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a publication of BC's Pro-Choice Action Network
Autumn / Winter '98 Issue
Table of Contents
Sniper Attacks Again
BC / Canadian News
US / International News
Doctor Murdered in His Kitchen
An international task force is investigating the shooting death of Dr. Barnett Slepian, a 52-year old doctor murdered in his home in Amherst, New York on Oct. 23. At 10 pm, Dr. Slepian came home from synagogue with his wife and four sons. While standing in his kitchen with his wife and 15-year old son, a sniper hiding in the back yard pulled the trigger, shooting the doctor in the back. He died in hospital 90 minutes later.
Dr. Slepian provided abortions as part of his practice, and his shooting is believed to be linked to four other shootings of abortion providers over the last four years in Canada and New York. Dr. Slepian's murder occurred just three days after authorities issued a warning to abortion clinic workers to be on the alert.
Dr. Slepian had been a frequent target of anti-abortion protesters, especially Operation Rescue protests in 1992, but remained committed in spite of the danger and stress. He often stopped to chat with regular anti-abortion protesters, and once confounded a gathering of protesters by inviting the anti-choice leader to breakfast. He felt that providing abortions was an essential part of reproductive health care for women, and he defended to the death a woman's right to choose abortion. An ob/gyn, Slepian delivered hundreds of babies over the years, and treated women for cervical cancer and many other reproductive health problems.
Dr. Slepian's shooting is the latest in a string of attacks on doctors, often termed the Remembrance Day shootings, because they all occurred around Nov. 11. The other shootings include:
- Dr. Garson Romalis, Vancouver, Nov. 8, 1994
- Dr. Hugh Short, Hamilton, Nov. 10, 1995
- Dr. Jack Fainman, Winnipeg, Nov 11, 1997
- Anonymous doctor, Rochester, NY, Oct. 28, 1997
Similarities between the shootings include: all were shot in their homes, under cover of night, with a high-powered rifle, through glass, by a sniper hiding in wooded back yards, who had stalked his victims and staked out their homes. Also, four of the five doctors were shot were Jewish. The Rochester doctor was wounded by flying splinters of glass (the gunshot missed). Police did not announce the Rochester shooting as linked to the others until mid-October of this year, apparently because they initially thought his shooting was related to a domestic dispute. The doctor wishes to remain anonymous.
After Slepian's death, the FBI joined forces with the Canadian task force to investigate the shootings. At one point, they thought there was a very high probability that the sniper would strike again shortly. (There were two separate shootings in 1997.)
The sniper shootings were featured on an Oct. 31 episode of America's Most Wanted. Vancouver's Dr. Garson Romalis appeared on the program, and called the shooting of doctors "a terrorist act," one that should "never be left unchallenged in a free democratic society."
As of early November, the FBI has received more than 400 calls on its tip line. Toll-free lines for reporting tips to the task force are 1-877-687-3377 in Canada, and 1-800-281-1184 in the U.S.
Police Hunt for Material Witness
Police are looking for a "material witness" in the case, James Charles Kopp, 44, of Vermont. Kopp may have crossed the Canadian border after the shooting, and a nation-wide warrant has been issued for his arrest, based on illegal entry into Canada. More recently, however, Kopp was allegedly seen entering Mexico with a woman a few days after the Slepian murder.
Kopp is a radical anti-choice activist who reportedly attended a protest in front of the Everywoman's Health Centre in Vancouver in February, 1989. He has been arrested numerous times in various U.S. cities for illegal protests at clinics, and in 1990 was incarcerated for 11 weeks in a Vermont hospital with 95 other anti-abortion protesters, including several Canadians. Although police are not calling Kopp a suspect at this time, he is believed to have information about the shootings, and has not been ruled out as a suspect.
Kopp is known as "Atomic Dog" in the anti-choice movement and receives top billing in the Acknowledgments section of the Army of God manual, a terrorist how-to guide that explains how to build bombs and attack clinics. The Army of God claimed responsibility for a 1996 bombing of an Atlanta abortion clinic.
Kopp's black 1987 Chevrolet Cavalier (Vermont licence #BPE216) was seen near Slepian's house in the weeks before the shooting. Kopp also may have been the jogger seen running past Slepian's home the morning of the shooting. A second car registered to Kopp, a green 1977 Dodge Aspen (Vermont licence # BFN595), is thought to have entered Canada in time periods corresponding to some of the shootings of Canadian doctors. This car was seen in or near the cities of Winnipeg, Hamilton, and Rochester around the time of the shootings.
In recent months, a man identified as Kopp dropped off several threatening packages at the Hamilton Spectator newspaper. And on Oct. 26, a man resembling Kopp was seen putting up a wanted poster of Dr. Slepian in a public washroom of the Hamilton-Wentworth police department. Additional threatening packages arrived at the Hamilton Spectator on Nov. 9 and Nov. 19. The first contained photocopies of news clippings and a note saying "Tactical meeting in Vancouver (November) RSVP = Matthew 11:12. The second package was a single page with two pictures side-by-side: one of Kopp, and one of Malcolm X holding a rifle, with his quote "By any means necessary." It is not known if Kopp is believed responsible for these latest packages.
A rumour that Kopp was in BC was started by a Province reporter, who allegedly misquoted an Immigration official to that effect. Police were quick to deny that they had any knowledge of Kopp being in BC, or even that he was in Canada. Meanwhile, staff at Everywoman's Health Centre searched their files of pictures and videotapes of past protests in an attempt to see if Kopp may have been present. Global TV voluntarily searched their own file footage and spotted a man who looks very much like Kopp attending a protest in front of Everywoman's in February, 1989. They turned some photos over to the police. Everywoman's did find several pictures of men who resembled Kopp, from different time periods, but none were conclusively him.
Governments Step In
On Oct. 29, BC's Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh announced $250,000 in funding to provide doctors with security assessments and other protective measures, such as bullet-proof vests and bullet-proof glass. Such help is welcome and much-needed, but the Pro-Choice Action Network has been asking the A-G for just one thing, and is still asking for it: a province-wide investigation into the nature and extent of anti-choice activity, including anti-choice links to radical anti-abortion groups and other extremist groups. After all, who wants to wear bullet-proof vests? Providers would rather see the sniper in jail, and a zero tolerance attitude by law enforcement to anti-choice harassment and criminal activity.
The U.S. government is leading the way at condemning anti-choice violence and putting their money where their mouth is, while the Canadian government has remained largely silent, except for the lone voice of Dosanjh. U.S. President Bill Clinton officially condemned Slepian's murder, but no similar statement was forthcoming from Prime Minister Jean Chretien, or from any other senior federal government official in Canada.
On Nov. 9, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno announced a $500,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the sniper, and the creation of a National Task Force on Violence Against Health Care Providers, which will help with local investigations and try to establish links between attacks. Meanwhile, Canada's then-Solicitor General Andy Scott's only reaction to the shooting was a refusal to provide funding for the Canadian task force investigating the shootings.
Dosanjh's concern over the issue led him to meet with New York's deputy attorney general on Oct 27 to discuss Slepian's murder and the cross-border investigation into the attacks. Dosanjh then met with his federal and provincial counterparts, who refused to even support a simple resolution condemning attacks on health-care providers. Dosanjh also met with then-Solicitor General Andy Scott to get assurances that the RCMP task force will have appropriate resources, but Scott once again refused to provide any funding for the Canadian task force, saying the RCMP has sufficient resources of its own. However, the RCMP is already scrimping after losing millions of dollars in federal funding.
Given the international coverage that the sniper shootings have received, and the serious efforts of the American government and law enforcement to catch the sniper, the indifference of Canada's leaders to domestic terrorism can only be termed an international embarrassment. Coming on the heels of the APEC protest fiasco, Canada's international reputation for upholding human rights, as reflected by its leader, Prime Minister Jean Chretien, is in danger of becoming badly tarnished.
Please call our leaders to account by faxing letters to
Prime Minister Jean Chretien (613-941-6900) requesting that he publicly condemn violence against abortion providers and direct the Solicitor General to provide funding and resources to the task force and
New Solicitor General Lawrence MacAulay (613-952-2240) urging him to provide funding for the task force and take a strong public stance against anti-choice violence.
Sue Hammell, Minister of Women's Equality, spoke at an Oct. 27 vigil for Dr. Slepian, organized by the Pro-Choice Action Network. Hammell condemned the violence and confirmed her government's commitment to protecting abortion rights. Supportive messages from Ujjal Dosanjh and Penny Priddy (Minister of Health) were read aloud.
Also at the vigil, Pro-CAN spokesperson Joyce Arthur announced that Pro-CAN has asked the A-G to fully investigate anti-choice activity in BC, including links to extremist groups, such as anti-Semitic and white supremacist groups. Pro-CAN is also working on efforts to provide safety planning information and other resources to the provider community, and to coordinate closely with the Attorney General and law enforcement to enhance providers' safety and prosecute criminal harassment against them.
Therefore, in addition, please fax letters to
Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh (250-387-6411) thanking him for his support and asking him to investigate the anti-choice in BC and increase law enforcement efforts.
Anti-Life Rhetoric and Reaction
For the first time perhaps, the media and the public are getting the message loud and clear that violent, anti-choice rhetoric has created an atmosphere where some people think it is OK to harass and murder abortion providers. A Newsweek magazine poll found that 60% of Americans surveyed believe the anti-abortion movement must share at least some of the blame for recent violence against abortion providers. (33% said the anti-abortion movement is indirectly connected to the violence because of statements that encourage violence. 27% said they believe there is a more direct connection.)
Not only does rhetoric lead to violence, but violence leads to more violence and more rhetoric, like a vicious feedback loop. Since Dr. Slepian's murder, clinics across the U.S. have seen an increase in the amount and severity of hate mail. There has been a bomb threat at the same Birmingham, Alabama clinic bombed in January 1998, a serious death threat made against a Buffalo, New York doctor, and numerous anthrax scares at U.S. clinics. The murder has obviously given encouragement to many in the anti-choice movement to escalate their attacks against providers.
A website called The Nuremberg Files contains a list of over 200 abortion providers and supporters. Within several hours after Slepian's murder, his name had been crossed out. The names of other doctors wounded in sniper attacks have been greyed out. The stated purpose of the site, which drips with simulated blood, is to gather evidence on abortion providers so that they might one day be brought to justice for "crimes against humanity." Neil Horsley, operator of the site, said of Slepian's death: "I have no doubt that, just as John Brown's actions against slavery were justifiable, it is possible to morally justify the slaughter of Americans who murder God's children." The website received wide media coverage, with a clear message that the site was a prime example of the danger of anti-choice rhetoric. Police even went to the trouble to personally contact all of the people on the list to warn them they could be targets for violence.
At the Pro-Choice Action Network's candlelight vigil for Dr. Slepian on Tuesday, Oct. 27, spokesperson Joyce Arthur told the gathering of about 70 mourners and media representatives that hateful anti-choice rhetoric is to blame for inciting extremists to violence, such as calling abortion murder, or equating legal abortion with the Holocaust.
Unfortunately, many anti-choice groups issued qualified condemnations of the shooting, such as John Hof of Campaign Life Coalition of BC, who compared abortion to the shooting of doctors, and Operation Rescue National Director Rev. Flip Benham, who told reporters that Slepian "...has been a killer for a long time... [but] I am sad to learn of this death." Reverend Donald Spitz of Pro-Life Virginia even called the gunman a hero.
The task force believes that Kopp may have close ties to certain anti-choice groups or individuals who may be helping him hide. It has long been suspected that some radical anti-choice groups---and perhaps some mainstream ones as well---are tied together via an underground network or are at least affiliated loosely. For example, U.S. extremists have regularly travelled to Canada to engage in protests or speak at anti-abortion meetings hosted by mainstream anti-abortion groups. Paul deParrie, a militant anti-abortionist from Portland, tried to enter BC in May 1998 during the National Abortion Federation conference in Vancouver. DeParrie said he wanted to visit Canadian right-to-life friends, but he was turned away by border officials who feared he would incite violence. DeParrie was one of about 30 anti-choice leaders who signed the Defensive Action petition advocating the justifiable homicide of abortion doctors.
Another example is Missionaries to the Preborn, one of the most radical U.S. anti-abortion groups. It is headed by Matthew Trewhella, who condones violence, and supports the militia movement. Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) promoted a "Show the Truth" tour of towns and cities in Southern Ontario and New York state in July, an idea fostered by Trewhella. CLC President Jim Hughes hosted a meeting for Trewhella last fall at a downtown Toronto hotel, where Trewhella promoted the tour idea. The tour was extensively advertised in the CLC's national publications, including its web site. Members of both CLC and Missionaries to the Preborn picketed together at major intersections and other locations.
Despite the apparent connections between the two groups, Hughes and other members of CLC pretend ignorance of Trewhella's extremism, and continue to publicly distance themselves from violent elements in the anti-choice movement. One can only wonder at the strength and sincerity of CLC's commitment to non-violence when they're more than happy to rub shoulders with extremists such as Trewhella and his group.
On a more ludicrous note, John Hof, president of Campaign Life Coalition of BC, complained about the "relentless media blaming of pro-lifers for the shootings" which he says "has started the inevitable trail of vengeance and retribution by pro-choice activists." Hof expressed his paranoia after a lone person from Seattle posted angry messages on the Internet, threatening anti-abortionists with the same violent fate that many anti-choice leaders have wished upon doctors. Hof said, "We demand a full investigation of these threats against us."
We'll get right on it, John. After all, the police don't have anything better to do, except try and stop two decades of real violence and threats against providers and clinics, including 7 murders, 14 attempted murders, 36 bombings, 150 arsons, 70 attempted bombs and arsons, 420 bomb threats, 100 assaults, 300 death threats, 2 kidnapings, 350 clinic invasions, 650 acts of vandalism, 330 stalkings, 1000's of hate letters and harassing calls, and over 14,000 protests outside clinics.
But perhaps now, the tide is finally turning against the anti-choice movement. The recent elections in the U.S. were a significant victory for the Democrats. The most obvious reason seemed to be the Republicans' miscalculation of the American public's mood over the Monica Lewinsky scandal. However, Planned Parenthood campaigned heavily in the weeks leading up to the election on behalf of pro-choice candidates. And the shooting of Dr. Slepian may have encouraged people to avoid voting for known anti-abortion candidates. There was a significant gender gap at the polls, with more women voting Democrat than men. The gender gap alone spelled defeat for many right-wing candidates. One of the most notable defeats for the Republicans was the ousting of New York's Attorney General Dennis Vacco, a staunch anti-abortionist. Vacco took a lot of heat in the two weeks leading up to the election for allegedly helping to fuel the violent climate that led to Dr. Barnett Slepian's slaying. The National Abortion Federation accused Vacco of being directly responsible for not prosecuting protesters outside Slepian's clinic.
"It's not enough for the anti-choice to just condemn the violence---they have to take responsibility for it. They must send a strong, united message throughout their own community that violence against abortion providers cannot be tolerated."
- Joyce Arthur, Pro-Choice Action Network
candlelight vigil for Dr. Slepian, Oct. 27, 1998
"The Lord's Handiwork"
Catholic Editorial Lauds Positive Effects of Shooting
An editorial published in the BC Catholic newspaper on Nov. 2 (written by editor Paul Schratz) praised the positive benefits of shooting doctors, saying "How can anyone help but be pleased that murders of abortionists just might have some positive side effects. Fewer doctors are willing to face the stigma, and now the threat of personal harm, associated with performing abortions. It just goes to show that our all-powerful and all-loving God can bring good from any evil situation. If there's a positive outcome from immorality that's the Lord's handiwork. It would be wrong not to notice it."
On the surface, Schratz was careful to condemn the shooting of doctors as an evil act of violence, but no amount of condemnation could erase the main effect of his words: that shooting doctors is doing some good.
Peppered throughout the editorial were sentiments such as: violence is perpetrated in clinics every day, abortion would "slink back where it came from" if Christians had the guts to impose their will on others, RU-486 is a "loathsome and destructive chemical" that "ravages a woman's body," and Satan is behind abortion and is now "doubled over laughing" because public sympathy will remain with the pro-choice side. Schratz also implied that Dr. Slepian was depraved and that bubble zone legislation was a sin.
As a final insult to the majority of pro-choice Canadians who also believe in God, Schratz closed his editorial with these lines: "Only when Canadians as a people stand up and declare abortion to be a crime against God will abortion be wiped out. And before that happens, Canadians will first have to admit that God exists."
In the midst of his hostile and insensitive diatribe, Schratz actually had the nerve to complain about the "barely disguised antagonism toward pro-lifers and Christians" in the media.
The editorial received widespread national media coverage. Dr. Henry Morgentaler called the editorial "disgusting." In BC, Health Minister Penny Priddy was "extremely disturbed" by the editorial. The director of the Scott clinic in Toronto, Maria Corsillo, announced that she was going to ask the Solicitor General for a criminal investigation of the editorial under Canada's hate laws, because it incited hatred and violence against abortion providers.
Vancouver's archbishop Adam Exner, who is responsible for the BC Catholic newspaper, strongly defended the editorial, although he admitted that some of it "wasn't well-worded." However, Father Jim Roberts, a Catholic priest, called the editorial "revolting." Roberts said that the editorial implied God had something to do with the Slepian slaying-- "the idea of God kind of winking at murder, I find that blasphemous." He added that Catholic anti-abortionists should stop equating abortion with murder and calling doctors murderers, because they are inciting violence and not helping the cause.
Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice groups have done far more to reduce abortion rates than the Catholic Church and all anti-abortion groups combined. If the Church really wants to "wipe out" abortion, they need to switch tactics, because prohibition, denunciation, and punishment just don't work. Instead, we challenge the Church to reduce abortion by spending some of its vast Vatican wealth on free birth control and sex education for everyone.
Fools Rush In
Where Liberals Fear to Tread
John Hof, President of Campaign Life Coalition of BC, has been trying to inject right-wing, anti-abortion policies into the Liberal party platform. In response, Liberal leader Gordon Campbell has distanced himself from Hof, but has failed to provide adequate assurances that the Liberal party will support and improve access to abortion in BC.
In February, Hof met with Campbell to present some recommendations, one of which was to introduce conscience clause legislation that would allow health workers to refuse to perform services they object to on moral or religious grounds, such as abortion. (See our article in the Summer 98 issue of Pro-Choice Press.)
In October, the media reported that MLA Ted Nebbeling had written to some of his Liberal caucus colleagues in July, expressing concerns over the Liberal party's shift to the right. According to Nebbeling, party whip Rich Coleman (a close friend of Hof's) had drafted a private member's bill for the conscience clause legislation and took it to the Liberal caucus health committee. The bill was voted down.
But Nebbeling later met with Campbell, who told him that the party had no room for Hof's position. Both Campbell and Coleman publicly denied that abortion was even mentioned at the February meeting with Hof. But according to Hof (in the Feb. 98 Campaign Life Coalition BC Newsletter), not only did he present his recommendations to Campbell, he also felt "encouraged to seek more contact with the party". Hof also has said that Coleman is the leader of a "cabal" of about 13 anti-abortion Liberal MLAs. Coleman denied this, but Gordon Wilson (PDA leader and former Liberal leader) said the Liberal caucus rift on abortion is well-known around the legislature, and that at least half of the caucus are not philosophical Liberals. Finally, Coleman denied that the conscience clause bill was even debated by caucus members---he called it a "make-work project" for a Trinity Western student.
So who should we believe, Hof or the Liberals? We suspect that John Hof may be guilty of being too honest. Perhaps he foolishly bragged to the media about the details of his meeting with Campbell. And to compensate for Hof's "gaffe," perhaps the Liberal party has been less than honest. This leaves the women of BC and the pro-choice community twisting in the wind. If Campbell can't unify his party on the issue of abortion, that could mean big trouble ahead, not only for the Liberal party in the next election, but for the women of BC if the Liberals win.
Liberals Don't Have a Plan to Stand On
The Pro-Choice Action Network wrote to Gordon Campbell in July, asking him to confirm his BC Liberal party's official pro-choice position. During the 1996 provincial election, the Liberal party said they "have no plans to change the status quo" on access to abortion. There was no reply to our initial letter, but after we sent a follow-up letter in October, Campbell responded, saying: "The BC Liberal position is very clear---it has not changed from what it was during the election campaign. . . . BC Liberals have no plans to change the current legislation." Campbell has also repeated to the media this same "no plans" position.
But we find these Liberal statements troublesome. First, their position is far less committed and pro-active than the NDP's. It's certainly clear the Liberals do not intend to actually improve access to abortion. Second, stating that the Liberals "have no plans to change" anything is next to worthless as a promise. What's to stop them from hatching a plan whenever it suits them?
Third, Campbell told the media that members of his caucus would be free to "vote their conscience" on abortion-related issues. But that means a measure restricting abortion could be pushed through by a Liberal government, if enough MLA's voted for it. And of course, it's women who should be deciding for themselves on the issue of abortion, not individual MLA's. The only acceptable Liberal position is support for a woman's individual right to choose abortion and to access services safely and legally.
Hof's Gamble Doesn't Pan Out
John Hof's eagerness to advance his political agenda has landed him into hot water again. In mid-October, Hof (President of Campaign Life Coalition of BC) faxed to Province columnist Michael Smyth what appeared to be confidential police documents on Neil Monckton, a senior communications adviser to Premier Glen Clark. Hof was on a quest to damage the NDP government by exposing Monckton as a shadowy character, but instead, questions are now swirling around Hof himself.
RCMP and Vancouver city police have launched an internal investigation to determine whether and how the confidential police documents were leaked. Hof said the documents arrived at his office in a plain brown envelope and that he had no idea of the source. "I get these sometimes and I just don't ask questions." However, Hof also shared the documents with BC Report (a Christian news magazine), whose editor Terry O'Neill said that Hof told him the documents "came from a reliable source."
The Pro-Choice Action Network has called for an independent investigation, not an internal police investigation. We haven't forgotten the case of Delta Police Constable Steven Parker, who illegally searched the license plate numbers of abortion clinic staff and patients. Parker was investigated twice by his own colleagues, and still more offences were discovered later. Because the investigation was likely inadequate, the pro-choice community still suspects that Parker may have passed on the information he obtained to others in the anti-abortion movement. A former treasurer for Campaign Life Coalition, Parker said that John Hof once asked him to check a plate, but that he refused Hof's request.
The possibility that someone in the Vancouver Police Department may be leaking confidential documents to the anti-choice is not a comforting thought for the pro-choice community, which depends on the police to enforce the Access to Abortion Services Act, and to protect providers. Peoples' safety is put at risk when there are leaks to an anti-choice movement that has probable connections to those who advocate violence.
Given the Constable Parker case, and this current incident with Neil Monckton, we believe that any anti-choice connections to police should be thoroughly investigated. After all, we know that the anti-choice openly advocate using "friendly" police officers to gather information they normally wouldn't have access to. So our question is: Who is John Hof's friend?
Parker Thrown a Bone
Delta Police Constable Steven Parker has successfully won his case to have BC police commissioner Susan Brice disqualified from hearing a complaint against him, because of a "reasonable apprehension of bias". Brice's only "crime" was that she had publicly voiced her pro-choice position in the past.
The court also said that Brice should not have been part of the decision to hear the complaint against Parker. According to Ken Ball, the lawyer acting for the Delta police board, this means the commission must start over at square one. However, he expects the citizen complaint (made by Marg Panton and Will Offley) will be heard by the two remaining police commissioners.
Parker also argued that the disciplinary proceedings against him missed the deadline by more than a month, so his suspension should be set aside, and all other subsequent proceedings against him should be void. The court ruled against him on that.
Parker was caught twice and disciplined twice for illegally using a police computer to run licence plate checks on abortion clinic staff and patients. Panton and Offley (formerly of the Everywoman's Health Centre) had been granted leave to appeal Parker's 5-day suspension for the first set of offences, claiming that Parker should have been fired instead. Parker received a minor demotion for the second set of offences, but this is not part of the current case.
New Bubble Zones in Place
Two new abortion access zones are now in place at Vancouver Hospital to protect providers and women seeking abortions. One zone will be in front of the entrance to the surgical day-patient care centre, and the other in front of entrances to the Laurel and Centennial Pavilions. Both zones will extend 50 metres from the entrances. The zones will be enforced under the Access to Abortion Services Act, which already covers Everywoman's Health Centre, Elizabeth Bagshaw Women's Clinic, and doctors' offices and homes.
Vancouver Hospital applied for the bubble zones earlier this year in response to escalating anti-abortion protests at the hospital---and not because of the recent violence.
Local anti-choice groups have complained about their freedom of expression being violated. But the BC Court of Appeal ruled in 1996 that specific geographical limits on freedom of speech are constitutionally permissible in order to protect the rights of a vulnerable group---women seeking abortions. And in our opinion, the anti-choice have only themselves to blame. Their words and actions have helped create the escalating atmosphere of terror, intimidation, and harassment in which BC providers and patients must live. We wouldn't need bubble zones if the anti-choice respected people's safety and privacy.
More Mailings (ad nauseum)
Offensive (but sometimes pathetically amusing) anti-choice propaganda is still being mailed to health care workers across BC, courtesy of local anti-choice individuals and Life Dynamics Inc. of Texas (LDI). We have evidence of eight different mailings since they began in March. The first two mailings were letters asking health care workers to identify colleagues who performed, or referred for, abortions. The other six mailings were postcards or brochures published by LDI.
Here's the text of one of the latest LDI missives: "Before you let someone convince you to start doing elective abortions.... Ask yourself how you're going to feel when your other patients find out that YOU'RE AN ABORTIONIST!" Laughable, but a bit puzzling, until you realize that the anti-choice actually believe that doctors are ashamed to be abortion providers! Presumably, they believe this because most doctors try to keep a low profile. If so, either the anti-choice are too dumb to figure out that it's their own criminal harassment and violence that have driven doctors to stay low, or more likely, they just refuse to admit it, so they can distance themselves from the violence.
Crown Counsel has said there is insufficient evidence to lay charges under any law, since the two signed letters were not threatening in themselves, and the rest of the mailings were sent anonymously. However, the pro-choice community is continuing to request reviews of these mailings by Crown Counsel as they occur to see if anything can be done.
Will it Ever Reach Canada?
In North America, the abortion pill mifepristone (formerly called RU-486) has been negotiating a tangled web of bureaucracy, political stonewalling, and anti-choice lobbying for years. In America, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved mifepristone over two years ago, but Congress has blocked the FDA from using federal money to get it on the market. Until recently, no manufacturer has been willing to produce it for fear of anti-choice boycotts, but the Population Council, a non-profit group that holds the U.S. patent for the drug, now has a manufacturer lined up and could begin sales sometime in 1999.
In BC, Health Minister Penny Priddy has been lobbying federal health minister Allan Rock to fast-track the approval of mifepristone, especially in light of the recent violence. Priddy said that availability of mifepristone would greatly increase the number of abortion providers, thereby reducing the overall risk to any individual doctor. The drug can be dispensed from any doctor's office.
The federal Health Ministry has responded by saying that no manufacturer has applied for approval. But Priddy said Exelgyn, the company that holds world-wide rights to manufacture mifepristone, has expressed interest to Rock---however, Rock gave Exelgyn a polite, but chilly reception. Dr. Penny Ballem, vice-president of BC Women's Hospital, said, "If [Exelgyn] had any encouragement from the feds, they would be in like a flash," adding, "I wish the federal government could be as courageous as our provincial government."
Mifepristone works by blocking the hormone progesterone, which is needed to sustain a pregnancy. It is safe and effective as a non-surgical method of early abortion during the first nine weeks of pregnancy.
Please help bring mifepristone to Canada by faxing letters to Federal Health Minister Allan Rock (613-947-4276) demanding that he fast-track the approval of mifepristone in Canada.
Von Dehn Arrested
Cecilia von Dehn, the prominent anti-choice activist who owns the house next door to the Everywoman's Health Centre, was arrested on Friday, Nov. 6 for violating the Access to Abortion Services Act (the bubble zone law).
Von Dehn had been walking back and forth through Everywoman's bubble zone numerous times over the previous few days, apparently deliberately trying to get arrested. On Friday she was seen taking pictures of the zone, which is also a violation. Police were called and were very responsive. Von Dehn had moved inside her house when police arrived, but they left to obtain a warrant for her arrest, and returned later to arrest her. Unfortunately, Crown Counsel deemed there was insufficient evidence, and instructed police to do more investigation work. Police were then forced to release von Dehn.
Another protest a few days later, involving a protester holding the same sign that Maurice Lewis had been arrested with in 1995, resulted in no arrests. The police officer who responded had to review the bubble zone law, a frequent occurrence when police respond. The clinic questioned police on this issue, and were told that because of the continuous change of officers in the area, it is difficult to keep everyone informed. However, clinic representatives had asked Vancouver Police Chief Bruce Chambers last November to provide training to his officers on the Access to Abortion Services Act. It appears such training has yet to take place.
Police response at Everywoman's has been good in recent months, but the apparent lack of commitment by Crown Counsel has been an ongoing frustration for both Everywoman's and the police. Staff at the clinic feel that the lack of bite to the Act's language causes indecision when it comes to charging a person breaking the law.
Rape Victim Denied Abortion
A pregnant, 10-year old rape victim in Brazil was put through various legal hoops before she was finally allowed to get an abortion. This was in spite of the fact that Brazil allows abortion in cases of rape or when the woman's life is in danger.
The girl, who was four months pregnant, was repeatedly raped over the past three years by two neighbours. The men have been arrested and face jail sentences of up to 10 years. They offered food and candy to the girl to lure her into a house where they raped her.
The abortion was initially authorized by the court, but the State attorney appealed, saying the constitution guarantees ``the right to life, including intrauterine life." However, doctors stated that the girl's life could be imperiled by the pregnancy, and the appeals court upheld the original decision.
Local church officials had offered food and other resources to persuade the girl and her parents to keep the child.
Incest Victim Denied Abortion
A 12-year-old Michigan girl who was raped by her 17-year old brother finally obtained an abortion at a clinic in Kansas after a heated public battle. The girl was 27 weeks along when her pregnancy was discovered, too late for an abortion in her home state. When the family tried to travel to Kansas, a local court intervened to prohibit the girl from leaving the state. Offers of money and adoption poured in from around the country, and anti-choice lawyers tried to step in to represent the fetus. However, two doctors produced affidavits saying the girl could suffer irreparable physical and psychological damage if she was forced to carry the fetus to term. After a two-week delay, the girl was allowed to go to Kansas, where she underwent a late-term abortion.
The 17-year-old brother was charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct. The family is concerned that the boy might face prison or deportation. They recently immigrated from India and speak little English.
Heart Patient Denied Abortion
A pregnant woman with a failing heart received an abortion in October in a Texas hospital, 100 miles away from her home in Louisiana where doctors refused to perform the procedure. Michelle Lee, 26, a divorced mother of two, was told three years ago that she could die if she had another child because of the strain it would put on her heart. But in August, Lee discovered she was pregnant after her contraception failed. Her eight-week struggle to get an abortion highlighted the hypocrisy of some of America's abortion laws that are supposed to be designed to protect women.
Lee first sought an abortion at Louisiana State University Medical Center in Shreveport, where she receives treatment for her heart. The hospital refused to perform the procedure because they deemed she had a greater than 50% chance of survival if she carried to term. Lee then contacted the only abortion clinic in Shreveport, but it could not perform the procedure because of the complications of her heart condition. (Lee suffers from cardiomyopathy.)
The National Abortion Federation publicized Lee's case and helped expose the callousness of the hospital in refusing the abortion. Lee's own doctor had stated that carrying a pregnancy to term posed a grave risk to Lee's life. Under Louisiana law, only one doctor's opinion is required to approve a hospital abortion in such circumstances, but the hospital forced through a negative decision by committee, effectively overruling her doctor's opinion.
After a couple of weeks of searching, the National Abortion Federation finally found a doctor in Texas willing to perform the surgery, Dr. Bernard Rosenfeld, of Houston. ''Nobody would let a daughter or sister take a 50% chance of dying," said Rosenfeld.
Trumped Up Murder Charge
Dr. Bruce Steir of California was charged with murder in April after the death of his patient, Sharon Hamptlon, 27. Steir had performed a 20-week abortion on Hamptlon, who bled to death in her car two hours later, while her mother was driving her home. Steir said he unknowingly perforated Hamptlon's uterus during her December abortion and would have hospitalized her had he realized the damage done. Hamptlon was released from the clinic one hour after the procedure, and during that time, her condition was stable, all her vital signs remained normal, and she was alert and in no pain. Uterine perforations are often very difficult to detect.
But the prosecution says that Steir knew what had happened to the woman, did little to help her, and tried to cover up his incompetence.
Many organizations and physicians familiar with abortion procedures have reviewed the facts of the case and have concluded that the charges are baseless. After peer review and investigation, the California Medical Association found that Dr. Steir's conduct was not "criminally negligent, manslaughter, or any kind of criminal act."
The case against Dr. Steir appears to be motivated by anti-abortion politics, and has been exploited and influenced by anti-choice judges, politicians, investigators, and lawyers. For starters, doctors involved in patient deaths are generally sued for malpractice, or sometimes criminal negligence, but never murder. But in September, the judge in the case refused to dismiss murder charges. Also, the Medical Board of California (MBC) issued a report with sensationalistic details about the incident, key points of which later proved to be inaccurate, such as a false charge that Steir had perforated the bowel. The Coroner initially ruled the death accidental, then changed it to homicide only after reading MBC's misleading report. After learning the real facts of the case, he later testified that he believed the manner of death was a case of simple negligence, not murder.
Dr. Steir is not the only abortion provider to have been criminally charged in California. In March, Dr. Gordon Goei was charged with performing an illegal abortion because he was practicing without a license. It turned out, however, that Dr. Goei had unknowingly had his licence suspended a few days before because he had failed a written competency exam. Other doctors have reported that this particular exam is not a fair test of a doctor's competency, and that many doctors fail it. Dr. Goei often performs second-trimester abortions.
In fact, about 90% of doctors in California who perform late-term abortions (and who are not affiliated with a university or a large clinic chain) are either on probation with the MBC, have had their license revoked, or have had to surrender their licence. The MBC often responds to anti-abortion pressures and frequently targets vulnerable doctors for prosecution, where there is no evidence of wrongdoing. Doctors are often forced to accept probation in order to continue their practice.
Teen Endangerment Law Passed
If an American teenager is unable to get an abortion in her home state for any reason---for example, because she needs parental consent---she is now prohibited from crossing state lines to get one as well.
Passed in September, the Child Custody Protection Act (dubbed the Teen Endangerment Act by pro-choice groups), makes it a crime for anyone other than a parent or legal guardian to take a girl to a state that imposes no requirements on underage girls seeking abortions. The bill denies young women the assistance of trusted adults in their decision to terminate a pregnancy. Further, the bill violates women's constitutional rights by making state restrictions on abortion more important than the U.S. Supreme Court decision recognizing that women have a constitutional right to abortion.
Catholic Church Interferes
In mid-November, American Catholic bishops urged Catholic politicians to take action against abortion and urged voters to choose anti-abortion candidates for public office. The statement, developed by seven of the eight U.S. cardinals, also says that officials who "ignore church teaching on the inviolability of the human person indirectly collude in the taking of an innocent life."
But Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany NY said "Any statement that tells people how to vote will be ill-received by Catholic and non-Catholic alike." He warned that if pro-choice Catholic officeholders change their position on abortion, they could be accused of caving in to the church.
New Morning After Pill
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the sale of PREVEN, a kit of emergency contraceptive pills that women can take the morning after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. Meanwhile, however, anti-choice groups in the U.S. have been lobbying heavily against many forms of contraception, including IUD's, calling them abortifacents.
Viagra Yes, Contraception No
American insurance companies practically fell over each other in their rush to cover Viagra, the wonder drug for male impotency. But when it came to covering the cost of contraception for women, they balked.
A bill to cover contraceptives was introduced last year, but never got a hearing. Then the issue gained national attention in July when women's groups complained that many men taking Viagra were already being reimbursed by health insurance companies, while only a third of health plans cover birth control pills.
In the end, the government was shamed into action. The House voted to require most federal employees' health-care plans to cover the costs of prescription contraceptives. The decision affects about 1.2 million women of child-bearing age covered by federal employees' health-care plans. Pro-choice advocates hope that private health insurers will soon follow suit.
Thanks for Your Letters!
Dear Editor: One liberal Christian newspaper compared the terrorism of killing abortion providers with the bombing in Oklahoma by Timothy McVeigh. On the other hand, the support by Archbishop Adam Exner of Paul Schratz's editorial from the BC Catholic: (Vancouver Sun, 5 Nov.) shows us clearly that Catholics lead the anti-choice movement. We also see from Schratz's total absorption in Catholic dogma how difficult it will be to remove the ban on contraceptive use by Catholics that the "infallible" Pope had made permanent several months ago.
Common sense suggests that the reason why Catholics in the US comprise 20-21% of the US population, but have 30-31% of the abortions is because they are trying to obey the ban, but have to end the resulting unwanted pregnancies by abortion. How can people who are convinced that they alone know God's will, be made to see that human survival will require people of all faiths and no faith to work together to stop population growth, and to reduce the wastefulness of the lifestyle that we in the developed world practice?
- Ken McLean, Lower Mainland Sustainable Population Group (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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