Abortion is controversial. There can be no denying it. Even here in Canada, which might seem like a bastion of rationality because of our lack of abortion law, things are not peachy for women seeking abortions. Along with the various legal restrictions (covered from time to time in this space), there exist many (if not all) of the same social stigmas and regional and economic barriers for women seeking abortion here as in the States.
There are two alarming American trends that have been picking up steam here in recent years: the video sting (a la Lila Rose, or James O’Keefe) and crisis pregnancy centres, those supposed havens for troubled pregnant folks, which more often than not provide false information about abortion and use scare tactics (sometimes toeing the line of legality) to discourage women from seeking one out. These are things that most people working in abortion provision are being prepped to deal with. Legal abortion is so fragile, even here in this supposed socialist paradise; you get used to being constantly on the defensive, even when you are doing nothing wrong.
I was a bit uneasy when I saw this piece about a CPC in Surrey, BC that was recently the target of the same kind of undercover video sting operation so frequently used against the pro-choice movement. A CTV reporter went into the Surrey Pregnancy Options Centre posing as a pregnant woman, with a hidden camera. She asked about abortion, and the volunteers at the CPC told her a bunch of ridiculous lies, exaggerated the risks, and refused to refer her to an abortion clinic. They even gave her an envelope of information that had “For a proud Mom-to-be” written on it.
To be honest, it’s not the worst I’ve heard. I worked at a clinic that had a CPC next door, and we heard stories from patients about their experiences there that would shock you. But the fact remains that while Surrey Pregnancy Options Centre is not the worst offender, they are blatantly lying to people and spreading misinformation about legal health care.
My question is, how good do we feel about being behind the camera? I met a woman at a NAF meeting who worked at one of the Planned Parenthood clinics that was targeted by the “racist donor” phone calls. They were fighting against backlash they simply could not afford. Speaking as someone who has now worked for a few organizations that struggle to keep unearned backlash and negative rumours out of the news, I can say that it’s not easy to continue doing good work when every move is scrutinized by the right wing and the media. Sustainability without putting staff and patients at direct physical risk is always a concern for abortion clinics; it gets worse when they are targeted by these undercover operations. If you want change, go through the courts or the government, is what we say to the James O’Keefes and the Lila Roses. If your cause is so valid and moral, why be so sneaky? Stay on the level, and meet us where we’re at.
…So is it ok that we are now turning around and using the same tactics they used on us? Is it ok for the pro-choice movement to start Lila Rose-ing all over the place? Why don’t the same arguments apply to us? Maybe because we are being stalled in legal channels; there have been small victories with regards to how CPCs can and cannot advertise their services, but for the most part there seem to be no repercussions for giving false medical information to anyone who walks through the door. There are a lot of factors at play when it comes to social justice and the complicated relationship we, as activists, have with the justice system. But maybe that doesn’t excuse being giant hypocrites.
From a strictly personal standpoint, I don’t think I can forgive James O’Keefe for his part in creating the media storm that brought down ACORN in the US, or Lila Rose for setting back worthwhile organizations trying to provide health care to low income folks. Because of that, I cannot condone the use of the same tactics within our movement. But I also can’t help feeling that I’m indulging in a false equivalency here. The CTV reporter only went in and recorded what happened. There was – as far as we know – no suggestive editing, and no particularly leading questions. Does that make it ok?
I honestly cannot answer that question.