women's rights are human rights: defending reproductive freedom in toronto, in massachusetts, in the u.k.

In my recent update, I mentioned I did some pro-choice pamphletting. The anti-choice group that targets universities was planning a demonstration outside of Robarts, the main library at the University of Toronto, and some local activists organized a counter-demonstration. Fortunately for me, it coincided perfectly with my class schedule and I was able to join in.

Anti-choicers held signs on one corner, and pro-choicers had a few people on all four corners of the intersection, which is very busy with pedestrian traffic. We were handing out buttons and this excellent pamphlet: 10 Lies that Anti-Choice Groups Are Telling You About Abortion.

At one point, two fetus-lovers came to work the corner I was on, handing out pamphlets with those very lies. I thought to myself, 20 years ago, I wouldn't have been able to do this. I couldn't have shared a space with those people. Within 15 minutes, I'd be arrested for assault.

Yeah, yeah, free speech, their right to their opinion, all that good stuff. But the anti-choicers are not just voicing an opinion. They are trying to control what people do with their own bodies. And through their friends in the Conservative Party of Canada, they are trying to change the laws - bit by bit, chipping away - to prevent people from exercising their rights. They are trying to limit Canada's reproductive freedom.

Being against abortion is fine. That's every person's right. Being against the right to abortion is not. As the button says: "Against abortion? Don't have one."

Long ago, Allan and I were marching in a pro-choice demo in New York City. Busloads of antis had come to form a human cross through our city to help save us from our wickedness. In response, thousands of New Yorkers took to the streets in a show of strength and solidarity.

We were marching in the street, and the antis were lined up along the sidewalks. We found ourselves walking right along the sidewalk (still in the street, but at the outer edge of the crowd), right next to the antis waving their signs. On an impulse, I jumped out of the march, took an anti-choice sign from a woman's hands, ripped it in half, ripped it in quarters, threw it at her feet, and jumped back into the march. The whole thing took maybe 20 seconds. The anti-choice protester never knew what hit her. I hardly did either! I didn't even think about it, it was just an uncontrolled impulse. People were hi-fiving me; I was laughing, but also shaking a little.

I make no apology. Those people are striking at the very core of my human rights. Those people want us to be reproductive slaves.

* * * *

Several people have sent me this excellent video, which has been widely seen through Salon's Broadsheet blog: a man confronts anti-choice clinic disrupters while his wife is inside, terminating a wanted pregnancy that had a fatal abnormality. He disrupted their disruption - and videotaped the whole thing. Listen to the dismissive way the fetus-lover speaks to him.

* * * *

On the other side of the pond, my friend and former Haven Coalition partner Mara Clarke recently celebrated one year of helping Irish women access safe abortion services in the UK.
Abortion Support Network (ASN) has been up and running for a year, and this week we’re releasing our first annual report detailing the amazing work we have been doing to help women like the one quoted above: women in desperate need of financial assistance, somewhere to stay, or information from an empathetic source.

Abortion is almost impossible to access in and in Northern Ireland, and every year thousands of women come over to England to access the services that they are denied at home. The costs incurred can top £2,000 – could you come up with so much money at a moment’s notice? Women also need advice, information and support to help them through what can be a difficult and stressful time.

Since launching in October 2009, ASN has heard from 66 women in need, given grants totalling £7702.51 to 34 women, and provided overnight accommodation in volunteer homes to 9 women for 14 nights. The circumstances of these women have varied greatly – from a woman with no passport or credit card who became pregnant as a result of rape, to a single mother relocated to escape domestic violence who found herself pregnant by her abusive ex-partner. But what they have in common is the fact that without financial assistance, they would not have been able to access an abortion.

ASN founder Mara Clarke said:

“Women in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland don’t have the ‘right to choose’ that women in England, Scotland and Wales are able to take for granted. Abortion Support Network exists to provide financial assistance and, where necessary, accommodation to women living in Ireland forced to travel to access a safe, legal abortion. Abortion Support Network exists to take money out of the decision making process for these women.”

For newer wmtc readers, I was part of and helped coordinate a similar network (founded by a Canadian!) in New York City. (Details here.) Mara was also a Haven coordinator, and when she relocated to the UK, she started her own similar network. She is truly a hero for choice.

More from ASN [edited to include links]:
Abortion Support Network is an all-volunteer organisation that provides accommodation and financial assistance to women who are forced to travel from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to England to access a safe and legal abortion. Our volunteers provide a meal and a safe place to sleep for women travelling to London for abortions. We also fundraise to provide grants to help towards the cost of having the procedure at a clinic in England. We are the only organisation in England known to be providing practical support of this kind.

In Northern Ireland (despite being part of the UK), and the Republic of Ireland, abortion is illegal except under extremely limited circumstances and it is virtually impossible for women to access an abortion legally. In both countries, however, women can legally travel abroad for an abortion. Further information about abortion law in Ireland is here and here.

In 2008, a total of 5773 abortions were performed in England and Wales on women resident in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (Department of Health, 2009). Additional women are likely to have given a false address or to have travelled to other countries for an abortion.

Women who travel from Ireland to England for an abortion have to pay for their travel and often that of a partner, friend or family member accompanying them (last minute air fares and travel to and from the clinic), for accommodation if an overnight stay is required, and for the cost of the procedure as a private patient. The abortion procedure cost alone ranges from £350 to £1390, depending on stage of pregnancy. Some women must also pay the costs of childcare for children back home and lose wages for time taken off work.

Abortion Support Network is entirely dependent on donations to continue operating. One hundred per cent of donations go directly to helping with the cost of abortions, accommodation and travel, and are very gratefully received. Information on how to donate is here.

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