An eternal clash
Upon our arrival at the conference at an early 8.30 in the morning we were greeted by a group of anti-choice women silently picketing the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre, holding a huge banner stating that "women deserve better than abortions" (ironically enough, my colleague Jane Gabriel remarked that the banner was folded in such a way that at the right angle it read "women deserve better abortions"). I was also handed misguided pro-life leaflets stating (amongst other things) that Marie Stopes was racist. [more...]
Manipulations and distortions
It was therefore only fitting that a couple of sessions were dedicated to addressing the anti-choice movement's tactics, from the distortion of medical facts to the extremism of certain groups. Dr. Leslie Cannold, ethicist and author of The Abortion Myth, talked at length about the anti-choice "women centred strategy". These groups claim many falsehoods and go the extra mile to convince women that an abortion procedure is dangerous for your health (today, a safe abortion procedure is 10 times less dangerous than giving birth).
Notable amongst their numerous tactics were:
- Proclaiming that women don't have the real facts when it comes to abortion. (they, for example, publish "studies" reporting that the procedure may cause breast cancer).
- Use pictures of foetuses during counselling sessions to intidimate women, as well as advocating a "cooling off" period once the woman has made her choice
- Filing negligence suits against providers, who in return have to pay legal fees they cannot afford
- Deceptively advertising themselves as "compassionate" counsellors in yellow-pages advertisements, claiming they are a "free, discreet and respectful 24-hour service".
Effectively, these groups go underground and spend a lot of time and effort trying to hide their pro-life status, often to the detriment of women who consult them for impartial guidance and counselling.
From silent picketing to violence
Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, gave a great presentation on threats to abortion access in the United States. She reminded us that for countries generally considered "safe" it is always a shock when pro-life violence suddenly takes place: in Canada 3 doctors were shot, while a security guard at an Australian abortion clinic was recently killed.
In the United States, vehement protests started to erupt shortly after Congress passed Roe vs. Wade in 1973. Since 1993, 7 doctors have been murdered, and the NAF has recorded 17 attempted murders. There have been 41 bombings, 174 arsons, 378 invasions, 752 blockades, 120,015 picketing accidents and 11,812 hate mail/hate calls. Violence escalated throughout the 90s, with organisations such as the Army of God (link to Wikipedia) publishing manuals stating that the only way to stop providers was simply to kill them. One of their members, Shelley Shannon, shot Dr. George Tiller and is now serving a prison sentence for attempted murder.
Shortly after the murder of Dr. Gunn in 1993 Congress passed the FACE act, which makes it a federal crime to use force, the threat of force, or physical obstruction to prevent individuals from obtaining or providing reproductive healthcare services. In 1998 Dr Slepian was murdered in Buffalo, and the NAF met with Janet Reno shortly afterwards, who established the Justice Department National Task Force on Violence against Health Care Providers which grants providers the right to armed forces for protection. They also managed to get the names of three anti-abortion terrorists on the FBI's "most wanted" list, which eventually led to their capture and convinctions.
Vicki Saporta was adamant that only law enforcement and armed protection made a difference to the security of abortion centres. Sadly, some bombing attempts were still reported this year.
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