Time was I used to drive along Belcher Street to get to the office in Kentville. Sometimes when I stopped at the lights below the Catholic church, I’d spot a half dozen people with placards across the way.
Trudging up and down the sidewalk, they were older and they were anti-abortion given the words on their signs. There was a physical distance between them and me and a gulf in comprehension.
Time was I would have parked the car and found out just what the protestors were worked up about, but my gut instinct didn’t want to provide free publicity for their cause.
You see I’ve known women who needed an abortion and it seems a right worth having if you were, for example, carrying a baby without any brain development. A frightening decision to have to make, but abortion has been legal in our country since 1969.
The United States, in its right-wing turmoil, has fanned the flames of this battle lately. Twenty-seven white male legislators, all Republicans, took the state of Alabama backwards last week, passing an almost total ban on abortion. Then Missouri announced its willingness to do the same.
Other American states acted earlier. The so-called ‘heartbeat’ bill is due to go into effect this coming January in Georgia. It is based on the timing of a detectable heartbeat and will likely be challenged in court.
Passage of that bill prompted a group of 50 actors to suggest a boycott of TV and film production in Georgia. They include Alec Baldwin, Sean Penn and Amy Schumer.
According to a spokesperson for the Georgia governor, last year film and TV production brought $2.7 billion into the state. No slim pickings.
Alyssa Milano, an actor and #MeToo activist, has called on women in the U.S. to take part in a ‘sex strike’ as a form of protest against these draconian new laws. Tweeting out a call for such action, she soon had 35,000 likes. Lady Gaga chimed in on May 15.
"It is an outrage to ban abortion in Alabama period, and all the more heinous that it excludes those who have been raped or are experiencing incest non-consensual or not," she said. "So there's a higher penalty for doctors who perform these operations than for most rapists? This is a travesty and I pray for all these women and young girls who suffer at the hands of this system."
I was shocked to read in a Charlottetown paper that a group of abortion protestors had turned up last week outside high schools on Prince Edward Island. The students were reportedly angered by these Ontario strangers on their doorstep.
Talk of sex strikes prompted me to do a little Google research about such strikes in the past. I found stories from Japan, Columbia, Kenya, Liberia and Belgium. According to the Guardian, women in rural Columbia renounced sexual activity after bad roads prevented an ambulance with a young woman and her baby from reaching a hospital on time.
It was media interest in that sex strike in 2011 that made a difference. The Columbian government did pledge $21 million toward roadwork and got to work.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee, of Liberia, wrote in her memoirs about the merits of a sex strike versus other kinds of advocacy. She concluded, "The strike lasted, on and off, for a few months. It had little or no practical effect, but it was extremely valuable in getting us media attention.”
It was, of course, the ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes who first popularized the notion of women withholding sex to further a cause in his enduring play Lysistrata. The collective female action aimed at ending the Peloponnesian war is a joyous comedy — with a serious point.
I remember well how powerful it felt to put on a local production of Lysistrata back in 2003. Our cast felt world powers moving toward war in Iraq and hoped for some semblance of peace.
In terms of support for on-going abortion rights, we should remember that as recently as 1983, a poll found that 72 per cent of Canadians believed abortion decisions should be between a woman and her doctor, without government intervention.
Across the country, access continues to be scarce in some provinces. In fact, in this province, until not too long ago, women needed a physician’s referral to obtain a surgical abortion. The Sexual Health Centre in Halifax is there to answer questions.
Complex yes, but worth considering especially if you are a woman of reproductive age.
Former Advertiser and Register reporter Wendy Elliott lives in Wolfville.