“It’s not a right!” Those scary words are what I kept thinking about last week as American state legislatures passed draconian measures to criminalize abortion. On May 9, 2018, Member of Parliament Ted Falk shouted “It’s not a right” across the House of Commons after the prime minister had made a statement saying, “We will always be unequivocal in standing up for a woman’s right to choose.”
Mr. Falk was technically correct. We do not have a law in Canada giving women the right to have an abortion, but abortion has been legal in our country since 1988 when the Supreme Court struck down laws against it.
I have a feeling however Mr. Falk was not concerned about legal technicalities when he voiced his bold interruption. His presence at a March For Life rally exactly a year later, May 9, 2019, along with some dozen other members of the Conservative caucus, indicates his support for the organization’s clearly stated mandate to have legislation passed that recriminalizes abortion.
Abortion rights are essential if we believe in the equality of women. Most women have abortions because they are in untenable, vulnerable or challenging situations. How can threatening them with criminal charges possibly be the best way to help them? It makes me shudder to think we may elect a prime minister again who personally believes women do not have a right to control their own bodies, as the current Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer does. Do we really want to take a chance on going back to a time of back alley abortions and women being second -class citizens?
Billboard created by a woman’s rights group in the Niagara area of Ontario
I wish the label pro-life had not become attached to the movement to recriminalize abortion. I think of myself as pro-life even though I believe in a woman’s right to choose. I’ve written before about my frustration with people who focus their efforts on trying to recriminalize abortion. If they were truly serious about reducing the number of abortions, they would be advocating for more effective changes. The research is clear. The criminalization of abortion doesn’t stop it. But there are things that could dramatically reduce abortion rates.
On May 9, the very day Mr. Falk and his colleagues were participating in the March for Life rally in Ottawa, the Canadian Paediatric Society released its official position on the accessibility of birth control. They’ve compiled a list of reasons why it would be in the best interest of Canadian society as a whole, to provide confidential access to free birth control to everyone under the age of twenty-five. This would help to reduce the estimated 58,000 unplanned pregnancies in that age group each year, including 21,000 that end in abortion. Could Mr. Falk and his colleagues turn their attention from trying to make desperate women into criminals, and instead, focus their energies on making sure the pediatricians’ well-researched proposal to effectively reduce abortions becomes a reality?
There are so many other things we know will lower abortion rates. Since women primarily have abortions for economic reasons free daycare, lower post-secondary tuition costs, a guaranteed minimum income, and more affordable housing would decrease abortion rates, as would comprehensive mandatory sex education in schools, that introduces young people to many kinds of birth control, not just abstinence.
These would truly be pro-life initiatives and far more effective ones than recriminalizing abortion as some American states have decided to do. I have the utmost respect for people who are serious about lowering the abortion rate in Canada. That’s what I would like to see too. But as far as I’m concerned if you want to make abortion a crime you are anti-woman, not pro-life.