Abortion debate continues aboard Metro Transit

New pro-choice ads on Metro Transit buses will continue the abortion debate in Halifax, and offer a positive alternate perspective, say pro-choice advocates.

By Matthew Scrimshaw

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Metro Transit bus users will be greeted by pro-choice ads beginning Monday.

“To be pro-choice means to support reproductive rights for peoples of all genders,” reads the fluorescent yellow ad that will appear on all of Halifax’s 255 buses during the next month.

The ad campaign is the work of South House and the Halifax Sexual Health Centre. It was created to counter pro-life ads that appeared on Metro Transit buses earlier this year.

The South House is volunteer-based, student-funded gender and sexual resource center. (Matthew Scrimshaw/Peninsula News)
The South House is volunteer-based, student-funded gender and sexual resource centre. (Matthew Scrimshaw/Peninsula News)

“Anti-choice ads are often a lot of misinformation and pseudo-science, and even that’s generous,” says Jude Ashburn, the outreach coordinator at South House, the only full-time gender justice centre in Halifax.

She believes the campaign’s message is critical. “It’s about wanting to remind people that the whole radical notion that you know what’s best for your body is what pro-choice means.”

Renewed debate

Halifax pro-life group Signs for Life sparked a renewed debate about abortion in January with a controversial ad that targeted Metro Transit users.

It pictured a newborn baby, and the caption, “Luc was born today but his life began nine months ago.”

As Signs For Life spokesperson Stephanie Potter explains, the ad was meant to positively reflect her group’s position.

“We are pro-life in the humanist sense – we believe the science and the idea of life beginning at conception.”

This Signs for Life ad ran on all 255 Metro Transit buses starting Dec. 30, 2013. (Photo courtesy Signs for Life)
This Signs for Life ad ran on all 255 Metro Transit buses starting Dec. 30, 2013. (Photo courtesy Signs for Life)

Nonetheless, the mother of five children admits the ad’s sensitive subject may have offended some riders.

“I know it made some people uncomfortable, which wasn’t at all our aim, but at the same time we did want to engender some discussion.”

“How much would it cost to get our own?”

Ashburn was among the individuals made uncomfortable by the ads.  The South House outreach coordinator distinctly remembers first noticing the sign on her way to work.

“So here they are targeting the working class and the poor on their way to work,” says Asbhurn. “I’m extremely angry, and [I thought] how much would it cost to get our own [ad]?”

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Jude Ashburn, South House outreach coordinator, sends an email from her office. (Matthew Scrimshaw/Peninsula News)

Ashburn and fellow pro-choice supporter Allison Sparling immediately contacted Pattison Outdoor Advertising, the company responsible for Metro Transit’s bus signage.  They were told it would cost $4000 to run an ad for a month.

They raised the entire amount using the crowdfunding website GoFundMe.com.

“We’ve had really excellent support,” Ashburn says, noting that many people have thanked them for proving an outlet to express their pro-choice values.

“They were like ‘please take this [money]!  I need to see something happen because I’m sick of the shaming tactics.’”

Public shaming

Ashburn is a veteran pro-choice advocate, and recently sat across from the Signs for Life group for every day of the pro-life 40 Days for Life vigil at the Victoria General Hospital.

She explains that public shaming is one of the harsher tactics employed by pro-life supporters, and in her experience is often rooted in misogyny.

“I have been personally told that abortions wouldn’t exist if you women would keep your legs shut – an old man told me that!”

Ashburn adds that groups such as South House and the Halifax Sexual Health Centre exist to ensure that other women do not have to endure similar treatment alone.

“People have their back so they don’t have to feel ashamed or attacked if they’re ever in the situation where they have to make that difficult choice.”

For her part, Potter agrees that the abortion debate should be conducted respectfully. She says that Signs For Life has always maintained a positive tone in their interactions with the public.

“We’re not here to judge people, we’re not here to get into a screaming match. We just want to be able to talk about it, debate it, and disseminate information.”

Here to stay

Both groups insist that their latest efforts are only the beginning of a renewed debate. Potter says that Signs for Life will continue to spread their message.

Signs4Life Bedford Highway
Signs for Life’s current Bedford Highway billboard. (Photo courtesy Signs for Life)

“There will be other signs – there’s a sign on the Bedford Highway today – but it’s not in response to them.”

Meanwhile, South House has recently received a funding increase that has enabled them to expand their full-time staff. Ashburn believes this increase will allow them to be more active in promoting issues of gender justice.

Visit yourchoicehalifax.com to learn more about the South Shore and Halifax Sexual Health Centre’s ad campaign.