Access to abortion in Canada has been around for 30 years. Just last November the federal department announced that the abortion pill, Mifegymiso, can be prescribed up to nine weeks into a pregnancy. It is now dispensed directly to patients by a pharmacist as well as by a doctor.
Although access to abortion has been around for some time, there is a divide between pro-choice and pro-life.
The London community has visible pro-life activism like Western University’s Lifeline club and the London Against Abortion, but there is a lack of vocal pro-choice advocacy.
Robyn Schwarz is one of the co-founders of Pro-choice London. Schwarz believes that being pro-choice means allowing everyone to do what is best for them in terms of their reproductive health.
“That means if you want an abortion, you get an abortion. If you want adoption for an unplanned pregnancy, go ahead and do that. It’s about supporting people’s decisions and making sure that they have information, resources, and support to make those decisions.”
Schwarz says there are great resources in London for abortions, however; many people don’t know about them.
Recently, Prochoice London partnered with the Women’s Issues Network at Western to create an infographic saying: Western students do you know where to go if you have an unplanned pregnancy? They included resources like the Middlesex Health unit and the London Health Science Centre.
“Hopefully they will be aware now but I think before that, most women had to figure it out themselves which is very stressful.”
Schwarz is working on creating a safe space for students on campus. She says one of the problems they are dealing with is that Western’s Lifeline club is “protesting something that is really trying to take away rights from half the student body, and they are being given official status to do that.“
Other universities across the country are handeling this issue differently, says Schwarz.
She clarifies that when The University of British Columbia has anti abortion protestors on their campus, they e-mail all of the community to say when and where it is, so if you don’t want to be confronted with those images, you know to avoid that space on that day. Other universities have taken away club status from their anti abortion club and won during court challenges.
“People are allowed to protest, but it needs to be done in a way that isn’t harmful to the rest of the student body.”
Robyn Schwarz feels that Western, as an institution, has not dealt with this issue yet because it has not been a problem before.
“Students don’t see it as an issue when they walk passed it unless it directly impacts them because they assume we have abortion access and protestors are not going to change anything… not recognizing that it can be harmful to students who are going through unplanned pregnancies.”
Nicole Lesmeister is a 4th year Soph and organizer for the Love Your Body campaign at Western. She describes her experience walking by Lifeline and London Against Abortion protesters on campus. “They were holding signs that were extremely graphic, they had hateful words on them. It was really something you wouldn’t want to see in passing.”
Lesmeister says she has witnessed sexual assault happen on campus more than others would think. She couldn’t help but wonder if a pregnant rape survivor was confronted by protestors on campus.
“Rape does happen and it could result in a pregnancy and I would hope that they have a choice. I believe they have a right to their own choices.”
Lifeline over the past year has started to have more protests. In the past they held one or two throughout the year, but Schwarz says they are trying to expand their reach. “Western hasn’t figured out how to address those concerns yet because most students haven’t been vocal expressing them, but I think they are now and I hope we will be seeing some changes moving forward.”
Abortion/sexual health resources in London:
Pro-choice London on Twitter: @Prochoiceldnont
Pregnancy Options Program/Abortion Clinic, London Health Sciences, Victoria Hospital
Surgical up to 24 weeks – 519-685-8204 x 5279