By Anna Frey
Do you know what an abortion at 10 weeks looks like?
Last Wednesday, like they’ve been doing on a weekly basis all semester, anti-abortion demonstrators arrived on campus with graphic, misleading posters and flyers designed to provoke and upset people.
Feminist and pro-choice students, clubs and community members responded, as we have been doing, by putting our bodies in front of these gruesome posters to save people walking by from having to witness the images they were depicting.
So many of the conversations I was hearing that day devolved into arguments about freedom of expression–claims that people have a right to public protest and that any push back counts as censorship. These rights are enshrined in the Ryerson Student Code of Non-Academic Conduct. But as an institution of learning and education I am deeply disappointed in the tacit permission Ryerson has given for these demonstrators to pass off lies and deliberately misleading information as factual truth to our community members. Other schools, like Sheridan and Mohawk colleges, have released emails when anti-abortion demonstrators are going to be on campus, but Ryerson has not yet implemented this practice.
Ryerson administrators, faculty members, instructors, employees: you are letting us all down by allowing these misogynist lies to continue. Speak up.
An abortion at 10 weeks, as performed in any of the clinics here in Toronto, looks like this: a doctor will use a tool really similar to the one that sucks spit out of your mouth when you visit the dentist. A person’s cervix (the opening between their vagina and their uterus) will be widened using medication or a different tool, and this thin tube will be fed up into the uterus. There is no cutting, and there are no scalpels. Light suction is applied and the pregnancy tissue is removed. At 10 weeks this takes a couple of minutes.
These demonstrators use the parts of feminist politics and values that they find most useful and discard the rest. I listened to one of them argue that in cases of rape of course abortion should be offered to the survivor if necessary, but otherwise it shouldn’t be an option. This position is so dangerous–we already know how rare it is in Canada for sexual assaults to be recognized as such by the law, so who would be in charge of making the call in these cases?
These arguments help to create a culture in which the choices of women and people who can become pregnant are second-guessed, our voices are undermined and our bodies are up for debate.
It’s also important that we’re critical of the language these demonstrators try to use. Two young Black women standing near me were persistent in asking one of the anti-abortion protestors if they had ever attended a Black Lives Matter rally–“If you call yourself pro-life, where are you when Black people are dying?” they asked.
Abortion is an intersectional issue. People without health care coverage while they’re in various stages of the immigration process or people without documentation often cannot afford the hundreds of dollars required to finance an abortion–where is their care? People who live in rural or Northern Ontario and who can’t just take a streetcar to an abortion clinic–where is their care?
As a peer educator at a sexual health clinic here in Toronto I talk to a lot of people who have had, or who are just about to have, or who are thinking about what it would be like to someday have, an abortion. The bulk of the work that I do there is to create a space, which might be the first space ever for some clients, where their needs are our only priority, where they can ask questions and voice their concerns about abortions and be met not with shame or resistance but with care and support.
As I stood on Gould Street, tea in one hand and a pro-choice sign in the other, half-engaged in the heated debates surrounding me, I caught the eye of an older woman walking past me. She turned, took a beat to take in what was happening, then looked back at me with a sad smile and mouthed the words, “Thank you,” across the heads of passing students. I imagine her at my age in 1988 holding this same sign, having these same arguments.
An abortion at 10 weeks, just like at seven weeks, or 15, or 24, looks like relief. It looks like hands clasped, and released. It looks like crying in the clinic, on the bus, in your bedroom. It looks like a champagne toast to freedom. It looks like, “I can never tell my parents about this.” It looks like a service many of your classmates have sought out–I hope they are ok.
I hope you have found the care you need.
I’ve walked by these demonstrations many times on my way to work. Today’s was the worst. I passed 6 signs on Gould from church to Victoria. And heard there were more over on Yonge. I will continue to call toronto police and report these things and I urge others to do the same. No one should have to stumble on that on their walk to class or work.