Pro-choice activist disarms opponents with wit and good will

Emily Bulmer stands in counter protest to anti-abortionists

EMILY BULMER LIKES TO PROTEST... IN HER OWN WAY. She does it with wit, intelligence, malice toward none and courage—the courage to do it right next to a group not known for being anything like that.

Emily has spent many lunch hours, since February 27, standing, by herself, right next to a group holding “Pray to End Abortion” signs in downtown Smithers, B.C. The anti-abortion group action is to support their annual “40 Days for Life” event.

The Handmaid’s Tale in person

Emily dresses for the occasion. She puts on a red robe and a headpiece made out of a recycled white ice cream tub. It is a clear reference to the uniform women were forced to wear in the very popular TV show “The Handmaid’s Tale” based on Margaret Atwood’s book. The series is centered on life in the fictional “Republic of Gilead,” a totalitarian society where fertile women are forced into child-bearing slavery as “Handmaids.”

Emily drives home her point with her hand-lettered sign that reads: “GILEAD SUCKS.”

Amanda Follett Hosgood talked with Emily for a story Hosgood posted on The Tyee. Emily told Hosgood she takes a direct approach: “I introduce myself, say that I hold a different view, but that I’d like to share the sidewalk and hear what is most important to them about the issue.”

Respectfully disagree

She tells them, “I commend you for being brave and I’m going to stand here and respectfully disagree.”

Emily told Hosgood, “It’s really easy to de-humanize people and get on your high horse,... we have to figure out how to talk to people.”

The Huffington Post reported “intimidating” and “distressing” protests outside clinics in the U.K. by groups associated with 40 Days for Life.

The anti-abortion action in Smithers is not near any medical facility. B.C. law makes it a criminal offence to protest, harass or interfere with those attempting to obtain or assist with abortions.

Emily told Hosgood life on the line was uneventful. “We’ve had some really interesting dialogue, which has been productive in that it’s at least keeping the humanity in the debate.”

“Nobody gets anywhere by holding a sign and shouting at each other.”

Public reaction mixed

Public reaction to the dual protest is mixed. Some people who drive past get a good laugh at the audacity of Emily’s counter-protest. Some women have even parked their cars and come over to shake Emily's hand and say thank you. Some drivers give the thumbs up, some others the finger.

Canada has no abortion law. There is no specific legal prohibition. Yet, access to abortion remains patchy and far less than automatic.

At the protest, Emily advocates for free birth control, universal childcare and higher minimum wage—things that would reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and better support those faced with them.

More information means fewer abortions

The reality in Canada is that when women are offered easy access to information and full health care, they are less likely to face an unwanted pregnancy and, if they do, they terminate early. The “vast majority” of abortions in Canada happen in the first trimester, thanks to relatively easy access and universal health care, and late-term abortions are “exceptionally rare.”

According to recent statistics annual abortion rates are declining in Canada, from almost 100,000 in 2007 to about 85,000 in 2018—a drop of 15%.

Emily told Hosgood, “It’s that lack of understanding of other people’s circumstances that triggers me. ...I know women who have had abortions who have to drive by those protests and see all of those signs and basically the wound is opened up again.”

Emily has no illusions. But her happy warrior approach remains undimmed. She told Hosgood: “I am quite sure I’m not going to change anyone’s mind, but at least for an hour I can give women driving by something else to look at.”

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