Letter: Billboard out of bounds

The billboard ad contravenes the Advertising Standards Canada code by demeaning and disparaging women who choose to have an abortion.

To the editor:

The indefatigable Kelowna Right to Life Society has given the pot another stir by leasing a billboard on the west side of the William R. Bennett Bridge. Its message is split into two parts. The first part shows an image of a puppy and displays the words, Kill Puppy, Cruelty! Its counterpart shows an image of a fetus and displays the words, Kill Baby, “Choice.”

Advertising Standards Canada requires accuracy in advertising, and this ad is inaccurate in two ways. First, in Canadian law, an unborn child is either an “unborn child,” a “child” or a “fetus,” but never a “baby.” The Canadian Department of Justice’s summary of the rights of the individual is a case study of the use of accurate terminology.

Second, it’s inaccurate to imply a fetus is ordinarily subjected to cruelty through abortion. A 2005 study, Fetal Pain: A Systematic Multidisciplinary Review of the Evidence, concluded that “fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester” (each trimester is considered to last 14 weeks).  According to Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC), 90 per cent of abortions in Canada are performed during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and just over 9 per cent take place between 12 and 20 weeks of gestation.

A mere 0.4 per cent take place after 20 weeks. These are considered late term abortions, and they’re performed primarily because the fetus is gravely or fatally impaired, or the woman’s life or physical health is at risk, or both.

In other words, late term abortions are extremely rare, are performed for good clinical reason, and only a fraction of them (that is, a fraction of 0.4 per cent of all abortions performed) could potentially involve fetal pain.

Advertising Standards Canada also codifies unacceptable depictions and portrayals. The billboard ad contravenes the Code by demeaning and disparaging women who choose to have an abortion. Abortion is about many things, but it is not about cavalier “cruelty” and “killing.”

In 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada decided that a woman’s ability to choose if and when to become pregnant is an essential component of her liberty rights.  It said that forcing a woman to carry a fetus to term is a profound interference with a woman’s body, and therefore a violation of her right to the security of her person.  The court also recognized abortion as being a matter of conscience and a woman’s right to conscientiously-held beliefs.

Abortion is about these constitutionally protected rights, and it is also a lawful medical procedure recognized by all provincial and territorial Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons.

It is profoundly disturbing that the KRTL has suggested women are cruel and careless murderers when they choose abortion rather than conscientious beings exercising their constitutional rights to a safe and legal medical procedure.

According to KRTL executive director Marlon Bartram, the advertisement will run for at least one full year. I would encourage opponents of the ad to file complaints with Advertising Standards Canada without delay. Submissions can be made online or by mail or fax.

When it comes to a woman’s right to choose an abortion, a poll conducted in February showed 57 per cent of Canadians believe abortions should be permitted to women if they choose to have one. The result indicates a nine-point increase from last year.

Dianne Varga, Kelowna