Several weeks ago, late for class, I hastily rushed past a group of pro-life demonstrators congregated on the corner of Harbord and St. George. Organized by University of Toronto Students for Life, this protest and others like it on campus are part of a larger, nation-wide pro-life initiative called the ‘Choice Chain.’ The aims of this campaign include “saving babies,” and “sparing women from the physical, emotional, and spiritual damage that abortion inflicts.”
Demonstrators came brandishing enormous laminated placards displaying blown-up photos of blood and guts. At other demonstrations, post-abortive women have been encouraged to hold signs condemning their own reproductive decisions that proclaim ‘I Regret My Abortion’ and ‘I Regret Lost Fatherhood.’
Although they attempt to assert their legitimacy using science and appeals to morality, most pro-life organizations like Students for Life actually spread misinformation.
If I had stopped to confront the protesters that day, I would have reminded them that it was almost 30 years ago that the Supreme Court of Canada deemed legal restrictions on abortion unconstitutional. This is due to the fact that women’s rights to their own bodies are protected under Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees all individuals the right to security of the person. This fundamental provision throws legal weight behind the idea that a woman cannot be forced into any activity involving her own body without her consent.
With their essential goal to control women’s abortion decisions — which is a fundamental question of bodily integrity — these pro-life protestors are clearly unconcerned with women’s Section 7 rights.
Pro-life ideology within the context of sexual assault is especially abhorrent. As the Campaign Life Coalition puts it, “A baby is not the worst thing that could ever happen to a rape victim — an abortion is.” Not only do rape victims have their bodily integrity forcibly violated, but pro-life groups argue that these victims are also required to bear children conceived under these horrific circumstances. In this way, pro-lifers that encourage women not to have abortions are preventing victims from regaining some control over their own lives when they need it most.
Pro-life ideology within the context of sexual assault is especially abhorrent.
Practically speaking, pro-life groups’ claims to abortion’s apparent harm are rather misleading. Consider, for example, a 2012 US study that found that abortion is a relatively safe practice. Ironically, women are 14 times more likely to die during or after childbirth than as a result of post-abortion complications.
It has also been indicated that the majority of women also do not regret terminating their pregnancies; in 2015, the University of California, San Francisco surveyed nearly 700 women who had received abortions over a three-year period. Over 95 per cent of these women did not regret their decisions, and the few who did had low social support or experienced pressure from their partners. In other words, the choice was not wholly their own.
Given the strong feminist community on campus, I am inclined to believe that many U of T students would support women in their fight to maintain control over their own bodies. Yet why do anti-abortionists remain relatively unopposed on campus? I have yet to see any counter protests or campaigns holding them to account for spreading misinformation.
While it may seem like these pro-life groups are fighting a losing battle, there is too much at stake to be complacent and allow their organization to go unchecked. Support from the Canadian government for abortion services has been lacking. Under the Conservative administration, significant cuts were made to a number of Canadian women’s groups in 2010, and again in 2013, the government refused to fund abortions for overseas war rape victims and child brides.
Meanwhile, the pro-life movement is modernizing to attract youth to the cause by means of podcasts, video contests, and giveaways. As Jonathon Van Maren from the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform stated, “The hairline cracks are starting to form in the abortion consensus, and the more young people we throw at it, the bigger the cracks are going to get.”
At U of T, pro-choice supporters have the ability to make a powerful statement that women’s bodily integrity is a cause deserving of our attention. If you believe in reproductive rights, then organize a counter-protest, or at least go out of your way to combat pro-life arguments, either directly with protestors or amongst your friend groups. Women should not have to feel like their bodies, as well as their fates, rest in hands other than their own.
Teodora Pasca is a second-year student at Innis College studying criminology and ethics, society & law. She is The Varsity’s Associate Comment Editor. Her column appears every three weeks.