Pro-choice (below) and anti-abortion (above) groups have both been standing outside Kelowna General Hospital for several weeks, including on Aug. 27, 2019. (David Venn/Kelowna Capital News)

‘Visibility is important right now’: Pro-choice advocates, protesters clash outside Kelowna hospital

The two groups have both been lining the streets outside Kelowna General Hospital for weeks

It’s shortly after 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 27, and Tammy is sitting on a Pandosy Street sidewalk, just south of Rose Avenue, with a double-sided sign that shows an umbilical cord wrapped around a fetus’ right leg, traversed through the hole between its bent left arm and its thumb-sucking face, then it disappears behind the neck and exits the frame.

The sign reads “I can suck my thumb!,” and is propped up for people on their way to, or past, Kelowna General Hospital.

Tammy is a dog, so she doesn’t hold the signs, but instead sits “loyally” beside her owner and the other 10 or more pro-life supporters every Tuesday – something the group has done weekly for more than two decades.

“We are speaking for the voice for the unborn children,” Kathy Hein, board member of Kelowna Right to Life Society (KRLS), said. “They can’t speak for themselves, they are helpless; this is really a human rights issue.”

READ MORE: Right to Life Society removed from Kelowna hospital for violating harassment law

But a few short sidewalk squares north of Rose Avenue, on Pandosy Street, stands about six pro-choice supporters. Their signs are handmade, versus the society’s printed signs.

One protester hangs a Star Wars-abortion hybrid poster around her neck that reads, “May the choice be with you,” while the next protester’s sign reads, “ProChoice AF” written with a black marker on a piece of scrap cardboard.

“We are a bunch of individuals who came together to form a group,” Chantal Couture, member of Pro-Choice Kelowna, said. “Anyone who has similar views can join.”

“Visibility is particularly important right now, in terms of being loud about your politics,” she added.

“If we take for granted the rights that we have as Canadians, I think we are going to be naive to think that the things that are happening south of the border are going to impact us here.”

READ MORE: Cineplex sticks by decision to screen anti-abortion film ‘Unplanned’

Couture and her pro-life group joined the Tuesday Pandosy Street protest about three months ago and take pride in being instrumental in removing the pro-lifers from the fronts of the hospital facilities about six weeks ago.

“They’re on that side of the street because we came here,” Couture said, pointing to the opposing group.

The pro-choicers lobbied for the pro-life group to move when they took arms with what they saw as verbal assault and harassment directed towards people coming to and fro the medical centre; RCMP said multiple complaints over a number of months were filed and although the anti-abortion had been there for 19 years, authorities had to take control of the situation.

“There is sort of a bubble zone law in place and,” Hein said, “the hospital has the authority to tell you to go at least 10 metres away from their property line.”

When RCMP arrived on the scene at Pandosy Street, they found some protesters were violating a provincial law, Access to Abortion Services Act, and were to be removed from the premise, according to Const. Lesley Smith.

Section two of the act states that while in an access zone, a person must not interfere with sidewalk access by protesting or tormenting people, or physically interfering or intimidating a service provider or patient, according to B.C. legislation.

Const. Smith did not have an answer as to why the fairly new pro-choice group is allowed to remain in the area the Kelowna Rights to Life Society once occupied.

READ MORE: Judge: Mississippi 6-week abortion ban ‘smacks of defiance’

Marlon Bartram, executive director of KRLS said they are constantly subjected to torment from passerby and citizens.

“Most of the comments are from local people, and are indicative of the sorts of things pro-abortion folks say to us every single Tuesday,” Bartram said.

One message, Bartram shared with the Capital News, said “Can’t wait for about ten years to pass for this group to be done with. Lmao. How does it feel being one of the biggest jokes in Kelowna?”

Now, as it (and they) stand, Tammy, her owner and the KRLS members are south on Pandosy and their protesting counterparts occupy Pandosy Street, north of Rose Avenue, every Tuesday.

“My taxes and your taxes pay for it whether I like it or not,” Hein said. “We have always stood here, we have always stood here. It’s always important — every child is important.”

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