GRANDE PRAIRIE, Alberta — A judge in Canada has upheld a city’s decision to reject a pro-life advertisement from being displayed on transit buses, stating that it is “likely to cause psychological harm” to mothers who have obtained an abortion.
“I find the city’s decision to reject this particular ad was reasonable,” wrote Justice C.S. Anderson of the Court of Queen’s Bench in Alberta. “I find the ad is likely to cause psychological harm to women who have had an abortion or who are considering an abortion. It is also likely to cause fear and confusion among children who may not fully understand what the ad is trying to express…”
The Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform (CCBR) had submitted an advertisement to the transit authority of the City of Grand Prairie that included two photographs showing the stages of fetal development. One photograph depicted a baby in the womb at seven weeks, and another portrayed a baby at 16 weeks. Next to the images was a bloody circle representing abortion.
“7 weeks growing, 16 weeks growing, gone,” the advertisement reads. “Abortion kills children.”
According to Anderson, Grand Prairie officials rejected the banner because they believed it could incite ill will against “an identifiable class: women who have chosen to exercise their legal right to have an abortion.” The judge agreed.
In issuing his decision, Anderson noted that the CCBR website reads, “Now is the time to put an end to the slaughter. Now is the time to look evil in the face and say, enough. Now is the time to join together, and lend our voices to those who had theirs brutally taken from them.”
“These are strong statements that vilify women who have chosen, for their own reasons, to have an abortion; they are not merely informative and educational,” he wrote.
Anderson also noted that those who view the ad will be a captive audience, that they cannot help but see the message.
“The Charter guarantee of freedom of expression is meant to protect not only those who wish to express themselves but also those who are the recipients of the expression,” he said.
Abortion advocacy groups applauded the decision.
“The right to free speech depends on respect for your audience and their right to avoid your message,” Joyce Arthur of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada told reporters. “The decision is significant, and shows that anti-choice groups like the CCBR are wrong to wield their right to free speech like a bludgeon against the public.”
But CCBR said that free speech isn’t really free if it is censored.
“If government can tell its citizens what’s upsetting and what isn’t upsetting in their speech, then democracy is threatened and, indeed, progress is threatened,” Carol Crosson, legal counsel for the CCBR, opined.
“You might as well not have free speech at all,” also said John Carpay of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms. “Free speech doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t mean the right to say things that are offensive and outrageous. If it just means you can spout platitudes acceptable to the majority, it is worth nothing.”