Spotted in downtown Victoria: a poster on a busy bus shelter advertising services for women who are pregnant and have questions with thick black marker handwriting on top of the plexiglass. The black writing reads: “Not Helpful – lecture + shame any girl who wants birth control!! Christian Holy-er Than Thou BS.”
I’ve become inured to the sight of these posters downtown, but I did a double-take when I saw the writing and cheered internally once I’d read it. Unfortunately, the writing will soon be gone and someone genuinely seeking help for an unplanned pregnancy might buy into the ad and call them.
The poster is for an organization called Birthright Victoria, which bills itself as a “non-judgemental pregnancy support” that provides “caring, non-judgemental support” to women who face unplanned pregnancies. These organizations set themselves up as safe places to go for judgement-free information about pregnancies, but actually seek to prevent people from having abortions. Yet, despite the language used, crisis pregnancy centers, such as Birthright Victoria, are actually anti-abortion Christian agencies with no medical training that seek to mislead and intimidate folks into not having abortions. Although Birthright doesn’t claim to be Christian on its website, it is listed on many Christian portals and websites and uses a Christian concept for its name.1
(Yes, I keep on saying people because women aren’t the only ones who can give birth. All you need is a uterus. Saying “women” erases many other folks who give birth, such as transmen, genderqueer folks, genderfluid folks and others who don’t strictly conform to the dominant gender paradigm.)
The prominence and prevalence of these organizations is detrimental to those who seek to provide accurate information and services to people about abortions.
In Canada there is no law criminalizing abortions, thanks to Drs. Henry Morgentaler, Leslie Frank Smoling and Robert Scott who, in 1988, challenged the abortion provision in the Criminal Code of Canada by saying that it violated a woman’s right to security. Yet, access to comprehensive services that respect and supports a person’s right to abortion, to have children, and to raise children is difficult to find.
The right to choose an abortion is about much more than the right to a medical procedure. It’s about having access to judgement-free information that presents all the options, including abortion, adoption, and giving birth. It’s also about having financial resources to access that information, which can be extremely difficult if the nearest clinic is on the other side of the province.2 It’s about learning comprehensive sexual education. It’s also about recognizing the histories of colonization and racism that have lead to forced sterilizations of women, the state forcibly taking children away from their families due to stereotypes of being unfit families and cliches about the sexual availability of women of color.
Canada is a long way from being a reproductive justice utopia. Prince Edward Island has no clinic that will provide abortions, the only private clinic in New Brunswick has closed its doors, and the number of doctors willing to perform abortions is decreasing due to fear of harassment.
Yet, there are many activists and organizations who are working to increase access to information and talk about comprehensive sexual education. The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada consists of pro-choice groups and individuals who carry out political and educational work on abortion rights in Canada. Jessica Danforth and The Native Youth Sexual Health Network, an organization she helped create, provide education and information aimed at decolonizing and reclaiming reproductive and sexual health.
So maybe next time I’m downtown, I’ll make sure to have a black marker on hand. In case inspiration strikes.
- The Toronto Star has a great article where they investigated crisis pregnancy centers in Toronto as well as busted some of the prevalent myths about abortions being spread. ↩
- On Vancouver Island, there is only one clinic that will provide abortions, and only up to 20 weeks. (Update: The Abortion Coalition of Canada posted a link to an article that took a historical look at abortion access and travel in Canada: http://activehistory.ca/papers/history-papers-16/) ↩
- This term was coined by Loretta Ross, an African-American activist who co-founded SisterSong, a national collective by and for women of color that seeks to ensure reproductive rights through human rights. ↩