Each year across Canada, the social conservative lobbyist organization Campaign Life Coalition coordinates Life Chain, a series of simultaneous demonstrations against abortion that usually take place on the first Sunday of October. These demonstrations often attract counter-protests, which advocate for reproductive choice.
At a Life Chain demonstration in downtown Torontoon September 30, a man identified as Jordan Hunt defaced Life Chain signs, argued with counter-protesters and then roundhouse kicked Life Chain organizer Marie-Claire Bissonette.
Groups that wish to attack the right to reproductive freedoms should absolutely be vocally opposed. However, speaking from my experience working against anti-choice groups in the past, kicking a demonstrator is both a morally and strategically wrong way of counter-protesting.
It's well-established that reproductive justice and gender-based violence are inextricably linked, with sexual and domestic violence affecting the ability to freely make choices surrounding family planning and childcare. So, how can we possibly justify enacting violence against women as a way of showing support for reproductive rights? Pro-choice activists should feel concerned to see a man so gleefully kicking another woman for having the "wrong" opinion, even if it's one that is genuinely harmful.
The roundhouse-kick wasn't the first time Hunt enacted physical violence toward an anti-choice demonstrator, having previously been filmed lunging at a woman and grabbing the sign she was carrying at another demonstration earlier this year.
Given that he has attacked women on multiple occasions, I believe he's using anti-choice women as an outlet for his misogyny, while wielding a progressive cause as justification for his behaviour.
Counter-protesting an anti-choice group on campus as an undergraduate student taught me about anti-choice groups' strategies, and effective counter-protesting. I learned very quickly that yelling, defacing signs and even inciting violence don't make anti-choice demonstrators go away. Members of anti-abortion groups themselves have expressed that they aren't deterred by violence.
The main priority of pro-choice demonstrations and counter-demonstrations should be supporting passersby
When pro-choice groups host their own demonstrations, anti-choice groups show up, which is exactly what happened when I organized an event on campus.
Rather than antagonizing anti-choice demonstrators, the main priority of pro-choice demonstrations and counter-demonstrations should be supporting passersby — in particular, people who have had to make a difficult decision about an unplanned pregnancy in the past or who may have to make one in the future.
In my experience this has been as simple as silently standing next to anti-choice demonstrators with a piece of paper that reads "I Am Pro-Choice." Many came up and thanked me just for being present and expressing my views.
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Those of us involved in counter-demonstrating also educate ourselves on the state of abortion access in Canada, as well as other aspects of reproductive justice, so we can communicate this information to anti-choice and pro-choice individuals alike.
Pro-active measures like this, rather than simply reacting to the anti-choice group present, have a positive impact and make for a stronger movement overall. In contrast, Hunt's actions are performative rather than productive.
Pro-choice activism involves doing research, standing outside for hours at a time and meaningfully engaging with others. It's tiring, but often rewarding, work. Those who want to be allies to the movement should follow the leadership of other activists and reflect on what it means to contribute in a helpful way, before pulling a stunt that causes far more harm than good.
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