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Monday, August 23, 2010

Being Pro-Choice and Doing Pro-Choice

For years now in Canada, it's been easy to separate being pro-choice from any actual activism. Since 1988, women have been able to get an abortion without concern for legal consequences. The Supreme Court said that legal restrictions and therapeutic abortion boards and the like infringed on a woman's security of the person, delaying access to time sensitive and necessary medical help. Since then, abortion has been considered like any other medical necessity, is regulated by the medical profession and, according to their guidelines, available to any woman on request until 20 weeks. Imposing legal restrictions also hinders a woman from exercising another of her rights and freedoms guaranteed by our charter - freedom of conscience. A generation later, it is still easy to think that we are "done" with this issue. In fact, organizations like CARAL shut their doors believing they were no longer required.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Access continues to be a huge issue for rural women, northern women, women in PEI where there is no access at all to abortion, and women in New Brunswick who still have to have a doctor's referral and approval to obtain an abortion within medicare or who must pay out of pocket at a private clinic with no opportunity for reimbursement. There are very few doctors in New Brunswick who perform abortions. It is, arguably, the worst place in Canada for a woman seeking termination. In other parts of Canada, there is no reciprocal agreement between provinces for abortion care, meaning women who must seek abortion care outside of their home provice must pay for it themselves. However, if they were to have a broken bone set or their appendix out, other time sensitive and medically necessary procedures, they would be covered. On top of all this, the anti-choice are gearing up for another fight. We see it all around us.

Once again, it will no longer be enough to just "be" pro-choice. More and more of us will have to "do" pro-choice again. Obviously, it is difficult. I know. It is hard to be vocal about a divisive issue. We are concerned about backlash, we fear offending our friends. The other side has instilled fear. They've done it by trying to shame women who are pro-choice, by bullying and name-calling, by fostering myths of post-abortion trauma, by blaming cancer on abortion, by killing doctors. No wonder we are reluctant to "do" pro-choice.

Perhaps our greatest strength, our deep respect for the views of others, or belief in everyone's right to hold thier own opinion - this hallmark of the pro-choice movement - is also our greatest failing. It makes us unwilling to trample, even unintentionally, on someone else's views.
But we must remember, the vast majority of Canadians agree with us.

We must find in ourselves a new willingness to speak publicly. When we are willing to vocalize our strongly held beliefs that a woman must be able to control her own body, to make her own choices, our example will encourage others to speak out as well. Faced with anti-choice protesters demonstrating at clinics and prevention oriented organizations, faced with their signs and their propaganda, we must be willing to engage with other pro-choice people and say, "We will not be dragged back a generation, to a time when women were not trusted to make their own choices. We will not be forced into unsafe conditions. We will not be shamed." We must be willing to assert that "Reproductive rights are human rights." We must not allow the anti-choice to dictate the terms of the discussion. We must remind the anti-choice and ourselves that pro-choice IS NOT pro-abortion. To be pro-choice is to support a woman's choice to do whatever SHE feels is best for her and to make sure that the conditions exist in which she can carry out her intentions. It does not force or coerce any women into terminating. But anti-choice tactics of disseminating misinformation to delay care and instill fear do coerce women into continuing unwanted pregnancies .

We must be willing to speak the truth, to write letters to our legislators when we perceive infringements on our rights, no matter how minor they may seem. We must be willing to put our selves and our beliefs on the line to protect our rights, the rights of our daughters and sisters and friends, the rights our mothers and grandmothers fought for and won.

In the patriarchal world in which we live, abortion is a "nexus" issue. This means it is pivotal, linked to every other issue related to women's rights and, I would argue, human rights. It is all well and good to have the right to vote, to earn similar pay for work of equal value, to be included in traditionally "male dominated" professions, but it is not enough. What good is any of this if we do not have the right to control our own bodies? Without this, women are no better than slaves.

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