Abortion conversation heating up in Kelowna as pro-choice group grows - InfoNews

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Abortion conversation heating up in Kelowna as pro-choice group grows

Pro choice advocates have been protesting on Tuesday.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Karma Lacoff
June 26, 2019 - 1:30 PM

KELOWNA - Frustrated by the never-ending stream of stories about the erosion of abortion services in the USA,  Kerry-Lee Gray decided it was time she took a stand.

It was May 29, and she asked some friends if they wanted to join her and make their opinions known during the regular Tuesday anti-abortion protest outside Kelowna General Hospital.

Nobody answered her call that day, but undeterred she and her son went, carrying a sign saying, “her body, her choice.”

When all was said and done, she decided she’d do it again the next week. That time around, another woman joined, carrying her own sign. The next week a local business owner joined in, alongside all of her employees, all of whom were also carrying signs advocating for a woman's right to choose.

Then the creation of a Facebook group that attracted 250 members really changed things. Last week 40 people stood with Gray.

This week, Gray started to feel like she was making real changes. She learned that there’s a thing called the abortion service act, which states there can be no protest within 60 metres of a facility providing abortion services for the sake of a woman’s privacy.

Gray called the RCMP and asked them if they were aware of it. They did a little digging and told her that act only applies to designated abortion facilities, which KGH is not.

Even then, however, protestors have to stay 10 metres back from the hospital, which meant this week they had to move from their normal perch to south of Rose Avenue.

There were also some patrols to ensure anti-abortion protestors weren’t blocking sidewalk access and their signs were no longer allowed to be hung on hospital property.

“That’s huge progress in just five weeks,” said Gray.

“I’ve had such positive feedback; one of the nurses at the clinic has reached out to me, and said ‘thank you, we hate those signs. Women have made up their mind, those signs aren’t going to change their minds, it just makes them feel shamed and judged.’”

She also heard from a single mother, struggling with mental health issues, who was on the brink of ending her life when she found out she was pregnant again.

She booked an appointment to terminate her pregnancy but decided she didn’t want to deal with the protestors so instead travelled to Vancouver to access services there.

“It’s really powerful when you hear the stories and think about what these women have faced and how passionate they are,” said Gray.

Many women who have been joining the rally have had similar ideas about the importance of speaking out against the local anti-abortion movement, which has gone on undeterred for the better part of two decades.

Lucy Snider decided to join because she believes it’s important everyone has the right not only choose what they do with their body but also access healthcare services without being shamed on their way to an appointment.

“It’s difficult enough to go to these appointments,” Snider said. “People think that people are skipping in like it’s the best day of their life, but it’s a difficult decision and the last thing they need is a bunch of very deliberately inflammatory and shaming posters and people in their face making them feel bad about their choice.”

Snider said that in the two weeks that she’s been part of the rally, the number of anti-abortion protestors has also grown — though, not significantly. Where there are usually a few, there were 10 this week. And they were noticeably upset by the different viewpoint being offered.

Pro choice advocates have been protesting on Tuesday.
Pro choice advocates have been protesting on Tuesday.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Karma Lacoff

“They’re angry and they will call you names,” said Snider, noting that when some of the pro-choice group tried to speak with them things took a sour turn.

“They’re not open to a dialogue. We’re there, with a message of love and support for people and that’s what we’re concentrating on.”

Mostly, however, Snider who has only lived in Kelowna a year and moved from London, England said she’s surprised this conversation is even necessary.

“I was shocked to see anti-abortion protestors here.

“It’s about choice and acknowledging that if it’s not a big deal to have a baby, that’s the height of privilege. People have to realize that there are people in the world for whom that is not the case, and that’s why it’s important.”

While it’s only been five weeks, the addition of an alternate view has clearly upset the anti abortion group which has taken photos of the women protesting and used them for an ad campaign to rally their troops to fund a new billboard in West Kelowna. Their last one is being taken down after a decision by Ad Standards Canada.

Marlon Bartram, executive director with the Kelowna Right to Life Society, recently told iNFOnews the group's billboard, which has been up for over a year in West Kelowna, violated two sections of the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards — Accuracy and clarity and unacceptable depictions and portrayals. Ad Standards claimed the billboard denigrated women and misinformed the public by suggesting late-term abortions are common in Canada.

"If we had it our way, we wouldn't take it down," he said.

Bartram said Right to Life is exploring their options to put up a new billboard in the future.

"We're not going to lie down," he said. "We'll keep voicing our thoughts."

Abortion has been treated as a medical issue in Canada since 1988. Recent political movements, however, have reignited the conversation on this side of the border with access to abortion becoming more difficult in some provinces.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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