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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Rest In Peace, Dr. Morgentaler

Dr. Henry Morgentaler died today. I don't write in this blog much at all anymore. I'm working on another project and had to set this aside. But the loss of this great man requires a few words. I need to take a moment to pay my respects.

Because of Dr. Morgentaler, I am a free woman. I have the right to decide what happens to my own body and I have the right to live and act according to my own conscience. Without this right, I would not be free. Dr. Morgentaler understood this. He believed in freedom. He believed in women. He trusted women. He trusted me.

I feel so much gratitude to this man. He bore the burden of the abortion rights movement in a way no one else did, and, I suspect, in a way no one else could. The strength it must have taken is unimaginable. In my very small role in the movement, I sometimes get tired - tired of the scorn and the name calling, the threat of violence. But if Dr. Morgentaler got tired, he never showed it, at least not in public. He went to jail to make the point that women can and must make their own decisions about their reproductive lives, their bodies and their families and their pregnancies. He was a true feminist. He lived his ideals. Even when it cost him. He fought and suffered for my rights before I even knew I needed him to, before I realized I wasn't equal, before I understood I didn't have the same rights as a man, before I felt in my heart the truth that we are all entitled to human rights by virtue of being human, and that there can be absolutely no qualifiers on that, no hedging, no conditions. Through his work and his commitment to the cause and his repeated demonstrations of courage, he enlightened me. He showed me that human rights are unconditional. Even for women.

I will always be grateful.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


I'm moving. In the virtual world, I'm moving to a new web page. Come and visit me at www.janecawthorne.com.

Compared to this site, it's still pretty sparse, but over time, I'm going to shift some of this content and just live over at the new place.

Thanks to everyone who has visited me here. You can still reach me at my contact page here, or by emailing contact@abortionmonologues.com. Or you can contact me at jane@janecawthorne.com.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Thoughts on the 25th Anniversary of the Morgentaler Decision

Twenty five years ago, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada’s law on abortion, finding it violated a woman’s right to life, liberty and security of the person. Canada's experience with the decriminalization of abortion proves that women can be trusted to make decisions regarding our lives, health and families without State interference or the threat of criminal sanction. 

Dr. Henry Morgentaler already knew this in 1968 when he began performing abortions in defiance of the law. He also knew that sending women to have their abortions approved by a therapeutic abortion committee, as the law of the day demanded, was an unnecessary barrier that wasted time and risked our lives and health. Finally, Dr. Morgentaler knew that doctors could be trusted to practice medicine safely and effectively and in the best interests of their patients.

Evidence supports this perspective. The Guttmacher Institute, a rigorous research organization in the area of sexual and reproductive health, finds abortion persists regardless of its legal status. The rates are highest and maternal health outcomes are poorest where there are restrictive laws around abortion and where contraception is difficult to access. Laws against abortion do not reduce the number of abortions, nor do they make women safer. In Africa where most abortions are illegal, the abortion rate is 29 per 1000 women of childbearing age. Complications from unsafe abortion result in 13% of maternal deaths worldwide. In 2010, the last year for which numbers are available, the abortion rate in Canada was about 14 per 1000 women of childbearing age. Our outcomes are better than those of countries with legal restrictions.

In Canada, although abortion is no longer a criminal matter, it is not unregulated. Doctors abide by Canadian Medical Association guidelines. Ninety percent of abortions are performed on request in the first twelve weeks and ninety-eight percent are performed in the first sixteen weeks. The procedure is safe and Canada has one of the world’s lowest maternal mortality rates from abortion. The CMA regulates abortion responsibly just as it does every other medical procedure. Only 1.9 percent of abortions happen over twenty-one weeks, and these are performed only in cases of severe fetal anomaly or where the life of the woman is at risk.
As the Guttmacher Institute notes, for health outcomes to be optimized, legalization must be accompanied by a sustained commitment and dedicated resources to areas such as comprehensive sexuality education and doctor training. In Canada, there is still more to do. A University of Ottawa report finds long wait times in Ontario, in part because only one in six hospitals in Canada offers abortions. Access is severely limited in rural and northern areas and abortions are unavailable in Prince Edward Island. In New Brunswick, women must still seek the approval of two doctors to have their abortion covered under the provincial health plan. This flagrant violation of the Morgentaler decision persists under successive intransigent provincial governments and federal governments willing to turn a blind eye.

Since 1987, there have been about 45 attempts to recriminalize or restrict abortion through the introduction of Private Members Bills or Motions. Not one has passed, nor would one likely survive a Charter challenge. Passage of such a bill or motion would be a blow to women’s rights akin to retracting the right to vote or the right to own property.

In a report to the United Nations, The Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health describes laws restricting abortion as an abuse of state power. Such laws “infringe human dignity by restricting the freedoms to which individuals are entitled under the right to health, particularly in respect of decision-making and bodily integrity,” mirroring the finding of our own Supreme Court. The report urges all countries to end such restrictions.

Those reluctant to end restrictive laws can look to Canada as a role model. For this, we can express our gratitude to Dr. Morgentaler and all who helped him in this work.  



Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Morgentaler Decision

The 25th anniversary of the Morgentaler Decision is almost upon us, and the tributes are beginning to surface. I want to share a few with you. Have a look at the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada's tribute to Dr. Morgentaler and leave a message if you are so inspired. Joyce Arthur of ARCC has also written some great stuff lately on the benefits of decriminalization.

When I am thinking about Dr. Morgentaler or writing about him, I often refer to an excellent biography about him by Catherine Dunphy called Morgentaler: A Difficult Hero. To me, it is the definitive text. And I was reminded this morning of a great interview with Dr. Morgentaler with the National Review of Medicine that he did on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the decision available on line.

There are tributes happening across Canada. In Calgary, there is a showing of the new documentary Status Quo? to celebrate the decision. Although the doc deals with issues beyond reproductive rights and gets us to think about all the unfinished business of feminism in Canada, it is a good choice for this day. One section of the film is dedicated to Dr. Morgentaler and the current day fight in New Brunswick, which has been the subject of this blog before. One of my favourite moments in the film is footage of Judy Rebick getting in the face of someone attempting to attack Dr. Morgentaler. She is absolutely fierce, and it is this ferocity that was necessary to have abortion decriminalized.

Many people like Judy Rebick stood with Dr. Morgentaler to change the laws in Canada. He didn't do it alone, but he was the face of the movement, the one that risked it all, the one that went to jail. He risked his own safety to keep women safe. To understand exactly what he accomplished, the best thing to do is actually read the Supreme Court verdict. It is inspiring.

My postings are getting fewer and farther between lately. I often feel I've said everything I have to say about abortion. With the temporary quiet given to us by election losses on the far right, I've not been prodded into blogging by idiotic relics of patriarchy blathering about taking my rights away. The anniversary will bring out the anti-choicers and their whines of "we need a law." Actually, we don't. Canada's experience has proven this. Nevertheless, attempts to eat away at women's rights will continue with things like Motion 408, which has to be at least the forty fifth attempt by anti-choicers to criminalize or restrict abortion since the Morgentaler decision. They've lost every battle, and they will continue to do so because women are not going to give up our rights. Unlike me, they never seem to get bored. So I can't either. And neither can you. I've said it so many times, I almost feel I have to quote myself. Without control of our bodies, women are not free.

And to Dr. Morgentaler: You showed me the way before I even knew I was searching for it, before I knew how to challenge power or speak truth to it, before I found my own voice. You showed me what my rights were. You imagined a reality for me that I couldn't yet see for myself and you fought to get it for me. You taught me what it was to be feminist. Thank you.

Friday, November 16, 2012

What Happens When Women Can't Access Abortion?

When women can't access abortion, sometimes they die. It's that simple. The recent case of Salvita Halappanavar, the Irish woman who suffered and died while a hospital refused to complete a miscarriage in progress because there was still a fetal heartbeat tragically underlines this possibility. Her death highlights what happens when health policy is dictated by religion, not science.

There is no excuse for the death of this woman. Reputable, peer reviewed, scientific research has shown repeatedly that denying women access to abortion increases maternal mortality.* Now there is a new study, The Turnaway Study, that teaches us even more.**

The Turnaway Study looked at women who were "turned away" when seeking abortions versus women who received care. It both debunked myths and deepened our understanding of some of the social outcomes of denying abortion care. For example, they find that there is no proof that women who have abortions have poor mental health outcomes or a greater risk of drug use. What they did find was that women denied access to abortions are more likely to live below the poverty line one year later than their counterparts, they are more likely to be unemployed one year later, and more likely to be on public assistance one year later. Clearly, this places a cost burden on the state.

Some countries get it. France recently decided to make abortion a free service for all women, something that will inevitably save the country money. Although I would never argue the case for abortion simply because it saves the state money, the fact that it does is good. But we can't pick and choose which human rights to support by their cost. Denying human rights always has a social cost.  Steven D. Levitt makes the case in Freakonomics that Roe v. Wade resulted in a decrease in the crime rate. Again, a good outcome, but not one that would comprise the main part of any argument I made supporting access to abortion.

To me, the most troubling finding of the The Turnaway Study is that women denied access are more likely to live in violent and abusive relationships one year after being turned away. They did not enter these relationships in the intervening year; they were less likely to escape them. Getting an abortion allowed women to get out of violent relationships more easily.

As reported before in this blog, laws criminalizing abortion have such terrible results for women that UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health condemned them on October 24, 2011, calling them an abuse of state power. That's what the situation in Ireland looks like to me.

We are fortunate in Canada. We have no law on abortion. In spite of recent rallying cries by anti-abortion zealots such as MP Woodworth and his cohort, we don't need a law. Canada's experience with the decriminalization of abortion proves that we don't need a law. The twenty fifth anniversary of the Morgentaler decision is coming up this January. Canada has a generation of women who have never known anything but a society in which abortion is a medical matter, not a legal matter, and the sky has not fallen. A recent poll shows Canadians understand the benefits of this policy on our society and the majority of Canadians support unrestricted access. It's time we take the message of this success story to the world.


*(See any number of studies on the Guttmacher site, which has a whole section related to abortion, here.) 

**(The Facebook Site linked to above has a ton of information. To keep it a little more brief, see this article by Annallee Newitz. It also includes a link to the whole study.)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Review from Vernon

They say never to read your reviews, and I obviously don't do it too often. This is a review from a production that happened months ago, in Vernon BC. I finally read it today. It's really pretty good, and I wanted to share it with you.

Of course, we always like our good reviews, and again I have to thank Jessika LaFramboise and the cast and crew of this production at the Hub Arts Collective for their hard work.

Here is the review by Graeme Higginson. If you're thinking about a production, this should help you decide and give you a good idea of how the play is taken up by the audience.


Another interesting note from the Vernon show. The producer provided me with quite a few stories after the fact. One was that a local anti-choice group was pretty stoked about protesting the play. They were contacting her, making sure the show would go on because they really wanted to protest. I found it interesting that the lines of communication were so open between the two. Good to know that civility reigns in Vernon. Two of the anti-choice group's members watched the play the first night and took copious notes. In the end, they decided not to protest. Interesting. This pleases me. When we listen to the voices of women (even if they are fictional) rather than the polarized talking heads that usually take up so much of the public space on this issue, understanding develops. It's harder to hate someone you know, or feel you know. This is how change happens.

Video Clips from Missoula, Montana

The fine people at the Blue Mountain Clinic in Missoula, Montana staged a production of The Abortion Monologues on November 1, 2012. These four video clips capture a little of the night. I want to thank everyone involved in the production for their hard work in bringing my words to life so beautifully. There was lots of money and awareness raised. It warms my heart. It really does. Enjoy the clips.





And to all of my friends in the United States, good luck today.