Abortion is one of the most polarizing topics at play around the world.

Politicians, lawmakers, scientists, the healthcare industry and women in particular, and humanity as a whole, have a stake in the legalities surrounding abortion and the right to choose them.  Here in Canada, abortion is legal, safe and covered through our health care infrastructure – though, difficult to find in some rural communities.  Current legislation allows Canadian women have the right to access abortion procedures up to 24 weeks of pregnancy with medical emergency abortions available after that window.  These late-term abortions, while legal, are rare and based on necessity but may require travel to another province or the USA.

In Canadian politics, Erin O’Toole, the new Conservative leader, has publicly announced that he would not allow his party to open the discussion on abortion law in our country.  This is a far cry from the previous leader, Andrew Scheer who slyly skirted the conversation indicating that “he” wouldn’t reopen the discussion but his MPPs were free to.  Under Scheer, more than 40 conservative leaders across the country openly shared their agendas to make abortion illegal again, including MPP  Sam Oosterhoff – it will be interesting to see how open they will be under new leadership and too early to say when the topic will arise again.

Around the World

South of the border, in the USA, we have seen the Republican party attempt to limit access to abortion as well as taking things as far as criminalizing miscarraige.  The death of Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg created a void for women’s rights and abortion laws particularly as her predeccesor, Amy Coney Barrett, is blatantly anti-choice.  The Trump administration worked diligently to defund Planned Parenthood with some success.

Around the world, we also saw some attempts made to limit laws.  In Poland, the far right government attempted to pass a law to make abortion illegal.  For now, the bill is on hold indefinitely as the country erupted in protests.  Overall, in 2020, we are generally seeing abortion becoming safer and more accesible (and legal) in many countries around the world but plenty of work needs to be done to ensure these rights are in place and upheld.

Here at Home

Here in London, during the months of October and November, we seemed to be under siege by anti-abortion imagery.  Our mailboxes were stuffed with graphic flyers, buses displayed ads suggesting there were no abortion laws in Ontario, trucks drove around the city with giant, bloody images, and young people holding huge posters of grisly “abortions” populated street corners.

The group responsible for this imagery is the CCBR (Canadian Centre for Bio-ethical Reform).  The group is based in Calgary and has made their way across the country bringing their misinformation.  When I asked one of their sign holders directly about where they get their funding, I was told that they have private donors without much further elaboration.  CCBR is a non-profit organization but is not designated a charity as it does not qualify with its agenda as proving that their mandate to “advance education” is not based in law, science or healthcare.  This group is already making waves in British Columbia and have plans to further this agenda into 2021.

Countering bus ads. Photo by Katie Dean.

While anti-choice (aka as “pro-life”) protestors and pro-choice protestors often clash, the usage of the graphic imagery proves to be a tipping point in the argument.  Here in London,  Katie Dean and Natalie Wakim formed the Viewer Discretion Legislation Coalition in October to combat CCBR tactics.  They started provincial and federal petitions to help protect Canadians from potential trauma from viewing the alleged depictitions of aborted fetuses being put in mailboxes without envelopes and warnings. The VDLC wants a law outlining how graphic imagery can be delivered to homes across the country, namely with “Viewer Discretion” warnings on them.

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“The most frustrating part of this is that the group delivering the graphic images of alleged aborted fetuses KNOW the images are hard to look at, yet they do not care.  They have said it is more important to save the life of a pre-born child than think of the emotional health of the existing child.  Our volunteers have witnessed this group speaking to school-aged children about abortion and pointing to their signs.  They stand outside high schools and start discussions around abortion with students. They have no regard for human beings and their mental health.  It needs to stop.” Katie says.

Pro-choice protestors. Photo by Katie Dean.

Due to the onslaught of complaints, several city councillors here in London are looking for answers to address the flyers being left in mailboxes and signage throughout the city.  This is similar in the concern about the street-preachers accosting citizens where we need to consider freedom of speech but also how we can still protect the community from unwanted and traumatizing confrontations.

Speaking Up

While the CCBR have left town for now, the London Against Abortion group has taken up the reigns.  This group received “training” from the CCBR and are now using their signage while hitting up street corners in London.  London Against Abortion has also started their own petition to maintain “freedom of expression” on their print materials.  To help shield the public from the graphic images on display by CCBRA and LAA, the VDLC created a Rapid Response Team to alert members where they are being displayed and volunteers can go out to counter – standing in front of the signs and holding up their own pro-choice and viewer discretion posters.

Pro-choice protestors here in London, including the author on the left. Photo by Ursula Ruedhi.

In my own insular world, I’ve been diligent in fighting to maintain the right to choose in our country and maybe even around the world.  Last year, I attended a rally against Sam Oosterhoff in Grimsby, Ontario donning my “pussy hat” and a homemade tee-shirt saying “mind your own uterus” where he left without answering any of the questions at his Town Hall.  I support local women’s groups like the London Coordinating Committee to End Woman Abuse and their work in ending abuse, fighting for equality and having bodily autonomy through volunteering and events.  I joined the VDLC Rapid Response team and drive around with several signs to counter the anti-choice protestors when they show up on corners.  And when I saw that a drive-in near London intended to play the film “Unplanned”, I immediately emailed the theatre about my concerns, rallied like-minded individuals to do the same and contacted the media.  I believe it’s important to keep fighting for the rights we already have and to strive for equality.

So, what can we do?  Learn about the law surrounding abortion in Canada and free speech.  Speak up.  Share the petition.  People are free to believe what they like and they are free to go protest,…but the usage of graphic, misleading images results in traumatized children, women and the general public.

Sign and share the petitions to outlaw the use of graphic imagery on public facing materials:

Ontario petition

Canada petition

Locally, you can also contribute to a GoFundMe to help the VDLC to offset the cost of the bus ads countering the anti-choice agenda that came out this week.

 

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