On objections to Canada v. Bedford

I want to take a moment to address an older podcast that I just found: McGill Law Journal. The particular episode is from 2014 I believe and centers around prostitution laws in Canada and the Canada (AG) v Bedford case before it had been decided. I loved listening to this podcast today but I take issue with basically everything one of their guests said. I want to address that here and now even though it’s from three years ago.Let me clear things up for you in terms of what kind of feminist I am. Sex work is work. Sex workers are people. All people deserve respect, life, and liberty. All people should be able to do with their body as they see fit as long as it doesn’t affect the rights of other people. And guess what, sex work doesn’t harm anyone. What does harm people is forcing them to take their profession to dark allies. What does hurt people is police and societal injustice, stigmatization, and rejection based on how someone obtains their livelihood. Pickton wouldn’t have been able to kill as many women as he did if we (society, policy) viewed sex workers are people worth our time and resources. He wouldn’t have been able to kill as many women as he had if we viewed aboriginal women as worth our time and resources.

Let’s dive in. In this episode they discuss the various reasons why prostitution *should* be decriminalized, why this particular case must stand, the “harms” associated with prostitution, and the ways in which we might be able to regulate it in theory. The episode features a man named Russel Brown who was the head of the Christian Legal Fellowship at the time of this podcast (no idea if he still is). He said some problematic things. 1) That we must protect vulnerable groups in society; 2) The lack of arrests of sex works shows that the law is working to deter prostitution; 3) something something “morals of society”; 4) Something about how the SCC doesn’t have the experience to decide on what is (or on) national issues; 5) this case (if successful) will cause a rise in drugs and human trafficking.

I want to do this in order: when you suggest that all women are vulnerable and in need of protection you forget that women have autonomy. When you argue that sex workers are a vulnerable group you fail to recognize why they’re a vulnerable group and how best to address this issue. The reason why assault rates among sex workers is so high is because of the stigma attached to their profession, their inability to obtain justice for (at that time) fear of prosecution or fear of judgement, and the secretive nature of their work. Which is only secretive because of Canadian law. If you truly want to protect the women (and men) who choose to engage in sex work you should listen to them. They kind of tend to know how to make their lives safer since they live them.

On the lack of arrests: causation and correlation, buddy. Just because there is a lack of arrests doesn’t mean prostitution is declining. In 2008 it was estimated that prostitution brought in about 3.4 million dollars. That’s a rough estimate since it’s hard to get data on work that’s under the table. Anyone who has ever been on East Hastings street in Vancouver can tell you that it’s not in decline. And that’s okay. What isn’t okay is that 87% of sex workers have been physically and/or sexually assaulted. The law is meant to protect people. The old law wasn’t working. I’m not sure if the PC’s version of it is much better.

Morals of society: who’s morals, exactly? They’re sure as hell not mine. I support people to make decisions about their lives and their bodies, because what they do with them is none of my business. We can’t subject all of society to abide by the morals of a religious group, even if that religious group represents more people than any other. Rather, we all form society based on a similar code of ethics brought forth by universal norms and human rights. They’re pretty basic: don’t kill people, don’t steal things, don’t be a dick, etc. The act of prostitution is only a moral harm from the point of religion. You cannot argue that sex for money has a moral harm to society if you have a liberal and non-religious view of sex and body rights. Because there isn’t one. Tell me who prostitution harms. You’ll say sex works and I’ll say that’s only because we force them to conduct their work in the shadows. You’ll tell me that women are exploited. While, I recognize that human trafficking is a thing and is very much terrible, when people choose to be sex workers that isn’t exploitation. At least no more than a coal miner selling his body, or a woman selling her mind to do mathematical equations for money. You’ll tell me it hurts society as a whole. I’ll ask you how. You’ll probably say STIs and I’ll say sex workers account for a low percentage of STI’s (3-4%), which is less than the STI prevalence among teens. A lot less. And there would be even fewer instances if you mandated that condoms had to be used during paid sex work. You’ll probably try to tell me that it hurts the children somehow, and again, I’ll ask you how. This would go on for a while. I firmly support the separation of church and stat. I find it problematic for a multicultural society made up of people from all over the world who have different experiences and different religious beliefs to base its laws in any religion. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it is dangerous for that to be the foundation of law as it becomes susceptible to change as the majority religion shifts. Rather, I’d argue that it’s important that our laws reflect a commitment to the common good, embracing universal harms, limiting actual harm, and focus on making society a better place for everyone. I don’t think you need religion to do that and I don’t believe falling into moral arguments is helpful since morals are subjective. I belie e the majority of the population would agree that murder is wrong as it deprives someone of their life and liberty, harms society as you remove someone from it. But I don’t think you can draw distinct harms resulting from prostitution when they argument is “it doesn’t fit my sexually conservative mores”. Abortion is counter to a lot of social conservatives “morals”, yet a woman’s right to control her body is far more important than the feelings of the Christian right. I believe the same is true of sex work.

SCC Doesn’t have the ability/ experience to decide on national issues: uhm, pretty sure it’s the duty of the SCC to determine whether or not laws enacted by the government violate the constitution since we’re a constitutional democracy and the Bedford case concerned the Charter, which as it so happens, is part of the Constitution. What even? Pretty sure the SCC is appointed to do just that. Maybe you should go back to law school?

Rise in drugs and human trafficking: hit the books, brah, because studies show the opposite is true. If we were to properly regulate and monitor the industry, we would cut their ties to the criminal network (i.e drugs and human trafficking) because there wouldn’t be back ally dealings nor would women fall into abusive prostitution rings. If we brought sex work out of the shadows it would operate within the law because of oversite. Because there would be ways in which sex workers caught in bad situations would be able to come forward and ask for help. Sex work doesn’t have to be something we see as nefarious and if we don’t view it that way or treat it that way then it won’t be. In terms of human trafficking, I believe regulating sex work would decrease the amount of human trafficking victims in Canada who are abducted or brought here for sex work.


That Rabbit Hole, Though

It is so hard to not go down the feminist rabbit hole. Like, really hard. I get that, I can relate to that. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to accept it when people do it. What do I mean by the feminist rabbit hole? I’m sure there is a far better term for it out there, somewhere, but I like the imagery invoked by the use of rabbit hole. Who doesn’t like Alice in Wonderland? I mean, it’s great. Unless you analyze how creepy it is that the other was spending so much time alone with a little girl. I digress. Anyway, you’ve probably encountered the phenomena many times. You’re reading a great piece of feminist lit- a book, an article, or you’re listening to a feminist podcast and you’re nodding your head in agreement, becoming enraged at the patriarchy on behalf of all people and then it happens. One word, one sentence, one thought that goes too far, then it goes back to being normal. Or perhaps you’ve read articles that just go deeper and deeper into that hole, there are many of them.  Whether you’re reading a book about sexuality or politics, it’s probably there. More often than not I have found it there, in some of my favourite pieces.

I was reading an excellent article in a legal philosophy book concerning equality and how it has evolved to (finally, most of the time) mean different things for different groups of people, which it should. The author went on to mention sexual assault and straight up said that it isn’t a wonder that they’re the way they are since these laws were written by the perpetrator, not the victim. Kay, so I had to reread that line several times to totally digest what she was saying. I thought I had read it wrong. Someone who was so on top of what equality is and should be couldn’t have asserted that 1) all men who write laws are rapists, and 2) that men aren’t victims of sexual assault. But she did just that and my mind was blown. Yes, rape culture is definitely responsible for how ffed up a lot of our laws (judicial decisions, lack of jail time for rapists, victim blaming) pertaining to sexual assault are. However, that doesn’t mean we need to call everyone a rapist. I’m all for calling a spade a spade, I do it often, and people assigned male at birth are hands down more often the perpetrators of sexual assault than any other group. But that doesn’t mean the people who wrote those laws were guilty of sexual assault themselves (they definitely could be) and we shouldn’t go down that rabbit hole of blaming and assertions without nuanced analysis of how those laws actually came to be.

Another instance I was listening to a podcast on one of my favourite book series and I happened to love the analysis of gender, body politics, race, and class. What I didn’t love, though, was the assumption that the main character hated fat people, which meant that the author hated fat people. When I pointed out that this summary lacked nuanced and failed to examine Harry’s relationship with the Dursley’s and the abuse he suffered at their hands and the hands of their son, I got response along the lines of “I’m not interested in nuanced readings of a book that depicts my body as something grotesque”. I get that it’s upsetting to read a book in which the character focuses on the body of a person but you have to read deeper than that. Harry was denied food often as punishment whereas Dudley was fed until he stopped whining. Dudley used his size against Harry’s smaller frame. Dudley routinely bullied Harry and the Dursley’s constantly treated Harry as if he were garbage. When you’re a victim of abuse for so long you’re not particularly interested in being nice to your abusers. Perhaps an idea is to look at the reasons why Harry might associate fatness with something terrible (perhaps it’s because the first people to mistreat him were large and used their size against him). I’d also say that if you’re not interested in a nuanced reading of a text perhaps you shouldn’t analyze books in your podcast. You have to set aside your personal feelings an analyze things critically. Is it possible that Rowling dislikes fat people since society has a lot of fat hate, hell yes. But go deeper than “Harry picks on Dudley cause he’s fat, Harry is bad. Therefore, Harry hates fat people and is bad.” Try a little nuance in your understanding of victims of abuse, even fictional ones. It’s a far more interesting perspective to examine why Harry might (if he does) hates fat people beyond saying it’s a reflection of author and society bias.

Then there are articles that are so deep in the rabbit hole they’ll never escape it. I’m looking at “feminists” who suggest that all penis in vagina sex is patriarchal and should be avoided. I’m looking at “feminists” who think women will never be equal until we farm children, I’m looking at “feminists” who shame sex workers and suggest that women who choose sex work are hurting themselves or that it’s not really a choice, I’m looking at “feminists” who fear trans rights. When you say these things you’re removing someone’s autonomy, you’re assuming that they do not know what’s best for them. For me, feminism is intersectional and it’s about choice. Women can choose to be mothers or not to be, that choice is feminist (as long as they don’t force their beliefs on other women). Women can choose to be sex workers. That is a valid choice that can greatly benefit people and society as a whole. Women can choose to do porn. I wish less women were involved in porn that actively harms women (I’m not referring to BDSM) by objectifying them rather than making them sexual subjects, but feminist porn is a thing and it’s getting bigger! Women can be gay, straight, bi, trans, and you should just get the fuck over it. Women can wear makeup or none at all. They can wear heels, dresses, frills and pink. Women can become women later in life; it isn’t an exclusive club. For me feminism is about inclusion of people’s differences as long as those differences don’t impede on women’s rights. Don’t want to have an abortion? I support you! Hate abortion so much you want to prevent other women from having a choice? I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s a hard concept but for some reason it gets so lost on people. I have no idea why. Want to organize a slut walk? I will join you. Just don’t turn around and suggest that women are oppressed because they choose to cover more of their body than you do. Not your body, not your choice. IT GOES BOTH WAYS. That said, FGM is the one thing I won’t make room for. I will be a neo colonial feminist on that one issue. My opinion will never change on that one. Never.

I myself sometimes tumble into the rabbit hole and I pride myself on being able to recognize it and stop it most of the time.  I guess every movement or ideology has its odd balls. It’s just unfortunate that people who don’t identify as feminist often refer to the extreme beliefs in our ranks rather than the mainstream ones.

*please note: I recognize that not all people who have vaginas are/identify as women and that’s cool too. Not all women/ people who identify as women have vaginas and that’s also cool. Feminism should be the space and platform that we can talk about issues impacting people in both situations. It is possible to talk about vaginas and vagina related things without excluding people who don’t have them or people who do have them but aren’t women. I don’t know if I am particularly good at it yet because a lot of my feminist concerns have to do with vaginas: access to abortion, menstrual pain, etc. But I want people to know that I’m open to what they have to say (unless it’s antifeminist) and who they are. We’re stronger together and we need to stop trying to exclude and delegitimize each other. Audre Lorde said it right and said it best, we cannot use the master’s tolls to dismantle the master’s house. It was true when suffragettes through black women under the bus and it’s still true today. Dude, if your feminism isn’t intersectional, is it even feminism?

Jumbled rant over.

Self Doubt

I’ve erased myself so many times. So many times that I’ve lost count. My parents were abuse. My self-esteem has required a lot of patch work. I have lost myself just as many times. Emotional and psychological abuse leaves many invisible scars that are hard to explain. Even harder to understand. Every time I’m not perfect, every time I mistake I have to deal with the consequences. It’s not solved by a simple apology. Rather, I’ll spend hours or days fixating on how imperfect and awful I am. I will dry heave at the thought of other people finding out my secret and loathing me as much as I often loath myself. This is what my childhood abuse has left me with. Sometimes I am whole. Sometimes I believe in myself. Sometimes I love myself. Other times I am so afraid, so lonely, so trapped. So many of my friends long for their childhood. Me, life has never been particularly easy or kind. I long for the future. The future I dream of is one where I am secure and healed. A future where I don’t feel trapped or fear my mistakes. A future where I trust myself and my thoughts. I dream of a future where I’m no longer afraid of myself.

When You Hate on Feminism

The other night I attended an informative presentation on the history of sexual assault in Canada. I learned a lot of new things and speaker was well prepared, engaging, and did an excellent job of creating a safe space for all of us. But I want to take a moment to talk about the troll that came in late. The troll that missed the talk about creating a safe space. The troll that tried to derail the conversation to discuss how The Red Pill was right, men have it worse in society, that feminists are evil, and that the real crime feminists should have concerned themselves with is male circumcision.  Firstly, the speaker did an impressive job not shutting the troll down in the spirit of good faith and safe space. She told the troll that she heard where she was coming from, that she could see that it was a subject she was passionate about, and that she would be interested in discussing male circumcision at another time. She ended by stating that while that was a worthwhile situation discuss this wasn’t the time or place for that discussion. The troll stopped talking and the presentation continued. Until it was interrupted again. This time it was again to suggest that feminists are evil, men are more often victims than women, and that we should talk about men. Facts: women and children are more often than not the victims of sexual assault. Fact: Trans folk have the highest risk of being sexually assaulted. Fact: Feminists care about the ways in which the patriarchy also harms men. Here’s the thing, most of us are open to discussing feminist issues with you, we will even engage with haters to dispel myths. But when you decided to interrupt a safe space that’s trying to deal with an issue that leaves so many women fearful you need to be respectful and you need to understand why women care so much about sexual assault. It’s because we’ve either been victims or so many of our friends have been raped that we can no longer count the numbers on one hand. It’s because we have seen firsthand the result of sexualized violence.  It’s because we’ve been conditioned to believe we’re asking for it, it’s because society turns a blind eye with a “boys will be boys” approach, it’s because when we go to the police we won’t get a case number simply because we have had too many partners, engage in sex work, have a history of mental health problems, are homeless, belong to a minority group…etc. It’s because IF it goes to trial his presumption of innocence means that we’re lying automatically. It’s because our reputation will be dragged through the mud. It’s because sexual assault is something we will spend our entire lives facing. So I’m sorry that we don’t want to talk in-depth about male circumcision when the topic is sexual assault history in the context of Canadian law. I’m sorry that you have a twisted view of feminism. But when you hate on feminism you’re hating a movement that seeks equality. When you hate on feminism you’re misunderstanding what it means to be a feminist. When you hate on feminist approaches to sexual assault you’re hating on survivors of sexual assault. When you hate on feminism you’re hating on women.  When you hate on feminism I can’t take you seriously because you’re a misogynist. Regardless of your gender or sex.

The Hairy Dispute

Everyday patriarchal nonsense. Where I work hired a woman to work in our shipping department, she might be tiny buy she is strong af. Actually. She lifts, she’s in great shape, and she’s (in my opinion) good at her job. Every day I witness male clients underestimate her. One of my clients bought a 10 x 10 popup tent and I paged shipping to bring it up. The entire time the client kept trying to carry it for her, “let me get it. It looks heavy. Let me help”. To which she repeatedly replied that she had it, was good, and that it was her job. It’s something she encounters every day here, and it’s dumb. She’s one of the strongest people I know. Her and her fiancé helped me move my couch and they lifted it like it was nothing. The other thing she has to contend with are unsolicited comments on her unshaved underarms. She’s one of those ladies who prefers to get waxed and hasn’t had time (not that that should even matter) so her arms are hairier than usual. While this really shouldn’t be a thing clients had kept commenting on it and saying it was disgusting that she started wearing longer sleeved shirts and sweaters. It really shouldn’t matter what her, or mine, or anyone’s underarms look like, it’s of no one’s concern. These beauty standards were forced on women during the 1920s, we’d like them to stop. Thanks.

The Case Against Abort 73

For the span of two months, up until the route of the bus changed, I continuously found little Frida Kahlo cards on the seat of the bus that I take to work. These cards are produced by Abort 73. This is an anti-abortion group in North America, pretty sure Frida wouldn’t like them using her image since the woman suffered a life changing bus accident that broke her pelvis and caused an iron handrail to pierce her abdomen and uterus. But I digress, let’s talk about this anti-abortion group. They’d like you to think that abortion is never the answer, that there are plenty of other options. What I find interesting about these groups is that they’re obsessed with making sure birth occurs but where are they to be found when that child is born into poverty or a home that doesn’t want them? Where is this group when a mother who couldn’t access an abortion struggles to make ends meet, find child care, and has to give up school or a career? They claim to work to protect women and children from the violence of abortion but what about protecting women and (existing) children from real harm like poverty, misogyny, sexual assault, and pregnancy and child labor related pain and death? If this group actually cared about women it would recognize that abortion saves lives both the physical life of the woman but also her spirit and her dreams.

They would like you to believe that life begins at fertilization, fun fact ½ of all fertilized eggs don’t end up implanted in the uterine wall, so why aren’t they praying for the souls of these eggs? It isn’t medical testimony because the truth is that a fetus only has the potential to become human life and it doesn’t feel pain until the third trimester, about 27 weeks. This is because the fetus nervous system isn’t developed until that time. Therefore, it does not have the ability to feel or process pain as we know it. On their claim to personhood: this assumes that a group of cells trump the rights of a fully formed, living person who has autonomy, value, and can contribute to society. We don’t award rights to unicorns, no matter how cool they might be. On their do no harm claim: 1) for there to be harm their must a person involved, a fetus is not considered a person and has no rights to personhood as it only has the potential to become a human life. 2) Medical abortions are often performed to save the life of the woman, allowing a fetus to remain within her person may result in her death, therefore causing harm.

“Would it bother us more if they used guns?”. Genuinely ridiculous. First and foremost, using a gun would harm the woman, possibly kill her and possibly leave lasting, long term damage. A gun wouldn’t be consensual either which means that we remove a woman’s choice from the matter. So yeah, we would care. Like, wtf kind of argument is this? I’d also go as far as to say we’d have a problem with it because guns are absurd in and of themselves but if this group has a problem with violence why don’t they mobilize to restrict that dumb right to bear arms? Oh right, because they wouldn’t be sending women back to the stone age at the same time. What’s the point of attempting to accomplish something that saves real people if you’re not oppressing women at the same time?

They’d like you to believe that all women regret having an abortion, they don’t. It’s very much the opposite. (Read Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights). But let’s go through their most interesting pages (I’m skipping a lot not because I cannot engage with the material but because I find the claims laughable).

I really hope everyone that is part of Abort 73 is a vegan, if not they’re a bunch of hypocrites. They state that all live begins at fertilization and that we must accept that abortion kills in that it ends a life. I have some issue with that 1) it assumes all life is equal; 2) it assumes that the fetus is not only living but is comparable to a human life already in existence. So let’s jump into this, yes abortion ends the potential of a fertilized egg or fetus to develop and possibly become a human and to eventually live a life outside of the womb. I’m going to say that everyone knows what abortion is. Here’s the thing, abortion advocates value the woman’s life more than the potential life of a fetus. Because she is a person, she has value, she is living. A fetus only has the potential to be and have those things. The only way you can say this without being a hypocrite is if you take it as far to say that all life has equal value meaning that you won’t eat animal byproducts and you will advocate against their imprisonment for capitalistic gains and human nourishment. Fun fact, a cow has the same mental processing capabilities of a human three-year-old, yet Abort 73 is lining up at slaughterhouses protesting for the rights of cows to live their lives. I think it would be of more value for the ones based in America to just argue and protect against the death penalty (as that kills loads of innocent people each year) instead. The thing is, when life begins is subjective, the idea of life beginning at conception is usually a religious one, something to do with it being ensouled (did I just make up a word?) at that point. Even though the bible actually never talks about abortion as something that shouldn’t happen…ugh. Those of us not trying to force our individual religious beliefs down the throat of free citizens would say that life begins once the fetus is viable outside of the body of the woman. Which also happens to usually be when abortion doesn’t occur unless the fetus is unviable or the woman is at grave risk.

The mother’s body: I think the group misunderstands the slogan “my body, my choice”. It isn’t to say that the fetus is a part of a woman’s body like a limb is it’s more of the whole thing about the fetus is developing within her body and it is her choice to decide what becomes of it. Canadian law already says a man has no say in whether or not a woman has an abortion to grant him rights would mean we would value him over the woman, we would trust his decision about someone else’s body rather than the owner of that body. It would grant him, and the state, control over women’s bodies and that’s an idea we have (thankfully) long since left behind. This whole thought process continues down the rabbit hole, go read it for some giggles. “It is possible for a fetus to die while the mother lives, and it is possible for the mother to die while the fetus lives. This could not be true if the mother and child were simply one person.” But the fetus is dependent on the woman, she is not dependent on the fetus. If the fetus is not viable when the woman dies it will die. If viable it can be extracted. Read a book. It’s illegal to execute a woman who is pregnant because she has given value to the fetus inside of her…duh.

They conflate the rights of fetus to that of living children. I see no value in this. Of course it is wrong to kill and existing person who has feelings, hopes, dreams, everything that makes a person a person. A fetus isn’t a person. Guys, can you try harder to come up with nuanced arguments instead of the same old babble? Silly slippery slopes. They like to assert that because a woman has engaged in sex she should have to deal with the consequences. Essentially, they want to punish female sexuality.

They enjoy arguing against the pro-choice stance that women will have abortions regardless of whether or not they’re legal. They say this is a slippery slope that could mean we legalize things like robbery and rape. Ugh, no. Here’s why: when women seek out abortions when they were illegal in Canada only wealthy women could afford to have safe abortions. Poor women resorted to unsafe methods that resulted in pain, death, or serious damage to their reproductive health. Legalizing prevents women from engaging in risky situations to obtain an abortion. This is justifiable for many reasons including the fact that the women’s rights outweigh those of a fetus, that is how we determine rights and when to limit them. This is a lot different that robbery. Nice try.

They’ll tell you abortion is racist. Um, no, the women seeking out abortions are doing it not because they’re racist but because viable minorities happen to be the most disadvantaged in society and will be most harmed by an unwanted pregnancy. Stop blaming minority women for the problems facing their communities. White people have more privilege. STFU. Also, stop trying to convince us abortion is genocide. It’s offensive. It could possibly a tool of genocide, sure. But on its own, it is not. Like, really?

Anyway, bored now.


Abortion in Canada

Something that I find rather odd is that it isn’t that difficult to find excellent fem lit concerning abortion in America, which is fantastic. Meanwhile, trying to find the same for Canada- not that easy. I find this odd because I think access to information, dispelling myths, and opening up dialogue is vital so we never go through what is happening in America. With the current US government’s movement to regulate and control women’s bodies (even more than usual) I am left fearful that that could happen here in Canada, to some extent. It’s no secret that America views female sexuality as something unnatural and in need of regulation and that the government believes that women cannot be trusted to make decision about their body and their health. Meanwhile, we sit back in Canada with complete access to abortion, or at least that is the assumption. So, let’s talk about abortion and let’s talk about it in the specific context of Canada.

Abortion was completely illegal in Canada up until 1969, just a few years before Roe v. Wade in the USA. Although it was illegal women still sought out abortions. If you were wealthy you could travel to a different country, if you had the right connections you could find a doctor who would perform one for an under the table fee. If you were poor, you could try various methods- seek out a nurse abortionist, an underground abortion facility, or try it yourself. You can bet that without the proper medical care, medical training and the lack of a proper facility a lot of these women became quite ill, were left with last health problem including infertility, and many died. This was most definitely a threat to women’s health but I think most of us are aware of the gruesome stories.

Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s government changed the Criminal Code in 1969 to make abortion legal in Canada in certain cases. In order to obtain one a woman would have to have a committee of doctors sign off that it was necessary for the physical and mental health of the woman. This was a start but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that there were serious issues. 1) It assumes that women are not capable of making informed decisions about their health without the oversight of several doctors and therefore strips women of their autonomy; 2) The vagueness of the change would allow for various doctors with their own moral objections to interpret and deny as they saw fit; 3) Where does a person draw the line in terms of physical health, is it high blood pressure, low blood pressure, diabetes? Or does the pregnancy literally have to be killing the woman? 4) It assumes that a panel of doctors have a better understanding of the impact of a child on woman’s well being than the woman herself. 5) It leaves family planning in the hands of a team of (predominately male) doctors. These are only a few of the issues with this change, yet, it persisted until 1988.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the standing laws were unconstitutional in R v. Morgentaler. It was found that forcing a woman to carry a fetus gravely impacted the security of the person. The excessive requirements in place under the 1969 rule prevented smaller hospitals from being able to offer abortion and therefore it was not totally accessible to all women who  may have been otherwise granted an abortion. Dickson, one of the judges on the case, found that the committee’s ability to grant or deny abortions was done arbitrarily and was therefore inadequate. The law could not be justified under section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms because it failed every step of the proportionality test. To recap Dickson’s position: 1) The administrative process was unfair and arbitrary; 2) the impairment of women’s rights was greater than legally permissible; 3) The impact on women’s rights far outweighed the importance of the law’s objective. To better understand this position, I would recommend reading up on the Oaks Test. But basically, this law impacted women’s rights more than what was justifiable. Wilson, another justice on the bench for this case, wrote that the law violated women’s liberty and security of the person. She focused on how section 251 of the Criminal Code violated a woman’s autonomy by preventing her from making decisions that impact her life and her fetus. Wilson also pointed out that the law effectively controlled a woman’s capacity to reproduce. She also stated that “The decision whether to terminate a pregnancy is essentially a moral decision, a matter of conscience. I do not think there is or can be any dispute about that. The question is: whose conscience? Is the conscience of the woman to be paramount or the conscience of the state? I believe, for the reasons I gave in discussing the right to liberty, that in a free and democratic society it must be the conscience of the individual.”

In Tremblay v. Daigle, which went to the Supreme Court in 1989, Daigle’s ex-boyfriend obtained a restraining order to prevent her from having an abortion. The SCC ruled that only the woman could make the choice; the father had no legal say in a woman’s choice to terminate a pregnancy or carry it to completion. Daigle had gone to US to have an abortion while the case was still being heard. In Dobson (Litigation Guardian of) v. Dobson, a grandfather brought forward a case on behalf of his grandchild. He attempted to sue the mother with negligence in driving that supposedly caused the child to have cerebral palsy. Citing the City of Kamloops v. Nielsen, the Court decided that courts cannot impose a duty of care on a pregnant woman as it would interfere with her autonomy rights and because it would be difficult to define a standard of care for pregnancy. In Winnipeg Child & Family Services (Northwest Area) v. G . (D.F.), [I997] 3 SCR 925 M, courts determined that a pregnant woman addicted to solvents could not be civilly committed for treatment.

All of these cases are deeply important when speaking about women’s rights in Canada. There have been incidents in the US where women have been arrested and confined (with handcuffs) to a hospital bed simply because she wanted to give birth at home. When we’re living so close to a neighbor that has determined that women’s rights aren’t human rights it is important to know where our rights are legitimized, what case law is important, and what they mean for our autonomy. What is happening in the USA, in terms of the erosion of access to abortion and women’s rights in general, has been happening since Roe v. Wade. We need to learn from these mistakes, we mustn’t give pro life groups any ground. They can say their peace, but we must ensure that our rights are never infringed upon. What we can tell from the US is that it is just a slippery slope from closing abortion clinics to having mandatory wait times, to forcing women to report their miscarriages. I thoroughly recommend reading Pro; Reclaiming Abortion Rights by Katha Pollitt as it perfectly outlines what has happened in the US in regards to the restrictions on abortion.

The most recent data I was able to find on the number of abortions per year in Canada was from 2006 (thanks, Harper). In 2006, there were 49,435 abortions performed in hospitals across Canada and 41, 942 abortions performed in clinics. Looking at statistics from prior years it looks like the rate of abortions has been steadily decreasing. This is a direct result in having better access to birth control and other contraceptives as well as the state providing better sex ed. You can have a look at these stats here: http://www23.statcan.gc.ca/imdb-bmdi/document/3209_D4_T2_V7-eng.pdf. Canadian women use contraception more regularly than our American counterparts. 80% of Canadian women use contraception versus 64% of American women. That said, unplanned pregnancies still account for about 40% of all Canadian pregnancies. Contraception can fail, mistakes can happen. People aren’t perfect but a child shouldn’t have to live a life unwanted because a condom broke and woman shouldn’t have to have a baby that she cannot care for simply because she took her pill late.

About 50% of women who have had an abortion are under the age of 25; 64% are single, and 45% already have children. The vast majority of abortions performed in Canada are done in the first trimester- more than 90%. Very few are done after the 16-week mark, somewhere between 2 and 3%. No doctors perform late term abortions (past 20 weeks) unless the fetus is no longer viable or the woman’s life or physical health is at risk. This is something we really have to look at because there are a lot of people who speak out against late term abortions. If we were to set limitations on when a woman could obtain an abortion, it would severely impact a woman’s right to security of the person. Find these stats and more here: http://www.med.uottawa.ca/sim/data/abortion_e.htm.

Let’s talk about access because its great to have no restrictions on abortion but it is a moot point if you don’t have a clinic in your city or doctors willing to perform abortion in your province. Abortions are to be funded, upon request, by Medicare to all Canadian citizens and permanent residents in hospitals across Canada. Hospitals account for 2/3 of all abortions performed while 1/3 of all hospitals perform abortion in Canada. The rest are done by either private or public clinics. You can also obtain a medical abortion through various medications (three), one of which was only recently approved for use in Canada. That one is RU-486, also known as Mifepristone. It must be prescribed by a doctor.

The Federal Government has interpreted the Canadian Health Act in such a way that provinces must fund abortion clinics fully. However, Nova Scotia only partially funds them and New Brunswick and PEI do not even attempt it. Manitoba only began funding clinics after 2004, when a non-profit organization who purchased the only abortion clinic in Manitoba turned around and sued the province. Quebec began to fund all abortions in private clinics in 2008. Some hospitals will refuse to perform abortions on out-of-province patients, which is a major issue for women in the Maritime provinces where abortions clinics are few. Less and less medical schools in Canada are providing instruction on abortion procedures to students. This will create yet another issue for women attempting to access abortion.

I want to talk about my home province. I am originally from New Brunswick and New Brunswick’s lack of abortion access has disgusted me since I was in high school. Typically, there are laws preventing protesters from getting too close to an abortion clinic (because safety), but the “pro-life” group in Fredericton actually side stepped this by buying the building next-door. Rather than having to keep at least 8 metres back they were able to be on the edge of the property line. The protests got so hairy that the clinic had to have volunteers walk people in and out. The Morgentaler clinic had to shut its doors recently due to a lack of funding. The only other abortion clinic, which I believe is relatively new, is located in Fredericton. They will perform an abortion up until 16 weeks and it will cost you $700-$850 depending. There are three hospitals in the province that will perform an abortion- The Moncton Hospital, Bathurst Chauler Regional Hospital, and Dr. Georges-L Dumount University Hospital Centre. That means you can have an abortion performed in a hospital if you can make it to Moncton or Bathurst. If you can’t afford $800 at the Fredericton clinic, then you’ll have to take time off of work to make it to one of the three hospitals.

That said, they have finally made some progress, the NB government has stated that they will make Mifegymiso available to women free of charge. It can only be obtained by doctor’s prescription, and only 24 doctors and pharmacists in New Brunswick have completed/registered for the training required to prescribe/dispense it. It’s great the government is willing to address the financial barriers women have to obtaining an abortion within NB but they also have to address the very real physical and physician-related barriers. NB has a long history of having trouble finding doctors willing to perform an abortion, it isn’t a surprise that only 24 have signed up to be able to prescribe a pill that will do the same thing. More needs to be done. We need to change perspectives on abortion in a predominately conservative, Christian province. I was so impressed by the women and other people who protested in Fredericton when the clinic closed. People do care and people are courageous when it comes to their rights. Speak out. Be safe. Trust women.

For an excellent list of abortion services by province please click here: