March 8, 2011 was International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the accomplishments of women and to contemplate the current political, economic and sociological situations of females across the globe. In Canada, we have in recent years chosen the theme “Strong Leadership. Strong Women. Strong World: Equality.” While much has been attained in the name of equality over the last century, bills tabled in the United States and a Conservative political push here in Canada undermine women’s rights.
The election of a Republican house in the U.S. has brought about several worrisome bill proposals that highlight the anti-abortion beliefs of the conservatives and fundamentalists in America. Despite the legal right to abortion according by Roe v. Wade in 1973, access to abortions has been severely restricted in rural America and in so-called “red” states for years. In that vein, the recent Republican bill to withdraw federal funds from Planned Parenthood, despite the fact that government assistance is not provided for abortions at Planned Parenthood, bills legalizing vigilante justice in Nebraska (LB 232) and South Dakota (HB1171), and the murder of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas in 2009 highlight a push from conservative America to control a woman’s right to bodily autonomy.
In Canada, John Ibbitson notes in the Globe and Mail that critics of Prime Minister Harper worry that, if elected to a majority, “the right to abortion [ . . . ] would be reversed,” as Harper is quoted as saying “I don’t believe the party should have a position on abortion,” a position decried as showing “a lack of respect for the reproductive rights of women” by Neil Boyd in the Vancouver Sun.
Even anecdotally, abortion is still painted in a negative light and misunderstood, as recent comments to Rolling Stone by a woefully uneducated Justin Bieber make clear: “It’s [abortion] like killing a baby.” And in the case of rape? “I think that’s really sad, but everything happens for a reason. [ . . . ] I guess I haven’t been in that position, so I wouldn’t be able to judge that.” That a 16-year-old in our society seemingly does not comprehend that abortion is not murder nor empathize with victims of rape enough to allow them to control their own bodies — especially after losing it through trauma — speaks to the dangerous rhetoric spouted by the those in the anti-abortion movement.
So, what can we do to honour the centennial celebration of International Women’s Day? Be educated, vocal and mobilized. Know the facts about reproductive rights. For example, abortion is a common surgical procedure: 14.1 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 were performed in Canada in 2005, or 28.3 abortions per 100 live births. Engage in productive, open, and well-informed conversations about abortion and access to reproductive planning with your counterparts. Seek out groups who support the rights of women.
Abortion is not an easy topic; while one can be anti-abortion, I posit that no one is pro-abortion. We should, however, be pro-choice. Pro-choice means allowing women to make decisions about their own bodies, whether it be termination of a pregnancy or not. It implies that we believe women are capable of making the proper and necessary decisions for themselves.
Ultimately, being pro-choice and standing firm in this belief is an issue of equality, insofar as it is a recognition that women have equal ability to assert bodily autonomy. I hope that March 8, 2011 marked the beginning of the end of the pointless debating of what is already a right for women in our country and signal a transition to the cultivation of support for women in reproductive decisions, whatever they may be, with education and access to all services for all who seek them.
Morgan Craig is a proud feminist, staunch environmentalist and a M.Sc. student in mathematics.