You might as well answer the door, my child, the truth is furiously knocking.****
Truth: Many civil rights are being threatened.
Truth: Women’s rights are being threatened.
Truth: Reproductive rights are being threatened.
The truth is furiously knocking!
Abortion in Canada is legal at all stages of pregnancy, a right which is specifically protected by the Canada Health Act. True that in some rural and remote areas, access might be limited due to geography and scarcity of providers, but here in Canada there are no – zero – conditions or stipulations governing abortion. NONE! And yet the right to an abortion has never felt more in peril, more at risk, more dire a concern to me than now, in 2019.
In the words of the glorious Elizabeth May, we must never allow a single inch of retreat from the hard-earned rights of women in this country — not one inch.
I am acutely aware of how easy it is to disappoint people – my family, my friends and my readers – in writing an essay like this one, but the truth is, indeed, furiously knocking.
During my time at UTSC I attended the presentations of as many guest lecturers as possible – feminist activists and writers – hoping that I would become an enlightened feminist. Some of the most memorable of those speakers were Professors Conway and Davis and Margaret Atwood (author) and Florence Bird (journalist) – I still have all those lecture notes. I learned ever so much from these women, I am indeed a feminist but enlightenment, I’m afraid, remains elusive to this day.
A common theme of these speeches, and the clearest warning issued by these wise women was that the battle for women’s rights is not, likely never will be, over. That was forty plus years ago. Surely in those four decades things have changed. Haven’t they? The thoughtful answer is that they have and yet they have not.
Young women today are dispassionate about their reproductive rights, are not concerned that their right to an abortion is at risk, believing that it is enshrined, safe, untouchable. Their guard is down and that is just the opening needed by those who seek to eliminate this legal right.
Despite our Health Act protections, emboldened social conservatives, emboldened members of the religious right, and emboldened pro-life lobbyists are exerting enormous pressure on the Conservative Party of Canada to introduce (or enact – when elected) anti-abortion legislation, or at least to amend the current code. This is a party which, ‘though merely in the role of the official opposition, won the majority of the popular vote, even without much support in the vote-rich provinces of Ontario and Quebec. The leader of the Conservative Party of Canada declined to take a political stand for his strong and unwavering (even since the election) views on abortion (and same-sex marriage) which oversight, according to Peter MacKay, hung like a stinking albatross, around his neck. Should this minority government collapse, and should Mr. Scheer strengthen his stand, who knows how far the strong anti-abortion lobby may carry him in the next election.
Mr. Scheer wants Canadians to believe that access to abortion would remain unchanged under his leadership. It wouldn’t! The pro-life lobby, which helped him win the party’s leadership and funded much of his 2019 campaign expenses are already stumping for socially conservative candidates (collaborators) ahead of the next election.
Opposing women’s right to control our own bodies
is always the first step in every authoritarian regime.
I write this as a cautionary tale. The once relatively quiet undercurrent of anti-abortionists is now emboldened, and has become a very loud and active vortex. They are a society that not only strives to resist change but, in this case, one that is dedicated to reversing the change that has already taken place (legalized, unrestricted abortion).
All too clearly I can remember the abortion culture prior to the SCC’s 1988 decision. When I was at university, if a woman needed or wanted an abortion, the service cost a princely (in those days) thousand dollars. Cash only. In a plain, sealed envelope. The woman was driven to a motel on Kingston Road where she was met by the sketchiest of men, handed over her envelope, was blindfolded to protect the identity of the ‘doctor’ performing the abortion and led into the motel room. There, the bloody deed was done – without anesthetic – and without any followup whatsoever. And there were always complications. I promise you. Horrible, miserable, painful and sometimes lasting complications. I know this because I was the driver. On more than one occasion. What now is a basic right, with guaranteed dignity from the medical profession, was once an unnecessarily shameful and traumatic event.
Besides the travesties that occurred on Highway 2, I know of a woman who went all the way to Mexico for an abortion which yielded painful and lasting side effects, and a woman who, with no hope of raising the $1K, performed her own abortion with that nastiest of utensils, the coat hanger. That particular abortion placed this woman in hospital for over a month with bleeding, infection and mental complications galore. She never returned to class.
The point I am trying to make is that please, please do not assume that the powerful religious and social conservative values and militancy that destroyed the lives of so many of my uni friends have disappeared from Canadian society. These lobbyists have regrouped, reorganized and, now very well-funded, are on the rise and the attack once more – stronger than ever.
This renewed energy, this new emboldenment, traces back to the beginning of the Bully Pulpit Stateside, 9th November 2016 and a President who tweets and talks without filters or care for anyone but himself. His rhetoric rouses, incites and inflames the most marginalized of American citizens.
The invidious ackamarackus* spewed by this demagogue is carefully crafted to arouse fear, hatred, greed, protectionism, misogyny and racism. And it was – is – effective; so much so that his coterie has become impavid.** Emboldened.
Fast-forward to 7th June 2018 when Mr. Trump’s Mini Me was elected here in Ontario. This is an antagonistic leader who gained support, “my friends”, by appealing to the passions of the lowest common denominators. Not to Conservatives, nor to conservatives, but to the disenfranchised and lost souls on the political spectrum. Now they too are the Emboldened.
Si vis pacem, para bellum…
If you want peace, prepare for war. Or, in this case, if you do not want the Canadian abortion law amended in any way whatsoever, if you do not want to be defeated on the political battlefield, prepare for war. ‘Though Mr. Ford’s Kakistocracy*** cannot overturn federal law, he can (and will) impose financial cuts to the Ministry of Health which could diminish (if not actually prohibit) access to abortion here in Ontario.
We women have been told in perpetuity that opposition to our ideas and ideals ‘is not personal’. When we’re angry we’re told ‘don’t take it personally’. It is a favoured refrain.
The attack on abortion law, on our right to reproductive freedom, is nothing but personal. Please, please pay attention to the rhetoric and the true intention behind it and then take it very personally!
The issue at stake is not if you support the Canadian abortion law (and I am not, I promise you, trying to change your opinion or your values). The issue is women’s rights, pure and simple. Any campaign to reverse abortion rights is an attack on you — regardless of your personal beliefs.
Si vis pacem, para bellum…
The Emboldened are just that so this will be a messy conflict. The fight will be intricate. Opinions on abortion are as diverse as you can possibly imagine.
There are Conservatives who support the law and Liberals who do not. There are Roman Catholics who support the law and people of no faith whatsoever who do not. In your own circles there will be relatives and friends who support the law and just as many who are vehemently opposed. Embrace this dichotomy.
This war will be entirely personal but wage it – always respectfully – with all your might. It will be complicated, confusing, tiring, demanding and oh-so-difficult, but celebrate these complexities. The truth is furiously knocking so on behalf of all Canadian women, para bellum.
There are Canadians with philosophical, moral, religious, racial, misogynistic and personal reasons to oppose abortion. My respect for those holding such opinions remains intact and unqualified. Abortion is not an easy issue. Anyone who has been involved in an abortion – even on the periphery – is keenly aware of the pain it brings to every party. They are touched, altered even, physically, emotionally, spiritually, morally and personally. And that is the key – personally. Those are personal choices, not legal, not governmental. Absolutely not adequate reasons to overturn the Canadian abortion law, thus limiting the rights of Canadian women.
There are days, it seems, that the breach between the Canada we’re becoming and the one I want to live in is beyond solution. One woman alone cannot close that gap. But here’s the thing about big, empty spaces: There’s room for more; more feminine warriors, more diverse opinions, more conversation, more intention, more learning and more cooperation. There’s plenty of room for more goodness.
And so, dear readers, I fear it is time to take it personally, to get involved, to make some trouble on behalf of Canadian women, their rights and their reproductive freedom. Para bellum.
We will never allow a single inch of retreat
from the hard-earned rights of women in this country — not one inch.
‘Till next time, y’all…
*Ackamarackus = nonsense.
**Impavid = fearless.
***Kakistocracy = rule/government by the worst.
Lucille Clifton was an American poet, writer, and educator from Buffalo, New York. From 1979 to 1985 she was Poet Laureate of Maryland. Clifton was a finalist twice for the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.