It’s the 6th annual Blog for Choice Day – this year marked on the Friday before the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. This year’s question is given the anti-choice gains in the states and Congress, are you concerned about choice in 2011?
As far as the States goes, yes I’m worried about it. And I’m definitely worried about the anti-choice ballot initiatives we’ll see coming in the 2012 election (parental consent, fetal rights, etc.) . Unless the Democrats & Obama can get the youth vote and the progressive base motivated, I’m worried the results on those will be less positive than in 2008. But being more familiar with the situation in Canada, I’m going to focus on that. January 28th is the 22nd anniversary of R. v. Morgentaler, the Supreme Court ruling that decriminalized abortion in Canada, so the timing’s appropriate here too.
Here in Canada, in advance of a possible federal election this spring, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper is trying to reassure folks that he has no intention of reopening the abortion debate by introducting legislation to recriminalize abortion. This would be a lot more convincing if he’d been able to stop his backbenchers from introducing Private Members Bills, the most recent being Rod Bruinooge’s failed C-510, subtlely designed to criminalize aspects of abortion. In addition to Bruinooge’s bill to prohibit “coerced abortion”, we’ve also seen several incarnations of the “Unborn Victims of Crime Act” .
But luckily, most of the rest of the MPs usually realize how ludicrous these bills are, and none has passed. What I’m more worried about than changes to federal law are the continuing problems with access to abortion.
Even though abortion is considered an insured and funded health service and the Canada Health Act is supposed to guarantee access to health services, problems with accessibility still exist. There are no abortion services in PEI, and in New Brunswick coverage is restricted to women having abortions at a hospital after receiving the permission of two doctors. If she wants to go to a clinic, she must pay for services. Rural women in most provinces face difficulties with access, though some provinces make it easier than others to travel to cities that offer services.
In addition, abortion is the only time-sensitive and medically necessary service excluded from the inter-provincial health care billing agreement, meaning women staying in a province other than their home province may face lack of coverage unless they return to their home province.
To me, being pro-choie isn’t just about making sure women have access to abortion; it’s also about making sure women can choose to have and keep children without facing severe and undue financial hardship or threats to her safety. The Pro-Choice Action Network draws attention to how Aboriginal women are sometimes counselled into abortion based on the racial biases that they’re “too poor” or not fit to be a parent. We need to support pregnant women and new mothers with maternal health initiatives and accessible childcare. We also need to make sure we’re providing adequate support for children with developmental disabilities so that parents never have to face the excruciating decision about whether to put their child into foster care because they’d be more likely to get the supports they need.
Being pro-choice is also about empowering women (and men) with the information they need and the power to negotiate safe sex to avoid unwanted pregnancies. The amazing reproductive justice advocate Jessica Yee works tirelessly with Aboriginal populations and notes that, especially in Northern Canada, the destruction of indigenous cultures and the fact that most (mostly white) care providers have not been trained in culturally appropriate care has led to difficulties making sure women get safe sex negotiating skills and sexual health information.
So for 2011 the pro-choice issues I’ll be watching for are more crazy Private Members Bills from the Conservatives, child care accessibility, and access to sexual health information. And I’ll be keeping an eye on the continued struggle by feminists in the States to maintain and increase access to abortion services. Looking forward to reading the other Blog for Choice participants’ posts!