Tuesday, April 16, 2013

On Public Safety

When I worked at the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton, there were anti-abortion protesters every clinic day. The boundaries of our property defined where they were and were not legally allowed to walk with their signs, and for the most part they followed those rules. That meant the surrounding sidewalk was full of them, and it was not a wide, big-city street; it was a standard two-person-wide affair that was blocked very easily by the protesters, especially when they had large signs. It wasn't a super interesting street either, so they drew the eye of drivers going by, who would sometimes even pull over to engage with them.

There was the guy who stopped his big silver SUV almost every week for a time, to argue with the protesters about the Supreme Court. There was one memorable woman who leaned on the horn starting a good block away from the clinic and continued blaring it for a block afterwards, using her free hand to flip off the protesters. One pickup truck carrying a patient and her partner was the source of an empty plastic water bottle being lobbed with stunning precision at one unfortunate protester's head.

These situations (and hundreds of others like them; this stuff happened on a weekly basis) were the foundation of our lobbying the government for a bubble zone around the clinic; besides the safety of our patients and staff, it was (is) an issue of public safety. When cars are slowing down without warning, when people walking by are getting into heated arguments, when customers of businesses nearby feel threatened, then it is an issue of public safety. I know many anti-abortion protesters lean heavily on a "free speech" argument when talk turns to turfing them from public sidewalks, and I sympathize because I lean absolutist in the free speech debate. But I also feel that personal safety is paramount, and public safety should be everyone's goal.

So when I read this article in NOW Magazine about the anti-choice activists who are targeting Toronto high schools, I have to agree with the teacher quoted in the article who points out that while the protesters (who occupy the sidewalks just outside of school property) have a right to be there and a right to freedom of speech, high school students don't have a choice about whether or not they have to go to school, so they should have an expectation of safety. And even if the protesters aren't threatening their physical safety, I would argue (as the teacher, Michael Erickson, does) that the expectation of safety should extend to not having to be exposed to triggering images or situations. What does it do to the students who have experienced abortion or miscarriage to see those signs, or to have those people approach them to tell them the "truth" about abortion? It isn't fair that high school students are not free to avoid those messages.

I recommend you read the piece, because it is very good but also terrifying.

Friday, April 12, 2013

"Gendercide" is not even a word

So, the episode of Context TV that I told you about is up online. I don't know what I can say about it, really, except that ARCC will probably ask me never to do TV again after this. There are some two shots of me and Barbara Kay that are truly epic; you can actually see me struggling to process the extremely offensive bullshit she is coming up with.

Anyway, check it out. My face is the star.

(There are three segments, posted in order here; I'm in the second one, and the charming and super prepared Dr. Jesse McLaren is in the first):

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Adventures in Christian Television

If there truly is a god, Context TV will have edited the segment of my "debate" with Barbara Kay out of this episode, but that may be too much to hope for:

I like that although they originally approached the pro-choice people on the show (myself included) in the context of wanting to hear from "both sides", they went ahead and named the episode "Gendercide" anyway. Great job being impartial.

This will air on Global this Sunday, as well as on various Christian networks: full details here. Most likely you will be able to watch it online as well if you're into that sort of thing.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Access to Abortion in Canada: Distance Travelled

I just stumbled across this very interesting project mapping the distances people travel to access abortion in Canada. One of the ways we talk about moving the focus away from a "pro-choice" framework and into a more holistic reproductive justice one is by looking at who can access sexual and reproductive health services.

Working in abortion provision in New Brunswick, I've talked many times about the barriers to accessing abortion in the Maritimes, specifically financial. All those things that apply to abortion also apply to every other sexual and reproductive health service; there is a wide range of services - of varying degrees of accessibility - concentrated in the larger cities, and next to nothing everywhere else, forcing folks in rural areas to travel.

Unfortunately, Canada is a vast place consisting of relatively remote outposts. Our urban centres are few and far between. So when we talk about abortion being legal in Canada, it doesn't make a lick of difference to those for whom it is not accessible, and there are a lot of reasons that the distance between a person and a clinic can make an abortion inaccessible. Some people don't have the vehicle to make the drive or the money to access mass transit (when it's available). Some cannot afford to take the day (or more likely, two days) off work. Some folks are in abusive relationships or other situations that don't allow them to safely get out of town without explanation for a day. Some cannot afford or find childcare that would allow them to make that trip. Some folks have disabilities that preclude making the trip. And on and on.

Even though there are those who do make the trip, it's a terrible thing to ask of them. Abortion may be legal in this country but if it can't be accessed, where's the choice? Looking at these maps and imagining the vast amounts of time, money and energy involved in each trip is exhausting. It's cruel to tell people we have access to abortion in Canada, because we don't.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Lack of Access is Torture

The UN has released a report on torture that includes lack of access to abortion.

I don't know how useful this will be; the linked article seems to think it will be helpful in some way to changing the situation in Nicaragua, but I can't say I'm that confident it will make any difference at all. I love the idea of the UN with my entire heart, but I have a strong lack of faith in their ability (or sometimes, willingness) to get anything useful done.

That said, it is a good thing to have the lack of access to abortion recognized as a serious issue on a global scale, and it gives reproductive rights activists a(nother) credible source to cite when lobbying for change in this area. I firmly believe that the use of someone's body against their will does indeed constitute torture (and that includes forced abortion too) and for what it's worth, I wholeheartedly support the UN on this one.