Member of Parliament Ted Falk and other social conservatives are actively fighting a new government regulation regarding funding for Canada’s summer jobs program. Justin Trudeau says they are creating an unnecessary “kerfluffle”. A new requirement means organizations requesting money must agree to respect all human rights including reproductive rights. Faith groups who oppose abortion are actively protesting the regulation. They believe they will lose the financial support they have received in the past. The prime minister describes their reaction as alarmist. He suggests program applicants whose primary mandate isn’t denial of abortion access will still receive grants. The new directive will just target organizations that actively and openly lobby against reproductive rights.
I will follow the story of how the new regulation is applied with interest because I agree with our prime minister that reproductive rights are human rights. I believe giving women full control of their bodies is fundamental to them having an equal place in society. The television series based on Margaret Atwood’s book The Handmaid’s Tale imagines the frightening possibilities when we fail to defend a woman’s right to make reproductive decisions.
That being said it would be ideal if no woman ever felt she needed to have an abortion. But we will not reduce abortion rates by criminalizing abortion or denying women access to it. Equally ineffective in reducing abortion rates are attempts to make people feel guilty with graphic billboard pictures or 100,000 memorial flags for aborted fetuses planted in a public park. Research by the World Health organization and other groups tells us exactly what things will effectively reduce abortion rates.
- Provide comprehensive sex education in schools. Teens that receive medically sound sex education and learn about many forms of birth control, not just abstinence, are 60% less likely to become pregnant. Since 30% of women who have abortions in Canada say the reason for their choice is they are too young and not ready for the responsibility of a child, it makes sense that as teen pregnancy rates are lowered, abortion rates will go down. In Canada sex education is different in every province and even varies between school districts. Is it time to create national standards for comprehensive sex education?
- Provide free contraception whether birth control pills, condoms or intrauterine devices. When Norway provided free birth control their abortion rate was cut in half. Irene Mathyssen an NDP Member of Parliament has been lobbying the government to make birth control free in Canada. Politicians who are serious about reducing the number of abortions in our country should give her their unstinting support.
- Reduce poverty. According to the Abortion in Canada website, financial concerns are the number one reason women in Canada have abortions. If we reduce poverty, we will reduce the number of abortions. Manitoba has the highest child poverty rate in Canada. We obviously need to search for more creative and effective strategies to address this disgrace.
- Better childcare. Many women choose to have abortions because they can’t balance child rearing with pursuing higher education or a successful career. Logically if families had assured access to quality affordable childcare they would be less likely to choose to have abortions. In 2005 Prime Minister Paul Martin negotiated just such a national childcare program. When Mr. Harper’s Conservatives came into power the following year they scrapped it. Nothing as comprehensive has been proposed since. Could all political parties work together to create universal, affordable childcare for our country?
If people who consider themselves anti-abortion advocates are serious about reducing the number of abortions in Canada there are plenty of effective things to do. Fighting a government grant regulation that requires respect for women’s reproductive rights is not among them.