40 Days Celebrates Ever-Popular Institutional Bullying of Women

by new hystericisms

Fall is upon us again, all too soon, the inexorable changing of the seasons brings me ever closer to my death, etc, etc…

It’s September 2011 in Fredericton, New Brunswick, a fact that can only signal the coming of one thing: 40 Days for Life (followed by, one hopes, a natural disaster that destroys the population). This, ahem, event is a kind of culmination of the protesting, shouting, rosary-shaking, and general harassment that goes on each week outside of the Fredericton Morgentaler Clinic, at which I am a volunteer escort (more on that to follow).

For forty days, from 28 September through 6 November, the woman-haters of New Brunswick will hold court in front of the clinic on Brunswick Street. What do they propose to do? Well, according to their website, “prayer and fasting,” holding a so-called “peaceful vigil,” and “community outreach.” Ah, the cunning euphemisms of the Catholic Church never cease to amuse (you know, community outreach, crusades, same thing). No, but seriously. I wasn’t here in 2009 (and thank god for that), but from what I hear, there was a lot of hymn-singing (yawn), rosary-clicking (yawn again), and all the usual blood! murderers! Abby Johnson! rhetoric, if rhetoric you can call it. I think we can expect more of the same, since “innovation”… Oh, never mind.

I’ve been volunteering at the clinic since May. In that time, the so-called editor of the so-called newspaper in Fredericton wrote an editorial suggesting that some unnamed “Morgentaler supporters” were responsible for vandalising the adjacent New Brunswick Right to Life Association (NBRLA) building. The editor alleged that these same person or persons unknown were “harassing” the protesters. She also had some quotes from protector-of-the-patriarchy extraordinare, Peter Ryan, whom you may know from his also being the director of the NBRLA.

This so-called editor went on to compare the issue to the Irish Troubles, adding that, unlike in Ireland, where the Catholics and the Protestants have “kiss[ed] and ma[de] up” (I’m not kidding, a real wordsmith this one), the hostilities in Fredericton are unlikely to be resolved. This is the kind of (so-called) social commentary one can expect in a city like Fredericton, in a province like New Brunswick, the 1950s of Canada.

Besides containing an altogether appalling historical rendering, the letter, with its slanderous accusations and name-calling, neglects to address what’s really important: the matter of the patients and how to protect them from harassment.

After the Morgentaler opened on Brunswick Street, the NBLRA, masquerading as a “women’s care centre” began operating out of the building next door. In this case, “women’s care” is – at best – something of a misnomer. At worst, and perhaps closer to the truth, this organisation’s name is a deliberate attempt to mislead Morgentaler patients.

The Morgentaler holds clinics once a week. Every week, anti-choice protesters filter in and out of their so-called women’s care centre, like so many Uruk-hai out of Isengard, and they picket (also, they make Orc-like grunting noises). As there is no Bubble Zone around the clinic, the protesters are able to (and do) get quite close to the patients. Volunteer escorts are only there to walk patients in to the clinic, smile, and try to block out the inevitable braying of the anti-choicers. In the past, volunteers have actually had holy water thrown on them. More recently, one of the more toothless protesters told a volunteer he wishes he could push him into traffic. We get called communists (because, you know, the Soviets are still a relevant threat here), murder-enablers, and all manner of things. But we don’t talk to the protesters, those poor, harassed, people who choose to leave their homes each week to shout hostilities at frightened young women entering a medical clinic.

Part of the problem in New Brunswick is the absence of a critical mass of engaged and educated women (and men!). Women’s reproductive rights continue to erode in New Brunswick. Provincial law stipulates that abortions can only be covered by Medicare if two doctors deem the procedure “medically necessary.” This is a problem in a province with only two or three doctors who actually perform abortions. Further, the province’s allotment of Medicare funds is such that it’s one of the only provinces in Canada that does not cover abortions performed in clinics, so women are paying between $500 and $750 out of pocket. These policies are among the most prohibitive in the country, second only to PEI, where there is zero access.

In New Brunswick, women’s privacy is being violated, their reproductive health choices are being interfered with, and nobody cares. Or else, not enough people care. The great descent of the 40 Days for Life lunatics upon the fair (to middling) city of Fredericton is a symbol of that. So, here’s what I propose: if you are in the Fredericton area, come counter-protest on 28 September and the following thirty-nine days (extra points if you show up on a horse and perform Théoden’s speech from the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, but no swords, please). Contact the clinic to volunteer as an escort and show your faith in and support for the decision-making ability of women.