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Reproductive Rights STILL an Election Issue

October 2, 2008

Reproductive Rights STILL an Election Issue

focus on the born.jpg

"Focus on the Born": Image from a demonstration against Bill C-484, The Unborn Victims of Crime Act

When it became clear that an imminent election was in the stars, Harper distanced himself from the widely opposed Bill C-484, The Unborn Victims of Crime Act.

Now infamous, Bill C-484 was a private member bill introduced by Ken Epp (MP for Edmonton Sherwood Park, Alberta). It assigned legal personhood to unborn fetuses (in contravention of the Criminal Code). It was denounced by the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC), and other feminist organizations, as "an unconstitutional infringement on women’s rights." Similar laws are used in the United States to criminalize pregnant women who use drugs or alcohol for endangering the fetus, or to prosecute those who help them seek abortions.

While Epp refused to drop the Bill, which had passed its second reading, Harper vowed not to reopen the "debate" on abortion. (A promise, incidentally, that he has made before, during the 2004 election, and again in January 2005.)

But does that mean that reproductive rights are no longer an election issue?

Quite the opposite, according to the ARCC. Harper has said that he would not block private member bills about abortion (like C-484) in future.

In fact, on this issue, he has said he would lift tight party discipline and allow a free vote. Considering that the vast majority (74%) of current Conservative MPs are anti-choice, a majority Conservative Government could easily pass an anti-abortion bill into law.

Consider the following facts, largely culled from yesterday's press release issued by the ARCC:

  • 93% of all Conservative MPs voted in favour of Bill C-484, the “Unborn Victims of Crime Act.”
  • According to Alison Brown, ARCC spokesperson, Bill C-484 is not dead. In fact, she says that
  • “We expect this bill to be re-introduced during the next session of Parliament, along with two other private member bills restricting abortion. The Conservatives might have enough votes to pass these anti-abortion bills even with a bigger minority government..."

  • Even a minority Conservative Government could pass such a bill with the support of the Liberals, since 27% of the current Liberal caucus is also anti-abortion.
  • Two further private member bills, C-537 and C-338, on their way to becoming law, endanger reproductive freedoms and access to abortion and contraception:
  • Bill C-537, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of conscience rights in the health care profession), would shield healthcare workers who refuse to provide medical care that violates their personal religious beliefs – even information or referrals. It would mostly affect women who need abortion and contraception services. Bill C-537 has already passed its first reading.
  • Bill C-338, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (procuring a miscarriage after 20 weeks of gestation), would criminalize abortion after 20 weeks.
  • Since 1996, at least 11 private members bills or motions
    endangering or criminalizing abortion have been introduced, mostly by Conservative MPs. Some of the same bills have come up repeatedly.
  • The ARCC says that the Conservative Government has done absolutely nothing to improve access to abortion -- and access is a big problem:
  • Since 1989, abortion has been legal under Canadian law. However, only 15% of Canadian hospitals provide abortion services. It is impossible for women to obtain an abortion in PEI.
  • Not only has the Conservative Government done nothing to improve access, it

    "has already taken other steps to undermine reproductive rights, including appointing right-wing anti-choice judges to high courts in Ontario and Nova Scotia, and refusing to enforce the Canada Health Act in New Brunswick, which is the only province still violating the Act by not funding abortion at clinics." (ARCC)

  • But according to the Ad Hoc Coalition for Women's Rights, no major political party plans to allocate funds to improve access to reproductive health services.
  • Feminist organizations are ensuring that reproductive rights remain an election issue. On September 28, they called for a National Day of Action for reproductive rights. Demonstrations were held in Ottawa, Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver.

    Carolyn Egan of the ARCC explained the motivation for a National Day of Action:

    "Women's rights have been under threat in the past year - we want this to be an election issue. Bill C-338 to limit the term of abortion to 20 weeks was clearly an attempt to roll back women's right to choose. Bill C-537 is more insidious - it allows health professionals to restrict and deny any women's health care by imposing their personal religious views."

    As Barb Byers of the Canadian Labour Congress warned,

    "Political parties and candidates must realize that Canadian women are tracking them during the campaign. We want assurance from all parties that they will not erode women's fundamental right to decide their reproductive fate. Women in this country, regardless of political, socio-economic, ethnic and religious backgrounds will not lose their hard-won freedoms. We believe that this issue will be a deciding factor for many women."

    You can download the ARCC's full press release, "A Majority Conservative Government Would Restrict Abortion," here. The Ad Hoc Coalition for Women's Rights has a helpful breakdown of election issues.

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