Tips for Responding to the Abortion Crapavan

(sometimes called the “new abortion caravan”)

By Jane Cawthorne and Joyce Arthur – June 9, 2012

(Check it out! There will be pro-choice counter protests in Winnipeg and six locations in Ontario:  Thanks Canadian Auto Workers union!)

The so called “new abortion caravan,” an anti-choice display of fetus pornography—dubbed the “Crapavan” by pro-choicers—is making its way across Canada trying desperately to make a point. What that point is, exactly, isn’t for us to guess, but the shocking blood and guts photos of alleged aborted fetuses are sparking outcries against the Crapavan and spontaneous counter demonstrations from people who have sometimes never been active in the pro-choice movement before. (If you must, you can look at the Crapavan’s website here, it’s a project of the grossly misnamed Canadian Centre for Bioethical Research – CCBR).

The spontaneous grassroots response to the Crapavan so far is quite incredible (Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto), and the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC) wants to support local actions. This article offers a few ideas for dealing with the Crapavan if it is coming to your city (schedule). ARCC’s intent is to protect the safety of pro-choice demonstrators and prepare you for the onslaught of crazy you will meet if you choose to engage.

The Real Abortion Caravan

The real Abortion Caravan was part of second wave feminist efforts to decriminalize abortion. In 1970, a group of revolutionary women traveled from Vancouver to Ottawa, infiltrated Parliament, and closed it down for the first time in history – all to protest the new abortion law that was written to protect doctors, not help women access abortion.

The new anti-choice version of this event bears no resemblance to it whatsoever, as explained in this CBC podcast interview with Margo Dunn, an original pioneering Caravaner who is of course horrified at this appropriation of one of the most revered and successful activist events in Canadian history. (Here and here are historical accounts of the Caravan if you want to learn more about the genuine article.)

The Counterfeit Version

The Crapavan has its origins in what pro-choice activists in Calgary have dubbed the “Fetus-mobile,” a large panel van plastered with images of blood and gore that drives around the city. The organizer’s stated goal is to shock passers-by, hopefully into agreeing with their extremist stance against abortion. They don’t just want abortion decriminalized; they want it made “unthinkable.” The group’s leader, Stephanie Grey, recently endorsed the idea of jailing women for life for having an abortion, or maybe just declaring them clinically insane.

Calgary pro-choice activists have a long history with this group since Calgary is their home base. “Sometimes we engage and sometimes we don’t,” says a member of the local pro-choice coalition. “We often argue about whether to bother. Feeding the trolls is to be avoided here, just as it is on the Internet.”

The Calgary Pro-Choice Coalition produced a comic book about them, believing such a response was the only logical way to react to their ridiculous and offensive tactics. The comic provides background information, including common public negative reaction to the display. Even Calgary’s Bishop Henry has denounced this group’s tactics, and Gray herself has had to work hard to defend her tactics from rebukes in her own movement.

CCBR is the same group responsible for the similarly extreme Genocide Awareness Project that shows up on Canadian university campuses from time to time (offensively comparing abortion to genocide), and sometimes across the street from public schools. Recently at the University of British Columbia, a GAP display inspired one student to strip naked in protest, making a statement about her body being hers, for her to use as she wished. The student put her own body on the line to protest. Whether or not it was effective or wise was discussed at the time, but it does tell us that GAP-type displays inspire people to take radical action. In another example, at the counter protest in Vancouver last week, there were conflicting reports about a cyclist who allegedly damaged the CCBR van’s mirror while passing by, perhaps accidentally but likely in anger. Counter protesters can act to prevent situations like this from escalating.

What to Do?

While ARCC is delighted to see counter protests rise up against the Crapavan, we have some suggestions to help your protest be as effective and risk-free as possible. Remember, you will not change their minds about abortion, so if this is your goal, don’t bother. Instead: 

  1. Focus on the audience (passers-by) instead of the protesters. Appeal to them. Be creative.
  2. Include fun positive actions, satire, or costumes (dancing genitalia have been used in Calgary).
  3. Put on some music and dance. Drown out their preachers.
  4. Give out cookies, condoms, balloons, or what have you. Ask a local sexual health centre for freebies.
  5. Celebrate the real Abortion Caravan and its historic accomplishments.
  6. Focus on raising awareness on anti-abortion Motion 312, or perhaps a local access issue.
  7. Set up a table and ask the public to sign the paper petition opposing Motion 312.
  8. Make this an opportunity to educate the public. Provide valid information to counter misinformation.
  9. Use the ARCC website to print out materials, postcards, petitions, fact sheets, etc. to give to passers-by.
  10. Consider setting up a warning at either end of the demonstration to allow unsuspecting pedestrians and motorists to avoid the scene and the triggering images. You could provide a great service by acting as a buffer to those about to stumble upon the protest.
  11. Print out copies of the comic book to hand out or show (or some handout that refutes what the Crapavan is doing).
  12. Be prepared to provide emotional support to those triggered. Remember 1 in 3 Canadian women has an abortion at some point in her reproductive life, and the vast majority of Canadians are pro-choice. Being bullied for exercising your legal right to control your own reproduction tends to evoke a lot of anger and other emotions. If you have an actual counsellor available, that would be great.

Be prepared for the following:

  • They will invade your Facebook pages and blogs, and quote your pro-choice comments without your consent or knowledge in their press and articles.
  • They may try to infiltrate your organizing meetings, pretending to be one of you and urging disruptive or violent actions.
  • They will photograph and film everyone at the demonstration, probably hoping to get pro-choice people on record so they can quote them later (perhaps out of context), or collect evidence to use in legal action.
  • They may attempt to engage you and enrage you, and try to provoke you into doing something rash. Don’t take the bait.
  • They will spin any minor incident to make pro-choicers look bad. Under no circumstances should there be physical contact or violence. (Don’t set up your counter protest too close to the CCBR one.)

Stay safe, and be proud for standing up for human rights. Don’t forget all of the resources available for you at ARCC. Happy protesting!

Please email us if you need advice or support for your action:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email