Abortion is one of the great public debates of our times. In this and any debate, strong, differing views are to be expected. But both sides need to fight fairly. That means maintaining a certain honesty.Peter Ryan is the Executive Director of the New Brunswick Right to Life Association.
What is clearly out of bounds is when one side resorts to denigrating the opposition by outlandish accusations. Such tactics not only do a serious injustice to one's opponent. It also disrespects the main audience - the public - as they try to understand the issue at hand.
On Nov. 12, in these pages, the head of a provincial women's organization complained about public bullying of women outside the abortion clinic in Fredericton. She called for the government to intervene to outlaw protests near the facility.
To make her case for a no-protest bubble zone, she portrayed vivid images about the supposed bullying tactics of abortion opponents. She referred to "large men, brandishing signs with bloody photos, " "protesters bussed in every week, not to express an opinion...[but] to intimidate women," "public harassment" and "sensationalizing protesters presenting inaccurate judging information on placards."
These images have nothing to do with reality.
I know all the protesters. They are some of New Brunswick's finest citizens. They deeply care not only for the unborn but women and the people who perform abortions.
They know the difference between peaceful witness and dangerous, aggressive behaviour.
They do not give out "inaccurate judging information." No photos of aborted babies are normally displayed. They are not bussed in. They are there to peacefully - for the most part, silently - to express a view, not to intimidate or harass.
Without impeding anyone's access, they quietly hold signs like "Let Babies Live." One may display a true image of an unharmed unborn child. Another very gentle man has a sign that reads, "Jesus loves us Mommy."
These signs are not "inaccurate," "bloody," judgmental or threatening. They do convey relevant facts and respectfully express a point of view.
A careful, impartial observer can verify how far-fetched the accusations against pro-lifers really are.
This not the first time this particular women's organization has employed emotional imagery to demonize its opponents and whip up public fear. Last April its press release linked N.B. pro-lifers' conduct to incidents of violence by "anti-abortion extremists" elsewhere in North America (the present article refers to "attacks and even murders of abortion providers").
The same month its executive director claimed on television that protesters were "bullying" and "barring the way" of women.
The law professor cited in the article, who is associated with the organization, has been quoted as stating pro-lifers were guilty of "threats,-violence" and "throwing themselves in front of cars." Pure fantasy.
This campaign of character assassination must stop. But that is not enough.
Much damage has already been done. Hysteria among pregnant women and pro-choice supporters has been needlessly aroused. Peaceful pro-life protesters have been increasingly victimized by abuse from misinformed passers by. The pro-life movement has been unfairly maligned. The population has been systematically mislead.
We are also concerned that politicians have been led down the garden path. As a result, there is greater likelihood that anti-protest legislation could be brought in, though there is no need for it. The constitutional rights to free expression and assembly by peaceful, law-abiding citizens have been unjustly put at risk.
To rectify the damage done, a public retraction of the allegations, together with a public apology to those injured, is required.
The organization in question exists through public funding and has quasi-governmental status as an advisory group on women's matters. Yet the public trust has now been violated by its leaders. They must resign. Failing that, the government must intervene.
It is apparent these abortion rights advocates are frustrated by our province's public policies of refusing to pay for private clinic abortions as well as placing restrictions on hospital abortions. They are frustrated at the extent to which New Brunswickers have still not bought into the notion of publicly funded abortion on demand.
But that is no excuse for not leveling with the public.
The campaign for a no-protest law is part of a quest to facilitate abortions. Since the abortion clinic opened in Fredericton in 1994, more than 6,000 unborn lives have been ended. If protest is repressed, little ones in the womb will have no voice and the number of prenatal deaths will soar.
To peacefully protest the taking of human life, in public areas near where it actually occurs, is a legitimate activity that should be legally protected in a democratic society.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Commentary written by Peter Ryan in response to libelous accusations made by Ginette Petitpas-Taylor, the Chairperson of the NB Advisory Council on the Status of Women. Published in the Telegraph Journal on Friday December 7th, 2007. Appeared on page A7.