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Clinics Say The Planned Parenthood Backlash Has Seeped Into Canada

"Those of us in sexual healthcare in Canada would get complacent at our own risk."

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A couple of weeks ago, like so many have done before her, a pregnant woman went to Planned Parenthood Ottawa looking for help.

The pregnancy was unplanned and her abusive partner was trying to force her to abort, according to the organization. She needed someone to talk her through her options, but funding cuts meant there wasn't a counsellor available and the woman had to be turned away.

It's a situation that Planned Parenthood Ottawa president Lauren Dobson-Hughes never wants to happen again, but it's an ever more likely scenario as sexual health clinics serving women and trans communities struggle to stay funded.

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Dobson-Hughes said cuts over the last three years have "have probably been close to half of our budget" and part of the problem is activists who oppose the work Planned Parenthood does.

The Ottawa organization doesn't perform abortions but provides counseling about pregnancy options, access to contraception and trans and queer-inclusive education. For "a small group with very loud voices," that's not okay.

"They set the idea that we do is somehow controversial," said Dobson-Hughes. "I don't know how providing healthcare to over 50% of the population that needs it is stigmatizing or shameful."

She told BuzzFeed Canada that anti-abortion and anti-sex ed activists have targeted Planned Parenthood Ottawa's funders. A post from a Ottawa-area anti-abortion blogger listed Planned Parenthood Ottawa's supporters and complained of tax dollars going to the organization. However, the blogger told Postmedia she did not personally contact any of them.

Dobson-Hughes said the recent controversy with Planned Parenthood in the U.S. has also added to the stigma.

A series of videos was released by a U.S. group called Centre For Medical Progress showing a Planned Parenthood doctor discussing cells and organs harvested from aborted fetuses.

YouTube / Via buzzfeed.com

Planned Parenthood has said the videos are heavily edited and tantamount to "fraud," but they've become a lightning rod for anti-abortion activists in the U.S.

It seems that controversy has carried over to Canada.

Options For Sexual Health — a non-profit health provider in B.C. — has been fielding "bizarre questions about selling fetal tissue," said Executive Director Jennifer Breakspear.

Options For Sexual Health used to be called Planned Parenthood in B.C. and Breakspear said the name change has probably shielded them from the backlash faced by other clinics — but not completely.

"Certainly through our 50 plus years history there has been negative attention upon our organization, there have been violent threats, our provincial office is a locked door you need to buzz to enter because of that historical legacy," said Breakspear.

"But knock on wood, we haven't experienced any of that kind of violence or threats in the last couple of years."

Like Planned Parenthood Ottawa, they don't provide abortions, just counseling and other services. Their funding comes from the provincial government, so they haven't faced that same issues with budgeting.

Breakspear said there is a segment of Canada that rallies against any kind of queer and trans-positive sexual education and services.

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"Those of us in sexual healthcare in Canada would get complacent at our own risk. I think it’s important that we do stay alert to what is the social and political climate," said Breakspear.

It's easy to look at the United States and see politicians attempt to legislate away abortion access and forget our issues at home, said Dobson-Hughes.

"I think there is in the general public a complacency because we’re not the United States," she said. "But by not speaking and not speaking out we leave space open for people who do not represent our values. We need you to say 'enough is enough, we don’t share the values of those people, they don't speak for me."

In the mean time, she said supporters have been responding to Planned Parenthood Ottawa's drive for funding, though there's still a ways to go.

We’re nowhere near out of the woods, and the situation is still critical. We’re working to expand and diversify our funding….

….and the community’s support has gone a long way in reassuring potential funders that the services we offer are essential and mainstream

But the fact remains that healthcare for women and trans people is stigmatized. There is a huge amount of shame attached to our needs

Lauren Strapagiel is Managing Editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto, Canada.

Contact Lauren Strapagiel at lauren.strapagiel@buzzfeed.com.

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