Just a Prochoice Poet Doing Her Thing

And more, perhaps.

As some of you may already know, the regina mom has taken to occasionally performing at the local slam poetry event in Regina, Word Up Wednesday.  This Wednesday, April 25, she will be there with new and old poems to share and be judged on.  She would love to see friends in the audience!

As well, watch this space — and others in the Canadian Progressive Voices blogosphere and beyond — for a blogburst on Motion 312, the motion put forward by a religious zealot in the House of Commons.  If passed M312 will re-open the abortion debate in Canada.

You can read more about the blogburst over at my friends’ place.

Starting today, all bloggers who support a woman’s right to choose can and should blog fiercely about this CONservative, regressive attack on women’s right to choose.

Rest assured, there will be many posts to read, covering many different angles on the issue — angles I hadn’t thought of before becoming active in the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada / Coalition pour le droit à l’avortement Canada and reading the multitude of materials available there.

If you haven’t already done so, please download, print and sign the petition in opposition to M312.  As signatures roll in the petition will be presented to the House of Commons by various prochoice Members of Parliament over the next while.  the regina mom managed to gather almost 20 signatures last night just by pulling it out of her purse!  Someone else did all the work getting her friends to sign.  Thanks for that, Karen!

And now I’m off to my sunshiny garden to contemplate what will be planted where this year.

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On the same issue, 25 years later

In the 80’s, it was the Devine regime provincially and the Mulroney machine federally that moved the regina mom into political activism.  The issue of reproductive rights got her involved in the women’s movement of the day.  And here she is, more than 25 years later, again working on that file.

On Thursday, April 26, the House of Commons is scheduled to debate MP Stephen Woodworth’s Motion 312 which ultimately seeks to make abortion illegal.  If passed, the abortion debate in Canada will officially be re-opened.

never again coat hanger image

Never Again*

Yes, one year ago the Prime Minister said he wouldn’t re-open the debate.  But, do you trust him?  Does any Canadian woman believe him?  the regina mom doesn’t.

That’s why she’s been working with the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada to mobilize women across the nation.  Already, more than 11,500 have signed our digital petition. It’s heartwarming, really, to know that so many support the efforts of a few dedicated volunteers and, more importantly, the right of a woman to control her own body.

ARCC has now decided to initiate a signature drive on a hard copy of the petition. This will allow it be part of the public record via the House of Commons.  ARCC has contacted various prochoice Members of Parliament of different political stripes for assistance. the regina mom encourages you to contact your Member of Parliament to see where s/he stands on the issue of women’s reproductive freedom.

And, the regina mom  would love it if you would help out, too. Arm yourself with information. Then, take a moment to print out the petition (PDF) on 8.5 x 14 paper, invite your family / friends / co-workers to sign it and then send it to the ARCC.  We’ll make sure it gets to a prochoice MP for presentation to the House.

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*When abortions were illegal, women would use any means at their disposal to terminate a pregnancy.  Coat hangers were easily accessible and often used.  Women died as a result of botched abortions.  The graphic, Never Again, is the ProChoice movement’s statement that we will stand guard so that we will never again go back to those times.

Ken Epp’s Phony Act

As promised, here is the article that appeared in the May 22 issue of the prairie dog. Btw, the editor has suggested I invite my fans to “write SHORT letters to the editor praising [my] last column…otherwise how will the dumb editor know anyone reads it?” So, ah, any takers? The address is at the end of the article!

Ken Epp’s Phony Act

Tory member’s legislation is a sneaky attack on reproductive rights

by Bernadette Wagner

“The intent of this law is to give rights to fetuses so that abortion can be re-criminalized.”

Not surprisingly, Ken Epp’s introduction of the Unborn Victims of Crime Act met opposition from pro-choice groups like the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC) when it was introduced last fall.

That opposition has continued as the bill slimed its malevolent way through second reading and into committee this past March.

“The intent of this law is to give rights to fetuses so that abortion can be re-criminalized,” said Joyce Arthur, ARCC’s coordinator.

Epp claims the bill provides protection for pregnant women by allowing for two sets of charges to be laid should a pregnant woman be assaulted. While this may sound good, it isn’t. For starters, it attempts to separate a woman’s body from the fetus she carries — hardly a practical notion.

It’s useless in any case — even if two charges could be laid, incarceration time would remain the same. In Canada, sentences are served concurrently.

Many were shocked to see the Conservative MP from Edmonton-Strathcona’s private members bill pass second reading March 5. A Conservative-Liberal anti-choice vote was enough to edge it through the House and on to the Justice Committee for review.

Conservative shenanigans have stalled the Justice Committee from conducting any business so the NDP who, except for one MP, opposed C-484 along with the Bloc, now propose it move to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women.

Fears around C-484 are justified. It contradicts the definition of “human being” already established in Canadian jurisprudence — namely, that a fetus is part of a woman’s body until it is born.

And — despite Epp’s claims to the contrary — this bill would indeed legally establish the fetus as a human being.

Here’s the problem: if the fetus a woman carries has rights, what happens to her rights? This is why, according to ARCC, the bill would endanger reproductive freedom. Any moderately astute anti-choice activist would cite it as a precedent when pushing for re-criminalization.

That Epp did not consult with anti-violence advocates in drafting this legislation should not be a surprise. The membrane of C-484 is thin; it is clearly about establishing fetal rights. “Pregnant women don’t need Bill C-484. They need the men in their lives to stop being violent,” wrote Coalition Against Violence coordinator Vyda Ng in the Western Star.

In the U.S., laws like this are being used to police, arrest and jail women. And the rates of violence against women, pregnant or otherwise, are not dropping.

Epp’s claim to “protect women” is paternalistic at best and disingenuous at worst. “There is something seriously wrong with our system when the so-called ‘right’ to end a pregnancy takes away another pregnant woman’s right to have her wanted baby protected in law.” he said in a recent newspaper commentary. But Canada has laws which prohibit assault against women, men and children. And as part of a woman’s body, a fetus is protected.

Epp’s legislation “would not protect pregnant women, and would do nothing to respond to violence against women,” says Arthur on ARCC’s website. “The Criminal Code already recognizes that spousal violence is an aggravating factor in sentencing. Judges already do recognize pregnancy as an aggravating factor in sentencing,” she says.

Epp’s suggestion that women’s reproductive rights trump pregnant women’s rights makes no sense. His attempt to pit the one idea against the other is spin which detracts from the real issue: good old-fashioned intolerance of women’s rights to make decisions about their own bodies.

A Facebook group in support of C-484 states that the bill is “a key step in recriminalizing abortion.” A social-conservative blogger dubbed C-484 the “Kicking Abortion’s Ass bill”.

Clearly, this bill is part of an incrementalist strategy, typical of the Harperites, to attack women’s reproductive freedoms. As Harper struggles to win favour with women voters, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to wipe the blood from his hands on the matter of women’s reproductive choice.

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Incremental attack on women’s rights

On March 5, Parliament passed the Second Reading of Bill C-484, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (injuring or causing the death of an unborn child while committing an offence) aka the Unborn Victims of Crime Act. Bill C-484 is a very dangerous piece of legislation for women. Should it become law, personhood will be granted to a fetus and that would provide solid groundwork for the re-criminalization of abortion in Canada. And, according to Joyce Arthur of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada / Coaltion pour le droit a l’avortement au Canada, “it could also criminalize pregnant women for behaviours perceived to harm their fetuses.”

When Harper and his nationalist Stand Up for Canada campaign landed the Conservatives with only a minority government in the 2006 election many, including me, breathed a sigh of relief. At least they didn’t get a majority, we all said. But Harper had done his homework. He knew he would have to work differently from any minority government in Canada’s history. And he did. His study of Stalin helped him to maintain extreme control over his caucus, to exert some control over the already right-wing bias in the media and to govern by stealth. The attempt to censor film arts confirmed for me that his ideology is what I would call a soft fascism. As a writer, I go to the dictionary to help me decide language use. The American Heritage Dictionary‘s definition of fascism is the one I mean when I say it is a soft fascism that Harper has brought into Canada.

But it is the Dictionary.com Unabridged definition that more clearly spells out the components of fascism. With the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the North American FTA already in place and the Security and Prosperity Partnership underway, corporatist control of economics is proceeding. Control of the media and the caucus as well as socioeconomic control have been key components in Harper’s soft brand of fascism. The incrementalist nature of his governing has been most evident in his measured and consistent attacks on women’s human rights. Within a few short months in office, Harper radically altered Status of Women Canada (SWC). Prior to the Harper attack, the SWC had played a key role within government and within Canadian society in securing such things as parental benefits and women’s reproductive freedom. But Harper’s removal of the word equality from the SWC mandate and the change to funding guidelines ended that kind of work. His attack meant that even the most broad-based, community-oriented and democratic women’s organization would be ineligible for funding if it engaged in any form of lobbying, whatsoever. Feminist blogger, April Reign, cited Tom Flanagan on the cuts to SWC:

Flanagan calls funding cuts to Status of Women Canada and the elimination of the Court Challenges Program a “nice step,” asserting without equivocation that Conservatives will “defund” all equality-seeking groups – with feminists at the top of the list. He goes further, clarifying that Conservatives also plan to choke-off these groups’ supposedly privileged access to government by, for example, denying “meetings with ministers.” But for strategic reasons, Flanagan notes, this will all happen incrementally. To avoid the perception of mean-spirited retribution, he says, “incrementalism is the way to go.”

Women’s groups such as the National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL) have closed their doors. Others have scaled back their operations to a bare minimum. Harper’s attack has effectively silenced the voices of feminism. With the media and society under control, the Opposition parties out of control, and Harper definitely in control, Bill C-484 found a most welcome environment. It is now much more unlikely that women’s organizations would be able to defeat C-484 if it becomes law.

Few saw it coming. But those who did acted as best they could to sound the trumpets. Before C-484 made it to Second Reading activity increased but it was not enough to stop the legislation from moving forward. Four brave Conservative MPs voted against their government while 27 Liberal MPs and 1 New Democratic MP voted with the government. 10 Liberals, including Stephane Dion and former Prime Minister Paul Martin, were not present for the vote. Nancy Karetak-Lindell was apparently caught in an Arctic storm. Martin was simply MIA. But Dion was at Stornoway for his wife’s International Women’s Day party! Apparently, his support for women’s rights only goes so far. As one wise blogger said, The Liberals failed to stand up against the Conservative agenda they warned us against.

There is still hope that Canadians can defeat this regressive bill. It now moves to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, where there is an even split of Committee members who voted for and voted against it. Once the Committee is done with it — if they don’t throw it out — it would go back to the House for Third Reading where, by then I would hope, enough Liberals have been brought into the House of Commons and onside to defeat it. Or, in the event that an election is called, C-484 will die on the Order Table.

Many fear that with the Liberals in shambles the Harperites would easily win a majority government. I disagree. I believe that Harper’s brand of fascism will not be tolerated by Canadians.

This post would not have been possible without the good work of the women and men at Bread and Roses, Birth Pangs, and the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, and dedicated activists too numerous to mention.

Twenty Years of Freedom!

20 years of choiceIn the mid- to late-80’s I was a student representative to the Regina Reproductive Rights Coalition which worked to find ways around, over, and through the restrictive abortion law of the day. We networked with women across the country to put an end to the discriminatory law, known as Section 251. That law required any woman who wanted to terminate a pregnancy to not only find a doctor who would perform the procedure but also to have the procedure approved by a hospital’s Therapeutic Abortion Committee (TAC). In Saskatchewan an invisible line divided the province into north and south. Women who lived south of Davidson dealt with Regina’s TAC; women to the north, with Saskatoon’s.

By 1986, there was one doctor in Regina who would perform an abortion, but he would do so according to his interpretation of the law. Basically, he decided which circumstances were the right ones. Needless to say, most women sought other options. The Regina Women’s Community Centre counseled women to go elsewhere for the procedure. Many drove to clinics in the USA or traveled to Ontario. Those with no financial wherewithal went to Saskatoon, where a doctor at the Saskatoon Community Clinic, Dr. John Bury, courageously provided the procedure with very few questions asked. It meant two trips to Saskatoon and a false address if a woman lived south of Davidson. And, it meant waiting days or weeks for the phone call to find out whether or not the TAC had approved the procedure. But for a lot of women, that wait was worth it and Dr. Bury was a lifesaver!

On January 28, 1988, after Dr. Henry Morgentaller’s 8 years legal battle, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the law saying it infringed on women’s personal security:

State interference with bodily integrity and serious state-imposed psychological stress, at least in the criminal law context, constitutes a breach of security of the person. Section 251 clearly interferes with a woman’s physical and bodily integrity. Forcing a woman, by threat of criminal sanction, to carry a fetus to term unless she meets certain criteria unrelated to her own priorities and aspirations, is a profound interference with a woman’s body and thus an infringement of security of the person.

When we heard the news on campus, we were elated! We knew it meant freedom of choice for women on the matter of their own reproductivity for as long as there was no law. I do not know, however, if we really understood the great significance of Justice Bertha Wilson’s Minority Report and her consideration of women’s Charter rights. From p. 171:

…I would conclude, therefore, that the right to liberty contained in s. 7 guarantees to every individual a degree of personal autonomy over important decisions intimately affecting their private lives.

The question then becomes whether the decision of a woman to terminate her pregnancy falls within this class of protected decisions. I have no doubt that it does. This decision is one that will have profound psychological, economic and social consequences for the pregnant woman. The circumstances giving rise to it can be complex and varied and there may be, and usually are, powerful considerations militating in opposite directions. It is a decision that deeply reflects the way the woman thinks about herself and her relationship to others and to society at large. It is not just a medical decision; it is a profound social and ethical one as well. Her response to it will be the response of the whole person.

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Wilson went further, providing a feminist-based interpretation and questioning a man’s capacity to so much as understand what a decision such as this is to a woman:

It is probably impossible for a man to respond, even imaginatively, to such a dilemma not just because it is outside the realm of his personal experience … but because he can relate to it only by objectifying it, thereby eliminating the subjective elements of the female psyche which are at the heart of the dilemma.

She cited an important essay, “International Law and Human Rights: the Case of Women’s Rights,” by Noreen Burrows from the University of Glasgow, who pointed out that

the history of the struggle for human rights from the eighteenth century on has been the history of men struggling to assert their dignity and common humanity against an overbearing state apparatus. The more recent struggle for women’s rights has been a struggle to eliminate discrimination, to achieve a place for women in a man’s world, to develop a set of legislative reforms in order to place women in the same position as men (pp. 81-82). It has not been a struggle to define the rights of women in relation to their special place in the societal structure and in relation to the biological distinction between the two sexes. Thus, women’s needs and aspirations are only now being translated into protected rights. The right to reproduce or not to reproduce which is in issue in this case is one such right and is properly perceived as an integral part of modern woman’s struggle to assert her dignity and worth as a human being.

I believe it is because of Justice Bertha Wilson’s statements that we are able, today, to celebrate 20 years of reproductive freedom in Canada. I extend a great thank you to the late Justice Bertha Wilson, to Dr. Henry Morgentaler, and to the thousands of women and supportive men who worked together to gain this fundamental freedom for Canadian women.

Happy anniversary!