my toys with another kid. I take care of my toys." Nicaragua allows abortion in cases of sexual abuse, when the woman's life is in danger, and for severe fetal deformities. But the board said the girl faces the same serious medical risks, including death, whether she has an abortion or carries her baby to term. However, childbearing is known to be extremely risky for young girls. Even for healthy adult women, childbirth has 10 times the death rate of legal abortion, and about 25 times the complication rate. Rosa had strong support from women's and human rights groups, as well as from the Nicaraguan public. After the board's decision, three brave Nicaraguan doctors contacted the girl's parents to offer help, and performed a safe, but clandestine abortion at a clinic in Managua.

China Bans Sex-Selection Abortion — In March, the Chinese government banned abortion intended to select the sex of the baby. The new regulation aims to discourage the discriminatory practice of giving preference to male babies over females. China, which has had a one-child policy in place since 1979, is "missing" as many as 500,000 girls because of sex-selection abortion, as well as infanticide or neglect of baby girls. In rural areas especially, Chinese parents often prefer boys because they believe they need boys to carry on the ancestral line.

Another Hard Truth

Inflammatory "Pro-Life" Videos Likely Incite Violence

By William Harrison, MD, Arkansas

Prologue

Just after Dr. Slepian was murdered, I invited a local Pro-Life preacher to join me in a seminar with a four-member panel consisting of him, me, a pro-reproductive freedom minister, and a Pro-Life physician of his choosing, to try to make the issue less prone to incite violence, at least in our community. We were each to select a video supporting our position from our libraries to show before each seminar and I requested that he take the first opportunity at setting the tone of the discussion by showing his the first night. We were to devote two nights of two hours sponsored by the political science student honors group at the University of Arkansas here in Fayetteville. Rev. McCarty told me that he was as interested as I in reducing the potential for violence in our community (sure he was!), so he would choose his least inflammatory video to showcase on the first evening. McCarty brought Hard Truth as his contribution to reducing the potential for violence. Both the minister on my side and I were blind-sided by the grossly inflammatory nature of this video, which neither of us had ever seen, but which has been out there since just before the first shootings began in Springfield, Missouri in 1991. I responded to Hard Truth the next week before I introduced my video. The two discussions were repeatedly shown on the local community access cable channel for the next several weeks, with my rebuttal of Hard Truth, but without a viewing of that video. Here's what I said:

Last Tuesday night I brought up the term "straw man" in conjunction with the partial birth abortion debate. "Straw man" is the term for an image or device used in an argument in order to give one an unfair advantage over his opponent in convincing others of the rightness of his position. A good straw man is one drawn near enough to reality so that those to be convinced are fooled into thinking that the straw man is the real thing.

When we were discussing the format of these seminars, Rev H. D. McCarty assured me that he was reviewing videos and films in order to choose the least inflammatory video or film in his library. The images that we saw in Rev McCarty's short video, Hard Truth, were definitely hard, but were they "truth?"

A nurse who once worked for me was here last week with two friends. After the video was over, one said to her, "I suppose you are accustomed to seeing this." She, appropriately appalled by what she had just seen, replied, "I have never seen anything like that in my life!" Well, I've never seen anything like that either, and I see the face of abortion almost every working day.

A skilled filmmaker can easily fool people who want to see a straw man as the real thing. The pictures shown in that video, all supposed to be of aborted fetuses taken from a dumpster behind a Houston abortion clinic, were a montage of near-term stillbirths and very late second-trimester abortions, with, perhaps, one set of fetal parts from a 12 to 14 week-old fetus. The pictures were taken using a variety of techniques and magnifications from varying distances in order to achieve maximum emotional impact. In fact, in the words of the video's maker, it was made expressly to "horrify" and to "outrage" Pro-Life partisans, and to "inflict excruciating psychic anguish on [women who have had abortions and on] their friends, families and the fathers of their children." And all this is presented as being the result of common abortion practice. After our seminar tonight, I would like to show you the reality. I have brought several specimens from abortions done in my clinic in the past two days. As you view these specimens, I ask you to keep in mind the images that were we all subjected to last Tuesday night.

As pregnancy progresses, a fetus takes on more and more of the external physical attributes and the appearance of a baby. At eighteen weeks or so after conception, the external appearance is so near that of a very premature baby, that the average person has no way to distinguish the two, even though the functional capacities, both mental and physical, of an infant are remarkably different from that of an eighteen-week fetus.

Every abortion results in a fetal death. The face of death, whether of an animal or another person, or a fetus, is always horrifying to a normal person. And the greater the resemblance to ourselves, the more disturbing the images of death become. Some people find it acceptable to kill and eat a fish but would not dream of killing and eating a cow, even more especially, not a dog. Others, who might eat chicken, would refuse to eat the meat of a monkey. Still others consider any carnivorous practice barbarous and morally unacceptable. As an animal becomes more anthropomorphic in both perception and reality—as it comes to look more like us—the greater is our resistance to killing or inflicting pain on that animal. Most carnivorous Americans are repelled at the idea of killing and eating dogs and cats, because we attribute human qualities to our pets. That same emotional process results in greater and greater revulsion in the average viewer at the image and the reality of a dead fetus as a pregnancy nears term.

All of the intact fetuses presented in the video Hard Truth were near-term stillborn infants rather than aborted fetuses. And most of the dismembered fetuses were very late second-trimester fetuses, aborted at a time when less than 1% of all abortions are done. Almost all late second-trimester, and all early third-trimester abortions are done for very serious fetal anomalies or for ominous maternal problems. Because of this false presentation of abortion images, videos and films like Hard Truth can have a very significant emotional impact, even on someone like me who sees the face of abortion every day. Can you imagine the effect it might have on deeply religious people who are told repeatedly by their pastor or priest—a person of maximal moral authority for many religious peoples—that such horrors are occurring every day in a clinic in their town? Horrors that make the Holocaust pale in comparison? And all done (according to the rhetoric of their minister) for the crassest, most trivial and venal of reasons on the part of the "God-defying abortionist", who by his persistent sinful behavior is about to bring down the wrath of God on the entire nation!

In Pro-Life rhetoric, there is no distinction made between an embryo and a baby, a fetus and a person. And indeed, at forty weeks, there is little difference between the brain of a normal fetus and that of a baby only a few days older. But there is a greater functional difference between the brain of an eighteen-week fetus and a six month old baby, than there is between the brain of a baby chicken and a ten year old child. Between a six-week embryo and a forty-week fetus, there is a greater functional nervous system difference than between an oyster and a full-term infant! It takes time for an embryo to become a fully developed human being and for the embryonic nervous system to become the mind of a person. And when the only other idea we have about when a conceptus becomes a person is the religious idea of the soul, then we are on very slippery ground, for different religious traditions have very different ideas about when ensoulment occurs. Do we accept St Augustine's idea—40 days after conception for the male, 90 for a female—or the Jewish and Muslim idea—with the first breath of life? Or do we accept the ideas of the more liberal Protestant sects, or of some authoritative individual, like Jerry Falwell or Pope John Paul II? Remember that Popes, supposedly speaking for God, said for well over 1800 years that the sun and the stars, as well as the moon, circled the earth, and the Church stood ready to torture and to burn at the stake any who tried to proclaim the truth. Popes also said, with full papal authority for four hundred years, that it was a sin to eat meat on Friday. I won't even speak of Falwell's follies!

In a perfect world, no woman would ever get pregnant unless she intended to have a baby, and in a near-perfect world, any woman who got pregnant and decided to abort, would do so within the first twenty-four hours after fertilization. She would not have to wait for a diagnosis of pregnancy and then agonize over the myriad of factors that enter into any woman's decision to abort. But we don't live in those worlds, and very rare late-term abortions (that is, abortions out to twenty-six weeks after the last menstrual period) do occur for a variety of reasons, none trivial, and never for "convenience."

The vast majority of abortions take place before the 18th week of pregnancy, 80% before the 10th week. And the later in pregnancy an abortion is sought, the more compelling the reasons for that abortion.

Rev. McCarty told me in our conversations leading up to the seminars that he wanted to show "the least inflammatory film" on abortion that he had, because he also was interested in quelling anti-abortion violence. I was caught wholly unprepared last Tuesday for what was the most inflammatory anti-abortion film I have ever seen. In fact, the maker of this video feels that it is the most inflammatory anti-abortion video ever made! Had I known the nature of this video, I would have brought surgical specimens from that day's abortions in order to replace the film's images with the reality of actual abortion specimens.

In 1985, a fourteen-year old boy firebombed my clinic after viewing The Silent Scream[3] at one of Rev. McCarty's Pro-Life functions at his church, a video much less inflammatory than Hard Truth. Had he been shown Hard Truth, might his violent tendencies have had even graver consequences for me?

What do you suppose were the words and images that compelled 22-year-old John Salvi, described by his parents and his priest as a "good, quiet Catholic boy," to murder two women and attempt to murder five other people in two Boston area clinics? We will never know the answer to that question, for this good, quiet Catholic boy killed himself shortly after beginning a life sentence without parole, thus committing the deadliest of Catholic sins.

What were the words and images that inspired a Christian minister, Paul Hill, a husband and father of small children, to murder two men and wound a woman in a series of shotgun blasts in Pensacola, Florida?

What were the words, and the pictures worth ten thousand words, that drive all those in the Pro-Life movement who feel morally obligated to murder, and attempt to murder, in Boston, Pensacola, Wichita and Springfield, Missouri? And in Mobile, Vancouver, New Orleans, Winnipeg, Baton Rouge, and in Hamilton, Ontario (and now, in Amherst, NY) to bomb and set fire to clinics, offices, and buildings with no regard for the people who might be inside them? We don't know the answers to these questions, but I believe that it is very significant that all these murders and attempted murders happened after Hard Truth was made and distributed to Pro-Life groups.

Michael Griffin, who murdered Dr. David Gunn, said that he was driven temporarily insane by the images of Hard Truth and the words of those in the radical Pro-Life movement who were active in his church and his community.

I believe Michael Griffin. I believe that he and his victim, David Gunn, and all the other violent offenders are the dupes of—and their victims sacrifices to—the exact words and images that we heard from Rev. McCarty and saw in his "least inflammatory" video, the very same horrifying and outrageous video we saw last Tuesday night. The video, Hard Truth, made expressly to "horrify," "outrage," and to "inflict excruciating psychic pain."

I don't like to talk about my religious values. But in my religion, there are only a few rules: Don't go around hurting people (in other words, do unto others as you would have them do unto you), try to learn about things, and tell the truth about what you have learned. Someone much more eloquent than I once said, "Know the truth, and the truth shall set you free."

To those active in the Pro-Life movement who might be inclined to violence, I say, don't be fooled by false prophets and their false images. Search diligently for the reality behind the straw men that people like Rev. H. D. McCarty and the makers of Hard Truth build in order to deceive you. And please, for my sake and yours, don't you be the next Michael Griffin!

[3] The Silent Scream was discredited by a panel of medical experts in 1985. The panel's thorough rebuttal, titled The Facts Speak Louder, is posted at www.plannedparenthood.org/abortion/silentscream.HTM






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