Proposed Calgary bylaw to restrict graphic images on anti-abortion flyers

An advocacy group is looking to bring about change to some of the content Calgarians are receiving in the mail. They say that flyers from anti-abortion groups containing graphic images need to be concealed and come with a warning!

Have you flipped through your mail recently, only to find a flyer with a disturbing image of a fetus on it?

Calgary city council is looking at restricting graphic images often found on anti-abortion pamphlets in a proposed bylaw next week.

Typically, anti-abortionist flyers contain images of dead fetuses that several people find disturbing.

Calgary councillors Jennifer Wyness, Kourtney Penner, Evan Spencer, Courtney Walcott, Richard Pootmans, Peter Demong, Raj Dhaliwal, and Sonya Sharp along with Mayor Jyoti Gondek sponsored the Notice of Motion calling for a new bylaw to address the issue.

Under the proposed bylaw, graphic images on flyers will need to be concealed by either folding the pamphlet, taping it shut, or using an envelope.

Council appears to be concerned that Calgarians cannot meaningfully give their consent to view the images, and that looking at pictures of dead fetuses can have “harmful and traumatizing impacts,” especially to people who have experienced pregnancy loss. Councillors are also concerned that children may see the images.

London, Ont. already has a similar bylaw in place, and Toronto has said it will follow suit.

Ward 2 Coun. Jennifer Wyness says she feels strongly about restricting graphic images on pamphlets because it is a “distorted image of a fetus.”

“The organizations believe it’s a human being,” Wyness said. “They also are disrespecting a human being and a human life if they are so comfortable with putting this image in people’s faces.”

Wyness says pro-life organizations are intentionally depicting shocking images in their literature to evoke an emotion.

“This is not what someone who goes through a miscarriage sees, this is not what someone who goes through an abortion sees,” Wyness said.

“They don’t even realize that they are traumatizing families across Calgary who have experienced pregnancy loss. People who are trying to conceive children are greeted with this image and it causes trauma and pain. Children should not have to see this either, because sometimes children will get to the door and see this image before a parent can intervene. This results in children having nightmares, this results in parents having to engage in sex education conversations before they are ready. A four-year-old who sees this image is not ready to have the sex education conversation about what an aborted fetus looks like.”

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Cam Cote is the western outreach director at the pro-life organization Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR). The organization describes itself as “an educational human rights organization dedicated to speaking out on behalf of the youngest and most vulnerable members of the human family.”

Cote says it’s discouraging that the city is trying to censor their content.

“Our team goes to extraordinary efforts to ensure that it’s the homeowners that are receiving the literature that we distribute, to ensure that our postcards — for anyone who wouldn’t be familiar with them — have covers on them already,” Cote said. “They are generally delivered either into the private home’s mailbox or very high up beside the door so that only an adult can reach them. And of the hundreds of phone calls that I get, that result from the tens of thousands of postcards that we deliver, the majority of the phone calls say ‘my child could have seen these images.'”

Cote says the flyers that CCBR hands out go beyond showing “the reality of what abortion does.”

“It provides information for grieving parents who have already chosen abortion to get connected with post-abortive healing ministries. It has information for people who are pregnant and in a difficult situation to get connected with the pregnancy support that they need,” Cote explained.

Wyness rebukes Cote’s claim that images of fetuses on flyers are informational.

“I say it’s there for shock and awe, not to educate. When you look at the standard that society has set for gory and graphic images on the packs of cigarette smoke, it has to go behind a locked cabinet. You cannot walk past a register at a grocery store and see cigarettes,” Wyness said.

“I am not saying that they are not allowed to educate Calgarians on their stance, I’m saying the image in which they are addressing Calgarians with is inappropriate and unacceptable. They can easily go door to door with the flyer that has their website address that directs the Calgarians or Albertans to go learn more.”

Wyness also linked the images of fetuses found on flyers to child pornography.


Cote says drawing comparisons from images of fetuses to pornography is inaccurate and inappropriate. He says images of dead fetuses are “victim imagery” that is “exposing an injustice.”

“Whether it’s violence overseas, violence in our own cities, whether its racially motivated, whether it’s motivated by anything else, victim imagery is very, very common in today’s day and age,” Cote said.

“If you don’t see abortion to be the injustice that any pro-life advocate or anyone who recognizes the science that human life begins at fertilization would recognize it to be, we have to acknowledge that it at least has the potential of being a violation which claims the lives of over 100,000 Canadians every year.”

Wyness adds that images of dead fetuses are not permitted on some websites due to their graphic nature. She uses Reddit as an example, saying a user wishing to post similar images to the forum must tag it as “18A” and “have it behind a filter.”

“When we have other platforms that say this image is inappropriate and we have steps you have to take to see that image, why do we allow it to go on private property on the front doors without actually having the same care and caution? Our news media cannot put [those images] out, social media platforms would probably take it down and flag it as inappropriate. So my question to the organization is, why do they think going and standing on street corners or coming to private property and putting this image on is appropriate?” Wyness said.

A notice of motion will be put forward to an executive committee on Thursday.

–With files from Shilpa Downton

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