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Giving choice a voice

Correction: As a result of a printing error in the Nov. 16 issue of the Gazette, this article contained text from the adjacent article, “Fixing the food system.” The Gazette regrets this error.

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It’s noon on a Wednesday. A crowd stand outside a hospital, waving signs, trying to get people talking about reproductive rights. It probably sounds familiar. Demonstrations on the contentious issue have become standard across North America, from the parking lots of Planned Parenthoods in the Bible belt, to Fredricton’s Morgentaler Clinic.

But today, something is different here: there are two groups.

One group in Halifax is bringing balance to the debate and challenging the ubiquitous presence of the pro-life demonstration. Every Wednesday for six weeks, 41 Days for Choice set up outside the Victoria General Hospital yards away from the annual prayer vigil 40 Days for Life.

“Forty-one Days is our campaign, our advocacy. It’s a physical representation of support and a voice of opposition,” said Janis Wall, a co-ordinator and participant.

“We got [41 Days] off the ground through the SMU women’s centre last year,” said Wall, a graduate student in gender and women’s studies at Saint Mary’s University (SMU). The event has grown into an initiative of the Support Choice Halifax coalition.

On Wednesdays, volunteers stood along the South Park Street sidewalk, on the other side of a driveway from 40 Days for Life.  Participants for 41 Days held colourful signs, handed out pamphlets and interacted with passers-by.

Relations between the radically different groups were good, according to both sides..

In separate interviews, representatives of each group acknowledged the right of the other to assemble and demonstrate.  Julie Culshaw, co-ordinator for the Halifax 40 Days vigil noted that, unlike previous counter-demonstrations, 41 Days for Choice had never been aggressive.

“They’ve never been rude. They just stand down there and do what they do. They’ve always been very courteous to us,” Culshaw said. “I don’t have a problem with them.”

Reaction from Wall was similar.

“We don’t tend to converse with 40 Days for Life,” she said.

“If they approach us, we talk with them. We’re not there to badger them. We’re not countering, but trying to raise awareness.”

Although the Nov. 4 closing demonstration was rained out, Wall says that the event went well overall.

“We [got] a lot of honks and people waving,” Wall said.  “Most people were very positive and happy we did this. Some hospital staff, city works, and the general public thanked us a lot.”

41 Days plans to continue the campaign next year.

“It is important that the other side of the issue be represented,” says Wall. “A lot of people construe us as promoting abortion. We are pro-choice. We think that all choices, whichever way a person chooses to handle her body, should be supported, because these are our bodies—women’s bodies.”

 

Zoe Doucette
Zoe Doucette
Zoe was Assistant Arts Editor for the Gazette's 146th Volume.
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