#M312’s birth into Parliament and a personal response

the regina mom knows that Mr. Harper clearly stated, numerous times, that a Conservative government would not re-open the abortion debate. Yet, on Thursday, April 26, she watched Members of Parliament debate Motion 312, which ultimately seeks personhood rights for fetuses which would enable the re-criminalization of abortion, as well as deny the constitutional rights of all pregnant women.  In other words, it is yet another backdoor attack on women’s Charter rights.

And, the regina mom knows that the Prime Minister is not a stupid man, well, not unless power has gone to his head, that is. He must have known that Motion 312 was an attack on women’s rights. And, contrary to what some in the mainstream media and elsewhere have said, there are at least a couple of ways the Harper government could have stopped the abortion debate from being re-opened.

The blogger, Dr. Dawg, has clearly described how the Prime Minister and the all-party Subcommittee on Private Members’ Business of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs could have stopped Motion 312 from making it to the floor of the House of Commons.  Basically, there was not political will within either the Conservative Party to either further investigate it or stop it.  And so it proceeded.

A harsher way of stopping it could have been for the Prime Minister to expel MP Stephen Woodworth from the CPC caucus when he first got wind of Motion 312. Doing so would have sent a very strong message to Canadians, a message which would have indicated that he really meant what he said when he said, “No debate.” But the Prime Minister did not do that.  He lacked the conviction to demonstrate that strength.

Granted, when under pressure in the House of Commons he did say that he would oppose Motion 312. That, to the regina mom, was a small relief.  She was a tad more relieved when the government whip, MP Gordon O’Connor, Minister of State, spoke very eloquently against Motion 312.

Perhaps the greatest relief to the regina mom came when she was reduced to tears.  Perhaps it was not relief, but sadness, anger, appreciation, respect or perhaps a mixture of all.  But when  Niki Ashton, the NDP Critic for Women, delivered her speech in opposition to the motion the regina mom‘s tears started to roll. Perhaps upstaged by O’Connor on some points, Ms Ashton spoke to the heart of the issue for the regina mom.

The reality is that the issue of abortion was settled in 1988. In 1988 the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada’s abortion law, ruling that it was unconstitutional. The justices found that the law violated Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, because it infringed on a woman’s right to life, liberty and security of person. That was 1988, almost 25 years ago, a generation ago.

This decision came about after years of work from women who, from across the country, sent the message that women ought to have the right to choose, that women ought to have the right to decide their future, that women ought to have the ability to define their destiny.

That fight also took place in the House of Commons. Our leader in 1987, Audrey McLaughlin, spoke out clearly, saying:

—limiting the right to the “personal care and control of one’s body” is a violation of a most “basic and fundamental right”, that of “reproductive choice.

As Ms. McLaughlin and others have pointed out, abortions, if they are not performed legally in medical facilities under the direction of a physician, will happen in much less favourable circumstances. As ugly as it may seem, women must not be forced to return to those ugly circumstances of using coat hangers, vacuum cleaners or putting themselves in the hands of quacks. “It is an ugly reality”, Ms. McLaughlin said, “but it is a reality.”

There were caravans, protests, lobby meetings, speeches and debates, and the issue was settled in 1988. When Canadians have been asked, time and time again a majority have supported a woman’s right to choose. Here we are in 2012, seeing the government reopen the debate on abortion. It has not been truthful about it either. Time and time again the Prime Minister and members of his party have said that they will not reopen the abortion debate. The Prime Minister declared:

As long as I am prime minister we are not opening the abortion debate…The government will not bring forward any such legislation and any such legislation that is brought forward will be defeated as long as I am prime minister.

That comes from an article in the Globe and Mail, from Wednesday, December 21, 2011.

An article written around that same time quoted the Prime Minister as saying, “As long as I’m prime minister we are not reopening the abortion debate”.

This is the Conservative Party’s Trojan horse agenda. During an election, and even here in the House of Commons, the Conservatives tell Canadians one thing. Then, as a minority government and now as a majority government, we see what they truly mean.

If the Prime Minister did not want a woman’s right to choose to be debated, we would not be here tonight. What is interesting is the Conservatives felt the need to tell Canadians something else so those same Canadians would vote for them. They waited until they won a majority to then uncover their hidden agenda.

Indeed, the hidden agenda is hidden no more.  the regina mom saw it right here on her computer screen.  She watched Members of Parliament debate a motion about abortion, a motion that was introduced by a Conservative Member of Parliament.  Perhaps it could be called the No Debate Debate.

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The prochoice poem I read last night

Preamble

Tonight I wear red in support of my feminist sisters,
the Radical Handmaids, who gathered today on Parliament Hill
in opposition to Motion 312 which re-opens the abortion debate
tomorrow afternoon in the House of Commons.
And I share this poem.

 

Birthing change

1

Once upon a time his blue eyes dazzled her
maiden dreams           led her down dirt
roads, onto prairie trails, into abandoned
houses, churches, barns, unwittingly
preparing her for an entry that quivered her world,
sent her solo, pink-slipped, and with a growing belly
to face family, to seek and not find
solace in a religion she turned upside-down and inside-out.

2

His greenbacks, her choice:
law-breaker.  One little lie dupes doctors, the system.

How can she live knowing sin in so many ways, knowing nothing
will ever be the same?

3

She clings to the shiver of ecstasy
builds another world      in her mind other
possibilities, dreams.  How she clings, still.

4

He drove her to the streets.

5

She found circles of women singing
bread and roses, chanting in the streets
The personal is political!

Community, like a blanket, receiving,
bearing witness, holding,
keeping faith.

c. Bernadette L. Wagner

Radical Handmaids

Today, on Parliament Hill, the Radical Handmaids  gather in opposition to Motion 312, the anti-choice motion that seeks to redefine when human life begins. The Motion will be debated in the House of Commons on Thursday.

The Handmaids’ action, based on Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale is sure to be an interesting one.

Sporting red garments and “Flying Nun” hats in an allusion to Margaret Atwood’s classic novel The Handmaid’s Tale, the Handmaids are protesting Bill M-312 as a regressive attack on women.

 

“The Handmaid’s Tale shouldn’t be an instruction manual,” said one young woman, who identified herself only as “OfStephen” (“Woodworth or Harper, take your pick”).

 

In Atwood’s novel, set in a futuristic America transformed by religious fundamentalists into the Republic of Gilead, women are judged by whether or not they are capable of bearing children and, if fertile, are enslaved to men of the ruling elite who forcibly impregnate them.

 

“We’re watching what’s going on in the United States with the war on women and we know the Conservatives are trying to sneak it up here,” said another OfStephen, standing in front of a display of brightly-coloured knitted uteruses.

Supporters across the country have been sending the Handmaids knitted wombs and vulvas, using patterns available on the Internet. When they have enough, the Handmaids say they will deliver the woolly parts to any MPs who vote in favour of Woodworth’s bill.

 

“If they want to control our uteruses so badly, they can have a womb of their own,” said OfStephen.

the regina mom applauds the Handmaids on their radical action.  Oh, if only she could be there to join in! (Read their full news release here.)

It’s a war on women

the regina mom collects links and writes blogposts.  She had it in mind to do a series around abortion because Motion 312 will be debated in the House of Commons on Thursday.  Not surprisingly, the links she’s collected do in fact have to do with abortion.  What has become exceedingly clear is that there is not only an attack on women’s reproductive rights in North American, but one that is global.

 

Many of you will already know about many of the ridiculous pieces of legislation passed or being considered in the USA.  17atHeart has compiled a list of links to pieces of anti-woman legislation in the US states.  Read it if you’d like to know a little more about how bizarre it is.  Life begins at conception?  Hullo?  the regina mom posts it here because it provides a window to what Canadian women could face should the anti-choice faction in the House of Commons have their way with us.

 

Women in the Ukraine are also seeing their right to reproductive choice attacked.  In response to the apparent collusion between the church and the state in preparing a draft law that would restrict abortions, some brave feminists of the group Femen climbed the bell tower of St. Sophia’s cathedral in Kiev. They barricaded themselves in, bared their breasts, dropped a black banner saying, STOP, and rang the bells to assure attention to their action.

 

Femen’s slogan is “We came, we undressed, we conquered.” The group specialises in topless activism, supporting women’s rights and fighting prostitution and trafficking and it travels widely, recently appearing in Davos, Milan and Minsk.

 

There’s an interesting map of the world which gives a glance at the world’s abortion laws. and the restrictions, if any, in each country.  Interestingly, however, even though abortion is legal in South Africa, unsafe abortions are on the rise there.  Dr. Mhlanga, an abortion rights advocate there, claims that’s because

 

the society remains patriarchal and religiously conservative. Many health workers will not provide abortion care because it conflicts with their religious views, and those who are willing to provide care often are stigmatized and marginalized by their co-workers and managers.

 

The story goes on to give some hope that religious zealots can indeed change. Mhlanga is one of the most ardent abortion rights activists in the country, but he used to be opposed to abortion.

 

Mhlanga himself was once a self-described “ardent born-again Christian with conservative views about sex and women.” In the early 1980s, however, he witnessed the death of a colleague who suffered complications from an incomplete abortion. He attended her funeral and there saw the four-year-old son she had left behind. That moment was his turning point. He felt that no child should ever be left motherless as the result of an unsafe abortion, and he began doing research and getting active on the abortion issue. At the time, South African law required women seeking abortions to get signatures from three doctors—none of whom could work in the same facility. That effectively kept many women from getting legal abortions, especially poor women in rural areas where there were few, if any, doctors.

 

Perhaps the ProLife (sic) caucus in the House of Commons would be interested in speaking with Mr. Mhlanga before insisting that we regress to a time where women died from unsafe abortions.

 

I know.  It’s wishful thinking, especially since the Harper Conservative government has slashed yet more funding to women’s health initiatives. The Women’s Health Contribution Program provided financial support for information and services across the country.

 

And then there’s the previously mentioned Motion 312.  Go read what the Canadian Labour Congress has to say about it.  Then, print out a copy of the petition opposing the motion, pack it in your purse or pocket and pull it out whenever you meet up with other people.  Invite them to sign it.  Once you have 25 signatures, send it to the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada.  The folks there will forward it to a prochoice Member of Parliament who will, in turn, present it to the House of Commons.

 

 

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.

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.

—–

*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.

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.

.

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!