London

Politicians, activists trying to stop display and distribution of graphic anti-abortion images

The London battle against graphic abortion images displayed and distributed by a Calgary-based group is being fought on several fronts, including counter-protests and petitions to municipal and provincial politicians.

One petition is going to city politicians, another will be presented in the provincial legislature

Volunteers with the Viewer Discretion Legislation Coalition stand at London street corners and block graphic images of aborted fetuses displayed by the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform. (Supplied by Katie Dean)

A battle in London against graphic abortion images displayed and distributed by a Calgary-based group is being fought on several fronts, including counter-protests and petitions to municipal and provincial politicians.

NDP MPP Terence Kernaghan has one petition on his website, calling for a provincial injunction against the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform (CCBR) and its flyers which show aborted fetuses. 

If an injunction isn't possible, Kernaghan and others want legislation "to prohibit the use of such graphic and disturbing images on flyers dropped in people's mailboxes or exhibited on placards used in the street." 

Another petition, with 5,000 signatures, will be presented to city politicians next week, and calls for a bylaw that would prohibit the delivery of flyers to any home that had a "no flyer" sign on the mailbox. 

"We understand there's freedom of expression, and we don't want to limit freedom of expression, but right now what they are doing is traumatizing women on a daily basis," said Katie Dean, a London woman who was so angered by the flyer left in her mailbox that she started the group Viewer Discretion Legislation Coalition and has been pushing for reform.

"I've heard of kids who have nightmares because of these flyers. There is a woman in this city who won't leave her home because she experienced pregnancy loss and she is afraid to encounter these people and their disgusting images."

Volunteers counter-protesting

Dean and a handful of protesters have been tracking where the volunteers and interns for the CCBR have been delivering flyers and sometimes taking the flyers out of mailboxes and delivering their own letters about their problems with the graphic pamphlets. 

Londoner Katie Dean delivers letters such as this one warning people about the graphic images put into their mailboxes by volunteers from a Calgary-based anti-abortion group. (Supplied by Katie Dean)

They've also been showing up at major intersections where the CCBR volunteers are showing the graphic images and blocking those images with their own signs. "We block their misinformation with our own signs," Dean said. 

"We want their pamphlets to be in envelopes, so that people don't go into their mailboxes and open up these horrifying images," Dean said. "It's like before a movie, there are warnings about graphic content." 

CCBR's tactics of delivering pamphlets with pictures of aborted fetuses have been going on for years and have been met with opposition in cities such as Toronto and Calgary. They're difficult to stop, however. 

Interns delivering graphic pamphlets

London has seen an increase in the pamphlets this year because five of the group's interns are stationed here for the fall, said Blaise Alleyne, the group's eastern Canada outreach director. 

"We use victim photography to advocate for human rights and we're not the only social reform movement to do so. Think back to George Floyd and the video of his death that was shared around the world. Or the 2015 picture of Alan Kurdi, the toddler who washed up in a river. That photo was on the front pages of Canadian newspapers," Alleyne said. 

A woman protests graphic anti-abortion images dressed as a handmaid from Margaret Atwood's dystopian The Handmaid's Tale. (Supplied by Katie Dean)

"When people are calling for justice, showing the victims of an injustice is one way to change hearts and minds." 

Alleyne said the pamphlets are targetted at "mature Canadians" and not children, and if a child sees the images while getting the mail, parents can choose to have a conversation about abortion with that child. He said he can offer resources to women traumatized by the images. 

Years ago, the CCBR did put the pamphlets into envelopes but Alleyne said the group was accused of "trying to hide the horrors" and so they have opted for putting ultrasound images of children on the outside and pictures of aborted fetuses on the inside. 

Robyn Schwarz is a founder of Pro-Choice London and has delivered a petition to city politicans, who have had many calls from constituents about the graphic images, to be debated on Nov. 3. 

A counter-protester blocks graphic images displayed by an anti-abortion group. (Supplied by Katie Dean)

"For us, our goal is not to choose people's views. We know that abortion is a choice. We're pro-human rights," Schwarz said. "It's frustrating that they don't realize the damage they're doing in the community. The shameful, graphic, misleading information, it's triggering."

Kernaghan said he's had many calls and emails from his constituents about the images, asking that they not be allowed. 

"These images are psychologically damaging for kids. They're truly traumatizing to the women that they impact, They fly in the face of our community's wishes," he said.

"I would hope that we live in an age where the government respects a woman's choice in bodily autonomy. No one is trying to interfere in (CCBR's) free speech. They can speak their truth, but when they're forcing people to view this, it becomes harassment or a  public nuisance."

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