Two Toronto mothers say they are concerned about graphic anti-abortion flyers being delivered to homes in two west-end neighbourhoods and one is taking it upon herself to remove them from mailboxes.

Liz Phillips, who lives in Roncesvalles, and Maya Bastian, who lives in Parkdale, say the flyers are disturbing, inappropriate and being viewed by children picking up the mail.

Each flyer has two photos, one of a seven-week old fetus in utero, and another of an aborted eight-week-old fetus on a white background. Both photos are framed by green. They are printed by the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform.

Phillips and Bastian say teenage girls delivered the flyers to their respective neighbourhoods this week.

Phillips, a mother of two sons, aged 7 and 9, found the flyer in her mailbox on Wednesday. She decided to clear her block of the flyers by going to each home, removing the flyers from mailboxes and replacing them with sheets she printed herself, explaining her action and indicating that she has kept the flyers for anyone who still wants to view them.

Liz Phillips

Liz Phillips, a Toronto mother, says of anti-abortion flyers delivered to homes in the city's west end this week: "My main concern was with the graphic nature of the brochures."

"I'm pro-choice, so I don't like the messaging itself. I also don't assume that everybody on the block thinks the same way," Phillips said. "My main concern was with the graphic nature of the brochures."

Phillips said one of her neighbours, walking behind her on his property, was surprised to see her but agreed with her action after she talked to him about it. She said neighbours on other blocks are also removing the flyers from mailboxes. But she said she doesn't want to be "policing" her neighbours' thoughts.

"I've kept copies at my address. I just want to prevent anyone from being upset by something that is kind of inappropriate."

Toronto police say it is not illegal for Phillips to remove the flyers because the printed matter is not addressed, they haven't been processed by the post office and therefore not considered mail. Breaking and entering involves a residence, not a mailbox. 

Images called 'obscene'

Bastian said her five-year-old daughter found the flyer in her mailbox on Sunday and the discovery led to a discussion of abortion, a conversation that she said she did not want to have with her child until she was older. She said her daughter had nightmares for two nights after seeing the imagery.

Anti-abortion flyer

The back of an anti-abortion flyer produced by the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform outlines its opposition to the medical procedure. (Elise Ondet)

"My first instinct was just rage. Why would anyone put this where a child could see it?" she asked. "It's disturbing even to an adult."

Bastian said she explained abortion to her child without going into the details. "It was really hard to explain abortion but I respect her a lot and that is the relationship we have."

Her next step was to email her MP, Arif Virani, who represents Parkdale-High Park, and her city council representative, Coun. Gord Perks, about the flyers and she plans to file a complaint with Advertising Standards Canada, non-profit, the advertising industry's self-regulatory body.

"To me, it's obscene. It's just as obscene as if I were delivering porn flyers. The images are burned into my brain. If it is in my brain as a 37-year-old, then what is it doing to a five-year-old?"

Bastian said she will "take this as far as I can take this."

The Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, an anti-abortion organization based in Calgary, did not return calls.