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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Remembering Dr. Tiller

Today we remember Dr. Tiller who was murdered three years ago for saving women's lives. One of the few doctors in America performing late-term abortions, his life had been threatened many times. He was the constant target of anti-choice zealots.

It is appropriate to point out this murder was committed by those who espouse the so-called pro-life position, a misnomer if there ever was one.

There are plenty of blogs remembering Dr. Tiller today, including Abortion Gang. To get a good look at Dr. Tiller's life and work, there is a wonderful collection of articles here, on RH Reality Check.

Salon has done some good writing on Dr. Tiller. Check out some of their articles here and here, this latter one including video of Dr. Tiller and his thoughts about his career choice. Rolling Stone has also had excellent coverage of Dr. Tiller, including a 2004 article about the anti-choice crusade against him that seems to have vanished from the internet. It is referred to here, so you can get it's essence and if you are really interested, could probably track it down with some hard copy sleuthing. 

Dr. Tiller trusted women. He was a true feminist. We remember.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Crazy, Part 2 - M-312 about to be revisited

Only one week until we have to hear women's rights being debated in the House of Commons again, because apparently, women's rights are NOT secure in Canada. They can be pulled out from under us at any time by our government. I hope you've all got that particular message loud and clear, because that is the message. Any Time. Our rights could disappear. On the whim of a back-bencher. Yes, the fetus fetishists are at it again, and we will have to sit through another hour of "debate" on something that pretends not to be about abortion, but that everyone knows is about abortion. This is, apparently, a fine thing for the House to spend time on. Debating my rights. Because they are debatable. Women's rights are up for debate. In Canada. In 2012.

If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention. Let me explain it further. Yes, we can spend the time of the House on debating whether women will continue to have rights in Canada after June 13,  but apparently we can't spend this same time on the F-35 fiasco. We can't spend this time on any number of elements of the Omnibus Budget Bill, C-38. No, we won't break apart the "everything but the kitchen sink bill" to debate changes in Canada Pension, or numerous aspects of environmental protection, or the end of the Fair Wages Act, or even the demise of the lowly penny. None of this will have full debate in the House. No. But this shitty private member's bill that threatens the rights of women gets even more time. Canadians across this fine country should be out in the streets. In The Streets. Quebec students, show us the way.

In honour of this low point in our history, I will do the only thing I can think of that will not send me into a tailspin of a crazy-lady rant. I will include, at full length, the words of Gordon O'Connor, Conservative Whip, on M-312 from Hansard.  Why not Hedy or one of the other more typical quotables on such a topic? Because O'Connor's decimation of the bill was breathtaking, and has to irk the anti-choice followers of this blog more than the typical lefty complaints. So I throw Mr. O'Connor's words back at you while at the same time I ask with all sincerity, why, why are you following me on Twitter, you BSC anti-choicers? Why? Could you spend just a little of your zealotry on doing something about the Omnibus Budget Bill? I suspect this is too much to ask. I know, you have fetuses to save. Everything else has to wait. Even women's rights. But if you've come this far, read Mr. O'Connor's words again, and again, and again until they finally seep into your fetus-obsessed brains. He is, after all, on your side, at least in general terms. And thank you Mr. O'Connor for reminding us that there are moments of sanity in the Conservative Party, brief, (very brief) shining moments that give me hope, tiny glimpses of hope. Perhaps you can knock some sense into your colleagues over the Omnibus Budget Bill. Someone has to.

And now, without further delay, I bring you, Gordon O'Connor.
Madam Speaker, I offer my response to Motion No. 312. The issue before us, in essence, is on what it is to be human. This has been debated as long as man has existed. Scientists, theologians, philosophers and doctors have all offered opinions.

The House of Commons, however, is not a laboratory. It is not a house of faith, an academic setting or a hospital. It is a legislature, and a legislature deals with law, specifically, in this case, subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code.

The purpose of Motion No. 312, which we are considering today, is to open to question the validity of subsection 223(1), which asserts that a child becomes a human being only at the moment of complete birth. If the legal definition of when one becomes a human being were to be adjusted so that a fetus is declared to be a legal person at some earlier stage of gestation, then the homicide laws would apply. As a necessary consequence, aborting fetal development anywhere in the potentially new adjusted period would be considered homicide. Thus the ultimate intention of this motion is to restrict abortions in Canada at some fetal development stage.

It should be noted that subsection 223(1) currently states that a child becomes a human being when it has completely proceeded in a living state from the body of its mother, irrespective of whether it has breathed, whether it has circulation separate from its mother, or whether the umbilical cord has been severed.

The effect of subsection 223(1) is to indicate the point in time at which homicide laws would apply. If someone intentionally injures a child before or during its birth such that it dies after becoming a human being, then the criminal law treats that as a homicide. This is set out in subsection 223(2).

According to section 238 of the Criminal Code, when an injury is inflicted on a child in the act of birth and that injury prevents the child from becoming a human being, it is an indictable offence and is punishable by a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

I would note as well that this offence, killing an unborn child in the act of birth, section 238, does not apply if a person acts in good faith to preserve the life of the mother and in so doing causes the death of the unborn child. That is set out in subsection 238(2).

For clarity, I wish to point out that section 223(1) provides a legal test as to when Canada's criminal homicide laws apply to the death of a child. I say again, it is not a medical test, as Motion No. 312 suggests. It has always been part of Canada's criminal law, and it reflects the well-established legal principle that the law does not recognize a fetus or unborn child as a legal person, possessing rights separate from its mother, until it is born alive.

The Supreme Court of Canada has affirmed this interpretation for the purposes of the Criminal Code. The Supreme Court has also declared that the right to liberty guarantees a degree of personal autonomy over important decisions intimately affecting private life. The decision of 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 and take precedence over that of the state.

This does not mean, however, that abortion is unregulated in Canada. Abortion is regulated through provincial governments' responsibility for the delivery of health care services in conjunction with the medical profession. All provincial and territorial colleges of physicians and surgeons have declared that abortion is a medically necessary procedure, and delivery of this medical service is regulated accordingly.

Abortion is a very serious and long-lasting decision for women, and I want all women to continue to live in a society in which decisions on abortion can be made, one way or the other, with advice from family and a medical doctor and without the threat of legal consequences. I do not want women to go back to the previous era where some were forced to obtain abortions from illegal and medically dangerous sources. This should never happen in a civilized society.

Whether one accepts it or not, abortion is and always will be part of society. There will always be dire situations in which some women may have to choose the option of abortion. No matter how many laws some people may want government to institute against abortion, abortion cannot be eliminated. It is part of the human condition.

I cannot understand why those who are adamantly opposed to abortion want to impose their beliefs on others by way of the Criminal Code. There is no law that says that a woman must have an abortion. No one is forcing those who oppose abortion to have one.

Within the free and democratic society of Canada, if one has a world view based on a personal moral code that is somewhat different from others, then live according to those views as long as they are within the current laws. On the other hand, citizens who are also living within the reasonable limits of our culture and who may not agree with another's particular moral principles should not be compelled to follow them by the force of a new law.

As we know, Motion No. 312 is sponsored by a private member, not the government. I can confirm that as a member of the Conservative caucus for nearly eight years, the Prime Minister has been consistent with his position on abortion. As early as 2005 at the Montreal convention and in every federal election platform since, he has stated that the Conservative government will not support any legislation to regulate abortion. While the issue may continue to be debated by some, as in the private member's motion here tonight, I state again that the government's position is clear: it will not reopen this debate.

I am sure we all recognize that the issue of abortion raises strongly held and divergent views within and outside Parliament. However, I firmly believe that each of us should be able to pursue our lifestyle as long as it is within the boundaries of law and does not interfere with the actions of others. Trying to amend the legal rules governing abortion, as is intended by this motion, will not improve the situation. It will only lead to increased conflict as the attempt is made to turn back the clock.

Society has moved on and I do not believe this proposal should proceed. As well, it is in opposition to our government's position. Accordingly I will not support Motion No. 312. I will vote against it and I recommend that others oppose it.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

What Winning Looks Like in Reproductive Rights

This is what winning looks like when it comes to reproductive rights. Here is a lovely article describing how teen pregnancy and abortion rates in Canada dropped 36.9% between 1996 and 2006. 36.9%! Wow. If anything deserves my most seldom used punctuation mark, the exclamation mark, this does.

The study is from the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada and Alexander McKay, one of the reports' authors, credits this incredible decline to Canada's "balanced, sensible approach to adolescent sexual health." McKay says that, "Generally speaking what you find is that the more a society has an accepting attitude toward the reality of adolescent sexuality, the lower the teen pregnancy rate is. Canadians tend to have a more relaxed attitude towards adolescent sexuality than people in the United States.” Canada has a teen birth and abortion rate per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19, of 27.9% while the United States' rate is 61.2%. The United States' emphasis on abstinence only education has clearly not worked. This coupled with a lack of universal health care and poverty have meant higher teen birth rates. McKay says, "The United States has large, well-entrenched pockets of inner city poverty and that clearly is linked to higher teen pregnancy rates." Further, he notes “In those communities where young women feel optimistic about their educational and employment opportunities, the [teen pregnancy rates] tends to be lower.”

There is a lot of good news in this story. This is what winning looks like. This is what success in the pro-choice movement looks like.

Here is another success story. Teens in Toronto can now simply text for accurate information on sexuality, thanks to a new program by Planned Parenthood. Their new text messaging service lets teens connect directly with trained peer volunteers for personalized answers to their sexual health questions via text message. Fantastic! (Another exclamation mark!)

Access to accurate and timely information on sexuality and unrestricted access to the full range of reproductive health services from contraception to abortion allows women to reproduce consciously and willingly. This is a good thing.

All of us who are involved in the reproductive rights movement in Canada need to take a few minutes of joy from this study. Good work.

Winning goes far beyond the necessary defeat of ridiculous motions like 312 and the short term battles we are sometimes forced to fight with those who wish to take us backwards. This summer, once again we will have to witness what the anti-choice are all about. They have announced something they are calling the "new" abortion caravan. Co-opting and perverting the message of the original Abortion Caravan of the 1970s, the very same Abortion Caravan that contributed to de-criminalizing abortion in Canada, they are going to send a fleet of  fetus-mobiles across our great country, offending as they go, and try to take us backwards. It's going to be an ugly summer of bloody fetus porn and misinformation. I have no doubt that the insanity of this particular tactic will send people running from them. Sometimes they make it so easy.

In their fights against access to health services and their spreading of misinformation, the anti-choice show us what losing looks like. Their despicable and offensive tactics, their insistence on limiting access to information, their preference for abstinence only education, their desire to bring an end to all abortion, will only increase teen pregnancies and the abortion rate. They want to drag us into American style culture wars, those endless and embarrassing assaults on human rights. It's hard for me to understand how they can't comprehend the evidence that is in front of them.

Winning comes from sustained work to improve access, work that has taken place over decades, work that included the real Abortion Caravan, work that is done in doctors' offices and clinic offices and in Planned Parenthoods and affiliated sexual health organizations, in the Bay Centre for Birth Control and in the Calgary Sexual Health Centre, in advocacy organizations like Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada and in research by the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada. This is the long term work that we have done, work that is demonstrating long term, positive, results including a decline in abortion rates.

This is the work that helps all of us win.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Is M-312 nothing but a Distraction from the Omnibus Budget Bill?

Sometimes it's hard to tell if Art is imitating Life or Life is imitating Art.

Canadian Playwright Michael Healey wrote a satirical play called "Proud" which is about a fictional Prime Minister who bears a remarkable resemblance to Stephen Harper. The Globe and Mail published an excerpt of "Proud" in which the PM asks a backbencher to put forward a pro-life bill to distract Canadians from his real agenda. Oh dear. As soon as I read it, I felt the truth of it. That's the great thing about fiction, how it can sometimes get at truth that, ironically, non-fiction can't reach. 

Meanwhile, in real life, here we are waiting for the second hour of debate on an anti-choice motion being floated by a backbencher, Motion M-312, while Stephen Harper pushes through Bill C-38, a bill that changes so much in Canada it boggles the mind. This bill has everything but the kitchen sink in it. Besides a budget which apparently is buried in it somewhere, here is a partial list of what
Bill C-38 includes: 

  • massive changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. According to Davis LLP, this is "one of the most fundamental shifts in Canada’s regulatory and environmental policy in its history." This is the part of the bill that seems to have attracted the most attention. A close reading of this bill indicates the Harper government really has a hate on for anything "environmental."
  • amendments to 60 different acts, including changes that weaken and undermine the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act,  the Energy Board Act, the Species at Risk Act, and the Nuclear Safety Control Act (the latter two described in earlier links)
  • cuts to water programs and the monitoring of effluent. See the Green Party for more on this.
  • the end of the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy
  • severe cuts to ecological oversight and research at Parks Canada and many cultural and heritage programs. As one Parks employee put it in an article by Anne McIlroy, this is a "lobotomy" of the parks system.
  • the end of the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy
  • the end of several acts including the Fair Wages and Hours of Work Act
  • cuts to workers' eligibility for Employment Insurance. If this passes, if a worker on EI won't take a job, any job, that the Minister of Human Resources deems suitable for them, they will no longer receive benefits. In the past, workers have been able to look for work in their field and work at a comparable salary to what they had. Laid off from a high tech firm as a software developer? Get used to the phrase, "Would you like fries with that?"
  • the removal of independent oversight from 12 key government agencies—including the Northern Pipeline Agency, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Canada Revenue Agency
  • changes that give final say over pipeline project approvals to Conservative cabinet ministers regardless of environmental impacts
  • changes that exclude concerned citizens from assessments of major projects like the Enbridge pipeline
  • the end of access to primary health care for refugee claimants
  • the implementation of controversial changes to pension eligibility, meaning Canadians will not retire until age 67
  • implementation of yet another round of cuts into the CBC, this after the CBC has already undergone one round of cuts, and ironically, at a time when the organization seems to be doing quite well with the public according to former president, Richard Stursberg
  • the end of audits of internal government departments while $8M is added to audit capacity to harass charities suspected of political advocacy
  • changes the regulations in agriculture, including how downer cows are assessed and whether they can be put back into the food system. In the past dead cows were excluded from the food chain. Now, apparently, someone will glance at them and decide it they are fit to eat, throw them in the back of a truck and add them to the live cows that go into the slaughterhouses. The bill paves the way for private contractors to perform food safety inspections. This change particularly grossed me out. I might become a vegetarian after all.

As Andrew Coyne recently wrote in the National Post, "Omnibus bills are not unknown.... But lately the practice has been to throw together all manner of bills involving wholly different responsibilities of government in one all-purpose “budget implementation” bill, and force MPs to vote up or down on the lot. While the 2012 budget implementation bill is hardly the first in this tradition, the scale and scope is on a level not previously seen, or tolerated." He goes on to say, "There is no common thread that runs between [items in the bill], no overarching principle; they represent not a single act of policy, but a sort of compulsory buffet."

There has been critique, of course. Elizabeth May calls it "The Environmental Destruction Act." Many are noting how the bill is bad for democracy because it rolls so much into one bill, limits the time for debate, obfuscates the individual issues by slipping them into a bill too long to really comprehend, that it guts environmental protection and so on. The NDP tried to get the bill split up so some of these radical changes could be considered individually, but the CONs have a majority, so this will not happen.

But Canadians are all sleeping through this.

In a recent column, Richard Poplak writes that with Omnibus Bill C-38, we are at the cusp of a moment in history. Canadians have to decide if they will protest this bill, a bill that is sure to pass with a majority CON government. As Poplak says, "Good policies? Bad policies? Doesn't matter. Properly, each of those items should be sent to committees and considered individually. That's how our system is designed to work. What the Conservatives have engineered isn't illegal, merely rotten - another in a long line of tricks defiling the democratic process." Proroguing Parliament comes to mind. While I personally agree with ending the production of the penny (another item in this bill), even this should see some debate. That's what Parliament is for. But in Harper's government, a government allergic to transparency according to Poplak, our Parliamentary tradition of debating key public issues is dead.

Meanwhile, what is being debated? Motion 312. A distraction, for sure. And we are protesting it with all of our strength and capacity. And protest it we must, because if I don't have control of my body, little else matters. But, if the CONs really wanted a personhood bill, they would have thrown it in with C-38. Just sayin'. That is why I am convinced that M-312 is exactly what Healey describes in "Proud," an attempt to distract us from the real agenda.

So much to protest, so little time.

And here's another meanwhile. Meanwhile, in Quebec, the students protest tuition increases. As Poplak notes, this is one of the biggest protests we've ever seen in Canada, in a province with a history of protest. Now going far beyond the original issue, the protest has become a more broad scale renunciation of the Charest's government attempts to infringe on personal freedoms and the right to express dissent. Quebec students are showing us the way.

We need to Occupy this.

Go petitions has a sad little petition with about a hundred signatures on it right now. Avaaz has one that is attempting to reach 500. Sad. Change.org has one that hasn't met 200 names yet. Honestly, what is wrong with us?   Here's a link to the Green Party's petition, one that you print, sign and send in. Maybe they are doing better. And anyway, hard copy petitions mean more in Parliament, so Go Green. But for heaven's sake, protest this bill. If you have time to protest M-312, take an extra minute to do something about Bill C-38. Please. It matters.

Now, to finish the story of Healey and "Proud." When Tarragon theatre in Toronto, a theatre to which Healey had been playwright-in-residence for eleven years, refused to produce the play on the grounds that it may be libellous and defamatory to the real Prime Minister, Healey resigned from Tarragon. As a recent article in the Globe and Mail described the situation, "A playwright writes a play about a famously controlling prime minister with a reputation for punishing people who cross him, only to have the play refused by producers who fear being punished by the famously controlling prime minister."

I hope  Michael Healey finds the cash to produce "Proud." May I be so bold to suggest that like me, when you can't find a producer, DIY. Sometimes, it's the only way to get your work out there. I think this is a play Canadians need to see and I hope I get the opportunity to see it.

While Healey works on that, the rest of us can put together some DIY activism. Get busy.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Next debate on M 312 scheduled

ARCC has confirmed that the second hour of debate on M 312 is now scheduled for June 8, with a vote scheduled for June 13.

Okey dokey.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Danielle Smith and the politics of division

Just for fun, and because there is nothing as satisfying as saying "I told you so," let's have a look at Danielle Smith in the media. The way she is spinning her problems now is enacting not just one but two of the things I've talked about in this blog before. One, she says "urban elites" are against her. We can assume the addition of "elite" to urban makes it derogatory, because in the right wing world, there can be nothing worse than being elite, reading Harper's in an independent coffee shop while drinking a non-fat chai latte, or having the kind of social and cultural analysis that can be gained through a Liberal Arts education. Here she goes again with the narratives of persecution. I can't help thinking it's not that smart to point out that smart people don't like you much. The second problem she is once again enacting is her tendency to blame the media. As I've said before, bad policy results in negative media attention; it's not a liberal plot. And in this case, bad policy also resulted in a poor election performance. It's not the urban elites or a liberal bias in media that brought down Danielle Smith. In fact, if we were to go back and study the election coverage, there is a case to be made that if there was media bias, it was favourable to Smith. I also had a good laugh when, the day after the election, Smith admitted she and her party might have to take a second look at their policies. Not their fundamental beliefs mind you, just their policies. I'd suggest you all take a few Liberal Arts courses and look at your beliefs too.

Of course, there is one other I told you so to be had, and that is never mess with abortion in Canadian politics. After the Wildrose loss and the decimation of Stephen Woodworth in Federal Parliament over M312, maybe we will finally be able to move on from this divisive strategy. It is never appropriate to threaten the rights of a whole group of people. All of us in Canada should be secure in our rights whether we are women or gay or immigrants or Liberal Arts students. On that, here is my recap of what abortion meant in the Alberta Election in an April 30 guest blog of mine on Abortion Gang. Of course the media is concentrating on the "bozo eruptions" of the homophobic Hunsperger and the Caucasian Ron Leech as well as Smith's own bizarro decision to out herself as a climate change denier when they tell the story of the fall of the Wildrose. But we all know where it started - abortion, conscience rights and the promise to shut down the Alberta Human Rights Commission. It was this trifecta of issues that created the first chink in the Wildrose armour.

I'm hoping we're past playing the politics of division. Perhaps as long as we have a first past the post system the politics of divide and conquer will win out. But a girl can dream.