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a publication of Canada's Pro-Choice Action Network
Spring/Summer 2004 Issue
New Pro-Choice Post-Abortion Support Group
Respecting Feminist Sensibilities
Whether you had an abortion yesterday or 10 years ago, we're here to listen for one session or as many as you like.
Please call to make an appointment. This is an ongoing, free service in a confidential, safe, and caring environment. You can share or not, remain anonymous or not, it's up to you.
The group facilitator could also support a woman's pursuit of counseling in the community.
Sponsored by: The Pro-Choice Action Network and the Vancouver Women's Health Collective. Time: Monday evenings 6 to 7:30 pm. For more information and to make an appointment, contact Lynn: 604-322-4629.
Why a Post Abortion Support Group?
By Lynn Hudson
As we travel along our own path of life experience, for the most part it is a repetition of activities, thoughts, and emotions. The exceptions to our everyday routine, the experiences of intense love or anger, the losses and triumphs make up the stories of our lives. These are the stories we repeat as we make new friends or reminisce with old friends and family, and the telling of our stories strengthens our understandings of who we are, our values and the direction our paths will take. There are also secrets, the experiences that our society silences. Our society has historically controlled women and their bodies by imposing values and morality that maintain a patriarchal, hierarchical power structure. Women have been silenced and isolated from the experiences and support of other women.
Through history, women have found many ways to induce abortion in order to have children only when they are physically, mentally, and emotionally able. In the past century a male-dominated medical system has outlawed the old ways and the practice of women helping women. The medicalization of the natural functions of women’s bodies, along with a media campaign aimed at selling women products to deodorize and sanitize by creating shame around the body's natural functions, are both focused on controlling how women saw and understood their bodies. Remember those commercials for sanitary napkins to protect you from the horror of an accident, the shame of revealing the secret.
The sixties saw a rebellion against the pathologizing of women’s bodies, and the resurgence of women-to-women encounter groups. The discussions around our bodies resulted in the consciousness-raising groups that burned their bras and reveled in the body au natural. There was a powerful patriarchal backlash against the freedom from shame and coercion the feminists offered. Today we feel it in the bureaucratizing and belittling of feminism. The radical political voice of feminism has been silenced so the conservative right can introduce economic policies that further reduce the power and voice of women, minorities, and the poor. Anti-choice groups loudly voice the old patriarchal message of shame and guilt around women’s controlling their own bodies, but with a new twist using fetal images that cut the woman right out of the picture. The fetus is the citizen, the woman only a vessel. It becomes the story of the fetus; a few hundred cells not visible to the naked eye and the woman. Her experience and her story are disregarded.
The stories of women’s experiences around abortion, the control and regulating of a woman’s pregnancy around her physical, mental and emotional well-being, must not be silenced. When a women is making a decision about ending a pregnancy there is often a number of issues that are being dealt with. When our stories around ending a pregnancy are silenced, all those connected issues are also hidden away. These are stories of natural and important parts of most women’s lives, and the silencing of our stories questions our rights over our own bodies. When we share our stories, we share wisdom and knowledge that can inform and save other women from the suffering that comes from having others control our bodies and decide our futures. By women sharing their stories in a safe and confidential environment there is a reclaiming of our voice and the honour of being a woman.
"Women and girls who have abortions may have difficulty expressing their emotions to partners, family and friends. Because abortion is weighted with controversy, many women feel stigmatized, isolated and alone. Fearing criticism, many keep the abortion a secret. The politics and controversy that often surround abortion's legality jeopardizes women's and girls' ability to access appropriate, non-judgmental emotional support. To help end the stigma and isolation faced by women who have abortions, pro-choice counselling provides women with a non-judgmental space in which to share their feelings about an abortion."
— Exhale www.4exhale.org
Canada’s Day of Action for Choice a Success!
Pro-choice Canadians united with a resounding voice for choice on April 25, 2004. The Pro-Choice Canada Coalition of women’s groups, human rights organizations, health educators and professionals, counselors, and concerned citizens gathered in eight Canadian communities to put the spotlight on sexual and reproductive health rights. These events coincided with the March for Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C. where over a million people marched in protest of George W. Bush’s anti-abortion views and legislation.
Pro-choice events occurred in St. John's Nfld., Halifax, Toronto, Ottawa, Saskatoon, Vancouver, and other centres. About 200 people marched in Ottawa, and about 150 in Vancouver, with rallies also held in both cities.
At the Ottawa rally, the Pro-Choice Canada Coalition bestowed a “Lifetime Achievement” award on Dr. Henry Morgentaler. The award recognized and celebrated his contributions and achievements in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights, and his unwavering commitment to the health of women in Canada. Dr. Morgentaler fought Canadian abortion laws for decades and finally succeeded on January 28, 1988, when the Supreme Court of Canada declared the old abortion section of the Criminal Code unconstitutional.
The Pro-Choice Canada Coalition also announced the new Dr. Henry Morgentaler Future Choice Scholarships to ensure choice is available for years to come. Five scholarships of $1,000 each will be awarded annually to a fourth-year medical student as an incentive to access provider training. The Coalition noted that a woman’s right to access safe and legal abortions in Canada is threatened because of a shortage of abortion providers in Canada. Providers are aging and not being replaced by younger doctors. Medical schools in Canada spend an average of less than one hour teaching about abortion throughout a four-year curriculum. The required training is inadequate, and students who wish to become providers of this legal procedure must do so through elective courses and externships.
Canada's Day of Action for Choice was sponsored and coordinated by the Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada and the Pro-Choice Action Network in Vancouver, who put together the Pro-Choice Canada Coalition that helped organize events across Canada.
The Coalition urges pro-choice Canadians to continue action on choice in Canada:
- Inform yourself and inform others of the abortion rights and access situation in your own community.
- Defend the basic and fundamental human right of individuals to control their reproductive health.
- Encourage government to enforce compliance with the Canada Health Act to ensure services exist in all provinces and territories and ensure all provincial governments remove abortion from their ‘excluded’ list for reciprocal billing. The Act guarantees comprehensive, universal, accessible and portable health care for all Canadians.
- Support organizations such as Medical Students for Choice, to ensure the availability of trained abortion providers in the future.
Canada News Bytes
New Pro-choice Group in Canada — In May, Canadians for Choice was formed in Ottawa. The group is a non-profit charitable organization dedicated to ensuring reproductive choice for all Canadians, through education, research, training, and public policy. Although abortion was removed from the criminal code in 1988, Canadians for Choice notes that it is still inaccessible to the vast majority of Canadian women. The group hopes to remove barriers to abortion access, including improving hospital access. Please visit its new website at: www.canadiansforchoice.ca
Contraceptive Patch Available — In January, the contraceptive patch Evra became available at Canadian pharmacies, 18 months following approval by Health Canada. Evra is a transdermal contraceptive, worn as a patch, and provides the same protection as birth control pills.
Columnists Allowed Opinions — On March 5, the Ontario Press Council (OPC) rejected a complaint filed by the associate editor of the anti-choice newspaper The Interim. Tony Gosnach complained that an article and two columns written by the Globe and Mail's Heather Mallick, about Henry Morgentaler and his Toronto clinic, violated "seven separate journalistic conventions”. The OPC, however, said it "saw the column as falling within the bounds of its policy statement, which says it believes it is appropriate for columnists to exercise wide latitude in expressing their opinions, no matter how controversial or unpopular the opinions may be."
Anti-Choice Cannot Intervene — When Dr. Morgentaler filed a lawsuit against the province of New Brunswick because of its refusal to fund his clinic, the Coalition for Life and Health formed in order to petition for intervenor status in the case. Peter Ryan heads the Coalition, representing eight groups including New Brunswick Right to Life, Focus on Family, and Catholic Diocese of Saint John. They wanted to argue that abortion should not be funded. In April, however, Justice David Russell denied their request.
StatsCan Releases 2001 Abortion Figures — According to Statistics Canada, women obtained 106,418 abortions in 2001, a slight increase of almost 1%, from 105,427 in 2000. The rate of abortion also marginally increased from 15.4 abortions per 1,000 women in 2000 to 15.6 abortions per 1,000 women in 2001.
Jailed Anti-Choicer Sues — In April, anti-choice activist Bill Whatcott of Edmonton, launched a civil suit against the Prince Albert, Sask. police for what he alleges was a "bad application of the law." Whatcott had displayed graphic anti-abortion posters in a residential area. He refused police orders to stop displaying the five-foot posters and was charged with obstruction of police. Prince Albert police cited an outstanding $34 parking ticket from the city of Regina as grounds for putting Whatcott in jail. He is seeking up to $50,000 in damages.
Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) Blights Canadian Campuses — In March, offensive "GAP" displays, which compare pictures of aborted fetuses to real genocide victims, appeared at several universities in Canada. Campuses included the U of British Columbia, U College of the Cariboo, Okanagan U College, U of Alberta, U of Manitoba, U of Toronto, and Carleton U in Ottawa. (Local campus anti-choice groups sponsor GAP, in conjunction with the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform). At the U of Alberta and Carleton, the university administration refused access to GAP, but students set up the GAP anyway, a couple feet off university property. The U of Toronto also set restrictions which GAP disobeyed. Sponsors of GAP are well-known for callously and unethically shoving GAP propaganda down the throats of students. Many students were outraged and upset by the displays, because they liken women who have abortions to genocidal murderers.
GAP-style Demonstrations On Rise? — In late April, an anti-choice "Show the Truth" demonstration replete with large GAP-style signs occurred in Hamilton Ontario. The dozen protesters demonstrated outside eight locations, including four high schools and McMaster University. Protesters included Rosemary Connell, Bill Whatcott of Edmonton, Dr. Carmelo Scime of Hamilton, and Robert Hinchey of Toronto. The protest generated some outrage in the community and a debate in local newspapers.
Flirting with Fetal Rights — In April, the Private Bills Committee of the Alberta legislature considered a bill that would allow 3-year old Brooklynn Rewega to sue her mom, Lisa Rewega, for injuries she suffered in a car accident before she was born. The family hopes to get more than the $200,000 that has been offered by the insurance company. Although the law would apply only to that family, Alberta Justice fears it carries broader implications, and would encourage lawsuits against women who drink while pregnant.
Medically Necessary Procedures Not Taught — In April an anonymous medical student in his last year at the University of Manitoba Medical School, was reinstated in good standing. He was threatened for years with failure for his unwillingness to partake in any abortion-related activity. The Christian student had lost three successive appeals on a failing grade in an Obstetrics and Gynecology portion of his program for his refusal to perform or refer for any abortive procedure.
Forced Abortion — In May, Gary Bourgeois of Montreal, was sentenced to one year in jail on charges of aggravated assault and administering a toxic substance for causing his former girlfriend to miscarry at 14 weeks. He slipped methotrexate into her vagina in September 2000, after she had refused to have an abortion. When she began having stomach cramps and bleeding, he drove her to hospital and left her at the emergency room. She miscarried shortly after.
Anti-choicer has Prime Minister Charged — In April, BC anti-choice activist Gordon Watson had charges laid against Prime Minister Paul Martin, Vancouver Sun publisher Dennis Skulsky, columnist Pete McMartin, Premier Gordon Campbell, and Const. Sheila Vanstone of the Vancouver police. They were charged with peddling newspapers without a license, and/or for "soliciting funds for charity without required licence,” contrary to a Vancouver city bylaw. In September 2003, they sold newspapers on the sidewalk as part of the Sun's Raise-a-Reader campaign. Watson petitioned a judge to lay charges, arguing that others should be held to the same standard as him—he was arrested outside Everywoman's Health Centre for distributing pamphlets, a violation of the Access to Abortion Services Act. Although the judge reluctantly laid charges, they were dropped in May.
Protesters Granted Leave to Appeal Bubble Zone Conviction — In June 29, the BC Court of Appeal ruled that anti-choicers Gordon Watson and Donald Spratt may appeal their convictions for violating the Access to Abortion Services Act in 1998. Leave was granted on freedom of expression grounds, and whether the Act's restriction of free speech is justified under Section 1 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which allows restrictions on basic human rights if there are compelling circumstances. The appeal court judge said that the freedom of expression argument was not fully developed in previous cases. He rejected other issues raised by the defendants, including the question of fetal rights, and whether the province had jurisdiction to enact a law that allegedly intrudes on federal criminal law.
Over-the-Counter Emergency Contraception Coming Soon — In May, Canada's Health Minister Pierre Pettigrew proposed an amendment to the Food and Drug Regulations to allow a 0.75 milligram dose of levonorgestrel (emergency contraception, or the "morning after pill") to be available without a doctor's prescription. This would allow provinces to make the pills available after consultation with pharmacists. BC, Quebec, and Saskatchewan already sell emergency contraception over the counter. There will be 75 days of public consultation before the amendment takes effect.
Teenage boy threatens to kill pregnant girlfriend —A 17-year old Kitchener boy pled guilty to assault in June after he threatened to kill his 5-months pregnant girlfriend by slitting her wrists. She had refused to get an abortion or give her baby up for adoption. The teenage boy will be sentenced in August. Initially he had faced a charge of assault with a weapon.
New Winnipeg Clinic Gets Funding — In April, Dr. Henry Morgentaler sold his Winnipeg clinic to a group of 18 Winnipeg women. They renamed it Jane's Clinic, turned it into a non-profit, and announced their intention to bill the province for abortion services. At first, the province refused to fund the clinic, saying it was going to open a new clinic on its own. However, after further negotiations, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority finally agreed to start fully funding Jane's Clinic as of July 1st. A WRHA spokesperson said that Jane's Clinic will ultimately function as the abortion arm of a new and expanded Women's Health Clinic. The interim funding settlement marks the end of years of bitter disputes between the province and the original Morgentaler Clinic. Now there are only three holdout provinces in Canada that still refuse to fully fund abortions in clinics, in violation of the Canada Health Act.
March for Life in Ottawa Attracts 20 MP's —Campaign for Life held its annual March for Life in Ottawa, with an estimated 3,500 participants. Almost 20 Conservative and Liberal MP's attended, most of them delivering short speeches. The march and rally was followed by a "Silent No More Awareness" campaign, in which women advocated taking away the right to choose from all women, simply because they personally regret their own abortion. Protesters also picketed the Ottawa Morgentaler clinic. Other May anti-choice protests occurred in Edmonton and Fredericton. As well, an April 25 counter-march took place in Ottawa to protest Canada's Day of Action for Choice.
"We're [making emergency contraception available over the counter to] help women, often younger women, who are facing difficult circumstances, sometimes at a moment when they're trying to build a life for themselves in the future." — Pierre Pettigrew, Health Minister,
May 19, Chronicle Herald
March for Women's Lives Largest in History
The March for Women's Lives was a huge and phenomenal success, far surpassing the expectations of march organizers. The historic march took place on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on April 25. An estimated 1,150,000 participants participated, making it the largest Washington march in history for any cause. Organizers devised a brilliant and effective counting method. Marchers were hand-counted by 2,500 dedicated counting volunteers who distributed "Count me in" stickers to virtually every marcher. At the same time, each marcher's name and email address were recorded onto an informal voter's registry in preparation for the U.S. November election. 1,150,000 marchers made it onto the list. In spite of this evidence, most media reports cited fewer marchers, no more than 800,000, but often considerably less.
Dozens of Canadians attended the march, including many from BC, and several members of the Pro-Choice Action Network. It was an inspiring experience for Canadians to see so much passionate and strong support for abortion rights in the U.S. The sight of 1.15 million marchers was absolutely incredible. The marchers filled the entire mall, and then the entire march route from end to end.
Before the march, anti-choice groups had been bragging about how they were going to overwhelm the "few thousand" pro-choice marchers with a large counter-protest all along the march route. Marchers from BC's Pro-Choice Action Network actually did a rough count, and there were at most, about 500 anti-choice protesters lining the sidewalks. By the time Pro-CAN's marchers passed by, within the first third of the march, the protesters appeared either angry, glum, or stricken. Because there were so few of them, they left many holes along the sidewalks. Marchers quickly filled these gaps by stopping temporarily to stand alongside the anti-choice protesters, until even the sidewalks were mostly taken over by pro-choice marchers. This greatly deflated the impact of the anti-choice protesters and boosted the morale of the marchers. Unfortunately, the media made a point of focusing on the anti-choice protesters, who received far more coverage than warranted by their paltry numbers.
Many celebrities and pro-choice leaders spoke at the march and rally, including Gloria Steinem, Hillary Clinton, Whoopi Goldberg, Kathleen Turner, Cybill Shepherd, and the leaders of most major pro-choice groups. Live bands entertained the massive crowd after the march.
The march was organized by seven groups: American Civil Liberties Union, Black Women's Health Imperative, Feminist Majority, NARAL Pro-Choice America, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, National Organization for Women and Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Extremely Trying Times
By Shannon Stettner
Four anti-abortion extremists, accused or convicted of various crimes, are at different stages of the judicial process in the U.S. Their cases demonstrate the continued need for vigilance. Hopefully, their sentencing will deter future crimes and help to further marginalize the extremist wing of the anti-choice movement.
Anti-abortion extremist John Burt, 66, ran a home for unwed mothers in Milton, Florida. His brand of “support” has led to his arrest and conviction on five counts of lewd or lascivious molestation or conduct with a child under 16. He was sentenced to 224 months in prison on May 21. He was released on a $10,000 bond, however, pending an appeal of his conviction.
On May 11, the trial of David Wayne Hull began in Pittsburgh. Hull is a member of the KKK, an adherent of the racist Christian Identity religion, and has links to the Aryan Nation. He is charged with possessing, manufacturing, and transferring a pipe bomb. He had also planned to buy hand grenades to blow up abortion clinics.
On February 13, Stephen John Jordi of Coconut Creek, Florida, pled guilty in federal court to one count of attempted arson. He was accused of plotting to firebomb abortion clinics, gay bars, and churches that weren't sufficiently anti-abortion. Both Jordi's brother and his pastor reported his plans to the FBI. He had been befriended by an FBI informant, who testified about Jordi’s plans. He was caught with bomb materials and firearms last November. He faces a prison sentence of five to 20 years, plus a fine of up to $250,000. In May, federal prosecutors asked that Jordi be sentenced as a terrorist. They want more than the mandatory minimum term of five years and argued that the charge does not reflect the nationwide campaign of terror Jordi had planned against abortion clinics.
The lead-up to the trial of serial bombing suspect Eric Rudolph, who was charged in the fatal 1998 bombing at a Birmingham abortion clinic, has been eventful. In January, his attorneys filed a motion to have his trial moved out of Alabama, citing an "intolerable bias" against Rudolph because most residents have heard of the case, believe Rudolph is guilty, and support a death sentence. In June, however, a judge announced the trial would remain in Birmingham. Rudolph’s lawyers were successful, however, at winning a postponement of the August trial until May 2005, despite arguments from the prosecutors who claimed that potential witnesses already have died and more delays would hurt their case.
Rudolph’s defence lawyers have also attacked the prosecution’s witnesses and evidence. In April, they argued that nurse Emily Lyons, who was nearly killed in the bombing, should not be allowed to testify at the sentencing stage, calling such testimony "highly inflammatory evidence," prejudicial, and barred by past Supreme Court rulings. They also that witnesses saw a group of three people, any of whom could have planted the bomb. As well, Rudolph’s lawyers are looking for evidence that the laboratory tests linking him to the bombing were flawed, and in May, prosecutors agreed to provide defence lawyers with their data.
U.S. News Bytes
"Partial Birth" Ban Ruled Unconstitutional —The federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which President Bush signed into law last year has been ruled unconstitutional by a federal court in San Francisco. The ban outlawed most abortions as early as 12 to 15 weeks in pregnancy, including safe ones that are the best to protect women's health. The law did not contain an exemption for women's health. There are still court rulings pending in two other similar lawsuits against the ban, one launched by the National Abortion Federation, and one by several doctors in Nebraska. Decisions in those are expected mid-August.
Supreme Court Almost Overturned Roe v. Wade in 1992 — The papers of the late Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun were made public in March. They revealed that the Court came very close to overturning Roe v. Wade in 1992 in the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision. Initially, the judges voted 5-4 to overturn Roe, with Justice Rehnquist having already written the majority decision. Then, Justice Anthony Kennedy changed his mind and sided with the pro-Roe judges. Blackmun authored the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that legalized abortion in all 50 states, a decision that brought him more than 60,000 angry letters and repeated threats on his life.
Stillbirth Results in Murder Charges — In March, a pregnant woman in Utah, Melissa Ann Rowland, was charged with murder and "depraved indifference to human life" after one of her twin babies was stillborn. The other twin survived. Rowland was accused of ignoring a doctor's recommendation that she have a Caesarean section, even though doctors' opinions are just opinions, and often wrong. Rowland has pled innocent.
Boy Shoots Girlfriend at Clinic — In April, 17-year-old Jeffrey Fitzhenry opened fire inside the waiting room of the Women's Health Clinic, an abortion clinic in Palm Desert, California. He shot his 16-year old girlfriend in the neck as she was waiting to have an abortion. She is now a paraplegic. Fitzhenry fled the scene, but was captured and arrested about six hours later. At the time of the shooting, anti-abortion protesters were outside, and Fitzhenry had spoken to them before going inside. In May, the girl's family filed a $50 million lawsuit against Fitzhenry. He has been charged with attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon.
FDA Rejects Over-the-Counter Emergency Contraception— In May, the Food and Drug Administration rejected over-the-counter sales of emergency contraception (EC, or the morning-after pill), claiming there was no evidence that teens younger than 16 could safely use EC without a doctor's advice. Pro-choice groups angrily denounced the move, accusing the FDA of bowing to anti-choice political pressure. In a highly unusual move, the agency had overruled its own scientific advisers, who had overwhelmingly called easier access to EC a safe way to abortion. The FDA has since said they will reconsider their decision and even the Bush administration has said the FDA would likely reverse its decision.
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