HALIFAX – A pro-life bus advertisement is stirring up controversy in Halifax, and a fundraiser has now been launched to raise money for a pro-choice ad campaign.
The posters, paid for by the pro-life group Signs for Life, feature a newborn baby with the words “Luc was born today but his life began nine months ago”.
South House, a gender and sexual resource centre at Dalhousie University, is crowdsourcing on GoFundMe.com for a counter ad campaign.
Allison Sparling is spearheading the fundraiser; she said she wanted to do something tangible when she saw the bus ads and the discussion it was generating online.
“What I wanted to do was partner up with a really great organization that’s providing awesome services and promote the amazing services it’s doing,” she said, referring to South House.
“We want an alternative to the messages that are out there. We want to make sure that if this really is the conversation people are saying it is, all voices have the opportunity to have equal footing in it.”
In less than three days, the campaign raised more than $1,700.
Sparling said the goal is to raise $4,000 to pay for advertisements on the entire fleet of HRM buses.
“The conversation is important because abortions are not convenient. They are not easy. I think we’d all like less abortions. We just want to make sure people have the right and the choice to have an abortion,” she said.
Jude Ashburn, outreach coordinator at South House, said the campaign is meant to make people aware of the resources and information available to them.
“It’s about reducing the harm to people and making sure they’re safe along the way as they make those difficult choices and find community and access resources in a non-judgmental environment when they’re already going through a lot,” Ashburn said.
“There are people out there who are in solidarity with this difficult decision that you may be facing. There’s people out there who are on your side and working around the clock to make sure you have these rights and services.”
Signs for Life is not shying away from the debate; in fact, the organization is embracing the pro-choice ad campaign.
Spokesperson Stephanie Potter said she saw the discussion brewing on social media and knew it was only a matter of time before a counter campaign was launched.
“I think it’s wonderful. We’re really excited about the fact other people are exercising their freedom of speech. It’s started a really wonderful debate,” she said.
Potter said abortion is often considered a taboo topic and she thinks the controversy over the bus ads could make it become a topic of every conversation.
“I love hearing other people in Halifax are being pushed out of their comfort zone and we’re talking about it. I really hope it comes to a place where we see both sides are really reasonable and we all love women. We love people. We’re just coming at it from different points of view.”
Metro Transit spokesperson Janet Bryson said ads are sold on buses and bus shelters but they pre-approved by independent third party organizations, Pattison and CBS Outdoors.
“All advertisements must meet the Canadian Advertising Standards Code. If they meet the codes, they can be placed on the buses,” she said.
She acknowledges the pro-life ads are generating interest but Metro Transit isn’t wading into the debate.
“We recognize at times certain advertisements might not be acceptable to some people but if they meet the codes, we have to post them.”
Complaints about bus ads can be filed with the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards.
A ruling in 2009 by the Supreme Court of Canada states advertisements that may be offensive to some riders are still admissible.
“Since that ruling, the only role Metro Transit or our third party vendor has played in allowing or disallowing advertising on our buses has been to ensure that all ads meet the provisions of the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards,” reads the policy of Metro Transit advertising.
Pro-choice advocates are not calling for the Signs for Life advertisements to be taken down. Instead they want to elevate the debate and keep the conversation going.
“If we call them to take the ads down, a lot of people are going to tune out,” Sparling said.
“Obviously I would be happy if those ads aren’t up anymore but that’s just cause I disagree with them. There are a lot of ads I disagree with but I’m not going to ask for them to be taken down.”
Potter said the Signs for Life advertisements were put up at the beginning of January and will run until the end of the month.