Global Campaign for the Decriminalization of Abortion Couldn’t Come at Better Time

Guest post by Jill Cambidge

Today, September 28, marks the International Day of Action for the Global Campaign for the Decriminalization of Abortion, an effort for organizations to campaign for women’s reproductive rights worldwide. The movement began with the struggle to address the public health crisis of unsafe abortions in Latin America before spreading to include countries and organizations across the globe. This year’s action holds even greater meaning for Canada since it falls on the very same week that Motion 312, which sought to re-open the abortion debate in Canada, was struck down in Ottawa.

Now, since some of you reading this probably think you are experiencing a horrifying case of déjà vu, allow me to clarify exactly what that last sentence means.  On April 26, 2012, parliament debated a motion introduced by Conservative MP, Stephen Woodworth. Motion 312 sought to appoint a special committee to review the section of the Criminal Code that states that a fetus becomes a child only after complete birth. While the rhetoric of Woodworth’s motion may try to frame the issue as a “medical evidence” seeking mission focusing on the definition of what constitutes a human being, many Canadians were not fooled by the thinly-veiled attempt to re-open the debate on women’s right to abortion.

According to Woodworth, “the current law dehumanizes and excludes an entire class of people”. That’s interesting. I would think that taking away a woman’s basic right to choose what to do with her own body would dehumanize and exclude about half the population in Canada. You know, that half that can ACTUALLY GET PREGNANT.

Immigration Minister and prominent Conservative MP, Jason Kenney, also voted for the motion stating before the vote took place that he believes, “we can have a respectful debate” on the issue. Prime Minister Stephen Harper voted against the motion although it has already been pointed out that allowing M-312 to be tabled at all goes against his promise that he would open the abortion debate. Essentially, all it does is shift the blame from himself while giving his Conservative MP’s the chance to vote the motion in.

So, it appears these privileged white men really believe they know what’s best for women’s bodies. Cue the collective groan of feminists everywhere.

For many, this back-door attempt to re-open the abortion debate stirs up memories of the hard-fought battle it took to legalize abortion in Canada in the first place. Let’s recap. In 1969 Pierre Trudeau’s government became the first one in Canada to legalize abortion for some women, under certain circumstances. Women had to present their case before a panel of mostly male doctors who would determine whether or not her request for abortion was “medically necessary”. This ruling presented obvious flaws since it defined the terms of what constitutes a “legitimate reason” for wanting an abortion in medical terms and failed to address the reality that many women choose to abort an unwanted pregnancy for a myriad of reasons. Reasons such as, inadequate finances, not being ready for the responsibility, having a problematic or abusive relationship with the father, feeling too young, health problems, or maybe just plain not wanting to be pregnant.

Women were granted full legal access to abortion by the Supreme Court of Canada in the landmark ruling of Roe vs. Morgentaler in 1988 which states that, “the decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is essentially a moral decision and in a free and democratic society, the conscience of the individual must be paramount to that of the state.” In other words, the government has absolutely no say on what women decide to do regarding their bodies. According to Statistics Canada, over 3 million abortions have been performed since the act was first decriminalized in 1969.

M-312 was debated for one hour in parliament last Friday and MP’s voted on the motion on Wednesday, September 26, 2012. The motion was denied with a vote of 203-91, meaning that Canada’s Criminal Code, which currently states that life begins at the moment of complete birth, will stand as it should; unchanged.

This victory can be attributed to a number of women’s groups and human rights activists who rallied against M-312 to safeguard women’s right to choose. The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada released this statement condemning the motion and have since called for the resignation of Conservative MP, Rona Ambrose, as Minister for the Status of Women after she voted in favour of the motion on Wednesday.

Radical Handmaids, so named after Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, have been petitioning and protesting the motion since its introduction in April. On Wednesday, the group took to Parliament Hill adorned in red capes and white hats while MP’s voted in the House of Commons. Leadnow, a democracy-seeking public advocacy group, raised money to place this ad for MP’s to see in the pages of the Ottawa Citizen on the morning of the vote.

Despite the victory for women’s reproductive rights in Canada this week, the fact that Motion 312 was even introduced proves that this fight is not over. While abortions are covered by healthcare in most provinces, many women living in rural areas of the country struggle to safely access abortion. In Yukon, Nunavut, Nova Scotia, and the Northwest Territories abortion clinics are not among the services offered. Not to mention the women living in Prince Edward Island do not have any access to safe abortions. Furthermore, as the Global Campaign for the Decriminalization of Abortion highlights, our sisters’ across the world still face tremendous obstacles for autonomy over their bodies and their right to choose abortion. For countless women the battle for fair reproductive rights is not over. In fact, for many it is just beginning.

The state of abortion rights in countries outside of Canada can be summarized in this brief statement from the GCDA’s website:

Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic continue to uphold the complete ban on abortion in any circumstances, even if it is necessary to save the life of the woman. Currently in Colombia 99% of abortions performed in the country remain illegal and occur in unsafe conditions despite Colombia’s 2006 Constitutional Court ruling that legalised abortion in certain circumstances. Poland already has some of the strictest abortion restrictions in Europe and continues to run the risk of instigating a complete ban on abortion in all circumstances due to increasing conservative pressure. 

According to an article written for the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, the estimated number of women worldwide who die from unsafe or so-called back-alley abortions is 68,000, while related injuries are around 8 million. It is no surprise that most of these numbers come from the more poverty-stricken areas of the world in Africa, Latin America, and parts of Asia. In Canada, before the legalization of abortion, it is estimated that around 4,000-6,000 women died between 1926 and 1947.

So the basic facts stand as follows; even if women do not have access to legal and safe abortions, guess what, THEY ARE STILL GOING TO DO IT. Women are willing to risk their own lives in unsafe conditions to rid themselves of an unwanted pregnancy. We know this has happened here and is happening in other areas of the world. It is now more important than ever to recognize the struggles of women everywhere as we continue fighting for our right to abortion. The lives of women depend on it.

For more information and to take action with the Global Campaign for the Decriminalization of Abortion visit http://www.september28.org/.

Jill Cambidge is a recent graduate from Simon Fraser University’s School of Communication.

3 Comments on “Global Campaign for the Decriminalization of Abortion Couldn’t Come at Better Time”

  • Nicole Deagan

    Great post, Jill!

    We also did a radio show on reproductive rights earlier this year… interested folks can find it at http://rabble.ca/podcasts/shows/f-word/2012/03/abortion-and-reproductive-rights-still-under-attack

    Nicole

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  • Soren

    Hi Jill, it’s early here and I haven’t fully understood my motivations for commenting. I’ve spent the last 3hrs reading articles, finishing a book, watching American presidents; perhaps I’m bored? Or maybe suffering a mild attack of insomnia? Who knows. A friend of mine just had a baby. She went back and forth on whether she would carry him to term – she even booked appointments at the abortion clinic on two occasions. I empathized with her concerns and told her I would support her no matter what decision she made. Perhaps my motivation for commenting here in part relies on this experience. What I told my friend was that more important than anything, she must understand the reasons behind her decision. If her choice was made on a firm ground, then “right” or “wrong”, she would be okay; and in truth such judgments would no longer apply to her. Having read your post, I ask my self what should that ground be made of. Should it be constituted solely on the individuals desires? Perhaps in the interest of what’s best for the Social? Or maybe, since the both exist in dynamic relationship, the ground too should be somewhere in between. At the end of the day, we’ll always be embodied creatures. And so I will always be slightly biased towards the individual. But the individual is not a “god unto him/her self” and does not, nor could they, live in a vacuum. My argument then is this: all of our decisions must past the test of life with all its exuberance (as opposed to ethical notions of right and wrong). The exuberance of the individual, the exuberance of the society, and the exuberance of that third factor (which perhaps is all there truly is), the relationship. An imbalance, either towards the individual (as in the case of abortions carried out for what I call “psychopathic” reasons), or an imbalance towards the social (as in the case of abortions carried out in service of societal interests, also “psychopathic” – Spartans come to mind); these imbalances serve to abuse either the individual, or to erode the fabric of the society. Such a wordy comment, I know. But I truly believe that a form of balance/equilibrium is needed (otherwise we’re hurled on a never ending quest to rediscover what it was we destroyed in the very first). To summarize, I believe the life of the individual as it is, is dependent on civilization. The success of both are important (though I lean slightly towards the individual). Abortion itself I have no qualms with. What worries me is giving either the individual or society to much power. Too much societal power represses the individual. Too much individual means no society can exist. What are your thoughts? If you have a moment, I’d love to hear them.

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    • Jill

      Hi Soren,

      I believe the pro-choice movement is based on the ability for each individual to be able to choose whether or not an abortion is right for her. I don’t think that any other power in society should be able to give qualifications or restrictions as to whether or not one woman should be able to have an abortion over another. I agree that telling your friend to make a decision outside of what is considered “right” or “wrong” makes sense if you are talking about a society that is defining the terms as what constitutes “right” or “wrong”. I think she should have every liberty to decide what is right or wrong for her at this point in her life.

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