Saint Paul University cancels screening of abortion film

Saint Paul University in downtown Ottawa refused to screen the pro-choice documentary, Vessel, which was slated to be screened at the Choice Film Festival on Nov. 22. 

Vessel tells the story of a woman named Rebecca Gomperts, a doctor who began to provide abortions on a ship for women living in countries where abortions are illegal. 

Saint Paul University, a Roman Catholic school, has rented out its amphitheater to the Choice Film Festival for the past six years to screen films and host panels, according to an article by Global News. After learning that the film dealt with the topic of abortion, the university gave the organizers of the festival the option of either screening a different film, or finding another venue, according to the article. 

Wendy Jolliffe, Choice Film Festival organizer, said the film festival originally chose to rent out the amphitheater because it had enough space, was centrally located, and the layout worked best for their events. 

Jolliffe said the festival decided to change venues instead of not choosing a different film, and instead moved the event to the Ottawa Birth and Wellness Center in Nepean.

Elyse Banham, the executive director of the Birth and Wellness Center, said they were contacted by the film festival because they offer rental space to many organizations, but the reason why they felt comfortable hosting the festival was because the values shown in Vessel and those of the Choice Film Festival aligned with their own. 

“We are a pro-choice organization,” Banham said. “By hosting the film, we wanted to show support to the organization, but also to allow Ottawa residents to have the opportunity to be more informed.” 

Mirroring the Birth and Wellness Center’s mission in Ottawa, Jolliffe said she initially got involved with the Choice Film Festival to help inform the community. 

Jolliffe added that the film festival helps in achieving her goal to inform people about their birth control and parenting options.

“The idea of the film festival is to open up the options so that people are aware of what’s available out there, and they can ask for it from their care providers,” she said.

Jolliffe added that the film is important because of its discussion of birthing and birth control methods other than those preferred by physicians. She went on to explain that if a physician has a preferred method, they will stick to it and not present their patients with other options.

“It doesn’t seem like all of the options are presented [by physicians], it’s not necessarily the patient or the consumer’s choice of what medical treatment they get―it’s more often the caregivers preference,” Joliffe said. 

Jolliffe said she believes a positive outcome of Vessel, is it’s discussion of medical abortion, and how it’s now available in Canada.

“The World Health Organization has recommended for a long time that medical abortions be available because they’re safer,” Jolliffe said.

She explained that a medical abortion is a pill taken orally within the first 10 weeks of a pregnancy, which ends up resulting in a miscarriage. According to Jolliffe, medical abortions are safer than surgeries.

She highlighted how the discussion of different birthing methods like medical abortion, aren’t being had, and that Vessel is a good way to spark that conversation in Ottawa. 

When asked about the future of the film festival at Saint Paul, Jolliffe said that the conflict is in the past. 

“We will ask [to host there again], because it really is an ideal venue . . . and we had a really good relationship with them in the past,” she said. 

The Charlatan reached out to Saint Paul University for comment, but did not hear back in time for publication.

Photo by Aaron Hemens