Nova Scotia

New group launches Cape Breton's first pro-choice billboard

Pro-Choice CBRM is trying to create awareness around a lack of access to abortion while also letting women know they support them and their choices.

Advocates say the sign is meant to support Cape Breton women and their choices

The group Pro-Choice CBRM has rented this sign for the next month. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

Cape Breton has its first pro-choice billboard.

The sign went up last week after Pro-Choice CBRM raised money over the summer to rent the space in Sydney.

Organization member Angela Quinn said the federal election played a role in the formation of the newly minted group.

"We pretty much came together as a group as a response to what we were all seeing happening with the American politics and seeing it leak over into Canadian politics," she said.

Quinn is frustrated the abortion issue seems to have been reopened and that there are Canadian politicians who would like to see access limited.

"I'm almost 50 years old and for my entire life it's been a settled issue," she said, adding it doesn't feel like that is the case for younger generations.

An election issue

Members say the sign is also a response to inadequate access to abortion services.

Madonna Doucette, another member of the group, asked federal candidates at a recent debate in the Sydney-Victoria riding to state their positions on abortion and what they would do to increase access in Cape Breton.

NDP candidate Jodie McDavid said the party would hold the provinces to the Canada Health Act and pressure them to provide better access. McDavid said she would also advocate for a women's health centre that could perform abortions in Cape Breton.

The other six candidates were in general agreement that better access is needed.

Problems with access

Access to abortion continues to be an issue in Cape Breton where many people don't have access to a family doctor. Some women travel to Halifax for a surgical abortion or even just to access Mifegymiso, the medication required for a medical abortion in the first trimester.

It's not just access that's an issue.

Members of Pro-Choice CBRM believe women seeking abortion in Cape Breton continue to face stigma. Approximately a dozen anti-abortion signs dot roadways across the island.

"[The anti-abortion signs are] basically telling people who are going to get abortions done that they should feel guilty, like you should feel this certain way and not every abortion that is had by somebody is a traumatic experience," said Vanessa Walker, executive director of the Cape Breton Centre for Sexual Health and a member of Pro-Choice CBRM.

Vanessa Walker and Angela Quinn are both members of Pro-Choice CBRM. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

Walker said she wants women seeking abortions off island to know that despite the amount of anti-abortion signage, there are still people in Cape Breton that support them and their choices.

Opposing views

The Church of Our Lady of Fatima in Sydney River has an anti-abortion sign. 

Father Patrick O'Neill said the Knights of Columbus, a Roman Catholic fraternal group, recently put up the sign at his request.

O'Neill said the issue is personal for him.

"I'm an adopted child and I think about my (birth mother's experience)," he said. "She thought about abortion and she didn't and she gave me life."

O'Neill said he wanted to create awareness and dialogue and hopes people see the value of life. 

He said the timing of the signage has nothing to do with the pro-choice sign and he isn't looking for legislative change around abortion.

"I respect them putting up their sign and have no qualms with that," said O'Neill. "I think every voice should be able to be heard."

About the Author

Brittany Wentzell

Current Affairs Reporter/Editor

Brittany Wentzell is based in Sydney, N.S., as a reporter for Information Morning Cape Breton. She has covered a wide range of issues including education, forestry and municipal government. Story ideas? Send them to brittany.wentzell@cbc.ca

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