(and what you can do to denounce it)
by Joyce Arthur
© Copyright September 1998
Abortion is legal in Canada and the United States today because when it was illegal, back in the 1960's, women died. There were hospitals that had whole wards devoted to taking care of women suffering from botched illegal abortions. Many didn't make it, and countless more were left infertile because of rampant infection. Other women committed suicide because they couldn't find anyone to give them an abortion. Or they tried to abort themselves by injecting bleach into their uteruses, rupturing their insides with knitting needles or coat hangers, or throwing themselves down the stairs. Women also suffered indignities at the hands of unscrupulous, back-alley butchers. They were robbed of their life savings, they were raped, they were left alone to bleed to death.
That was the past. Things have gotten better now, and perhaps many of you believe that the right to abortion is here to stay, and there's no need to worry any more. But access to legal, safe, readily available abortion is not a given. That's because abortion has been made into such a political issue -- your ability to get an abortion depends on the whim of whatever politician or party that happens to be in power. But remember, the provision of basic human rights should never be determined by waffling political interests, or by vote.
A lot of anti-choice activity has been criminal or harassing in nature. Let me give you a few examples of what abortion providers and the pro-choice community have had to put up with in the last few years, from so-called "pro-lifers" and "good Christians." Make no mistake -- these people are actually committing hate crimes against women and against abortion providers. In fact, one could draw a lot of comparisons between the anti-choice and the Ku Klux Klan.
The National Abortion Federation in Washington, DC started keeping statistics of anti-abortion disruptions and violence in 1977, for both Canada and the United States. Between then and now, there have been 7 murders of abortion providers and clinic staff, 14 attempted murders, 36 bombings, 150 arsons, 70 attempted bombs and arsons, 350 clinic invasions, 650 acts of vandalism, 100 assaults, 300 death threats, 2 kidnapings, and 330 stalkings. There have been over 3000 reported incidents of hate mail and harassing calls, 420 bomb threats, and over 14,000 protests outside clinics. Many of these figures are badly underreported, because abortion providers have learned to take anti-abortion violence and harassment for granted.
But let me continue with another nauseous litany of what's been happening in Canada. It's so important that you know what's going on. In '92, the bombing of the Morgentaler abortion clinic in Toronto, which completely destroyed it. In '94, the attempted murder of Dr. Gary Romalis in Vancouver. In '95, the attempted murder of Dr. Hugh Short of Hamilton. In '97, the attempted murder of Dr. Jack Fainman of Winnipeg. In '96, a butyric acid attack that damaged the Edmonton Morgentaler clinic.
American women, and many Canadian women, must pay in full for their abortions, even poor women, because of anti-choice political pressure. Women who live outside major centres must travel long distances, because their conservative communities refuse to provide access to abortion. Too many areas have no abortion services whatsoever, and women must travel out-of-state or province at their own expense. There is a declining pool of abortion providers, because many doctors are nearing retirement age, and new doctors don't want to enter the field for fear of anti-choice harassment. And many medical schools don't even offer training in abortion, despite the fact that it's one of the most common medical procedures performed on women today.
Not to be overlooked is the fact that North American women have been deprived of the abortion pill RU-486 because the anti-choice have been successful in blocking it for the last 10 years. No manufacturer is willing to produce it for fear of anti-choice boycotts. RU-486 (now called mifepristone) is a safe, effective, and convenient abortion pill that works on early pregnancies, thereby reducing the health risk to women significantly.
In recent years, anti-choice groups all over North America have waged overt campaigns of harassment against abortion providers. They protest outside providers' homes and offices, follow their cars, harass their spouses and children, send them hate mail, threaten them, slander and libel them, vandalize their vehicles and homes, take pictures of them, write down their licence plate numbers and run checks on them, collect personal information on them through elaborate spy networks (I'm not kidding), encourage violence against them, and of course, shoot them. There's even an anti-choice website called the Nuremberg Files, which publishes extensive information on individual abortion providers and pro-choice supporters, with the goal that one day, when the laws change, the anti-choice can prosecute them for crimes against humanity.
Another thing anti-abortionists do is spread as much misinformation and lies about abortion as they can. You may have heard the claim that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer. That is totally false, let me assure you. They say that women who have abortions are more likely to be child abusers. Another ridiculous fabrication, with no basis in fact. So be suspicious of anything the anti-choice tell you about abortion, because they're not interested in the truth, only in preventing women from having abortions, and if they can't do that, then at least making them feel as guilty as possible. Indeed, women who come to abortion clinics are often surprised and relieved at the professional and supportive care they receive. It seems that many women, when it comes to abortion, expect second-rate care. They expect to be treated shabbily, with disapproval. That's because they've been conditioned by anti-choice propaganda to feel guilt and shame for their choice.
Guilt and shame are the emotions induced in women at fake clinics and counselling centres run by the anti-choice. These include Birthright, Crisis Pregnancy Centre, and others. These groups will try and talk women out of abortion and they often provide false information. Some doctors, too, are anti-choice and will refuse to help patients looking for an abortion. In fact, they may even place obstacles in their way.
What can you do to help protect abortion rights? First, just be more aware and informed. Don't believe anti-choice propaganda. Speak up when you hear an anti-abortionist say something wrong or stupid.
Show your support by attending pro-choice rallies and events. Join your local pro-choice group, or volunteer at your local clinic. If you have money, donate some. Buy a pro-choice T-shirt or button and wear it.
Be aware of your rights and the services currently available to you. In spite of all that anti-abortion activity, the pro-choice community in Canada has been moving forward and offers excellent, comprehensive services. There's abortion clinics in most major centres, and in BC, you can get methotrexate abortions (using pills) up to 7 weeks of pregnancy. You can now get injections of Depo-Provera, a safe, effective birth control method that works for up to three months at a time. You can also go to any hospital emergency department and get the Morning After Pill, which will stop pregnancy within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse.
Finally, help take abortion out of the closet. Talk to your friends about abortion. Don't be afraid to speak up about it. If you've ever had to go through an unwanted pregnancy and an abortion, share your experience with others, or encourage your women friends to talk about their abortion experiences. Don't let women feel guilty or ashamed for exercising control over their lives and health.