UBC’s history of abortion protests

Last week’s pro-life protests and the counter-protests that sprung up next to them generated a lot of discourse on campus. But they’re actually nothing new — UBC has a history of abortion activism, on both sides of the issue, stretching back to the 1970s. The Ubyssey looked through our archives and compiled a timeline of the abortion rights movement, backlash from the legalization of abortion and subsequent pro-life movements spearheaded by students at UBC. 

This timeline does not include every incident, especially from recent years, but aims to provide an overview of the activism over the last 40 years. 

Clicking on headlines will connect to the corresponding archival issue. Timeline by Peter Siemens / The Ubyssey.

  • 1973

    November 9, 1973

    Dr. Robert Makaroff, a doctor convicted of performing abortions before full legalization, discussed abortion and ethics with Rev. Bernie Gerard in the IRC in Woodward on November 8. They were joined by obstetrician Dr. Jon Schonblom, abortion action group representative Coreen Douglas and Christian ethics professor Terry Anderson. The discussion was heated and despite there being no major incidents of protest, there was some booing from the audience.

  • 1974

    October 11, 1974

    Dr. Henry Morgentaler, the Montréal abortion doctor at the centre of the abortion rights movement in Canada, gave a speech on October 10 in the Old SUB’s ballroom. Morgentaler was backed by a crowd carrying various pro-choice banners. The original letter in a subsequent issue from the UBC Abortion Action Committee stated that the number of attendants was close to 900 and that most of those present were in support of Morgentaler.

  • 1988

    January 29, 1988

    Following the supreme court ruling that Canada’s abortion laws were unconstitutional, many groups such as “concerned citizens for choice on abortion” met to celebrate. Up until this point, abortions were only performed legally in hospitals, and only if a committee of doctors decided that the pregnancy may endanger the mother’s life or health. The Ubyssey published an editorial praising the ruling, which opened with the sentence, “Dr. Henry Morgentaler has won.”

  • 1989

    March 22, 1989

    Anya Hageman, a fourth-year agricultural economics student, was arrested and jailed in Burnaby’s Lakeside Correctional Centre for Women for nearly a month after she and 104 other people blockaded the Everywoman’s Health Center — the first centre in Vancouver to give abortions — in early February of 1989. Hageman, at the time president of UBC’s Campus Pro-Life, participated in the blockade due to her involvement in the anti-abortion group “Operation Rescue.” According to Hilda Thomas, an English professor at UBC who worked with the clinic at the time, Operation Rescue harassed and intimidated patients and staff, protested in front of the clinic with graphic signs similar to those currently being debated at UBC and blocked the clinic’s doors.

  • 1999

    September 7, 1999

    The California-based Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CBR) announced that it intended to bring the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) to UBC. From the Ubyssey archives: “GAP uses graphic photo displays of lynchings, concentration camp atrocities, and aborted fetuses to create a comparison between slavery in the United States, the Holocaust and abortion.”

  • 1999

    September 24, 1999

    UBC applied for an interim injunction against CBR to prevent the GAP, the pro-life display, from coming to campus, pending a full hearing. In response, CBR stated that they planned to take the university to court over the matter.

    UBC’s application for injunction was based on CBR's refusal to comply with the conditions UBC gave in order for GAP to take place. UBC requested that CBR pay for its own security, which would cost $15,000 per day, and that CBR set up its display at Maclnnes Field.

    This was covered more extensively in the following Ubyssey issue of October 1.

  • 1999

    November 26, 1999

    The anticipated GAP display finally came to campus, roughly six weeks after CBR first said the display would come to UBC. The display was not brought by CBR, but instead by a group of students. Three pro-choice students, Erin Kaiser, Jon Chandler and Lesley Washington, tore apart the display leaflets and knocked over tables that the display rested on. All three of the pro-choice advocates were highly involved in the AMS. The display was re-mounted later in the day, and the RCMP quickly arrived on the scene and requested statements from the pro-choice protestors.

  • 2000

    February 25, 2000

    The second GAP display to come to UBC drew an estimated 200 pro-choice protesters in opposition. UBC Campus Security was present, but the protests remained peaceful on both sides.

    Three representatives from UBC Lifeline, a pro-life group on campus involved with the GAP, launched a lawsuit against the AMS and four of their representatives relating to the incident that occurred at the first GAP at UBC.

    UBC Lifeline is the same group that put on the most recent pro-life demonstrations on campus this year.

  • 2000

    March 10, 2000

    The criminal charges were dropped in the GAP incident, civil suit pending.

  • 2001

    October 5, 2001

    The GAP was brought back to campus by UBC Lifeline. While the incident was less tense than prior ones, Students for Choice (SFC), a group formed as opposition to the first GAP, counter-protested with large banners several feet in front of the display.

    Following this year, the displays continue to occur on campus roughly once a year until the present day.

  • 2012

    March 8, 2012

    A student named Justine Davidson removed her clothes on campus in protest of an anti-abortion demonstration, then coming under investigation by UBC for “non-academic misconduct” for allegedly “disrupting” a display by the GAP.

  • 2016

    March 17, 2016

    A UBC Lifeline display is slashed by a knife by a female wielding a pocket knife. The pro-life group came under fire by the UBC community for their images that equated abortion to genocide and the Holocaust. This was not the first time that the images had contained such content.

  • 2016

    November 16, 2016

    The most recent protests took place on campus, with Campus Security standing by to mediate the situation. A counter-protest was quickly set up advocating for pro-choice with a large banner to block the images, which did not include genocide images like the year previous.