News / Windsor

Pro-choice activist accuses Essex MP of defamation

The founder of a pro-choice activist group named in an online poll by Essex MP Jeff Watson is accusing the Conservative backbencher of misrepresenting not only her words, but also the entire pro-choice position.

The poll, hosted on Watson's website, asks whether abortion should be limited in Canada. It begins with a prompt stating "the founder and executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada called fully taxpayer-funded abortion, at any time, for any reason — including for sex-selection or as birth control — a basic woman’s right."

That summary doesn't sit well with ARCC's director, Joyce Arthur.

"I have never said what Jeff Watson claims I did in his survey. He's tried to sum up what he thinks our position is, but he's put his own anti-choice spin on it," she said. "He's inserted this phrase 'at any time, for any reason — including for sex-selection or birth control' as if it's part of my position and it's not."

Arthur does not support placing limits on abortion in Canada, but says that's not the same as endorsing sex-selective abortions.

"In Canada, you can get an abortion without having to state a reason. Reasons can be complex, and we may not agree with them, but that's not a reason to deny a woman an abortion," she said.

If Watson — whom Arthur describes as a "hard-line, anti-choice MP" — truly wanted to combat sex-selective abortion, Arthur says he should lobby Parliament to address "the root cause, which is the lower status of women and girls in society."

In an interview with Metro, Watson defended his characterization of ARCC's position, calling the group "extreme and out of sync with Canadians."

He disagreed with Arthur, and said allowing practices like sex-selective or late-term abortions is the same as condoning them.

"You can't have it both ways," he said. "If she thinks I've misrepresented her position, then I'd ask her which aspects of abortion would she and her group consider limiting or restricting."

Watson says he put the poll on his website to spark discussion about whether the "status quo of abortion at any time, for any reason" reflects the Canadian consensus.

"I'm just one guy, an insignificant backbencher who's trying to have an honest discussion about the issues," he said.

Although Arthur considers Watson's actions "defamatory," she will not be pursuing any legal action.

"He's not being malicious about it, he just doesn't understand where we're coming from," she said. "I'm speaking out against it because it's a misrepresentation of the pro-choice position and it's accompanied by a lot of misinformation and prejudices against women."

In particular, Arthur says Watson's concerns about abortion happening "at any time" or being used as a form of birth control casts women as thoughtless or irresponsible.

"That's really insulting to women and doctors," she said. "It's as if women are showing up eight and a half months pregnant and getting an abortion on their way to the hair salon."

Data on ARCC's website claims only 0.4 per cent of abortions in Canada are done after 20 weeks of gestation, with most being performed to save the life of the mother.

The poll, acknowledged as unscientific by both Watson and Arthur, has been answered over 4,000 times. Nearly 70 per cent of respondents say they do not support limits on abortion, while 18 per cent claim they support a total ban on the practice.

Due to a recent surge in respondents (on Feb. 22, only 270 people had answered), Watson speculated that an organized pro-choice campaign is trying to hijack the poll.

"In my gut, I don't think those numbers reflect the Canadian consensus," he said.

An earlier version of the story noted that Mr. Watson believed a pro-life campaign was possibly hijacking the poll. The sentence should have referred to a pro-choice campaign. Metro regrets the error.

More on