Toronto—Danforth MPP Calls on Provincial Government to Ban Graphic Images in Anti-Abortion Campaigns


August 28, 2017

Photograph by suparna sinha of "fetus 10weeks" is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The topic of abortion tends to incite a great deal of zeal from individuals on both sides. Recently, however, tremendous attention has been placed not on the topic of abortion, but in the way that it has been presented to the Toronto community.

The Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR) is a group which advocates for the preservation of life in all forms, both born and unborn. They strive to spread national awareness about preborn killing and believe that using explicit visuals key to the success of any campaign. They implemented this idea through several projects, including “Choice” Chain and Reproductive “Choice” Campaign, attracting both positive and negative attention.

On August 24, Toronto—Danforth MPP Peter Tabuns along with Toronto city councillors Paula Fletcher (Ward 30) and Mary Fragedakis (Ward 29), and TDSB trustee Jennifer Story (Ward 15), issued an open letter to the Attorney General asking for an injunction on the use of graphic imagery in anti-abortion materials distributed by groups such as the CCBR. Images used include dismembered fetuses after surgical removal from the womb. The letter strongly opposes the public display of these images, which can be accessed by children and vulnerable individuals and populations. The letter goes into details about how such images have been plastered on boards in public, and flyers and pamphlets with these images are placed into mailboxes outside homes.

The letter quotes some of the concerns expressed by community members such as parents and pregnant women. Parents are worried that the images will traumatize their children who often come to collect the mail. Pregnant women have also stated that they have felt uncomfortable looking at the images, and as a result, experienced mental and physical health related issues.

The CCBR has acknowledged that the images may potentially disturb children, but their response to critics has included the following:

  • The group has tried to spread their message in university lecture halls or in other facilities, but the turnout to these events has mostly been individuals with the same anti-abortion beliefs so advocating to the other side has been ineffective.
  • Parents who show upsetting reactions to the graphic images will urge the same response from their children, as opposed to parents who calmly explain the meaning behind the images.
  • Graphic imagery can be used to educate children and youngsters to be advocates for a good cause.

In a public interview with Global News, Devorah Gilman, who spoke on behalf of CCBR said, “If we’re asking if it is appropriate for children to see these images, I think we also need to ask, ‘Is it appropriate for children to be these images?’”

While the authors of the letter want to restrict the distribution of material with graphic imagery, they acknowledge that CCBR’s freedom of speech is protected and aren’t asking for their message to be prohibited. They are urging both the federal and provincial government to take action and prevent the use of “aborted fetuses in display materials, advertising posters, banners, and other mediums as part of any Anti-Abortion or Pro-Life campaign at least to the extent that such images are shielded from children and other vulnerable persons.”

The public and city officials are waiting to hear a response from the Attorney General, with the debate continuing on both sides.