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Countering the anti-abortion protests on Bank St

Group rallies against 40 day clinic picket

COUNTERPROTESTING. The anti-abortion vigil on Bank St will not go unchallenged, says Jenn Farr and members of the Pro-Choice Coalition of Ottawa. Credit: Noreen Fagan

The anti-abortion movement is a powerhouse, organized by fundamentalist Christians with endless resources at its disposable. The movement remains unchecked — it systematically targets organizations in a crusade to deny women their reproductive rights.

It has been the single most powerful force in an ongoing social controversy — until now.

The Pro-Choice Coalition of Ottawa (PCCO) is an activist group ready to fight. With a strong pro-choice mandate, it is prepared to respond to any action threatening reproductive and sexual rights.

PCCO was formed in 2008 in response to bill 484, which, had it passed, would have amended the criminal code to apply extra penalties to people convicted of murdering pregnant women. The bill is believed by many pro-choice advocates to be the back door route to criminalizing abortion — protecting the fetus’s rights as if it were a person.

Emily Symons and Jenn Farr are two of PCCO’s core members. They are vivacious, enthusiastic and determined to fight for a woman’s right to control her reproductive choices.

Farr, a mother of a teenage girl, is plainspoken about her reasons for joining PCCO. Farr is energized by being in a group that is not afraid of tackling advocacy work head on.

Both women are intimately involved in PCCO, working with other members to decide its future and outline its goals. Their definition of pro-choice extends further than women’s reproductive rights  — it supports the rights for people to self-identify their gender and may autonomous choices about their sex lives.

“I would like to see PCCO achieve reproductive rights in Ottawa and that ranges from appropriate health care to rights to abortion services,” says Symons.  “I would like that to be done without shame and without apology.”

One of their first community events was at the community-wide Glebe garage sale in May. Members of PCCO set up a table, gave out cups of coffee and talked about reproductive rights. For Symons and Farr, the event was humbling — women shared stories about their abortions, families stopped to talk about reproductive issues and one older woman talked about her experience with being pregnant before abortion was made legal — over 20 years ago.

Nowadays, the average wait time for a woman to obtain an abortion in Ottawa is over three weeks with some women having to wait up to eight weeks.

“The government certainly isn’t helping it become more accessible,” says Farr. “Abortion over the years has become less accessible, fewer clinics — women have to travel farther.”

There will always be women needing abortion services and if women have to travel to exercise their choice, they will. But traveling will not solve the ongoing problem of societal pressure applied by conservative and religious groups.

“I think that there is the stigma that women who seek abortion services are somewhat irresponsible or did something wrong,” says Symons. “Anti-choicers will say you should have used birth control or you should not have had sex before marriage.”

From Sep 23 until Nov 1, the religious right will be protesting outside of abortion clinics across North America as part of the 40 Days of Life campaign. Locally, their target is the Morgentaler Clinic on Bank Street, Ottawa’s only private abortion provider.

This protest will be the third anti-abortion demonstration against the clinic this year.

This time the anti-abortion supporters will be up against a grassroots campaign called Every Day for Choice. PCCO, in conjunction with Planned Parenthood Ottawa, will be counter-protesting outside the clinic.

They will be on the sidelines with bright coloured posters supporting a woman’s right to choose, and they will be working quietly to escort women to and from the clinic.

This is PCCO’s first organized protest and one that will be evolving as the month unfolds. The group may be small but they are passionate, fiery and will not give up.

“It’s very important to me,” says Symons,  “I ride the bus past there [Morgentaler Clinic] everyday and it makes me angry every time I see them, I feel threatened as a woman who might need abortion services one day or might want to make that choice and it makes me feel threatened that I can’t seek a health care service without being shamed and intimidated because of it.”

TAG: Find PCCO on Facebook or at prochoiceottawa.blogspot.com.