I’m not easily shocked but I have to admit a group of protesters along University Avenue last week turned my head and very nearly my stomach.
But I suspect that’s exactly what organizers of the anti-abortion group Show The Truth were going for when they set up camp along one of the busiest streets in the province.
Their message was familiar but their medium was, well, shocking. First, they went door-to-door handing out postcards with graphic photos they claim are aborted fetuses. The next day, to protest an international conference at UPEI entitled Abortion: The Unfinished Revolution, dozens of members of the group lined a section of University Avenue with large signs and posters of more graphic images, many of them alleged to be aborted fetuses.
While this kind of shock demonstration might play well in larger centres where many of the protesters came from, I doubt it won many converts to the anti-abortion cause here.
Both Pro Life and Pro Choice groups are well organized in P.E.I. and, as far as I can see, they’ve had little trouble getting their messages out. One group sees it as a question of fairness for Island women who are demanding access to safe abortions in their own province. The other group contends abortion is the killing of unborn children and they want it stopped, period.
An added irritant in P.E.I. is the fact that this is the only province in Canada where medical abortions cannot legally be performed. Since the last therapeutic abortion committee was abolished at Prince County Hospital in 1986, successive governments have taken a hands-off approach. If an Island doctor refers a woman to Halifax for an abortion deemed medically necessary, the province pays the bill. But the province steadfastly refused to pay Island women who had abortions at a private abortion facility in Fredericton. When it closed earlier this year, the issue of access or lack thereof was back on the front burner. But despite demonstrations at Province House and lobbying from both sides, neither the governing Liberals nor Opposition Tories have shown much interest in re-opening the issue.
It’s interesting to note that if access to abortion becomes an issue in a provincial election that may come as early as next fall, both the NDP and the Green Party are on record as supporting a woman’s right to choose.
The waters are just as murky federally where Prime Minister Stephen Harper refuses to re-open the debate on setting legal limits on abortion. However,Liberal leader Justin Trudeau who’s been enjoying a clear lead in opinion polls for months now has demanded that all candidates running for his party in the next election will be expected to stand up for a woman’s right to choose. That includes veteran Island MP Lawrence MacAulay, an avowed Pro-Lifer, who now says he will vote the party line if the issue resurfaces in the House of Commons.
So after years of dormancy, the abortion issue is back on the table and both sides are vying to win public support and ultimately, to persuade legislators that the status quo is fine, or that abortions must be offered here.
In my view, Islanders are more than capable of listening to both sides of this debate and deciding for themselves which side to support. They’ll be able to vote for change or to keep the status quo in the next election. And, as noted, they do have options.
In the meantime, I don’t believe we need to be educated by either side, although I respect their right to present the “facts” as they see them. To that end, the group calling itself Show The Truth clearly crossed a line in Charlottetown last week.
The University Avenue demonstration was like a swift kick in the groin it surely grabs your attention, but the intended message is a little blurred. It’s a questionable strategy protesters would do well to abort.
- Wayne Young is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown