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Pro-Choice Press

a publication of Canada's Pro-Choice Action Network

Spring 2005 Issue

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Winning Choice on Abortion: a Book Review

By Joyce Arthur

An exciting new book on the feminist "herstory" of the abortion rights movement in BC and Canada has recently been published by a Vancouver pro-choice activist. In her book Winning Choice on Abortion, author Ann Thomson brings alive the struggle and the personalities of the many women who were instrumental in securing abortion rights in the 1960s and 1970s, the earliest days of the feminist movement in Canada.

Thomson leaves room in her book for the integral and monumental contribution of Dr. Henry Morgentaler to the abortion rights cause in Canada, but she goes much further in doing what no other book has ever done before - she pays great tribute to the achievements of feminists and the women's rights movement in establishing abortion rights. Even though I'm a long-time pro-choice activist myself, many of the stories and women in the book were unknown to me. Thomson really brings home the strength and courage of these brave women at the forefront of the struggle. They fought for "free abortion on demand" at a time when feminism and the idea of equality for women were still openly ridiculed and discounted in our society.

The very first chapter opens with the beginning of BC's "women's liberation" movement in 1968 - the formation of the Women's Caucus by students at Simon Fraser University. Motivated by issues such as equal jobs and equal pay, the Women's Caucus also embraced the causes of birth control and abortion. From an early stage, abortion became a focal point for the group, which soon began an "Abortion Information Service". So swamped were they with calls, that the Women's Caucus had to quickly search for doctors willing to perform illegal abortions. They soon found Vancouver's Dr. Robert Makaroff, as well as a doctor in Los Angeles. After Canada's abortion law was liberalized in 1969, they were able to persuade other local doctors to perform legal abortions at Vancouver General Hospital. However, demand far exceeded supply at the hospital, and after the kindly and compassionate Dr. Makaroff was arrested for performing illegal abortions, the Women's Caucus turned their efforts to getting rid of the abortion law completely. They began to lobby the government and medical profession, but to no avail. Then came the idea for the historic Abortion Caravan.

On April 27, 1970, the Abortion Caravan set out from Vancouver, complete with several vehicles and about 19 women from Vancouver. On its way to Ottawa, the group stopped at many towns and cities to host demonstrations and public meetings, publicizing their cause. Subsisting on the generosity of supporters across Canada, the women stayed in church basements and were fed chili dinners at nearly every stop, because some advance publicity had mentioned that as an example of the support they needed on their journey. The Abortion Caravan garnered a lot of valuable publicity enroute to Ottawa, and picked up hundreds more supporters, mostly from Ontario. On May 9, a scheduled meeting in Ottawa with the Minister of Justice ended in disappointment after the Justice Minister refused to attend. In response, hundreds of women decided to crash Prime Minister Trudeau's residence at 24 Sussex Drive, where they successfully deployed a coffin on his front lawn to represent the deaths of thousands of Canadian women from illegal and unsafe abortion. The coffin was ceremoniously piled high with objects women used for such abortions - knitting needles, a Lysol container, a vacuum cleaner hose. But the next day, Mother's Day, was the planned big event. Caravan members selected about 30 women to attend Parliament as visitors. With their visitors' tickets in hand, and bicycle chains and a photocopied speech hidden in their purses, they selected seats apart from each other in the Visitor's Gallery, and discreetly chained themselves to their chairs.

In the middle of a dull question period in the House of Commons, one woman stood up and began loudly reciting the speech demanding repeal of the abortion law. When security guards made a beeline for her, another feminist popped up on the other side of the gallery, continuing the same speech. And so it went, with security guards frantically dashing around to shut the women up, and more women bolting to their feet to proclaim their demand. While some outraged MP's protested, others just stared in alarm or amazement, while still others laughed or thumped their desks. One MP congratulated the "young ladies" for having "guts" and for getting their point across. It took so long for security guards to cut the chains off all the women, that Parliament was closed for the first time in history. The next day, nearly every newspaper in the country carried the story of the Abortion Caravan's climax on page one.

Those confrontations in Ottawa were watershed events, lending strength and momentum to the burgeoning women's movement. Winning Choice on Abortion details the ensuing struggles to repeal the abortion law over the next two decades, such as the painful and protracted hospital board elections during the late 1970s and 1980s in BC. Anti-abortionists campaigned to elect anti-choice boards, which could then be counted upon to disband or render toothless the hospital's therapeutic abortion committee required to approve abortions. At some election meetings, thousands attended to vote one way or the other. Sometimes the anti-choice side won, sometimes the pro-choice won.

Other groups came on board to fight for abortion rights during those two decades, as well as to support Dr. Henry Morgentaler in his legal battles. These groups included Concerned Citizens for Choice on Abortion (CCCA) in BC, the Canadian Association to Repeal the Abortion Law (CARAL - later renamed to Canadian Abortion Rights Action League), the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics, and later in BC, the BC Coalition for Abortion Clinics (BCCAC - which later became the Pro-Choice Action Network).

The BCCAC opened BC's first abortion clinic in 1988, the Everywoman's Health Centre. Winning Choice on Abortion tells the whole dramatic story of this clinic, including the nearly impossible struggle to raise the money to buy it, the political and media battles surrounding it, the large Operation Rescue blockades the clinic was subjected to in its early days, and the novel process of getting court injunctions against the protesters.

Dr. Morgentaler's great victory at the Supreme Court in January 1988, when Canada's abortion law was finally thrown out, was a great moment in Canadian history, one that caused great excitement and optimism in the pro-choice movement. The aftermath in BC of the Supreme Court decision is told with dramatic flair, starring the flamboyant Bill VanderZalm as BC's devoutly Roman Catholic premier. VanderZalm decided he didn't like the Supreme Court decision and pledged not only to ignore it, but to rescind public funding for hospital abortions. After a two-month battle in which he refused to budge, in spite of just about everyone being against him, a BC court ruled against his ban on abortion funding. When VanderZalm was forced to resign in 1991 because of a financial gift scandal, it was widely held that his arrogant stance on abortion was what cost him his credibility. As Thomson notes, "Pro-choice activists took satisfaction in knowing that many pundits agreed with them: abortion toppled the BC government."

Thomson herself was intimately involved in many aspects of the pro-choice effort in BC and spent twenty active years in the movement before writing her book, which is both engrossing and well-written. Trained as an historian, she interviewed nearly 50 people, drawing on her personal background to explore the complex feminist, government, and social forces that played a part in securing abortion rights in Canada. The result is a richly detailed and gratifying history, one that celebrates the accomplishments of BC women in particular. It is highly recommended for anyone who enjoys reading about the accomplishments of strong and courageous women, of whom Ann Thomson is certainly one herself.

Winning Choice on Abortion: How British Columbia and Canadian Feminists Won the Battles of the 1970s and 1980s. by Ann Thomson. 336 pages. $31.45. More information and order form: Trafford Publishing: Or order directly from author Ann Thomson,

Women in chains for a long, long time,
Use our bodies, ignore our minds
Keep your eyes on the prize, Hold on!
The only thing we ever did right,
Was when we decided to go and fight
Keep your eyes on the prize, Hold on!
Going to Ottawa with our cause,
Sisters murdered by abortion laws
Keep your eyes on the prize, Hold on!
Hold on, hold on, keep your eyes on the prize,
Hold on!

— Abortion Caravan song lyrics
page 49, Winning Choice on Abortion


Catholic Teachings Don't Help Teens

By Lisa Pelaccia

As a former Catholic high school student, I would like to voice concern about the Catholic school board's official stance on sex education, more specifically what seems to be the central tenet of sex education: abstain until marriage.

In teaching teens to abstain, the use of condoms and birth control is discouraged. This is dangerous considering that some studies have estimated that two-thirds of students will have sex before the end of their high school careers. Plus, a teenage couple engaging in sexual intercourse on a regular basis without using a reliable method of birth control, are destined to be faced with an unplanned pregnancy that can result in devastating consequences. Since women still shoulder most of the childrearing responsibilities, despite living in so-called enlightened times, an unplanned pregnancy will likely have a more profound impact on the teenage girl.

For instance, teenage mothers are less likely to complete high school, and even more unlikely to pursue a post-secondary education. They are also more likely to be poor and dependent on government assistance. "Counselors" at crisis pregnancy centres such as "Birthright" fail to mention these consequences to the desperate, naïve teenage girls who go to them seeking guidance and support. They are unaware of the counselors' political agenda, which is allowed to trump what is in the best interest of the girl or woman. The anti-choice staff members do not take individual circumstances into consideration. It does not matter to them whether the pregnancy was a product of rape or incest, or if it could threaten a woman's health. To them, there is only one right answer, regardless of the situation. Abortion is wrong, and should not be permitted under any circumstances.

One need only walk down the halls of a Catholic high school to see for themselves that the "Just don't do it!" message is falling on deaf ears. At the high school I attended, it was not uncommon to see young girls strolling down the halls, swollen bellies protruding - some of them pregnant with their second or even third child, most with little social support. Furthermore, these visible reminders do not include those girls who chose to terminate their pregnancies, despite the self-righteous condemnation of their choice by the Catholic Church.

Depriving teens of access to sexual health information is foolish and irresponsible. While "abstinence only" education might delay the initiation of sexual activity for some youth, it does nothing for those students who are already involved in a sexual relationship. More importantly, studies have shown that having effective sex education programs in place, rather than increasing the likelihood that teens will go out and have sex, instead increases the chances that students will be safe and protected when they do decide to have sex.

Good sex education programs provide teens with accurate, unbiased information on disease and pregnancy prevention, and also include information on same-sex relationships, emergency contraception, and abortion, without resorting to scare tactics or moralizing. The goal is not to make sex seem frightening and unpleasurable, but to equip teens with the information they need to make thoughtful and responsible decision regarding their sexual behaviour.

All too often in Catholic learning institutions, the teachings of the Catholic Church are emphasized in the classroom, and presented as absolute truth. There is no room for discussion or debate. For instance, I remember one teacher in particular who used her classroom as a pulpit to preach her anti-choice views, with no consideration or regard for those students who might take offence, or how a girl who might have had an abortion might feel, as she was forced to listen to her mindless rhetoric.
She kept a copy of "Pro-life News" in plain sight on her desk, and distributed literature that described various abortion procedures in an inaccurate and sensational manner, which had been produced by none other than the local "Right to Life Association." When I dared to object, I was promptly removed from the classroom at the teacher's insistence, despite the fact that she admitted that prior to this "incident" I had been an exemplary student who excelled in class, and had never given her any problems.

This same teacher allowed a statement by a fellow classmate blaming the AIDS epidemic on the homosexual population to go unchallenged, and referred to a trans-gendered student as an "it," much to the amusement of a group of homophobic students who took great pleasure in taunting and teasing this individual. At one point, I voiced my concerns to the principal, and was told that if I took issue with the "values" espoused by the Catholic Church, perhaps I should consider attending a public school instead. And that was the end of that conversation. Apparently, ignorance, hatred, and intolerance are "values" that the Catholic Church hold dear, and would like to pass on to young people.

What bothered me the most was not that this particular teacher's view on abortion and homosexuality different substantially from my own, but that she chose to ignore her most important role as an educator. Instead of teaching her students how to think for themselves (not what to think) and encouraging thought and dialogue, she attempted to impose her own personal religious and philosophical views on her students. While she had the right to voice an opinion, she should have emphasized that it was just an opinion, not a fact, and at least took some time to present and examine a differing viewpoint.

Knowing what I do about the teachings of the Catholic Church, and their bearing on the curriculum, I firmly believe that children attending public schools are not only receiving a better quality of education, but are learning important values such as respect and tolerance for other people's differences, including differences of religious, philosophical, and political opinions. Much of what is taught in Catholic schools is not fact, but propaganda, and is based on antiquated religious views about sexuality and the role of women in society.

I agree that sex education is primarily the responsibility of a young person's parents. In an ideal world, a teen should be able to approach her parents with sexual questions and concerns, and expect open and knowledgeable dialogue to follow.

However, many parents do not know how to handle this delicate subject. Because their own parents never discussed sex with them, the subject remains taboo in their minds. Many are still struggling to deal with feelings of guilt and shame about their own sexual needs and desires, resulting from growing up in a sex-phobic culture that sends mixed messages. Others may erroneously believe that if they broach the subject, their teens might see it as encouragement of sexual experimentation or activity. This is just not the case.

While I agree that teens should be encouraged to abstain until they are mature enough to understand and deal with any potential problems that might arise, it is also important to let them know that having sexual feelings, desires, or curiosities is normal and healthy and nothing to be ashamed of. It's also important to let them know that at the right time and with the right person, sex can be a fulfilling and enriching aspect of their lives. And let's not forget fun!

Conservative Party: Finally Pro-Choice?

The abortion issue may finally be dead in Canada, politically speaking. At the March convention for the federal Conservative Party of Canada in Montreal, delegates formally rejected re-opening the abortion debate when they voted not to try and pass new legislation regulating abortion. The convention's 2,900 delegates voted 55% in favour of maintaining the status quo on abortion, with 45% opposed.

The move was an endorsement of the stand taken by leader Stephen Harper, who earlier announced he would not introduce legislation to regulate abortion if he was elected prime minister. A second resolution had also been up for debate, calling for a "ban on the performing and funding of third trimester partial birth abortions, also known as dilation and evacuation." This resolution was not dealt with after the first resolution passed.

The two contradictory motions highlighted the deep divisions in the party over the abortion issue. The social-conservative faction tried to return the party to its right-wing Alliance roots, while more moderate conservatives, including the remnants of the former Progressive Conservative Party, advocated a tolerant position on social issues. Relieved pro-choice delegates said the decision would "instantly" make the party a viable force in the next election, especially for female voters.

According to the Canadian Press, the vote represents what may be a "historic shift" in the abortion issue, which a reporter called "one of the most divisive, bitter, and longstanding morality debates this country has ever seen." The article noted that the Conservative Party was the "lone remaining mainstream political vehicle for the anti-abortion movement." (March 19, 2005, Conservatives reject legislating on abortion in historic party vote, Alexander Panetta).

The Conservative Party's internal battle with abortion stems from last June's federal election, when several right-wing candidates spoke out against abortion or called for regulations on abortion. They were soundly vilified by the media and Liberal candidates during the campaign, forcing Stephen Harper to proclaim at every turn that he would not be supporting any new legislation against abortion. Many pundits blamed the ensuing Conservative election loss, at least in part, on the intemperate outbursts of its anti-abortion candidates.
However, that election lesson did not stop Conservative MP Garry Breitkreuz (Yorkton-Melville, Saskatchewan) from introducing Private Members Motion M-6 last October. The bill would have granted pregnant women the "right" to full disclosure from their doctors of the "dangers" of abortion. It also called for "penalties for physicians who perform an abortion without the informed consent of the mother or perform an abortion that is not medically necessary." Given the new official pro-choice stance for the Conservatives, this bill will hopefully die a quick and quiet death.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the new pro-choice policy will really end divisions in the party, let alone curb the introduction of private members' bills trying to regulate abortion. Anti-choice delegates at the convention unanimously declared that they would live to debate the abortion issue another day. Something that might help them do that is a resolution that delegates passed to allow free votes on issues such as "abortion, the definition of marriage, and euthanasia." On the plus side, removed from the party's platform were planks calling for general referendums, as well as referendums for constitutional amendments.

Enforcing the Law: Provinces vs. the Canada Health Act

By Shannon Stettner

Although the Supreme Court of Canada struck down restrictions against abortion 17 years ago, Canadian women still confront barriers to reproductive control. Access to abortion facilities and funding for abortions remain hurdles yet to be overcome in many regions. The failure of provinces to pay for the procedure in clinics contravenes the Canada Health Act. Yet, two provinces, Quebec and New Brunswick, have still not rectified this problem. Pro-choice proponents have instigated court challenges in both provinces that will hopefully lead to a long overdue, just ruling.

The battle for clinic funding has finally been won in Manitoba. In 2001, two Manitoba women known as Jane Doe No. 1 and Jane Doe No. 2, filed a class-action suit on behalf of all women in that province. Their complaint focused on the province's refusal to fund abortions at the private Morgentaler Clinic in Winnipeg. Facing waits of four to eight weeks for province-paid procedures at the hospital, both women opted to pay for their abortions at the clinic where they received the procedures within a week. Refusing to pay, the Manitoba government argued in court that women do not have the right to dictate when and where they can have therapeutic abortions.

In December however, Associate Chief Justice Jeffrey Oliphant ruled in favour of the Jane Does, stating that the government had committed a "gross violation" of their rights. Specifically, he ruled, "In my view, legislation that forces women to have to stand in line in an overburdened, publicly funded health-care system and to have to wait for a therapeutic abortion, a procedure that probably must be performed in a timely manner, is a gross violation of the right of women to both liberty and security of the person." Oliphant's 25-page decision struck down sections of Manitoba's Health Insurance Act on the grounds that they violate the Charter. This finding allows for thousands of Manitoban women to seek compensation for the hundreds of dollars they spent procuring private abortions. In January, the Manitoba government appealed the court ruling, saying it had to protect its right to decide how health-care dollars are spent.

Another important development in Manitoba occurred in April 2004, when eighteen pro-choice women bought the Morgentaler Clinic, renaming it Jane's Clinic. Three months later and before Oliphant's decision, Manitoba began funding abortions at the clinic, finally bringing the province into compliance with the Canada Health Act.

Soon after his appointment as Federal Health Minister, Ujjal Dosanjh began to address the issue of provincial funding of abortions at clinics. In October 2004, he launched new talks with New Brunswick over its refusal to pay for abortions at the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton. Dosajnh said he was "very concerned" that New Brunswick consistently ranked among the most difficult provinces for a woman to get an abortion and instructed the province in its responsibility to cover the cost of all abortions performed by doctors in the province: "You have right across the country, provinces saying [abortion] is a medically necessary service," said Dosanjh. "And when it's a medically necessary service, whether it's provided in a hospital or a clinic, it must be funded. It's as simple as that."

In 2003, 602 women paid between $500 and $750 to have an abortion at the Freder-icton clinic. Currently, the province only pays for abortions that are both performed in hospitals and approved by two doctors, as per a provincial regulation that is both illegal and unconstitutional (see press release below). In January, Dosanjh told provincial Health Minister Elvy Robichaud that he will enforce the Canada Health Act against New Brunswick. Dosanjh said if it can't be settled amicably, a dispute avoidance and resolution process will be invoked, and financial penalties may apply from the federal government.

"This is about a fundamental issue of a right to choose, and the right to choose is meaningless unless you fund abortions adequately and appropriately across the country. There is no exception to that rule," Dosanjh said. Robichaud has repeatedly vowed that the province will not fund abortions at the Morgentaler Clinic, saying that access is adequate at hospitals, even though only one hospital in New Brunswick regularly performs abortions and women usually have to travel to access services.

In 2003, Dr. Henry Morgentaler initiated a still-ongoing lawsuit against the New Brunswick government for failure to pay physician and facilities fees at his clinic. A coalition of anti-choice groups tried to obtain intervener status in the lawsuit, but a judge denied the coalition's application, noting the lawsuit dealt primarily with financial issues, and the coalition's preoccupation with the morality of abortion was not relevant. The coalition appealed to the province's highest court, but lost again in January.

"It is not my right, and it is not really my place, to tell the women of the country what they should or shouldn't do. It's their choice and we must respect that choice in the way we deal with our health-care system."

— Federal Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh
New Brunswick Telegraph Journal
October 9, 2004

New Brunswick's
Anti-Abortion Law an "Embarrassment" to Canada

Pro-CAN press release issued January 31, 2005

Pro-choice activists applaud Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh's determination to ensure that New Brunswick obeys the law by funding abortions at the Fredericton Morgentaler Clinic. New Brunswick is the only province in Canada that is still enforcing an illegal law that restricts abortion.

"New Brunswick's regulation is unconstitutional on its face, and insulting to women," said Joyce Arthur of the Pro-Choice Action Network. "It imposes completely arbitrary and unnecessary obstacles to abortion that discriminate against women who can't pay or who can't negotiate the bureaucratic process. As a result, many women can't get an abortion in time, or at all."

Calling the abortion regulation an "an embarrassment to Canada," Arthur explained that "Canada is respected internationally as one of the most pro-choice countries in the world because we have no laws against abortion. That's because our Charter of Rights guarantees equality to women, which includes freedom of choice on abortion. Yet here's New Brunswick, forcing women to jump through unconstitutional hoops before they can access a necessary medical service."

Arthur noted that New Brunswick could easily resolve the situation by converting the Morgentaler Clinic into a publicly funded clinic and repealing the province's illegal regulation. "Dosanjh is absolutely right to go after New Brunswick," said Arthur. "He must - because the Province is wrongly imposing its anti-choice religious beliefs on all women there."

The Pro-Choice Action Network also supports Dr. Henry Morgentaler's current lawsuit against the province, to force it to fund his clinic. "He'll win because New Brunswick is clearly acting outside the law," said Arthur. "Anti-abortion ideology won't stand up in court, because it amounts to discrimination against women."

New Brunswick's Illegal Law Restricting Abortion

New Brunswick's Medical Services Payment Act, Regulation 84-20, Schedule 2(a.1)) states that abortion is only eligible for payment by Medicare when:

"…performed by a specialist in the field of obstetrics and gynaecology in a hospital facility approved by the jurisdiction in which the hospital facility is located, and two medical practitioners certify in writing that the abortion was medically required."

This regulation violates women's constitutional rights, as well as all five principles of the Canada Health Act (comprehensiveness, universality, accessibility, portability, and public administration).

  • It forces women to pay out-of-pocket for abortions at the Morgentaler Clinic, while funding them at hospitals. But Health Canada says that medically required treatments must be fully funded regardless of where they are performed, hospitals or clinics.
  • It forces women to obtain approval from two doctors before they can get a funded abortion at a hospital. This violates women's constitutional rights to freedom of conscience, liberty, and bodily security. The Supreme Court of Canada said (in the 1988 Morgentaler decision that threw out Canada's abortion law) that abortion is a woman's private decision that the state is required to respect, not approve.
  • It forces the two doctors to certify in writing that the abortion is "medically required." This is redundant because the province has already deemed abortion to be medically required by funding some of them at hospitals. By definition, all abortions are medically required and must be funded, just like all childbirths are medically required and funded - regardless of the woman's reasons for wanting an abortion or a baby.
  • It requires abortions to be performed by a specialist in Obstetrics/Gynecology. This limits access unnecessarily, because abortions can easily be done by family physicians, who are far more numerous than Ob/Gyns.
  • It violates the rights of New Brunswick women who need an abortion while outside the province. All Canadian citizens are covered by Medicare when they move or travel to another province. However, New Brunswick has used its abortion regulation to justify keeping abortion on the list of services excluded from its reciprocal billing agreement with other provinces.

Also, hospitals in New Brunswick perform abortions only up to 12 weeks gestation. This arbitrary policy exists even though the province forces women to wade through red tape that often delays the procedure past 12 weeks. There is no legal or medical justification for imposing gestational limits on abortion.

Canada News Bytes

Campaign to Defund Abortion in BC - In December, the Surrey-Delta Pro-Life Society announced in their newsletter that they are launching a campaign to defund abortion in BC, in conjunction with the upcoming provincial election. Working with Campaign Life Coalition (Canada's national, political anti-choice group), the group plans to raise $68,000 via "coffee parties" and spend it on radio ads and other initiatives.
Anti-choicer Refuses to Pay Taxes For Abortion - David Little of Fredericton, New Brunswick went to court in February to face three counts of refusing to pay his taxes. He will return to court to enter a plea in April. Little has not paid taxes for 7 years and said his tax money should not be used to fund abortions. He plans to use the Charter's guarantees of freedom of religion and conscience clauses to make his arguments, and ultimately hopes to reach the Supreme Court of Canada.

Pro-Choice Policy Upheld at University of Victoria BC - The campus anti-abortion group Youth Protecting Youth introduced a motion to delete the pro-choice policy of the UVic Student Society, saying the Society should be more "neutral." The policy supported a woman's right to control her body and said no new law should be introduced to regulate abortion. The Society was forced to hold a vote in February on the anti-choice motion. A panel of pro-choice speakers appeared on the evening before the vote to defend the policy and help get out the pro-choice vote, and a rally was also held the next day. The motion was defeated by a wide margin.

"I Had an Abortion" T-shirts spark outcry - Last July, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America's decision to sell "I had an abortion" T-shirts drew a sharp rebuke from Calgary's Roman Catholic Bishop Fred Henry. He called the promotion "callous" and a sign of the "deadly blindness come upon our society." He said it was tantamount to someone wearing a T-shirt that says "I killed my baby." The issue sparked heated public debate and countless letters to newspapers across Canada, mostly from outraged anti-choicers.

New Brunswick Woman Murdered for Having Abortion - In a Fredericton murder case last September, the court was told that a murder suspect's estranged wife, who later turned up dead, had an abortion without his knowledge and it enraged him. A Fredericton psychiatrist testified that Abdul Bari was referred to him by his family physician in April 2003 for depression. His wife, Shaila Akther Bari, was found dead in her apartment on July 16, 2003. Bari pled innocent, but a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder.

Loss of a Fetus Cannot be Charged as Homicide - In November, an 8-month pregnant woman lost her fetus in a car accident. Aimee Wilson of Vancouver, 25, lashed out at the law, upset because her unborn child was not considered a person under the law. She said the driver of the other car, a young man, killed her baby and she wanted him charged accordingly. Police replied that such charges cannot be laid because under the Criminal Code, because a fetus does not become a legal person with rights until it is born alive.

CTV Airs Movie on Dr. Henry Morgentaler - In January, a dramatized biography of Canada's abortion pioneer was broadcast. Choice: The Henry Morgentaler Story covered the two-decade span beginning in 1967 when Morgentaler ignited the abortion debate, and culminating with the 1988 Supreme Court decision that vindicated him and struck down Canada's abortion law as unconstitutional. The movie starred David Eisner as the doctor and was well-received by critics. It portrayed Dr. Morgentaler in a human and compassionate manner, highlighting his courage, persistence, and unwavering commitment to women's free choice on abortion without having to provide a reason. Also: The University of Western Ontario will award Dr. Morgentaler an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in June for his accomplishments.

Most Young Women Unaware of Dr. Morgentaler -Globe & Mail journalist Ian Brown reported in December that 62% of women aged 18-34 said they had never heard of Dr. Henry Morgentaler. Of those who had at least heard of him, 27% couldn't accurately identify him. That means 73% of 18-to-34-year-old Canadian women have either not heard of Dr. Morgentaler or couldn't identify him accurately.

The GAP Comes Back - Anti-choice students at the University of BC put up the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) display on campus in November, and again at the end of March. The display equates abortion in Canada to genocide in Nazi Germany, Rwanda, and Cambodia. Pro-choice protesters were required to stay outside a 9.75-metre bubble zone, under university rules for the GAP display. Paul Sutton, safety coordinator for the UBC student society, said in November that GAP displays have led to a spike in student visits to counseling services. GAP displays have become more common on Canadian university campuses over the last year, causing a spike in pro-choice activism on many campuses.

Bank of Montreal Supports Anti-Choice Card - Anti-choice group Life Canada-Vie Canada in Ottawa has been offering a fundraising affinity MasterCard to its members for the last 10 years. In March, however, the Bank of Montreal asked the group to remove a link on its website allowing members to sign up for the card. The bank said they had started to receive angry complaints from the pro-choice movement. E-mails were circulating across the country, calling on pro-choice supporters to cut up their MasterCards and boycott the bank. Carroll Rees, executive director of Life Canada-Vie Canada, said the group complied with the bank's request.

Abortion Rates Drop Slightly in 2002 - Statistics Canada reported that Canadian women obtained 105,154 abortions in 2002, down one percent from 106,270 in 2001. The rate of abortion fell marginally to 15.4 abortions per 1,000 women in 2002 from 15.6 abortions per 1,000 women in 2001.

Anti-Choice Poll Reveals Ambivalence About Abortion - An anti-choice poll commissioned by Life Canada and conducted by Environics Research in September and October 2004, showed that 68% of the 2,027 Canadians polled said Canadian law should protect human life at some point before birth. 33% said legal protection should begin at conception, 24% said it should begin after three months of pregnancy, and 11% said after six months. 28% said legal protection should begin at birth. 54% said abortions should be paid for by taxpayers "only in medical emergencies such as a threat to the mother's life or in cases of rape or incest." 55% said parental consent should be required before minors under the age of 18 could have an abortion.

Busy Bill Whatcott - In a 2002 anti-choice protest in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Bill Whatcott was arrested for being (among other things) a traffic hazard. He was jailed for a day and fined $500. In October 2004, however, he won his appeal for the conviction, with the court upholding his right to publicly protest and finding that police wrongly restricted his free expression. Last November, Whatcott, a nurse, was found guilty of unprofessional conduct by the Saskatchewan Association of Licensed Practical Nurses (SALPN). The charges stemmed from Whatcott's 2002 public demonstrations against Planned Parenthood Regina. In January, Whatcott was sentenced by the SALPN Tribunal to a 45-day suspension and ordered to pay $15,000 costs for the trial. A refusal to pay costs could result in permanent suspension. That same month, Whatcott was arrested for trespassing at the University of Calgary after leafleting car windshields. He was released on condition that he stop leafleting and was prohibited from the campus indefinitely.

Quebec Wants to Do Late Term Abortions - In September 2004, Quebec health officials announced plans to hire a physician to provide late-term abortions. Currently, Canadian women go to Kansas, Colorado and Washington State for abortions after 22 weeks that are required for compelling maternal health reasons or for severe fetal abnormalities. While anti-choicers reported that Ontario taxpayers paid $400,000 last year to send 56 women to the U.S. for late term abortions, the Ontario Ministry of Health claimed that 15 women from Ontario and 30 from Quebec were sent south for the procedure. Quebec's Roman Catholic bishops objected, arguing that since Canada has no law governing abortion, it is unethical for Quebec to make it easier to obtain one.

Canada Funds UN Population Fund - Canada's International Co-operation Minister Aileen Carroll announced in December that Canada is increasing its annual $13.1-million contribution to the U.N. Population Fund to $67.4 million over four years - about $16.9 million each year. Most of that will go toward core financing of the reproductive health program that has been seriously damaged by the U.S. boycott over the past three years.

The War Against Women

New Federal Anti-Choice Laws

Several new federal laws restricting abortion are slated to be passed in the United States by the Republican-controlled Congress this spring or later this year. President Bush is expected to sign them all.

The Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act will force abortion providers to warn women having abortions at 20 weeks or later that their fetuses will feel pain, and offer them the option of pain medication for their fetuses. However, there is no sound scientific evidence that fetuses feel pain, plus telling this to a woman could cause unnecessary emotional trauma and guilt. Abortion providers have also pointed out that giving medication to the fetus would not only increase the woman's medical risks, but would be technically difficult, if not impossible to do.

The second new bill is the Child Custody Protection Act, which criminalizes non-parental adults from helping pregnant minors cross state lines to circumvent abortion laws requiring parental notification. This law would jail well-meaning adults like grandmothers who try to help young girls who are unable to confide in their parents, such as girls from abusive families. 33 states currently enforce laws requiring parental notification or consent for minors' abortions. However, not a single state has a law requiring parental consent for teens to have a baby.

In March, it became clear sailing for a new federal law making it harder for consumers to erase their debts in bankruptcy court. Republicans in the Senate succeeded in removing a clause prohibiting abortion protesters from declaring bankruptcy to escape court fines for illegal protests and harassment. The new law gives the stamp of approval to anti-choice terrorism and harassment, while condemning to poverty the majority of people who must resort to bankruptcy - women.

In November, Congress passed a major anti-abortion bill, the Weldon Amendment, by inserting a last-minute clause into a budget bill. The sweeping clause permits health care entities to collect federal, state, and local tax dollars while refusing to provide abortion services, counseling, or referrals (even in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the woman's life). Opponents say the bill's impact would be felt primarily by low-income women who depend on federally-subsidized health care and use Roman Catholic hospitals. California's pro-choice attorney general Bill Lockyer filed a lawsuit to block the Weldon Amendment, since the law would take away the state's ability to enforce its own laws protecting women's reproductive health and rights. The National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association also asked a judge to halt the Weldon Amendment, because it conflicts with Title X law that requires health care providers to inform women about abortions.
The passage of the Weldon amendment mirrors a growing trend

for anti-choice health professionals to refuse to dispense contraception, as well. In 2004, 12 states took steps to try to introduce so-called conscience clauses that would allow pharmacists to refuse to dispense drugs, including emergency contraception and the Pill, on moral grounds, without losing their jobs. In many states, anti-choice groups and Pharmacists for Life are encouraging pharmacists to refuse to distribute emergency contraception.

Democratic lawmakers recently introduced a bill, the Putting Prevention First Act, to increase access to family planning services and contraception in order to prevent abortion. However, anti-choice legislators defeated it, with one denouncing the Act as "sex-drenched".

Abortion: Few Risks and Positive Outcomes

The American Psychological Association released a briefing paper last year called: The Impact of Abortion on Women: What Does the Psychological Research Say? The report cites research showing that the ability of women to make decisions about their own childbearing is a necessary condition for their health and mental health, as well as for their families.

Following are some highlights of the report. The full report, with recommendations and citations, is available at

Physical risks and consequences of abortion - Legal abortion is less dangerous than pregnancy. In 1999, as in previous years, deaths related to legal abortions occurred very rarely, at a rate of less than one per 100,000 abortions. The overall pregnancy-related mortality rate was nearly ten times higher.

Abortion may avoid negative health consequences, especially for teenage mothers - Unintended and unwanted childbearing can have negative health consequences, including greater chances for illness for both the mother and child. The adverse consequences of teenagers' inability to control their childbearing can be particularly severe. Teenage mothers are more likely to suffer toxemia, anemia, birth complications, and death. Babies of teenage mothers are more likely to have low birth weight and suffer birth injury and neurological defects. Such babies are twice as likely to die in the first year of birth as babies born to mothers who delay childbearing until after age 20.

Low risk of psychological harm - Well-designed studies of psychological responses following abortion have consistently shown that risk of psychological harm is low. Some women experience psychological dysfunction following abortion, but post-abortion rates of distress and dysfunction are lower than pre-abortion rates. Moreover, the percentage of women who experience clinically relevant distress is small and appears to be no greater than in general samples of women of reproductive age. A recent study showed not only that rates of depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), were not elevated in a large sample of 442 women followed for two years post-abortion, but also that the incidence of PTSD was actually lower in women post-abortion than the rate in the general population.

Positive functioning and educational attainment two years later - A study of adolescent abortion followed 360 adolescents over two years after they had been interviewed when seeking a pregnancy test. Some had a negative pregnancy test, some were pregnant and carried to term, and some were pregnant and aborted their pregnancy. The adolescents who chose abortion showed significant drops in anxiety and significant increases in self-esteem and internal control in the period immediately following the abortion to two years later. They appeared to be functioning as well as, or even better than, adolescents who had a negative pregnancy test or had carried to term. They were also most likely to have higher economic well-being; most likely to be in high school (and performing at grade level) or to have graduated; and less likely to have a subsequent pregnancy.

Positive emotions more often experienced - Freely chosen legal abortion, particularly in the first trimester, has not been found to be associated with severe psychological trauma, despite the fact that it occurs in the stressful context of unwanted pregnancy. The time of greatest stress is before the abortion. A woman's emotional responses after experiencing an unwanted pregnancy terminated by abortion are complex and may involve a combination of positive and negative emotions. Positive emotions are more often experienced, and they are experienced more strongly than negative emotions, both immediately after the abortion and during the months following it.

Effects of stress are relative - Abortion may be a stressful experience; however, it may also reduce the stress resulting from an unwanted pregnancy and from the events that led to the pregnancy being unwanted. The effects of abortion cannot be separated from the effects of the experience of unwanted pregnancy and from the effects of the context in which the pregnancy occurred.

Poor social outcomes often arise for unwanted children - Unintended and unwanted childbearing has been linked with a variety of social problems, including divorce, poverty, child abuse, and juvenile delinquency. One study found that unwanted children were less likely to have a secure family life. As adults, they were more likely to engage in criminal behavior, be on welfare, and receive psychiatric services. Another study found that children who were unintended by their mothers had lower self-esteem than their intended peers 23 years later. Research has shown that social and psychological problems persist into adulthood, partially because the mothers are themselves from disadvantaged backgrounds with poor future prospects. Children born to teenage mothers are more likely to have lower achievement scores, poorer school adjustment, and more problem behaviors than children born to older women.

What If Roe Fell?

The Center for Reproductive Rights'
What if Roe Fell? Report

By Shannon Stettner

According to public opinion polls, a majority of Canadian men and women are pro-choice. Overwhelmingly, they are a silent majority; few support their beliefs with action. Indeed, in 2004, one could argue that many women in Canada and the United States are complacently pro-choice. This complacency has contributed, in the U.S. at least, to reproductive rights being jeopardized. A September 2004 study by the Center for Reproductive Rights, What if Roe Fell?, outlines the fragility of a woman's right to choose in that country. Prepared in anticipation of a Republican electoral victory, the study outlines the direct threats to abortion rights, and the ways women and men can begin to work now to minimize these threats.

Presently, one in three American women have an abortion during their reproductive years. Moreover, there are three million unplanned pregnancies in the U.S. yearly, one-third of which end in abortion. Yet, the report acknowledges that should Roe v. Wade be overturned (the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion throughout the U.S.), more than 70 million women could lose their right to access safe, legal abortions. Abortion would come under state jurisdiction, with many states probably moving quickly to ban abortion. The report offers a state-by-state analysis of abortion laws, and state constitutions and legislatures.

If Roe v. Wade were overturned, different scenarios would affect different states. Some states have old pre-Roe anti-abortion laws that would be in effect immediately; new laws would not need to be passed in those states. Some states have pre-Roe anti-abortion bans that have been blocked by courts and would have to be overturned before abortion could be prohibited. Other states may not have pre-Roe anti-abortion laws, but also lack laws protecting a woman's right to choose, meaning that anti-abortion laws would likely be introduced quickly. Indeed, many anti-choice advocates have been busy enacting laws across the U.S. Even though abortion is protected under Roe v. Wade, 409 measures restricting abortion have been enacted in state legislatures since 1995, and in November 2003, the first federal ban on some abortion procedures was passed. A further risk should Roe v. Wade be overturned, would be for Congress to pass a federal ban on abortion nullifying any pro-choice state laws.

What is the likelihood of Roe v. Wade being overturned? There are three U.S. Supreme Court judges who favour a repeal of Roe v. Wade: William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas. Five others support a woman's right to obtain an abortion before viability and, in the case of protecting a woman's life or health, after viability: John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. These five have repeatedly reaffirmed that restrictions on abortion must not compromise a woman's health. The final judge, Anthony Kennedy, has come down on different sides of the issue and cannot be counted on to uphold the principles of Roe v. Wade. The What if Roe Fell? report quotes former Justice Blackmun on the significance of the risk to Roe v. Wade: "[t]o overturn a constitutional decision that secured a fundamental personal liberty to millions of persons would be unprecedented in our 200 years of constitutional history." Indeed, the appointment of an anti-choice Supreme Court judge would likely mean someone interested in making law, not interpreting existing law.

What if Roe Fell? outlines what activists can do now to safeguard abortion rights should Roe v. Wade be overturned. In some states, activists can consider sponsoring legislation to protect the right to choose, including a Reproductive Privacy Act. They warn, however, that many factors should be considered before proposing such legislation. For example, Republican state legislatures may introduce retaliatory anti-choice initiatives. In states with pre-Roe anti-abortion bans still on record, activists may want to sponsor a repeal of those bans now. Planned Parenthood's Post-Roe Service Delivery Task Force is also exploring other options, including providing abortion services on Native American reservations, which are independent of federal laws, launching programs like Women on Waves, and equipping clinics along the border of Canada to provide services for American women. Ultimately, activists need to inform themselves of existing state laws, monitor developments, and be prepared to act if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

The report assesses the risks to women's access to safe, legal abortions in each state, and includes details on each state's political and legal environment.

States Deemed at High Risk (21) - Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin.

States Deemed at Middle Risk (9) - Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania.

States Deemed Likely Protected (20) - Alaska, California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming.

The full report can be read or ordered by visiting:

U.S. News Bytes

Abstinence Curricula Biased, Inaccurate, and Ineffective - A Congressional study released by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) in December found that of 13 most commonly used abstinence-based sex-ed curricula, only two were accurate and 11 others contained unproved claims, subjective conclusions, or outright falsehoods regarding reproductive health, gender traits, and when life begins. The ACLU called for an extensive review of curricula, and Lambda Legal announced a state-by-state investigation into "abstinence-only" education programs to see if they meet medical accuracy laws. For example, some curricula taught that condoms do not help prevent the spread of STDs, while others promoted stereotypes about boys and girls, such as "Women gauge their happiness and judge their success by their relationships. Men's happiness and success hinge on their accomplishments.'' The Bush Administration plans to increase funding for abstinence-only based programs, from $39 million U.S. to $270 million, but numerous studies of such programs have failed to find any measurable impact. In one of the latest, conducted by researchers in President Bush's home state of Texas and released last month, teenagers in 29 high schools became even more sexually active after taking abstinence-only courses, mirroring overall state trends. In another new study from Yale and Columbia Universities, students who took a pledge to remain abstinent tended to delay their sexual activity, but generally failed to use condoms when they did have sex, so they suffered almost the same rates of sexually-transmitted diseases as teens who did not take an abstinence pledge. Also, pledgers were more likely to engage in anal and oral sex than non-pledgers.

"Jane Roe" Fails to Overturn Decision Legalizing Abortion - Since 2003, Norma McCorvey, the former "Jane Roe" plaintiff in the famous 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion across America, has been trying to get that decision overturned. She has failed at every turn. McCorvey converted to the anti-choice movement in 1995, and in 2003, asked a federal district court in Dallas to re-open the case. She urged a wide-ranging inquiry into scientific and anecdotal evidence (consisting of affidavits from 1,000 women) that shows legal abortion hurts women and violates their constitutional rights. The court dismissed her request because it wasn't made within a "reasonable time" after the 1973 judgment. McCorvey appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which dismissed her case as "moot" because the Texas laws declared unconstitutional in Roe v. Wade had since been repealed. Finally in January of this year, McCorvey appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which denied her appeal several days later without comment.

Abortion Rates Increasing Under Bush's Watch - An independent study by an ethics professor, Glen Stassen of the Fuller Theological Seminary, found that abortion rates rose during Bush's presidency and that the increase is linked to economic policy. The study, released in October 2004, found linkages between economic hardship and abortion. Two-thirds of women who abort say they cannot afford a child; half of women who abort say they do not have a reliable mate and co-breadwinner. Women of childbearing age are over-represented in the 5.2 million additional persons without health coverage since Bush's 2000 electoral "win." (Abortion rates went down during Bill Clinton's presidency, in which he presided over a booming economy.) In March, the Bush Administration proposed major new cuts to its budgets for health, education, and community development, including a $15 billion cut to Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income people. Fortunately, the Senate rejected the bulk of these cuts, which would have impacted mostly women and further increased the abortion rate.

Hillary Clinton Migrates to Mushy Middle on Abortion - In January, Senator Hillary Clinton spoke to 1000 abortion rights supporters at the New York State Family Planning Providers conference, with a theme of a more moderate stance on abortion. She said abortion "in many ways represents a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women." And that "people of good faith" on both sides should seek "common ground." Her speech made national headlines, and was widely seen as an attempt to soften her image so she can run for President in 2008.

Parents of Teenager Sue over Abortion Death -An American teenager named Holly Patterson developed an infection and died in a San Francisco hospital in September 2003, after using the abortion drug mifepristone (RU-486). Last December, her parents filed wrongful death and product liability lawsuits, which named Population Council, which sponsored the development of mifepristone; Danco, the New York distributor; Planned Parenthood Golden Gate, the clinic where she got the abortion pill; and ValleyCare Health System, which runs the hospital where Patterson died. Additionally, the FDA announced a new "black box labeling" safety warning for Mifeprex to advise of the rare, but serious risk of bacterial infections, sepsis, bleeding, and death that may occur following any abortion. This labeling, however, was likely prompted by political pressure exerted by anti-choicers and by the lack of financial backing for the drug from its foreign manufacturer. All drugs have adverse side-effects and mifepristone is far safer than many other drugs on the market, such as Viagra. However, mifepristone was not even proved to be the causal factor in the several U.S. deaths where women had taken it. In the last 20 years, tens of millions of women worldwide have taken it safely.

"Partial-Birth" Abortion Ban Thrown Out, U.S. Government Appeals - Several abortion rights groups and doctors launched three separate legal challenges against the Bush Administration's November 2003 "partial birth" abortion ban. In 2004, three judges in New York (Richard Casey), Nebraska (Richard Kopf), and Virginia (Richard L. Williams) all independently ruled the ban unconstitutional because there was no exemption for a woman's health. Kopf ruled that Congress ignored the most experienced doctors in determining that the banned procedure would never be necessary. The Justice Department appealed, contending that Kopf ignored Congressional "evidence" that the procedure is never medically necessary (apparently missing Kopf's point that Congress never even consulted any abortion providers.) The Justice Department further denied that the ban places an undue burden on women seeking abortions, even though the law actually bans the majority of second-trimester abortions across the U.S. The department is appealing all three rulings, and all three will be affected by the appeal.

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