Women’s reproductive rights are up for debate?

Brock Life-line is a student club at Brock University whose mission is to educate the university community about the inherent value of each human life from conception to natural death. They also define themselves as a hub to direct students to various “pro-life” resources, such as crisis pregnancy and post abortion centres.

While most of the information on their web site is opinion based, a couple things come to mind when trying to understand what this group is all about. First is some of the information they are using.

In the group’s constitution, the guiding principles state that they base themselves on truths held to be scientifically demonstrable.

An essay on the web site written by Melissa Otten, states that “Abortion doesn’t only hurt the baby girls. Many grown women also suffer, physically and mentally, as a result of having an abortion. They suffer physically – even when performed properly and legally, abortion is never a ‘safe’ procedure”.

What research actually finds is that although women experience a broad range of emotions after abortion, the most common emotion experienced is relief. The American Psychological Association Task Force on Abortion, having reviewed the best available studies, concluded that women are at no greater risk for mental health problems when they have a first trimester abortion than if they give birth. The risk of having emotional problems is increased if you have psychological problems prior to becoming pregnant or if you have to abort an intended pregnancy.

A study at Johns Hopkins University also found that there was no difference at all in long-term mental health outcomes between women who have had abortions and those who have not.

This essay on the Brock Life-line web site also cites abortionincanada.ca, which details the claimed risks of having an abortion.

“Short term risks include retained fetal and placental tissue, endometritis (infection of the lining of the uterus), uterine perforation and lacerations, hemorrhage, cervical lacerations and injury and saline poisoning, to name only a few. Longer term risks include breast cancer, premature labor in future pregnancies and even infertility.”

Extensive reviews by organizations like the National Cancer Institute, The American College of Obstetricians, Gynecologists Committee on Gynecologic Practice, The Canadian Cancer Society and American Cancer Society have concluded there is no causal link between abortion and breast cancer.

Is the purpose of this myth to protect women’s health and well-being or to scare them out of choosing to have an abortion?

The information is framed to exaggerate the risks of abortion and does not take into account the comparable (yet still small) risks of giving birth. It explains the different ways abortion is performed and it is described in such a way as to make it sound violent. It also tries to persuade women not to take emergency contraceptives by minimizing the risk of pregnancy.

Another red flag that came up while searching Brock Life-line was the organizations and people they were promoting.

Scott Klusendorf, president of Life Training Institute, was also invited by Brock Life-line to speak in defence of the “pro-life” position at Brock on February 28, 2012. His professional career is lecturing about the importance of “pro-life” and also trains thousands of students at Protestant and Catholic high schools on this position.

Brock Life-line hosted a talk on March 4, 2011 with Stephanie Gray representing the organization, Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR) in a presentation called “Echoes of the Holocaust” which attempted to compare abortion to genocide.

Brock Life-line will also be bringing in Gray to speak at Brock in another presentation entitled “Abortion: Human Right or Human Rights Violation?” on Oct. 4, 2013.

 Recent history of the Canadian Centre for Bio- Ethical Reform

The CCBR has been very active and quite up front about their goals to undermine the established Constitution rights on abortion.

In 2012 Canada saw a nation-wide campaign lead by the CCBR called the”new abortion caravan”.

During this specific campaign, the CCBR used travelling billboards, large posters and other media tactics that displayed graphic images of abortions.

Second Vice President Fran Lasorda of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) spoke out against this campaign explaining how “the fear, guilt and shock tactics behind the caravan works only to alienate the general public. These tactics are meant to terrify women, rather than work towards a well informed and safe decision.”

The CCBR have also been hand-delivering over 250,000 graphic postcards to every municipality where the Member of Parliament voted against motion 312. M-312 was brought forward in 2012 by Kitchener Centre MP Stephen Woodworth attempting to crack open abortion rights by calling to review the declaration in subsection 223 (1) of the Criminal Code which states that a child becomes a human being only at the moment of complete birth. The postcards feature a picture of the MP next to a fetus, gaining the CCBR mostly bad publicity and outrage in communities for their unsolicited graphic images.

Joyce Arthur, founder and Executive Director of Canada’s national pro-choice group, the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC), has also been following the CCBR’s campaigns, understanding the group as having little impact on public opinion.

“I would argue that abortion rights in Canada are more firmly rooted today than in 2001, possibly in part because of the group’s own destructive tactics,” wrote Arthur in the article Why fetus porn doesn’t help the anti-choice cause.

Many people call their “education” campaigns plain propaganda. The CCBR asserts that their depictions of abortion are the truth. Arthur’s article also explains that the images have never been proven legitimate.

Cynthia Gorney in her book Articles of Faith: A Frontline History of the Abortion Wars writes, “Sources are usually unknown or misattributed. Many appear to be from old illegal abortions, some might come from other countries where abortion is restricted, and some are even stolen from hospitals or otherwise ill-gotten.”

Other criticism that the CCBR has garnered is that “Most pictures supposedly show later abortions, but doctors and nurses who have looked at them say they more likely depict miscarriages and stillbirths. Regardless, such fetus porn is not representative of most abortions because 90 per cent occur before 12 weeks,” writes Arthur.

The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada’s (ARCC) explains that “According to Statistics Canada, less than one per cent of abortions are performed after 20 weeks, usually for serious health reasons. Around 90 per cent of abortions are performed within the first 12 weeks, at which point an embryo or fetus could not be as developed as the images portray.”

Other projects the CCBR funds are “Choice” Chain, the Genocide Awareness Project and the Reproductive “Choice” Campaign.

On their web site (unmaskingchoice.ca) CCBR state that they “began to force the topic of abortion into the national consciousness”. They also claim that due to their successful tactics, they decided to launch another strategy seeking to end abortion in Canada called EndtheKilling.

Rhetoric is defined as the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing.

 Is this really about free speech?

Pro-Choice Pro-LifeTrying to provide accurate scientific information about abortion is important in order to make a fully formed opinions and difficult decisions about the issue. When we begin to talk about ethics, things can get even trickier.

I have used the term “pro-life” within this article thus far, but would like to discuss how abortion is framed by groups who wish to criminalize women and turn back the clock on their rights.

Although it is unclear whether speakers like Coren and Klusendorf advocate for the outlawing of abortion, they still frame the debate as “pro-life” and “pro-abortion” or “anti-life”.

The most important thing to understand is that the opposite of “pro-life” is not “pro-choice”. The opposite, in a linguistic sense would be “pro-abortion”.

No one is inherently pro-abortion, because that would be an atrocity that humanity would not accept. Pro-choice is not about forcing people to have abortions, but being anti-choice means forced pregnancy.

“Unlike anti-choice groups, the pro-choice movement also promotes sexual health education, contraception and services for mothers, such as public accessible childcare. Because of this, pro-choice and anti-choice are not two opposite sides of the abortion debate; anti-choice promotes forced pregnancy, the opposite of which is forced abortion,” said the ARCC.

Individuals and organizations that define themselves as pro-choice then make the important distinction that pro-choice is the middle-ground position. Groups that paint “pro-choice” as “pro-abortion” falsely imply that abortion is promoted over all other options.

“The pro-choice view opposes this extremist, discriminatory position, and says that women should have information on and equal access to all pregnancy options, in a safe, non-judgmental atmosphere. In fact, pro-choice health care is the professional standard in this country for all health care-patients must be respected as responsible decision-makers, be given unbiased and accurate information on all options, and not be morally judged for the choices they make. Anything less is unethical and unprofessional,” writes Arthur in a speech given at the University of Victoria on why anti-choice activity should not be supported by universities.

The common assumption then is that pro-choice is the very opposite of anti-choice, and through freedom of speech, we must allow both equal space to exist.

By engaging in debates, groups like the CCBR are being given the message that what they stand for is “debatable”. Publically debating women’s rights sends the message that the two positions are morally equal.

This can be seen in a debate Brock Life-line hosted on Jan. 17, 2013 where Stephanie Gray represented the “pro-life” side. Dr. Fellows from the University of Western Ontario represented the pro-choice side and spoke about his experiences conducting abortions and his reasons why.

It came down to Gray seemingly winning the debate. Both speakers have done these debates together across different Universities (you can see one of their debates here: youtube.com/watch?v=KyV_GoR_myc).

Brock Life-line’s event on Oct. 4, 2013 was also intended to have the same format.

“We had originally intended for this event to be a structured debate presenting both sides of the abortion issue. Unfortunately we were unable to find someone willing to represent the pro-choice perspective this year, although numerous people around Brock were contacted,” said Brock Life-line.

They were also willing to structure the event as a debate if a representative stepped out and Gray agreed to the presentation change on short-notice.

 While freedom of speech protects these groups spreading their messages, institutions like Brock also have a role to play.

What’s Brock’s role?

In fact, “pro-life” groups are free to organize on campuses because the majority of space and resources are owned and controlled by the institution, and therefore remain available to any group, as long as the institution allows it.

Student unions are another story.

Some student unions in the context of the abortion “debate” have taken the position that the denial of limited resources does not constitute a restriction of free speech or accessing campus space. Some student unions also understand that deciding not to use student fees to fund groups seeking to criminalize abortion is a significant position to take.

While Brock Life-line is a ratified club with BUSU, the line between whether or not they are actively seeking to criminalize abortion or just promote discussions on abortion is blurry. If the Brock Life-line endorses the “pro-life” view, this means that they are part of the movement supporting its legal prohibition or restriction of abortion.

Liv Meriano, Vice President of Student Services says that “We have competing clubs such as Conservatives and Liberals which are allowed to exist on campus as long as they follow the rules outlined in the Clubs Bylaw 2550, The Student Code of Conduct and various other documents that guide student behavior…No group shall be ratified which practices discrimination in the acceptance of its members or executive members, or knowingly violates any of the procedures contained in Bylaw 2550.”

Looking at Bylaw 2550, its definitions pertaining to this issue may contradict one another. Members can be removed if they act in violation of international, federal, provincial or municipal law, Ontario Human Rights Code and the Criminal Code of Canada, the BUSU Constitution, “The Clubs Handbook for Clubs” or ‘Bylaw 2550’, The Club’s constitution, the Respectful Work and Learning Environment Policy of Brock University. However, club interests cover the freedoms, privileges and responsibilities provided by being a student, including, but not limited to, freedom of speech, academic and political freedom, and respect for human rights.

“A university has an obligation to provide a safe and positive environment for students that is conducive to learning. Openly public activities on campus that are divisive, discriminatory, hateful, and emotionally upsetting for many students detract from that goal,” wrote Arthur.

Arthur also has stated that universities like UBC have had much controversy, student unrest, emotional upset (a spike in counselling services), and a divisiveness on campus. There has also been violence and vandalism on campus with displays by the CCBR’s Genocide Awareness Project, which continues to tour Canadian campuses.

“Clubs are required to submit all events to the university risk management procedure for scrutiny. Based on their five tier risk assessment, steps can be taken to ensure that a club event will meet our expectations of safety, while keeping free expression from being trampled,” said Meriano.

“BUSU’s mandate is to effectively represent undergraduate students by providing a variety of programs, opportunities, and services while creating an atmosphere and culture of acceptance, inclusion and tolerance. Our framework for holding clubs accountable centers on these principles.”

Carleton University Students’ Association, labelling itself as a pro-choice organization rejected Carleton Life-line’s recertification on the basis that the club’s constitution violated the student union “discrimination on campus policy” stating it will “respect and affirm a woman’s right to choose her options in case of pregnancy.”

The student union stated that “actions such as any campaign, distribution, solicitation, lobbying, effort, display, event, etc. that seeks to limit or remove a woman’s right to choose her options in the case of pregnancy will not be supported” and that “no CUSA resources, space, recognition or funding will be allocated for the purpose of promoting these actions.”

Will Brock University Students’ Union accept or reject the myth that “pro-choice” is the equal alternative to “pro-life”?

Having a pro-choice policy on campus is not only important, perhaps it is essential. The pro-choice view is democratic. It respects the constitutional rights of women, their human rights, their autonomy, and their right to access legal medical services. It also respects the rights of students who do not agree with abortion because, according to the pro-choice view, if you don’t like abortion, don’t have one.

Brock Life-line’s event is scheduled for Friday, October 4 at 7:00 p.m. in Issac’s Bar and Grill on Brock’s campus.

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