A war on our rights

Every time I think we might be close to putting the issue of abortion behind us (as in, it’s legal, let’s move on), something happens to remind me how tenuous access to abortion still is, even in Canada.

Early last year, before our minds became completely occupied with the pandemic, Saskatchewan Conservative MP Cathay Wagantall introduced a private member’s bill – C-233 – that would have banned doctors from performing sex-selective abortions. This was not the first such bill introduced by a Conservative MP in recent years. Fortunately, it was soundly defeated a few weeks ago.

Wagantall justified her bill as a nuanced approach to protect female fetuses, which she believed would be more likely to be aborted than would male fetuses. That has certainly been the case in some parts of the world, but there’s no strong evidence it would be in Canada.

In any event, the fight to decriminalize abortion was rooted in the rights of women to make our own decisions about whether or not to proceed with a pregnancy. We can’t now start saying that only some reasons for deciding to end a pregnancy are acceptable, and we will ban abortions in all other situations. I don’t like the idea of abortion being used by parents who have decided they only want to have a child of a particular biological sex, but that doesn’t mean it should be against the law.

There’s good news. . .

In March, I wrote about a lawsuit by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association against the New Brunswick government’s regulation 84-20, which limited legal abortion services to just three hospitals. The case is off to a positive start, as noted by Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, CCLA’s Equality Program Director:

“The government did not want this lawsuit to proceed – and they lost. The court’s decision not only recognizes CCLA’s status to bring forward this claim, but also explicitly states that the government’s position opposing it was surprising and unreasonable. . . Justice Deware recognized that it would be unfair to ask an individual woman seeking an abortion to be the public face of the litigation, and she recognized that CCLA’s action can provide a voice for marginalized and disadvantaged individuals who may not have the means to have their legal rights considered. . . . This restriction on abortion access is always harmful to those who are marginalized, who cannot find or afford a private alternative, or who cannot travel to get an abortion due to work, financial resources, childcare needs or domestic violence.”

And bad news . . .

Abortion remains a political hot potato in the United States, with 15 states enacting 70 restrictions on abortions, including 10 total bans, in the past six months.

Most of the action is in the south, where some states have introduced what are known as fetal heartbeat laws, banning abortions beginning at six weeks’ gestation. These would more properly be called embryo heartbeat laws, since the word fetus is only accurately used beginning at 11 weeks’ gestation.  At six weeks, the embryo is the size of a grain of rice, and most women don’t even know they are pregnant.

In May, Texas joined the list of states banning abortion after six weeks with legislation that also allows citizens to sue doctors who perform abortions beyond the cut-off date.

While a number of these new restrictive laws are on hold pending appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court, the present 6 – 3 conservative majority on the court does not offer much hope that outcomes will be positive.

And more good news . . .

Dallas high school valedictorian Paxton Smith had planned to talk about media and the impact on young people at her graduation. She had written her speech, and it had been approved by the school administration.

However, in the meantime, the Texas legislature passed the Heartbeat Bill, and Paxton knew she could not stay silent. She tore up her approved speech in favour of one about the importance of women’s right to choose. Here is some of what she said, but watching her give the speech is worth the few minutes of your time that it will take. Her courage in standing up in a football stadium and going off-script is inspiring.

“Six weeks. That’s all women get. And so before they realize – most of them don’t realize that they’re pregnant by six weeks – so before they have a chance to decide if they are emotionally, physically and financially stable enough to carry out a full-term pregnancy, before they have the chance to decide if they can take on the responsibility of bringing another human being into the world, that decision is made for them by a stranger.

“A decision that will affect the rest of their lives is made by a stranger. . .

“I am terrified that if my contraceptives fail, I am terrified that if I am raped, then my hopes and aspirations and dreams and efforts for my future will no longer matter.  . . .I hope you can feel how dehumanizing it is, to have the autonomy over your own body taken away from you.

“And I’m talking about this today – on a day as important as this, on a day honoring 12 years of hard academic work, on a day where we are all gathered together, on a day where you are most inclined to listen to a voice like mine, a woman’s voice – to tell you that this is a problem, and it’s a problem that cannot wait.

“[T]here is a war on my body and a war on my rights. A war on the rights of your mothers, a war on the rights of your sisters, a war on the rights of your daughters.

“We cannot stay silent.”

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