CALGARY – Young pro-lifers from Calgary are petitioning the Alberta government to bring a halt to paying for abortions.
The campaign to Defund Abortion in Alberta is a grassroots initiative started by university and college students, mostly from Calgary, seeking to eliminate public funding for abortion and to support conscience rights for taxpayers.
"A defunding campaign will also focus on uniting Albertans who often disagree about tactics in the abortion debate, but who would generally agree that tax dollars should not fund abortions," said Amanda Achtman, a University of Calgary student active in the group.
Their message is being spread among students who feel that handing out pro-life pamphlets in a college cafeteria is not enough to end abortion. Instead, they want to engage the public on the issue and drive it back into political debate.
Achtman said one way funding for abortion could be eliminated would be for the finance minister to simply exclude it from the budget.
"The second way would be a private member's bill on it or a government vote," said Achtman. "Another way would be if there was a referendum in Alberta to determine whether Albertans actually want tax dollars funding abortions."
The petition to Defund Abortion in Alberta was set up Dec. 19. By Jan. 6, the number of signatures was up to 367, with many writing supportive comments.
"Taxpayers should not have to pay for procedures that are not medically necessary," wrote Krzysztof Bjernacki, from Calgary.
Thea Hynea, also from Calgary, said, "It is bad enough that we have no legislation restricting it or banning it, but to force Canadians to pay for it with our taxes is much worse."
The online petition is available at www.gopetition.com/petitions/defund-abortion-in-alberta.html.
The group expects to start door knocking for the campaign in January.
Albertans have been paying for abortions since 1970 through the Alberta health care insurance plan.
Achtman said her group also wants to make abortion funding an issue in the upcoming provincial election.
Pro-lifers should contact MLAs and other candidates, asking them whether they support defunding abortion.
"The ultimate success would be eliminating public funding for abortions, which tend to be elective procedures," she said. She cited a 2003 poll that found that 76 per cent of Albertans support defunding of abortion except in cases of rape or incest.
The other exception, she said, would be when the mother is in grave danger as a result of the physical impact of a pregnancy.
Campaigning to defund abortion is nothing new for Joanne Byfield, a prominent member of the pro-life movement for many years. In 1995, she was the spokesperson for the Committee to End Tax-Funded Abortions in Alberta. She has also served as president of Alberta Pro-Life and LifeCanada and on other pro-life boards.
Byfield said that with an imminent provincial election, the timing is right for this petition and for lobbying MLAs.
"I am pretty cynical about politics. Until pro-life people change the culture, politicians are the last ones who come along on issues like this," said Byfield. "There would have to be an overwhelming clamour from constituents, I believe, for politicians to even consider this."
She finds it hard to fathom the yearly average of 12,000 abortions in Alberta are deemed medically necessary.
"The whole medical necessity argument is completely bogus, and a huge waste of money."
She expects the students will get the runaround from politicians. For example, there is no mention in the Canada Health Act of what specific services must be covered; yet she has encountered provincial politicians who claim it does.
"The decision of what services will be paid for by the provincial health care system is up to the provincial government."