BY Nelly Bassily
The struggle for free, legal and safe abortions in Canada has been a long struggle, with a complicated and controversial history fraught with its fair share of eugenic practices and forced sterilization of those considered to be ‘minorities’, such as Indigenous, immigrant, Black and disabled women.
Abortion is legal in Canada. Canada is one of only a few nations with no legal restrictions on abortion. In recent years, fake abortion clinics (also known as crisis pregnancy centers) have been making their presence ever more felt by taking advantage of a time in a person’s life that, for some people, can be rife with doubt and fear, to essentially feed them misinformation about abortion and guilt people in keeping unwanted pregnancies without presenting abortion as a viable option. The fake clinics are usually run by religious/faith-based organizations that attempt to convince pregnant persons* to change their mind.
With names like “Aid to Women” or “Pregnancy Care Centre,” the fake clinics usually have innocuous-sounding names in an attempt to confuse and obfuscate so that, to the untrained-eye, the clinics don’t look like they’re being run by anti-choice individuals or organizations with conservative mandates. These same anti-abortion/anti-choice groups will also falsely make it look like they advocate for people with disabilities. Which is why it is crucial for feminists to use a disability rights lens in abortion rights discourse and campaigns, so that anti-choicers can’t continue to monopolize the discourse.
As feminists, we need to pay more attention to access issues, like “how a pregnant person with mobility issues might have a more difficult time reaching their nearest abortion clinic; or how a person with a chronic condition may have a more expensive abortion because of potential medical complications”, to only name two examples.
The right to make a decision about one’s own body and to access abortion services without fear of interference, intimidation or harassment is a fundamental right. Yet, the existence of some 200 fake abortion clinics in this day and age in Canada is alarming on many fronts because it points to a rise in conservatism. For example, in the province of Alberta, conservative members of an opposition party called the United Conservatives walked out of a debate around a bill meant to create 50 metre ‘safety’ zones around abortion clinics along with hefty fines to keep away individuals (usually associations with religious/conservative affiliations) who would harass clinic patients and staff. Meanwhile, in the province of Ontario, specifically in the city of Toronto, graphic anti-abortion posters have been popping-up in the city, courtesy of conservative anti-abortion groups like the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR) and Show The Truth Canada.
According to Cindy Pétrieux, coordinator at the Fédération du Québec pour le Planning des Naissances, anti-choice centers/ fake clinics use techniques to indirectly promote pro-life ideology. For example, they manipulate “young people [who may be in a] vulnerable state by bombarding them with images of sad women, pictures of families, advanced pregnancies and sometimes even [fake] dead fetuses.”
Also alarming is the fact that providing fake information on abortion can have disabling effects, both on the mental and physical well-being of people who seek out abortions. Sandeep Prasad and Pam Krause write in this op-ed on safe abortion zones: “People have a right to accurate, evidence-based information to make health care decisions. And when they are intimidated or shamed for a choice they’ve made – a choice that is safe, legal and right for them – it can have significant consequences in terms of their mental health.”
But what can we do? Among the powerful things we can do is to expose the fake clinics (for example, this is a list of Canadian fake abortion clinics) that exist in our cities and use the hashtag #exposefakeclinics to spread the awareness far and wide. Also, we can leverage the power of social media to share resources (for example, this is a list of pro-choice places people can turn to in Montreal) that are safe, pro-choice, sex-positive, queer-positive, and non-judgemental to counter the misinformation and lies spread by fake abortion clinics with accurate and reliable information.
Other things we can do: tear down/call-out/report to authorities graphic anti-abortion posters that pop-up in our cities, and stop publicly funded institutions from receiving public funds by calling them out if they promote anti-choice.
*We specifically mention pregnant persons in this article because we recognize that cis-women, non-binary folks, femmes and trans men could become pregnant and that all their experiences are important and valid.