abortion rights

Celebrating 25 Years of Decriminalized Abortion in Canada

prochoiceLast week American feminists and pro-choice activists celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision and on Monday January 28, Canadians will mark the 25th anniversary of the R. v. Morgentaler decision, which decriminalized abortion in Canada. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the case, there is a detailed timeline here.

In brief, Dr. Henry Morgentaler had been providing abortions, which were illegal under Section 251 of the Criminal Code, since 1968. In 1969 there was a change to the law which allowed for abortions in very limited circumstances: at a hospital with a Therapeutic Abortion Committee (panel of doctors) who could approve and perform abortions if a woman’s life or health was at risk. The change was unevenly implemented and women waited an average of eight weeks to access an abortion.

After years of legal battles, Morgentaler’s most recent case (he and two other doctors were arrested in 1983 for performing illegal abortions at a Toronto clinic) came to the Supreme Court of Canada, and on January 28th the abortion law was found to violate section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms because it infringes upon a woman’s right to life, liberty, and security of the person (a contrast to Roe, which was based on a woman’s right to privacy).

The decision was and is a big deal. In a statement of support, Anand Grover, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Right to Health, said,In decriminalizing abortion, R v. Morgentaler upheld these principles as crucial to women’s reproductive freedom and autonomy. It recognised the fundamental right of a women to make decisions concerning her own body, ushering in an era of equality, dignity and freedom for women in Canada.”

Events will be held across the country to celebrate and reflect on the significance of the ruling. And the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada has set up a website – www.morgentaler25years.ca – that’s full of great background and facts about the struggle for abortion rights from the 1960s to today. I encourage you to check it out and send a congratulatory message to Dr. Morgentaler.

I wasn’t yet born when Roe v. Wade was decided. And I was only two years old at the time of the Morgentaler decision, but I am so grateful for the work that was done so that I and other women of my generation could have safe access to the full range of reproductive health care. I value these anniversaries and the opportunity they provide to hear the stories of those who struggled for women’s rights long before the recent “War on Women”. Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics Leave a comment

The Last Weeks of Woodworth: What You Can Do

by Jarrah Hodge

While most of us were enjoying sunny weather, maybe hitting up the beach or lounging on patios if we were lucky, MP Stephen Woodworth was lobbying hard for his Motion 312, which would require a special Parliamentary committee to review the definition of “human being” in Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada to determine if it should be extended to include fetuses.

Although Woodworth has gone to great lengths to try to persuade moderates and progressives that his motion is about having a scientific debate, not primarily about restricting abortion rights, it’s clear he’s talking out of both sides of his mouth (that’s the nicest way I can think of to put it).

Dammit Janet received and published a copy of a letter Woodworth is distributing to his colleagues begging them to support M-312, in which he states:

I am enclosing a copy of Subsection 223(1), the law which is the sole focus of Motion 312. You will see that Subsection 223(1) is a 400 year old law which decrees the dehumanization and exclusion of an entire class of people we know to be human beings, namely, children before the moment of complete birth.

This is a direct assault upon the principle of universal human rights, which insists that every human being has an inherent worth and dignity which the state must recognize rather than merely a value assigned by others based on the utility or inconvenience of that human being.


Laws like Subsection 223(1), which decree the dehumanization and exclusion of an entire class of people, deny the principle of universal human rights. That principle, which asserts that every human being possesses equal and inherent worth and dignity is the bedrock upon which all of other our laws rest.

Dude, we’re not stupid. Fern Hill at Dammit Janet is spot-on when she states: “The clear intent of this charade from its inception has been to close the abortion debate — without, miraculously, opening it — by setting the scene for a law limiting abortion to the period ending at mid-second trimester.”

Woodworth will be holding a press conference tomorrow, the final hour of debate on M-312 will come on Friday the 21, and then the final vote will be September 26.

The plus side is that it’s almost over and we can all take a little breather before the next Conservative backbencher comes up with some similar private member’s motion or bill.

The other positive is that there’s still time to take action, which as Abortion Rights Coalition Executive Director Joyce Arthur points out at Rabble, is necessary even if we think the motion’s passing is a long shot: Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics 3 Comments

Fight M-312 With the Radical Handmaids

Radical Handmaids Logoby Jarrah Hodge

In case you haven’t been keeping up, Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth’s Motion-312, calling for Parliament to debate whether the definition of “human being” should be extended to include fetuses. The Radical Handmaids is a new group that formed out of Ontario. Here’s a little blurb from their blog:

The Radical Handmaids are pro-choice activists who love CanLit and really outrageous hats.

On April 25, 2012 the Radical Handmaids will take action on Parliament Hill to respond to Motion-312.

Inspired by Margaret Atwood’s classic tale, we fight under the banner of Handmaids who will not sit by idly while Canada descends into Gilead. We believe in resisting creatively, working across generations and wearing really fabulous hats.

As a pro-choice CanLit fan (especially Margaret Atwood) I absolutely love the idea of this group, and wanted to share their upcoming events in case anyone near Ottawa or Toronto is able to attend. I also wanted to share their ideas for opposing M-312 for those of us outside Ottawa. Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Politics 2 Comments

Feminism F.A.Q.s: Do Feminists Have to Be Pro-Choice?

Feminism FAQs Title Screen

by Jarrah Hodge

It’s another episode of Feminism F.A.Q.s, where I try to concisely deal with some of the key issues and myths about feminism and feminists. To watch any of the first 3 videos, visit the Feminism. F.A.Q.s tab here on Gender Focus. Again, I’d like to say that I welcome constructive disagreement and discussion, either here on the blog or in the comments on the YouTube videos.

In this episode I look at the issue of why feminism is linked to being pro-choice. Some conservative women (for example, Sarah Palin) have dabbled with the idea of calling themselves feminists, but in addition to supporting economic and social policies that would increase inequality, they don’t support a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion. Do you have to be pro-choice to be a feminist?

While not everyone will agree with me, in my view the answer is yes, and here’s why:

Being pro-choice isn’t about saying you’d choose abortion for yourself, or about thinking it’s a better choice than carrying a child to term in general – it’s about supporting women’s right to make the decision that’s best for themselves, and recognizing that restricting abortion endangers women’s health and lives.

I should note stats are from the Guttmacher Institute, a great resource for research on reproductive health in particular.

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism 1 Comment

Video: No Going Back

Congratulations to Steph C., who won the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada’s video contest with this simple and effective piece:

You can also watch the video on ARCC’s website: www.arcc-cdac.ca/images/voices-choices-video.html

-Jarrah Hodge

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism Leave a comment