Saint John residents angered by rental of high school to screen anti-abortion film

Saint John residents angry over the rental of a Saint John high school auditorium to show an anti-abortion film are planning a protest to coincide with the screening.

The anti-abortion group New Brunswick Right to Life is hosting the screening of the American film Unplanned on Friday evening at Saint John High School. 

“Unplanned pregnancy disproportionately affects women and girls who are living in poverty. These are our most vulnerable people in our community,” said Coun. David Hickey, who will attend the protest.

“When you’re presenting them with rhetoric that there aren’t options out there for them, and that there aren’t viable, common and safe options to end pregnancy then it becomes unfair.”

The film depicts the story of Abby Johnson and her conversion from a Planned Parenthood director in Texas to an anti-abortion activist. 

 Hickey said it’s inappropriate for a public school to host the controversial film, even if school’s out and there are no students in the halls. He sent a letter to Anglophone South School District superintendent Zoe Watson asking her to “step up” and cancel the screening.

Actor Ashley Bratcher, right, is shown in a scene from the film Unplanned, the controversial American anti-abortion film. (Soli Deo Gloria Releasing/The Canadian Press)

Vita Kipping with the Saint John chapter of New Brunswick Right to Life said the group has the right to use the space to gets its message out. 

“You’re free to choose whatever you believe but we also have to allow that for others as well,” she said.

Protest organizer Sara Beveridge said the film shows “scare tactics,” and inaccurate depictions of abortion.

Coun. David Hickey will protest the film screening Friday. (@DavidHickeyNB/Twitter)

She said the district should have better policies “to ensure that groups which are intent on spreading misinformation do not have access to our schools.”

‘Lawful ideology or beliefs’

Watson said the district has heard from people both supporting and opposing the screening, and the backlash has prompted some conversations among district staff about rental guidelines.

 She said renting to a group doesn’t mean the district is endorsing their ideals, and facilities are rented to the community without “partiality to lawful ideology or beliefs.”

“We do not have, as a district, any list of groups that specifically we would rent to or that we would not rent to,” she said. “And it has caused us an a leadership team within our district to have conversation around that point: about who would we refuse a rental to?”

Watson said if the renter was a group that was “illegal or promoting something that we felt was hate … we would take issue with that.”

However, Watson acknowledged that procedures for refusing illegal groups or groups promoting hate are not in the district or the province’s guidelines. The guidelines address mostly logistics like pricing, liability and facility maintenance.

The district’s school rental policy has a clause granting it the right to cancel or alter a rental at any time.

Watson said there are no new guidelines in the works at the moment.