At first glance, Kathleen Dyer’s obituary might seem like any other.
Beneath the photo of a smiling, older woman, we learn the basics: Dyer, who was living in Halifax, died on June 14 at age 84. She is survived by her husband, her son and his wife, and two sisters-in-law. But it’s the third and final line that stands out: In lieu of flowers, Dyer asked for donations to the Nova Scotia Women’s Choice Clinic.
The clinic, which performs medical and surgical abortions, doesn’t know Dyer, except that she had once sent them a donation. And Dyer, who dedicated her life to supporting her husband and raising her children, wasn’t a known abortion advocate.
She’s one of a number of people who’ve made donations to the pro-choice movement in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year to overturn Roe v. Wade, whether it’s in their lifetime, or after.
“My mom was definitely a proponent for women’s rights in her own way,” Kathleen’s son, Steve Dyer, told CBC News.
“She’s not an advocate or a vocalist or anything like that. But in her own way, when she sees something that she supports, then she’ll let everyone else know, myself included.”
Bequeaths are becoming more common at Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, said Frederique Chabot, the acting executive director of the charitable organization. A lot of their supporters are people who have fought for abortion rights throughout the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, and who feel very strongly about safeguarding those rights, Chabot said.
“In the last year especially, of course, since the reversal of Roe v. Wade in the United States, that has really shone a light on the fact that progress is not always linear,” Chabot said.
“It has rekindled a lot of passion around some of the work that people did when they were younger, some of the fights that they fought.”
In general, donations to abortion clinics and advocacy organizations in Canada have increased in the last few years, said Jill Doctoroff, the executive director of the National Abortion Federation (NAF) Canada.
She said she was recently contacted regarding an individual who wanted to make a $25,000 donation to a clinic. And NAF Canada itself has received more gifts in the last year than in previous years, she added.
Bequeathments are harder to track, but Doctoroff said she knows of at least two people who asked for donations to NAF Canada in lieu of flowers after their deaths — and she suspects this may increase.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we see [it more] in 10, 15, 20 years, especially in the time we’ve been in in the last couple of years, with all the restrictions on abortions in the United States,” Doctoroff said.
There was a surge in donations known as “rage giving” in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year to overturn Roe v. Wade. When the news first leaked of the pending decision in May, NARAL Pro-Choice America, a non-profit that received $12.9 million US in donations in fiscal year 2021, saw a 1,403 per cent increase in donations in the 24 hours after compared to the day before, according to Reuters.
But it didn’t last, the Associated Press reported in June, noting that emergency grants ended and individual and foundation giving dropped off one year later.
“After Roe v. Wade, there was a lot of donations at that time to all kinds of pro-choice groups. So maybe at that time, people thought, ‘Well, maybe I should put something in my will,'” said Joyce Arthur, the executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC).
She can recall several bequeathments to the coalition in the last 10 years — a few thousand dollars here and there. There’s a “planned giving” section right on their website that helps potential donors who want to leave ARCC money in their wills.
While she hasn’t seen an increase in bequeathments, Arthur notes that donations to ARCC in general had a “major spike” when the U.S. Supreme Court decision was leaked, and again when the decision came down.
And though she says it has since slowed down, she says many of those donors signed up for sustained memberships, so ARCC continues to benefit from their monthly and annual gifts.
‘A woman’s choice’
Donations from people like Kathleen Dyer go to show that you never really know a person’s story, said Doctoroff, and you should never assume why a person makes a donation to a cause.
Dyer, who went by Kay, was born in Dartmouth, raised her children in Edmonton, then moved back to Nova Scotia with her husband for her golden years. She had never worked outside the house, her son said from his home in Maders Cove, N.S., and he wouldn’t necessarily call her a feminist.
Steve Dyer could remember asking his mother about abortion when he was a teenager.
“My mom was quite clear with me that her position was — and one that she wanted me to consider … that it was a woman’s choice. It was her body. Period. End of story,” he said.
After moving back to Nova Scotia, his mother had read an article about the Nova Scotia Women’s Choice Clinic in the local newspaper, Steve Dyer said, and was impressed with the program that advocated for women’s health.
When she made a donation to the Nova Scotia Women’s Choice Clinic through the QEII Foundation a few years ago, the staff wrote her a thank you card. She was the only donor who wrote back, thanking the staff for their work in her own personal thank you card, said Dr. Lianne Yoshida, the medical co-director of the clinic.
“We put it up on our bulletin board,” Yoshida said.
Yoshida said she was surprised and moved when she learned that Dyer had requested donations to the clinic in her obituary. It was the first bequeathment to the clinic she’s aware of.
“I just want someone in her family to know how grateful we were,” she said.
Donations are used for long-term, reversible contraception, such as IUDs, Yoshida said.
A final act
What Dyer’s obituary doesn’t say is that she chose to die on June 14 by medical assistance in dying, or MAID. Dyer had been sick and in pain for some time, Steve Dyer said. She had severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), had contracted COVID-19 earlier in the year, and had recently learned that her cancer had returned.
“This solidified her position to elect to go down the MAID program, but also one that reflected her position on women choosing their own destiny, and being an advocate for that, and advocating for that for herself,” Steve Dyer said.
“It’s a committed position that she’s taken both for others and herself.”
Yoshida says it all comes down to bodily autonomy, whether it’s about abortion, or MAID.
“It’s about being in control of your body, and I completely see the connection between the two,” she said.