Archive by Author

Abortion stories are valuable

11 Jul

An article in the Toronto Star by Judith Timson titled Abortion Tell-alls are a Trap argues that there is little point in the new trend of women telling their abortion story because,

No matter how moving your story is, many will argue your abortion was unnecessary and evil and you’re a murderer. Abortion stories don’t seem to change the minds of opponents. If anything, they harden their stances.

Although I agree abortion stories will not change the minds of hardened anti-choicers, I unequivocally disagree with her conclusion that tell-alls are “traps.”  Pro-choicers are not seeking to change the minds of hard-core antis.  By “telling-all” we are seeking to get “neutral” people to understand why women have abortions, and to care about women’s rights.  The more people understand the intricacies of abortion, and the more people they know who have abortions, the more likely they are to become involved, either by voting for pro-choice candidates, or writing them.  The more likely they are to care.

Reproductive and abortion rights for women will not come until the majority of the population demands it. Citizens will not demand abortion rights unless they understand why women have abortions.  I agree with Timson that limiting stories to heart-wrenching fetal abnormality stories results in limited-exception based abortion rights, which is not the goal, or at least not my goal. What this means is that rather than discouraging women from talking about their abortion by describing it as a “trap,” we should be encouraging women who had abortions because they were not ready for a(nother) child to tell their stories as well.

Statistically, women who have an abortion because they do not want/can’t have a(nother) child became pregnant in the first place despite taking precautions.  Birth control fails and society needs to understand that these women are not “irresponsible.”  If individuals know a woman who had an abortion under these circumstances, chances are they will understand that woman’s reason.  Even antis understand that! Abortion statistics do not differentiate based on religion or necessarily on ones status as pro- or anti-choice.  Antis have abortions too and as Timson notes, many of those men in the legislature voting for restrictive abortion rights know a woman, be it their wife, daughter, or mistress, who had an abortion.  If even antis can accept the abortion of a loved one as moral, why can’t society as a whole?

That is the reason why all abortion stories are valuable, including the ones where a woman was on birth control, and those where she was not.  If you learn that a person you love and respect accidentally became pregnant, either due to a birth control failure or a failure to take birth control and you can understand whyshe did it, then you are one step closer to understanding why other women in the same circumstances had their abortions.  The more you understand and sympathize with women you know who had an abortion, the easier it is to accept that it is every woman’s right to choose, no matter the circumstances.  Women’s abortion stories normalize abortions in all circumstances.

Even if you do not accept any of my other arguments, I think you will agree that when a woman tells her story of a failure to take birth control, her story will reach another woman in the same situation who was hiding in shame and absorbed with guilt.  That story, while perhaps pissing off the antis and hardening their stances (like we care…), that story may reach another woman and she may no longer feel alone.  We cannot overlook the power of every woman’s story to reach another woman in the same circumstance who does not have any support network.

And while I do also agree with Timson that no woman should ever share her story if she is not ready or willing, I do not believe in telling the women who do want to tell their story that it is all for naught; that it is a trap. Abortion stories are the furthest thing from a trap, and are in fact infinitely valuable.

When I retire

20 Mar

Today I dropped off half a dozen protest signs that I had made 2 years ago at the home of a woman I know loosely from the pro-choice movement. I had “advertised” that the signs were free to a good home because my full-time job prevents me from attending protests these days. They were well made and in good shape and I wanted them to be used. She joked that attending pro-choice protests was her “retirement job.” I was about to reply that I hoped I had a retirement job as awesome as protesting, but I stopped myself.

In 40-odd years when I retire, I do not want there to be a need for me to protest. I want a abortion rights to be so ingrained in our culture that I can sit back and enjoy my retirement. The thought that in 40 years that may not be the case is absolutely horrifying. How much longer can we continue to fight for abortion rights? It has already been decades and some days it feels as we are moving backwards, particularly in the United States, where abortion bans continue to apply to earlier and earlier pregnancies, and involve increasingly onerous hurdles for women. Here in Canada, backbench CPC MPs continue to hide abortion bans by touting them as bills to “protect” women, including sex-selection abortion bills. Despite the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, stating emphatically that the abortion debate would not be re-opened while he is Prime Minister, I cannot recall a more active time for abortion-restricting bills than the last few years. So far they have all been unsuccessful because our pro-choice community ruthlessly attacks the underlying premise of each of them, but how long must we continue?

How much longer will we have women (and men) who retire to spend their free time protesting events all over the province? These are the men and women who remember when women were dying from botched abortions, many who actually knew somebody who died. What will happen when the only activists remaining are those who were not alive when there were wards designated to care for women dying from a back alley abortion? I am certainly not suggesting that the activists who do not remember those days are any less committed, but the women and men who do remember those days will most certainly pass away before my generation retires and has time to attend protests full-time.

In 40 years, my Canada will be one where a woman’s inalienable right to choice will be questioned by so few in society that they are dismissed as whackos. In 40 years my Canada will be one where youth have never attended at a pro-choice rally because it was unnecessary; because women have had the undeniable right to abortion for so long that they do not recall a time when it was in dispute, just as I do not recall a time when it was illegal. In 40 years, when I retire, my Canada will be pro-choice.

The Trouble with Privilege

30 Aug

The trouble with privilege is that until somebody explains it to you, you don’t know you have it. And even when somebody explains it to you, sometimes you are too scared to admit that you are wrong, and you refuse to accept that you have it. Privilege is many things wrapped up into one, big arrogant ball.

Privilege is what allows men like Akin to make comments like “legitimate rape.” It’s what allows the rich to say success is all about hard work. It’s what allows heterosexuals to say that sexuality is a choice. It’s what allows white folks to ignore the correlation between skin colour, poverty, and rates of incarceration. It’s what allows anti-choicers to say that unplanned pregnancies are a result of “irresponsibility,” and then turn around and get abortions because it wasn’t their fault they ended up with an unplanned pregnancy. Privilege is what allows people to walk through this world viewing everything as black and white and pretending that their lives are successful because of the choices they made, and that the lives of the less fortunate are that way because they made bad choices. Arrogance is what allows those same people who end up in a bad spot blame somebody else for their circumstances, while still blaming those in their situation for their circumstances.

The trouble with privilege is that it is insidious. Unless you are watching for it, privilege sneaks into your thought processes and you never even know it. The trouble with identifying privilege is that it forces you to change your entire worldview; to abolish a belief system that you have held for decades; to accept that you are a white, successful, middle-class+ individual with a home, a good job, and money for vacations in large part because of blind dumb luck. Luck that you were born in a wealthy country and not an impoverished one. Luck that you were born with the privileges associated with being white, rather than the barriers that come with being black or latino. Luck that you were born a man and not a woman because your chance: of an unplanned pregnancy is zero, of being raped is slim, of being paid less for equal work is low, of having your body more regulated than food production is unlikely, or of being made to feel that you are less human than a collection of cells is unfathomable. Continue reading

The Privilege of Having it All

23 Jul

The other day I read this really great article by Anne-Marie Slaughter, titled Why Women Still Can’t Have it All. Ms. Slaughter worked in Washington and after a less than 2 years doing a job that she loved, she quit. Despite having a supportive husband, her family could no longer cope with her absence during the week. She decided that she could no longer compromise the lives of her two teenage sons and her husband for her career. She outlined some of the borderline-hostile comments she received from other women, including telling her she could not write an article with such a title. But she did and I’m glad.

When her commitment to her profession was challenged it “triggered a blind fury.” She realized that,

“I’d been on the other side of this exchange. I’d been the woman smiling the faintly superior smile while another woman told me she had decided to take some time out or pursue a less competitive career track so that she could spend more time with her family. I’d been the woman congratulating herself on her unswerving commitment to the feminist cause, chatting smugly with her dwindling number of college or law-school friends who had reached and maintained their place on the highest rungs of their profession. I’d been the one telling young women at my lectures that you can have it all and do it all, regardless of what field you are in. Which means I’d been part, albeit unwittingly, of making millions of women feel that they are to blame if they cannot manage to rise up the ladder as fast as men and also have a family and an active home life (and be thin and beautiful to boot). (emphasis added)

Since earning the ‘right’ to have a career, women have spent the last decades trying to prove that they can be a good mother and wife, and career woman. They have put pressure on themselves, and each other, to do two full-time jobs as if they have something to prove to society (and themselves and each other). Women who focus on their families at the often short-term expense of their careers are often viewed as just not committed enough.

Ms. Slaughter does an excellent job of deconstructing the notion of “having it all” so I am going to leave that to her. Where I want to step in is discussing an egregious display of male privilege.

Continue reading

The Abortion ‘Debate’ and Refusing to Engage

28 May

Anti-choice Canadians are likely feeling pretty heady right now with Stephen Woodworth’s Motion-312, which seeks to examine when a fetus becomes a human being within the meaning of the Criminal Code. Despite being absolutely trounced in the House of Commons during the first hour of debate, the antis may be down but they are certainly not out. Round 2 is Thursday June 7, and the vote is June 13. We cannot let our guard down yet.

Woodworth asks pro-choicers what are we “afraid of,” why are we afraid of the “truth” since all he proposes is that we “look at the evidence.” As NDP MP Boivin pointed out, this would be the first time that the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) would be interested in evidence and science. Well I am here to tell Mr. Woodworth that I am not afraid of the evidence, I am not afraid of the ‘debate’, and I would be happy to ‘debate’ him, if only he would agree to stay away from logical fallacies, references to religion/god, and actually look at the evidence.

Antis have taken to quoting Madame Justice Bertha Wilson, who wrote the decision for the majority in the R. v. Morgentaler in 1988, the case that declared Canada’s abortion restriction unconstitutional. Despite finding that the criminalization of abortion was unconstitutional, she left the door open for Parliament to legislation when she wrote,

I think s. 1 of the Charter authorizes reasonable limits to be put upon the woman’s right having regard to the fact of the developing foetus within her body. The question is: at what point in the pregnancy does the protection of the foetus become such a pressing and substantial concern as to outweigh the fundamental right of the woman to decide whether or not to carry the foetus to term?

Antis have jumped on this as “support” from feminist ally Justice Wilson to restrict later term abortions, or at least have a ‘debate’ about them. Andrew Coyne of the National Post, in criticizing pro-choicer’s staunch “defence of the status quo” wrote,

…it is dishonest to pretend [R. v. Morgentaler] means the matter has been settled, now and forever, or that dissenters from the status quo are, by definition, extremists.

He has unfortunately missed a glaring fact: when Justice Wilson wrote that decision she could not have anticipated that almost 25 years later Canada would still have no abortion law and that statistics would show that 90% of abortions occur between 0 and 12 weeks, 9% between 12 and 20 weeks, and only 0.4% after 20 weeks. When she wrote that she could foresee limitations on later term abortions, she could not have known that women could be trusted to make the correct moral decision relating to termination. I can only speculate as to whether Justice Wilson would have made that statement had she known that abortions after 20 weeks are incredibly rare but I can certainly criticize those who, knowing those facts, still continue to quote her when suggesting that not having the ‘debate’ is ‘anti-democratic,’ as Mr. Coyne does.

Continue reading

Atheists: Natural Allies of Abortion Rights Activists

11 Apr

I am an unashamed and vocal atheist and have been for a couple of years now. I believe that the atheist community is a natural ally to abortion rights activists, but it is an often overlooked community.

Over the past couple years, atheists, particularly in the US, have become more vocal and visible. There have been dozens of bus ads and billboard ad campaigns by local atheist groups. The task of these campaigns has been to simply let our presence be known. A recent Canadian study showed that the public, as a whole, trusts atheists and rapists about the same (shocking, right?). This study is part of the reason that there has been such a drive to improve our profile. The goal is twofold: 1) to encourage “closet” atheists to “come out,” and 2) to show the public that we are normal people, who just happen to believe in god less than they do. Most importantly, we are not trying to “convert” people.

Atheist groups are often engaged in dogged enforcement of separation of church and state. The biggest problem for abortion rights activists is that the church is continually interfering with the state, and many politicians are incapable of grasping the simple concept of their separation. That is what led to this photograph, which included three men in religious garb on a panel of five men debating whether forcing an insurer to pay for birth control violated religious rights.

If abortion rights activists were able to remove religion and the church from the political sphere, we would be much more successful in improving access to abortion and contraception. Planned Parenthood is under attack from the religious right. The religious right are the ones equating birth control use with promiscuity, and abortion with murder. In the atheist/secular community, there are more certainly anti-choicers, but when they pop up on discussion boards, they are mercilessly criticized. Atheists love one thing above all else – logic. At a minimum, the majority understand that legal and safe abortion is necessary to save women’s lives because without it, women will resort to unsafe abortion methods. Even if they would consider themselves “personally pro-life,” they understand at a minimum that making abortion illegal does nothing to stop it. They know that access to comprehensive sex-education and contraception is imperative to lower unwanted pregnancies. Atheists accept statistics and logic, and that is why the majority support all of the things that abortion rights activists support; abortion access, contraception accesscomprehensive sex-education, etc.

By no means is the secular community without its misogynists. There have been a few major kerfuffles, the least of which involved many of the (mainly male) secular community backing up a guy who relentlessly hit on a lone girl in an elevator at a secular conference, despite her requests that he stop. And when she published a video about the incident on her blog, the community went ape shit. Fortunately, the prominent “leaders” of the community, for the most part, consider themselves feminists and they backed up the victim. PZ Meyers of Pharyngula, Hemant Metha of Friendly Atheist, and Jen McCreight of Blag Hag, to name a few, were vocal supporters of a woman’s right to say ‘no’ and to have that respected. Unfortunately, this is in stark contrast to the leaders of mainstream religious organizations, who are no friends of feminists, as we all know.

I truly am not trying to attack religion. I know that there are a great many religious individuals who support abortion rights, including members of this blog. I simply believe that the abortion rights community needs to work with, or at least learn from, secular groups. The secular community is very good at fighting religious interference with state business, and we need their expertise if we want any abortion rights at all. The state has unlimited resources to torment women, and the Republicans have not only spent 2011 pursuing their “war on women,” but they are poised to return women to the dark ages, with the assistance of the churches and religious leaders. We must utilize our natural allies. The secular community is just as motivated to keep the church out of schools and public office as we are to keep them out of our uteri.

The atheist and secular communities are the natural allies of abortion rights activists and it is time for us to cultivate this relationship. We desperately need the assistance of secular groups to keep government out of our vaginas.

Misogyny in Motion 312

26 Mar

Canadian politicians have recently become emboldened enough to revisit the “abortion debate.” Kitchener-Centre MP Stephen Woodworth has been granted 1 hour of debate on April 26, and another hour in the spring or fall, after which there will be a vote on Motion 312. Motion 312 is a back door attempt to regulate abortion by convening a committee to decide when a fetus becomes a human being. Currently in Canada, a fetus becomes a human being once it has left the birth canal, whether or not the umbilical cord is cut. Mr. Woodworth couldn’t even come up with a name for his motion, so I’ve dubbed it Motion 312: When a Woman is Stripped of her Autonomy. Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada has started a name-that-motion poll, so email them a suggestion.

After the 2 hours of debate, the House of Commons will vote on whether to send it to a committee made up of 12 MPs. No, ‘MP’ is not short for ‘Medical Professional.’ This committee will be made up of 12 politicians, most likely the majority of them will be men, unlikely to contain many, if any doctors (there are 2 female doctor MPs that I am aware of), and the majority of them will be from the Conservative Party. They will debate amongst themselves when the law should give humanity to a fetus, and strip a woman of hers. Canadians, please write your MP a letter telling them that you oppose this Motion and that they should too! ARCC has provided a sample letter. ARCC has also prepared great counter-arguments to the motion.

You have likely already heard of the Government Free VJJ project. The group is neither pro-choice nor anti-choice, but simply wants to provide men in government with their very own plush uterus or vagina so they can butt out of ours. If you can knit, they have patterns for knitting a uterus or vagina to send to your local uterus-obsessed politician. If there is a knitter who would like a sponsor, let us know because Abortion Gang would like to sponsor a uterus so we can raise some money for a local abortion fund in honour of an anti-choice politician. This is a great project for Canadians as well and there is a facebook group you can seek to join, Womb Swarm: Textile Artists Against Motion 312.

If you are interested in sponsoring a uterus, let us know and we’ll figure out a system. It would be awesome to send anti-choice, uterus-obsessed politicians a plush uterus and let them know some money was donated in their honour to Planned Parenthood or an abortion fund. So let’s turn a bad situation into a money raiser and piss off some antis!

Silencing Men

13 Feb

As a feminist I fight every day to demonstrate that I am not a misandrist. As any feminist knows, that is an uphill battle. It seems that feminism and misandry are synonyms for much of the population, and that really upsets me. In fact, my partner held the belief that feminist hate men before he met me. He quickly realized that is the furthest thing from the truth, but that was only because he met me. When I meet new men I like to get them to like me (as friends of course!) and then “drop the bomb,” so to speak, that I am a feminist. Many of them are usually shocked to hear that I have serious concerns with the family justice system too. Because I so strongly feel that the patriarchy hurts men, and that I love my feminist boyfriend, this next sentence hurts me.

I want to silence all the male voices in the abortion discussion.

Trust me, it hurts for me to write that. My partner is one of the biggest supporters of abortion rights there is. I know a great many men who are huge supporters of abortion rights and I so greatly appreciate their support. But I still want to silence their voices.

Abortion, as I have previously blogged, has become a hot topic in Canada recently. The major voices from the government for the anti-choice camp are Stephen Woodworth, Brad Trost, and Rod Bruinooge (there is one more but for the life of me can’t find the correct spelling of his name so we’ll leave it at 3). I’m sure you guessed what they have in common: they’re all MEN! The main anti-choice voices for the U.S. are also all men. In fact, the majority of persons in government who are anti-choice, are men. And none of them can get pregnant. The people who are making decisions that affect the lives of women, CAN’T EVEN GET PREGNANT!

And so, I want to silence the voices of all men. I am so tired of men giving their opinion about abortion. I am so tired of it that I am willing to sacrifice the voices of all the men who support women. I truly believe that if men were no longer allowed to speak on the topic of abortion, every country would be pro-choice. Anti-choice women get abortions too. Abortion crosses every religious, cultural, and political line. The only line it can’t cross is biological sex, and that is where the problem lies.

Of course there are anti-choice women, Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann being the two most prominent ones. I dislike them just as much as I dislike male anti-choicers, but something about a man, a person who could never fully appreciate the terror upon seeing a positive pregnancy test, a person who could walk away from a pregnancy if he so chose, a person who will never DIE in childbirth, something about him telling a woman that she should be forced to keep a pregnancy sends me into a rage.

It is that rage, that sense of complete and utter anger at a man telling me what I can and cannot do with my body that causes me to write that sentence, that causes me to want to silence all the male voices in the abortion discussion.

I know not everybody will agree with me, and that is okay. Some people view the male allies as more important than the male antis. I just happen to believe that if we take away the male voices, we will take away most of the antis. Our patriarchal society is based upon male control of women, and control of their bodies is key. I have decided that it’s time to take away male control. It’s time to silence male voices.

Human vs. Person: Conflating Terms

19 Jan

Abortion has recently become a hot topic (again) in Canada. Currently, the anti-choice contingent, lead by CPC MP Stephen Woodworth, has been asking why Canada denies that a fetus is human. In fact, they are claiming that abortion has nothing to do with it, they really just want Canada (and pro-choicers I presume) to acknowledge that a fetus is human. Here’s the thing: no pro-choicer I know denies that a fetus is human; we deny that it is a person. And there is a distinct difference.

“Human” can refer to so many things other than a person. Our cells are human. We have human emotions that aren’t experienced, as far as the current evidence shows, by other animals to the same degree as us. We have human culture and technology. “Human” is such a broad term that to suggest that a fetus is not human is really quite ridiculous. That being said, not all fetuses are human, just the ones that share human DNA. But DNA does not a person make.

A person is completely different from a human and although a person is also human, “human” is not necessarily a person. To suggest that they are synonyms is to conflate their meanings. People share a number of characteristics, which while not all are present in each person, most people will indeed share most of the characteristics. People have emotions and thoughts, they experience sensation, often through their 5 senses but not always. People have the capacity to learn, to form opinions, to have likes and dislikes. Even small infants and children have many of these qualities in at least a rudimentary sense. People also have individual bodies that are self-sustaining. When they are not self-sustaining, we have medical intervention that can take over to some extent, but when ultimately our bodies lose too much of their ability to self-sustain, we die.

This is the point at which the antis will point out conjoined twins; they enjoy conflating “fetus” with “conjoined twin.” The difference is that conjoined twins have at least some separation of their bodies. If they did not then they would be a parasitic fetus, or a fetus in fetu. Conjoined twins are two distinct individuals that share some organs. What is most important is that many conjoined twins are separated, or at least a separation is attempted. Unfortunately sometimes one, or both, die. There is (likely) no debate as to whether conjoined twins are individuals, but I don’t see huge protests and sums of money going into preventing their separation surgeries. I don’t see these parents harassed and tormented for the decision they are making, even when it is almost inevitable that one will die. To suggest that a fetus has more rights than a conjoined twin is to lose one’s grip with reality.

There is no equivalency to a fetus. A fetus is a fetus. It is not “like” anything else. To suggest otherwise is to conflate the meaning of both. Suggesting that pro-choicers deny that a fetus is human is disingenuous. I deny that a fetus is a person. I deny that it has a sufficient number of the characteristics that make a person a person to qualify it as such. Unfortunately, the antis in Canada are getting creative because they realize that abortion bans do not sit well with the majority of Canadians. Instead, they are attempting to frame the argument in ways that seem innocent and perhaps have even a “left wing flare,” but in fact are the complete opposite; they are backdoor attempts to start Canada down the slippery slope to abortion regulation. And I will not stand for it.

Update on Abortion News in Canada

3 Jan

Things in the abortion world in Canada are heating up. Progressives have re-engaged the public in Prince Edward Island, Canada’s tiny island province, with respect to the complete lack of abortion services on the Island. All women have to ship out for their abortion to either New Brunswick or Nova Scotia. The abortion is paid for if it is at a hospital, but not the travel costs. The current Liberal politicians (I use the word loosely…) have decided to chicken out keep the status quo rather than piss off the right-wing. I suspect we will hear from the new pro-choice group again soon.

Meanwhile in Ottawa, half a dozen (white, male) anti-choicers are screaming about Canada’s “400 year old law” (Newsflash: Canada is less than 200 years old!) and wanting to re-examine the discussion about the “rights for the unborn,” all the while expertly avoiding using the dreaded A-word. Canada’s current Prime Minister has promised not to re-open the abortion debate but everybody on the Left know he has something up his sleeve. Harper controls the Conservative caucus like Kim Jong-Il controlled North Korea. That is to say: nothing happens without his approval. The fact that half a dozen MPs have issued press releases over the past few months, decrying the state of “human rights” in Canada (ironic coming from the Government that happily handed over Afghan detainees knowing they would be tortured) because a fetus doesn’t become a baby until it is born and the umbilical cord is cut, means he is aware and tacitly approving. All these men are back-benchers, meaning they are not within his cabinet. As a result, I foresee Harper claiming his has no control over these men, which is utter bullshit.

If you are in the riding of one of these anti MPs, please send them a letter letting them know that women’s human rights are not up for discussion!

In other news, the Student Union at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton has denied club status to a ‘pro-life’ group (Warning: Links to anti-abortion LifeSite) on the basis that,

…it would be a “single issue” club with “political will or intention,” that it would be “contentious” and “inviting debate,” and that it would be a source of “misinformation” regarding “post-abortion counselling.”

So long as the Student Union applies this criteria across the board and is not simply finding a reason to deny this group, I am okay with the decision. But if they are simply fishing for reasons to deny them status, I think I have an issue with it. While they are not technically government, I do not believe that driving this group underground will be of any benefit. I would rather this group be out in the open where their stance can be openly criticized. If they are in fact engaging in misleading women though Crisis Pregnancy Centres or showing up at the Morgentaler Clinic in downtown to harass women, then good, deny them funding. But if they simply want to have members, meet and enjoy the benefits for being a club, then I disagree with the Student Union. Disagreeing with their ideas is not sufficient grounds for denying them status; they must behave in a manner that violates some universal code of conduct for clubs.

I am a big believer in free speech. While every right has its limits, denying club status to a group just because you disagree is not appropriate; free and open discussion is important. It will be interesting to see how this progresses.