In 1989, two friends of mine became so offended by the little white crosses positioned outside an evangelical church in Kingston, each one symbolizing a “child” “killed” by abortion, that they undertook a late night run to remove all of them. For many years, those crosses sat in the basement of one of the Night Riders, finally finding their way to the dump during a home reno.
This was a year after the Supreme Court of Canada, in the R v Morgentaler case, struck down as unconstitutional the law making abortion a criminal offence, but that didn’t – and still hasn’t – slowed down those who have made it their life’s work to stop women from having autonomy over our bodies. (The photos gracing this article were part of a pamphlet filled with far more offensive photos that was shoved into my partner’s son’s mailbox just a week ago.)
More little crosses
Abortion has been legal in Italy for more than 30 years, but just this year dozens of Italian women discovered that their aborted fetuses had been buried without their knowledge or consent and their own names placed on crosses in a cemetery in Rome. As one of the women said:
“Nobody told me the fetus would be buried, nobody asked me if I wanted a burial and nobody got my permission to put my name on a cross. I can’t tell you what a horrendous feeling it is to find a cross with your name on it.”
An Italian feminist organization has filed a formal complaint with the prosecutor and is calling for an investigation. While no one has taken responsibility for the burials and crosses, the website of one anti-choice organization – Difendere la Vita con Maria – says that it undertakes “burying fetuses regardless of whether a family has requested it,” and places crosses on them.
The legal approach is all well and good, but perhaps it is time for the Kingston Night Riders to emerge from retirement and head to Rome to remove those crosses.
A tenuous right
Ninety million women (5% of all the women on the planet) live in countries that still have a total prohibition on abortion. Another 587 million (36%) live in countries where abortion is only legal if it is necessary to save the life or preserve the health of the woman. Fifty-nine percent (976 million) live in countries where there are broad social and economic grounds that permit an abortion, of whom 36% can get an abortion, with varying gestational limits, on request.
While more than half the women in the world have, in law, fairly reasonable access to abortion, as we know in Canada there is a chasm between having the legal right to an abortion and actually being able to get one.
According to Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, the gestational limits in Canada range from a low of 12 weeks in Yukon and PEI – by which time many women don’t even know they are pregnant – to 23 weeks in Ontario and BC.
Crisis pregnancy counselling centres – code for anti-abortion counselling centres – outnumber abortion clinics in a number of provinces: in Ontario, there are twice as many and in Alberta there are more than four times as many.
In seven provinces and territories, including some of the most rural in the country, there are no rural abortion providers. Only two provinces, Ontario and Newfoundland, have safe access zone legislation, which ensures that anti-choice activists can’t get too close to clinics to harass and harangue women as they go into them.
RBG v ACB
During the Notorious RBG’s confirmation hearings for the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993, she took the unusual step of strongly endorsing legal abortion:
“It is essential to woman’s equality with man that she be the decision maker, that her choice be controlling.”
While ACB claims she will set aside her personal views in favour of upholding the Constitution, it’s hard to believe that will be possible on hot social issues like abortion. In 2006, she signed a newspaper ad calling for the reversal of Roe V Wade, taking the position that its legacy had been “barbaric.” The same ad called for the protection of “all life from fertilization to natural death.”
ACB will be on the Court for a very long time; women and men in the United States had better be ready to fight back against even more steps to make abortion illegal in that country.
“An example for Europe and the world“
In late November, a Polish court – consisting of appointees by the “law and justice party” that governs the country — ruled that all abortion is illegal except in cases of rape, incest and where there is a threat to the woman’s life. Anti-choice activists celebrated the decision, saying it would make Poland an example for Europe and the world, while pro-choice activists took to the streets in the thousands, defying lockdown regulations, to express their opposition.
Monika Platek of the University of Warsaw said of the ruling:
“If you can take away the human rights of women, why can’t you take the rest of those human rights away from the rest of society . . . . women won’t shut up here.”
It’s not time to put away those pro-choice banners and placards yet.