11/09/2012 05:50 EST | Updated 01/09/2013 05:12 EST

Why Is Canada Rewarding Anti-Abortion Activists?

Getty/CP File

The awarding of the Queen's Jubilee medal to two chronic clinic harassers is a travesty. Linda Gibbons, 65, and Mary Wagner, 39, have been given medals for repeatedly attempting to invade abortion clinics and "counsel" patients not to end their pregnancies. They are regularly sent to jail for their actions. They are also assiduously cultivating public martyrdom.

They were awarded the medals thanks to the recommendation of Saskatchewan Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott. It's important to be clear that their mission of trespassing at abortion clinics is not an act of charity but rather is part of a long history of harassment of patients and clinic staff by organized religious fanatics across Canada and the United States.

This story may seem like small potatoes, only affecting a limited demographic. No doubt it could easily be dismissed as just a "women's issue." But all Canadians, no matter what their personal views on abortion, should be concerned. The rewarding of criminal harassment is not something anyone should take lightly, even among their fellow Roman Catholics, whose default impulse may be to support "pro-life" activism.

We've gone through a lot of blood, sweat and tears to create a free society for all to enjoy. We have freedom of opinion and the right to control our own lives. Our rights as citizens to respect and privacy, to bodily integrity and dignity are well established. We would not have it any other way. I know, just as a human being, that I want control over my own body. I can't fathom the idea that anyone would want to do that to half the human race.

The anti-choice don't seem to understand that they are enjoying the exact same freedom to make moral choices that the pro-choice side demands. They are free to not have abortions, not to be coerced, and to control their own bodies. Pro-choicers by definition support everyone's rights to make fundamental life decisions freely, without fear of consequence. I absolutely support their right to feel that for them, abortion is immoral, and to govern their own lives accordingly.

The anti-choice fail to see that if they succeed in somehow re-criminalizing abortion, they will be endangering their own rights. For if one state intrusion into your private life is ok, then how about another? And another? There truly is no telling where fanatics might not pry and try to control, what savage punishments they might feel justified in meting out to any citizens they feel have fallen short of their vision of personal morality. It has happened before and could easily happen again. Enshrining human rights and freedoms in law is a deliberate attempt to thwart that kind of potential tyranny.

Our rights aren't something that we each file away and pull out when we need them; they are a sea that we swim in, an environment that we all need to live happy, fruitful and safe lives. Restricting women's rights will damage everybody's rights. A recent study by the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization shows clearly that the legality of abortion barely affects the number of abortions actually performed -- but criminalizing abortion makes it significantly more dangerous for the women involved. If the anti-choice got their way, they would be putting women's lives at risk, they'd endanger everyone's civil rights, and they wouldn't even be changing the fact of abortion in society.

Rather than waging a war on abortion providers, the anti-choice need to rethink their approach entirely. They need to devote their resources and the compassion they claim motivates them to creating an environment where women facing an unplanned pregnancy, who don't feel abortion is an option for them, can have the best possible emotional and financial supports for themselves and their babies.

So the ongoing harassment at clinics, threats and lurking dangers that abortion providers face is both pointless and immoral. Linda Gibbons and Mary Wagner insist that they have every right to bother people about their intimate lives, their sexuality, their most personal decisions. This is unacceptable in a free society. Moreover, they are attempting to legitimize that very approach itself. I doubt most people would like the idea that strangers, armed with nothing but their own fanaticism, would be free to barge into their private lives.

I know that politically progressive people already oppose this. What I find mind-boggling is that conservatives, always demanding less government interference, don't fight this nonsense tooth and nail. They should take another look at Vellacott and his friends in the anti-choice Parliamentary caucus, and see that they represent an ongoing threat to all Canadians' civil liberties.