Nfld. & Labrador

High school no place for anti-abortion protest, women's advocate says

Students at a high school in the west end of St. John's were faced with demonstrators as they walked into exams Monday.

Anti-abortion protesters make move to St. John's high schools

Anti-abortionists were outside the entrance to Waterford Valley High School on Topsail Road in St. John's on Monday. (Glen Payette/CBC)

Students at a high school in the west end of St. John's were faced with demonstrators as they walked to and from their exams on Monday.

Three protesters stood outside the entrance to Waterford Valley High School on Topsail Road, which has about 700 students.

Protesters were holding signs directing students to a website the group claims contains information about abortion procedures.

Students at Waterford Valley High School are in the midst of year-end exams. (CBC)

"We have decided that it's very important that we continue the education on the issue of abortion," protester Collette Fleming told CBC News.

"What we've decided to do is take it to the street. This is a heavy traffic area, very visible and also in the areas of the schools."

This isn't just about freedom of speech, it's about messaging which is wrong.- Jenny Wright

The anti-abortion website contains videos of a self-described "former abortionist" — a former American doctor who gives graphic testimony detailing what it's like to perform a late-term abortion.

But Jenny Wright, executive director of the St. John's Status of Women, has real concerns about an anti-abortion group being so close to young students. 

"They're developing minds and when they're not old enough or experienced enough in terms of their own values and ethics, to digest this kind of biased and exploitative messaging without context — it can be quite harmful," she told CBC Radio's On The Go.

"This isn't just about freedom of speech, it's about messaging which is wrong, erroneous, very pervasive and could be harmful," Wright said. 

Jenny Wright, the executive director of the St. John's Status of Women Council, wants to see a buffer zone around schools.

Making the move to schools

In July of 2016, a group of anti-abortion protesters were barred from being within 40-metres of an abortion clinic in the city, but the ban applied only to that specific location.

At the end of last year, the province brought in legislation which keeps protesters up to 50 metres from an abortion clinic, 160 metres from the residence of a doctor who provides abortions and 10 metres from a doctor's office. 

On Friday, the protesters were near Holy Heart High School and Brother Rice Junior High, both on Bonaventure Avenue in St. John's.

But according to Fleming, the group didn't make the move to schools because of the new legislation.

"No, we've dealt very well with the buffer zone, and with the legislation and we had that clarified. But, we did decide that we need to travel around with our message, and that's what we are doing here today," she said.

Anti-abortionist with sign directing people to a website on abortion procedures. (Glenn Payette/CBC News)

The protesters said young people and the general public still need to be educated about abortion. 

"I believe that people should be well informed and make the informed, right choice," said protester Carol Barron.

"A choice that will not affect them in later years, that they would feel guilty of any kind. And if they do feel guilty, there is help."

Barron said she didn't think the protest would upset students inside Waterford High School during exams.

"No undue pressure whatsoever. If abortion is so great and so good, it should not put any pressure on anyone, because it is all about choice," she said.

School board responds

The province's English school district said police were called, but the demonstration was deemed peaceful and on public property.

The district also said it doesn't have any plans to seek an injunction to keep protesters farther away from the school.

But Wright said that isn't good enough.

"Lobbyists are there to use any and all tactics to get you on their side. They don't simply show up for a public education service," she said.

"I think that [the school district] should take an ethical stance on this and say move down away from school zones where students [who] are not old enough to take in this kind of very, very pervasive lobbying."

As for the group, Fleming said Monday will likely be the last protest this spring near a school, but her group plans to resume in the fall. 

With files from On the Go