A pro-abortion-rights banner has been temporarily taken down in Regina after it was vandalized.
The unknown culprit used black spray paint to change the message from “abortion is healthcare” to “abortion is murder.”
Volunteers who work with the group behind the banner say they won’t be silenced and that the vandalism has only reinforced their desire to create change.
“It reminded us how necessary it is to have this message of ‘abortion is healthcare’ out in the open and out in public place,” said Christine Jones, who lives in Regina and volunteers with Abortion is Healthcare Signs Inc., a non-profit organization.
The non-profit’s mission is to decrease stigma and misinformation around abortion, while advocating for better access to the procedure. Billboards and banners are part of that effort.
“[The vandalism] is not deterring the cause at all. It just lets us know that we need to reach even more people to get our message out there,” said Jeremy Thomas, another volunteer with the non-profit.
The banner was destroyed about 10 days after it was put up, which Jones said was disappointing.
”We felt very frustrated that we had this message up for not that long and we’re already seeing this level of … threatening behaviour.”
She said Canadians must remember that abortion has been legal for decades.
Dr. Susan McLellan, a family doctor in Regina who is on the non-profit’s board, said people need to set their personal beliefs aside when it comes to abortion, because others need safe access to the procedure.
“You can’t ban abortion, you can only ban safe abortion,” McLellan said. “Abortion is a very safe procedure and very common. One in three women will require a termination in their pregnancy in their lifetime.”
Although the procedure is common, she said there are still barriers to accessing it in Saskatchewan.
McLellan conducted a research project during her residency that explored barriers people faced when accessing abortion in Regina. While the sample size was low, she said it still provided her a better understanding.
She said people were happy with the care they received once they were in the system, but many had to travel for the procedure, with some living eight hours away. Those who travelled faced costs and challenges with childcare or time off work.
McLellan noted that even some people who live close to Saskatoon (a city where surgical abortions are also provided) had chosen to travel to Regina.
“The hardest part of Saskatchewan is that Regina is the only place that patients can self-refer for termination of pregnancy,” McLellan said. In Saskatoon, people require a referral, so they must go through a “gatekeeper.”
McLellan said the expansion of clinic hours and self-referral practices, and the use of telemedicine as part of medical termination (abortions done with oral medication), are all ways to reduce barriers. She said work with telemedicine is already underway at Regina’s clinic.
“I think that the medical community really wants to support women in this and there are a lot of motivated people working to get increased access, because we recognize how important and life saving the procedure can be,” McLellan said.
Members of the non-profit are now working to replace the Regina banner. They are also fundraising to put up more pro-abortion billboards and signage that can stand in opposition to the anti-abortion signage seen throughout the province.
The group has identified 64 anti-abortion signs in Saskatchewan.
“That’s something that we are trying to counteract,” Thomas said. “There should be an end to the stigma that surrounds abortion and abortion health-care services.”
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