Yesterday morning, I arrived at the launch site for the so-called “New Abortion Caravan”, which is a pro-life campaign, co-opting the language of the original pro-choice campaign of 1970 to effect immediate widespread confusion. As is tradition for my presence in such protests, because I wouldn’t dare try to look anything like the people I am so passionately opposed to, I was wearing my clown wig and striped socks. The people I organized with said they could see me coming from a block away. Mission Distinctive Visibility accomplished. We quickly assembled extra signs, assigned tasks, and were able to speak to passersby about what was about to take place.
And Then They Came: The CCBR
The CCBR is the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform, which is a pro-life organization associated with such projects as the pro-life demonstration I have spent two weeks protesting already, as well as the Genocide Awareness Project already mentioned when I linked to the UBC student who was badgered for stripping nude and sitting silently in a chair in front of their posters. This is their Facebook page, where they claim they want to make abortion “unthinkable” (Hello, Thought Police!) and give the appearance of being open to dialogue. What they really do, though, is answer any argument that threatens to change their opinion (e.g., you are confusing the yolk of an egg with the hen that laid it) with either propaganda-non-answers or refutation on the basis that it is “scientific illiteracy”. It seems abundantly obvious to me that they have conflated what “scientific consensus” is (i.e., which has yet to be achieved on this issue, really, given that science is conducted on a principle of doubt), with what philosophy of science and/or biomedical ethics are. They offered no answer for that one, either. I hadn’t even addressed the problem of whether or not it is accurate to call someone’s literacy into question, when they clearly have command of the English language and of modern biology.
Before they set anything up or revealed themselves, one of their photographers started taking pictures of us from a distance, without speaking to any of us, until they brought out their four-and-a-half-foot-tall signs depicting deceased fetuses that have been spread out in the palm of someone’s hand. These signs claim that their subject matter are the product of abortion, but that is inaccurate — they are more often photos of miscarried fetuses; and if they are abortions, they are photos of the products of illegal procedures (meaning that they are actually holding up signs that depict what will happen if their campaign to criminalize abortion is successful). They didn’t waste much time finding as many femmes as they had at their disposal to stand in a wall formation, holding up these ridiculous propaganda signs. And one of them stood in the middle, holding a sign that declared that she regrets her abortion. Then they brought out their podium, and invited a “local celebrity” to sing the national anthem.
They did not acknowledge that we are all standing on unceded First Nations territory, in front of a building that was housing an exhibit of contemporary Indigenous artwork, down the block from where aboriginal women were being plucked off the streets by a serial murderer, or that on the other side of that building, a drum circle was forming with Indigenous and non-Indigenous supporters of a 24-hour protest currently still taking place to protect the grave sites of First Nations ancestors from being covered with a condominium. Instead, they got right into their public sermons, declaring that abortion is totally exactly the same as genocide, while one silently continues all around us as they do nothing to even acknowledge it. They claimed that women who access an abortion should be thrown in jail for perpetrating murder against “our pre-born brothers and sisters”, who they claim number as high as 3,000,000 since 1970 in this country alone; eliminated at a rate of 266 per day. They also put their propaganda signs in the hands of children who are clearly too young to comprehend the political significance of participating in such demonstrations, and made sure one of their speakers was 8 months pregnant, while they insisted that anyone born in 1988 or later is a “survivor” of the “genocide” that is access to safe abortion.
I find myself wondering where exactly these numbers come from because a) the math just doesn’t add up (300,000 more women are alive today because they didn’t die in septic obstetric wards from coathanger- or knitting-needle-abortions, meaning each of them would have had to abort 10 pregnancies to fulfill CCBR’s numbers), and b) private medical information (such as chart notes from an abortion clinic) is confidential. Enormous changes in how medical information is handled have taken effect since 1970 (and while a walk-in clinic in Toronto may dictate very strict protocol, my experience working for doctors has shown me that this varies across the country), and pregnancy is not a guarantee of the birth and life of a viable human being (i.e., miscarriages and stillbirths occur, along with premature births resulting in non-viable infants who die in neonatal intensive care units). This matter begs for an answer as to how the number of “pre-born brothers and sisters” — who never were because of safe and legal abortions accessed since 1988 (the year abortion was successfully de-criminalized) — is empirically determined. However, they simply do not seem interested in offering the rational discourse they demand from anyone who dissents, as they deny the civic identity of anyone whose tone isn’t particularly pleasant and flowery, right before policing their tone. Ultimately, I have serious doubts that they are even aware of what the words “rational discourse” mean.
We Fight Back
I brought back the same “Men Who Raped Me Agree” and “No One Is The Body Police” sign that I used this past Saturday, and we saw many reclamations of slogans and signs that were used in 1970. I feel these reclamations are important because, despite gaining de-criminalized access to abortions in 1988, Canadian women still don’t possess the legal right to access an abortion. It is not protected. Some “clinics” are just anti-choice propaganda centres that intentionally do not offer any assistance or services for pro-choice women to execute a decision other than enduring a pregnancy they don’t want. Women are forced to access abortion through self-referral, and as such, are vulnerable to being duped and silenced by these faux-clinics when they are most in need of both the help they seek, and being heard without condemnation or judgment. It’s dishonest and unethical. The shaming of women for being pro-choice (even if they have a child) or for accessing an abortion goes unchallenged by our government, and so do the extremely unethical tactics of setting up faux-clinics or protesting abortions on the same intersection as an actual clinic. The fight to end discrimination against women by Canadian law has not ended, and abortion politics are just one face of a much bigger, multi-faceted problem.
Tactics We Used
All of us were non-violent, but none of us were peaceful about it. We were not pacifists, offering our wrists to be handcuffed to police (which, until Occupy Wall Street, was a respected method of peaceful protest, that has since been answered by police aggression). We stood in noise-making swarms, yelling “Shame! Shame! Shame on you!” among other succinct and passionate chants, through the entire duration of their speeches. Many of us used noise-making devices as well (I honked my clown horn until it was out of honk — that’s the second one I’ve broken this way). We also stood lining the street in front of the protest site, with many people holding signs that read “HONK if you love CHOICE!” We were exceptionally fortunate to have a loudspeaker, as well as an amplifier playing dance music on the sidewalk. When the pro-lifers formed a wall with their signs on the sidewalk, we used our bodies and signs to block them from public view. One of them literally started pushing one of the people who were there to demonstrate against them. This is especially funny, because if any of the pro-choice demonstrators so much as laid a finger on one of the pro-life signs, they’d be sued into the stone age. We also passed out quarter-page flyers, blue arm bands so that we could identify each other as allies, and vegan cookies (arguably the best part is the many kinds of support we offer each other).
When The Sun Came Out, Trouble Began Brewing
After all the scowling dictators were done giving sermons, and the pro-lifers retreated from the sidewalk with their wall of signs, they formed what they refer to as a “valley”. Arranged in a semi-circle, their signs once again formed a wall. And behind that wall, the very people I’ve been protesting for two weeks stood holding their signs in the air, alongside many more people who were holding up signs for another pro-life rhetoric website. Many pro-choicers arranged themselves facing the “valley”, shouting passionately at them (which frankly involved a lot of profanity, because it felt fucking great to swear at them). I flipped my shits at them. I told them what the people they are standing in front of are doing on my streets every Saturday afternoon — I told them that they are defending slut-shaming, rape-victim-blaming, and the people who openly espouse these beliefs. I told them that they are defending forcing rape and incest survivors to endure pregnancy when they are carrying their perpetrator’s child. I demanded to know what the fuck is wrong with them, how they sleep at night, and how they live with themselves. They just stood there silently, their faces slowly contorting into a grimace of disgust. Especially the women, to whom I shouted “You are not immune! You think this can’t happen to you but it can, and when it does, you won’t be standing by them any more!”
As the sun came out, I was more than happy to strip down to my underwear and prance down the middle of the “valley” like the ass clown I was dressed as. Many of the pro-lifers looked positively disgusted by this exhibit of bodily autonomy, and a couple of them literally followed me around (keeping a safe distance, as if I was contagious), making sure I could see that they were scowling in disapproval, any time I turned in their general direction (it helped that one of them was wearing a highliter green jacket). That’s about when I heard that one of the pro-choicers was bothered by someone for flashing her bare chest. I answered this by removing my bra and prancing around some more. My point being, of course, that no one is the body police. And this is when a police officer approached me.
Officer Body Police approached me alone, and told me that I’m not being decent or respectful. I said yes, I am, actually. He asked me to “put some clothes back on”. I said I am wearing clothes. He insisted that this is a pro-life/pro-choice demonstration that has nothing to do with public nudity. I said I’m not nude. He said he’s just asking me once to cover up, as pro-choice women started to gather around me, and I said “But it’s legal to be topless, and this is a public space. For what reason should I have to put anything back on?” Without answering, he said “OK, I’ve just asked you to cover up” and walked away. But then he came back another ten minutes later (alone again). This time, he told me I’m in violation of public decency laws. I asserted again that it’s legal to be topless, and asked how it can be illegal to be topless when it is, in fact, my legal right (the law protects me from being badgered or harassed for being topless). He refused to answer, so I kept asking. As women gathered around me again, he claimed he’s giving me my first warning for public indecency. I asked again — “How is it illegal to be topless when it is legal to be topless?” — and he simply stated “I’ve given you your first warning” and walked away.
Suffice to say that I was confused, alarmed, and concerned for my continued security. I felt violated, and I felt paranoid that if I don’t act quickly enough, I’m going to be in handcuffs and locked up in a holding cell without any valid reason. And I’ve already been put in a holding cell before. And I’ve worked for doctors whose patients come in and tell me about what happened to their daughters when they were detained in a holding cell. I’ve seen the video tape of what happens in the holding cell in this particular police jurisdiction. It’s been in the papers. It’s deeply disturbing, especially at the prospect of being under the thumb of a sexist pig who would threaten me for violating a law that actually protects my right to do what I was doing. But before long, despite encouragement and support from virtually all the women within arms’ reach, the Earth made the decision for me. Within a few minutes, it was simply too cold to stay out of my clothes. And with that, the pro-lifers packed up and stopped repeatedly driving their misinformation sideshow vans around the block.
The End Of The Demonstration
I stayed from the beginning until the end. And with my clothes finally back on, I stayed until all the pro-lifers had moved on. I took a seat so I could drink some water, and wound up in a conversation for over an hour, among people who are familiar to me as well as in the company of strangers. I was later informed that the pro-lifers had taken their displays a couple blocks away, and formed a wall around the corner of an intersection there. But the conversation we were having, distinguishing between someone who says they are “pro-life’ and someone who says they are opposed to a woman’s choice to abort, just seemed more important than further badgering the pro-lifers alone and without any sort of safety-in-numbers or the sense of security that comes along with dozens of bodies gathered in the same space for the same reasons (especially with Officer Body Police running around watching my every move). How ironic, it is, that I can walk topless in the gay pride parade (and even high-five multiple cops along the parade route), but not stand topless at a pro-choice/anti-body-policing counter-protest. I can’t help but speculate whether or not Scowling Guy In The Highliter Green Jacket has something to do with that sexist pig slut-shaming me.