The Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, a pro-life group based out of Calgary, has been making headlines these past few months for controversial anti-abortion protesting taking place in Hamilton, Ontario. From campaigning door to door, to protesting outside of schools, the group has escalated to hanging graphic abortion banners over highway overpasses. The seemingly endless barrage of pro-life propaganda has managed to strike a nerve in this industrial city of just over 500,000.
In September, the group began placing explicit anti-abortion banners over the major city thoroughfare, The Lincoln Alexander Parkway, showing the image of a bloody fetus with the message “Abortion kills children.” The city has been dogged with complaints ever since, but the protesters’ actions are absolutely, 100% legal. Exploiting a loophole in the system, the banners are tied to the bodies of the protesters rather than any actual city property, making the distractingly dangerous banners completely legitimate.
This accident waiting to happen finally came to fruition a few weeks ago when a collision occurred right below the banners. Coincidence? The banners are aimed to outrage, so says the group’s co-founder and executive director Stephanie Gray. Just two years into an 18-year long campaign, this could be one long, uphill battle for the city and other areas they choose to target, unless new laws are passed to make this specific type of protesting illegal.
Ward 8 City Councillor Terry Whitehead has been prompted by this accident to finally take action, drafting two by-law motions that will be presented to the city council later this month. One motion would make any banner hung at a highway overpass illegal – a smart choice that should already be in place regardless of the banner’s purpose simply because it’s a high-risk area; and the second would dictate the types of images that can be displayed on banners in general.
Terry Whitehead’s motions are proactive and absolutely necessary in this situation, but the stand-out remark of the long-time city councilor is this, “It’s not taking a position. I want to make that clear.”
Wait, what? You’re “not taking a position”? There are so many levels of debate on this issue. Censorship vs. freedom of speech. Pro choice vs. pro-life. Whitehead’s proposals are purely for the safety of motorists, and to prevent children from seeing graphic images. Again, noble in his aims, but completely missing the major point of this issue.
It’s 2013 in Canada and abortion is legal. We’re a long way from perfect; accessibility can be improved, along with sexual education and better access to contraception. And let’s be honest, it would help if women in the difficult situation of deciding whether or not to keep a baby weren’t forced to see graphic, disturbing images of fetuses while on their drive to work. Or even if women who have faced miscarriage, like Hamilton’s Brittany Gumbert, didn’t have to be constantly reminded, in a very graphic and upsetting way, of their past struggle.
Coun. Whitehead’s “not taking a position” stance is the same go-to neutral sentiment that has been used and abused for too long. We understand that you have to appeal to your constituents, and we understand that you are trying to do the right thing. But let’s be clear, by “not taking a position” you’re very obviously taking a position: The position that says you’re unwilling to stand-up for women’s rights in your city. Women have the right to choose without strangers forcing propaganda down their throats. Women have the right to choose without being made to feel like murderers. This type of vitriolic nonsense has gone on for too long, and when politicians – even local city councilors like Terry Whitehead – refuse to “take a position” they’re sending the message that this type of behavior can and will continue.
When politicians start taking positions, that’s when things change. The vast majority are more afraid of offending certain people than they are willing to defend others. There are a few big names, of course, who are openly pro-choice: Michael Ignatieff, Andrea Horvath, Allison Brewer, Justin Trudeau. While these big-time politicians show a level of support on the national level that is absolutely necessary, it’s time for more local politicians to stick up for the rights of women in their cities. Because it’s these men and women, like Terry Whitehead, who are drafting these motions, getting the phone call complaints, and are really at the front lines of the issue. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that the guy representing you in a very direct way would actually “take a position” and stand up for the women of his city? Stand up against harassment and stand up for the law. Because it is perfectly legal in Canada to get an abortion, and sadly, perfectly legal for this type of graphic protesting to occur. Yet, for some reason, politicians like Terry Whitehead still won’t “take a position.”
What do you think? Should we expect more of our politicians or in this day and age do we have to assume that controversial issues are too dangerous for City Council to weigh in on? Is abortion really still a controversial issue in Canada?
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