Wednesday evening was a perilous moment for every person with a uterus in Canada and elsewhere. In a country where we are applauded for not having legal restrictions on abortion, (though this by no means guarantees access) Parliament voted on M312, a motion that was the first federal legislative attempt at attacking reproductive health rights since 2008's Bill C-484.
Leading up to the vote on M312, I sat and exchanged texts and tweets with friends and colleagues as I anxiously counted down the minutes on CPAC for voting to start. We commiserated about how no-less-than terrified we all were that what we've been witnessing happening in the U.S. since the beginning of 2011 seemed to be creeping up further North, and that we might be on the verge of living in a country where we could be without the choice to access comprehensive reproductive health services, including abortion. SlutWalk Toronto, along with many others, posted the Lead Now petition that has now collected nearly 70,000 signatures (and counting).
The pretense of Motion 312, put forth by Conservative Backbencher Stephen Woodworth, MP, was that this was simply an exercise of evaluating existing laws according to scientific evidence, though every major media outlet, every Canadian politician, and everyone following the discussion knew this was about abortion.
Something conspicuously absent from this motion, and unfortunately consistent with many recent initiatives to restrict or ban choice, was that this proposed a committee of politicians. Not medical clinicians, not abortion service providers, not scientists; neither was there any wording in the motion that suggested a woman, regarding gender-comprisal of the proposed committee, or any verbal acknowledgement of how reproduction happens or uterus-having bodies. Nowhere does the word woman, womb, fetus, uterus, or (heaven forbid) vagina appear in the motion.
When Woodworth tweeted yesterday in a rather self-congratulatory manner that passing Motion 312 would put us "on a slippery slope to the recognition of the equality of every human being," the glaring omission was: except for women.
The person who should have been fighting the hardest Wednesday night was the Minister for the Status of Women, Rona Ambrose. Instead she sucker-punched everyone in this country who hopes and expects to be treated in accordance with their charter rights and as a person, not a uterus, by shockingly being one of the 91 MPs who voted yes.
Afterwards, Ambroses' personal Twitter feed said "goodnight from the most tired" followed by retweeting support for herself from Barbara Kay, a National Post columnist who routinely writes columns on December 6 (The Anniversary of the Montreal Massacre) about violence against women not really being a problem. Conclusion? It must be exhausting to feel so sorry for yourself and difficult to not understand or care for the best interests of the population you're mandated to represent.
Fighting sexual violence, for us at SlutWalk Toronto, is most fundamentally about everyone's right to consent and respect, and everyone's right to control over their own bodies and all decisions pertaining to their bodies. Survivors of sexual violence understand all too well what it feels like to have those decisions overridden and violated by others, and how too often damaging social factors and prejudice result in persecution, questioning the validity of someone's decisions, or using their identities as something to hold over their heads and discredit their choices.
Sadly, many survivors of sexual violence experience this, and this remains rooted in the same sexism and stigma that brings these 'intellectual debate' questions to the surface again and again. Whether we're talking about rape, or we're talking about sexual choices and consent, or reproductive health, pro-choice and abortion. Additionally, survivors of sexual violence may choose to access abortion counseling if they were impregnated while assaulted, and may unfortunately receive access to services and/or social support for neither.
That last point is simply a fact -- it shouldn't need to be used as leverage, and abortion should always be one option of many whatever the situation may be. We should not need to continue to hear or tell horror stories of incest survivors forced to give birth, of the many hundreds of thousands of women who've died from botched abortions, of what is currently happening in States in the U.S. where access to abortion is restricted, and women who want to carry to term but won't may be forced to deliver stillbirths, and/or forced to have invasive trans-vaginal ultrasounds, or long wait-periods before they can grieve, or the women who are being prosecuted for having miscarriages because of 'Personhood' bills similar to the proposed M312 that grant a collection of cells more rights than a living adult with a uterus.
Following the vote on M312, the consolatory point for many was this: moments like these galvanize popular sentiment. They show how insidiously dangerous legislation can creep up, and why, as the ARCC said yesterday "eternal vigilance is required." This is an opportunity to continue action, community organizing, and education.
We can show support to women, to trans men, and survivors of abusive relationships, sexual violence and incest everywhere that we commit to not re-victimizing them by removing their right to choice, or by forcing them to undergo lengthy processes of auditing and disclosure to 'prove' the origins of their pregnancy and the 'legitimacy' of the violence they suffered. We can commit to never further denying anyone everyone's inalienable right to control of their own bodies. And in all our communities, we can advocate for more, and better, support for comprehensive sexual health education and services throughout our country including pleasure, consent, family planning and birth control options.
We can strengthen instead of stigmatize, increase everyone's capacity to make informed decisions about their reproductive health, and support those choices at all times, whatever they may be -- even if they are not the choices we think we might make ourselves. And we can remember M312 and who the 91 MPs are that stood for 'yea' when they voted on controlling our bodies.
Thank you to all the MPs who voted against M312 Wednesday night, and thank you to everyone, including individuals, activists, medical health professionals and service providers, who have fought for reproductive health rights for many years.
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Follow Colleen Westendorf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Westendork