Posts Tagged ‘abortion’

This just in! The Manitoban will indeed publish Eli’s letter responding to “For those who are concerned” in their next issue.

Apparently the squeaky wheel does get the grease…

So keep your eyes peeled (the Manitoban publishes Thursday every week), and we’d still really encourage everyone to consider writing in, too!

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Last week, the Manitoban published an editorial by Joshua Van Benthem entitled “For those who are concerned” (read the full article by clicking on the title). In it, Van Benthem argues for the criminalization of late term abortion, saying that once a fetus is “viable” for life outside of the womb, it should be deemed a full legal person, even if it has not yet been born. A woman terminating a pregnancy beyond this point could then be subject to criminal sanction. He goes on to discuss the defeated Bill 312, attempting to establish that the would-have-been committee’s consideration of  “merely the medical facts” and “not legal precedent” would have somehow justified the infringement of women’s human rights he advocates.

Feeling rather concerned myself, I wrote to the Manitoban to express my disagreement with Mr Van Benthem’s views. I was disappointed not only to see that my letter was not featured in this week’s issue, but even more so to see no responses from anyone on the topic. With an issue as controversial as abortion and legal personhood for the unborn, I think it behooves the Manitoban to provide viewpoints on both sides of the issue.

I suppose it’s possible that a response to “For those who are concerned”, either mine or someone else’s, may be published in the future. Let’s hope so. In the meantime, I reproduce here the letter I wrote, as I sent it to the Manitoban last Friday. I think it would be great to have others respond to Van Benthem, as well. Have a look at what I wrote and think about what you might add or change, and then send it in! Their email address is : comment@themanitoban.com.


5 October 2012

Re: “For those who are concerned,” by Joshua Van Benthem

Dear Manitoban,

I wish to respond to Joshua Van Benthem’s editorial in your most recent issue. I found the title “For those who are concerned” to be particularly apt, though likely not in the way that the author intended. I’m concerned, alright. I’m concerned about the human rights of women, and those who seek to limit them.

The author argues that, because some fetuses might be capable of surviving independently outside of the womb prior to the moment of complete birth, that “there should be a line” at some undetermined point in fetal development at which the fetus would be deemed a person, and thus, that aborting it would become a criminal offence. The Parliamentary Committee that would have been created by Motion 312, had it passed, would supposedly have looked at where this “line” ought to be drawn.

I noted that conspicuously absent from the items that would have been addressed by the Committee (as listed by the author) was, “What are the legal impacts and consequences of altering Subsection 223(1) on the fundamental human rights of the mother?” Clearly, the reason this query was omitted is that the answer to it will, in all cases, be that the impact on her rights would be unconscionable, and would render the committee’s other queries moot. While the “viability” of a fetus outside of the womb at any given point of its prenatal development will inevitably vary from case to case, the rights of each individual pregnant woman are necessarily invariable at all times during her pregnancy.

Turning our minds for a moment to the practical implications of what the author proposes, the notion that pre-natal “viability” can somehow be definitively determined and codified in law borders on absurdity. For example, is this “viability” with or without medical intervention? A baby can be born several months premature and survive with the help of incubators, intravenous nourishment, and other intensive therapies; would this be sufficient to be considered viable? What about the fact that a fetus with a chromosomal or other abnormality would very likely achieve “viability” much later in its development than would a “normal” fetus; were the author’s proposal to take effect, would this not create an untenable difference in legal treatment based on disability? Further, making this determination would necessarily be based on speculation; presumably the fetus would not be excised from the mother and left lying out in the open to see if it lived without her. Any information as to the physical state of the fetus to bolster the speculation would, of course, have to be gained via an invasion of the mother’s physical person. This only serves to highlight, yet again, the inseparability of a woman and her fetus at all moments until complete birth takes place, regardless of its stage of development.

Any attempt to ascribe independent personhood to the contents of a woman’s womb is a clear abuse of that woman’s physical autonomy and human rights. Canada’s highest court decided this in 1988, and no “medical evidence” can justifiably vary it.


Elizabeth Mitchell

Co-Chair, Feminist Legal Forum

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A new catchphrase is making its way through the feminist media: “the war on women.” This label refers to the anti-women stances taken by Republican politicians this presidential primary season. As Judith Timson said in today’s Globe and Mail, “pelvic politics” are increasingly the focus of the political debate, despite there being real issues to discuss (unemployment, anyone?) In fact, some pundits suggest that all this lady talk is just a way to distract from the bigger issues and perhaps from the fact that these candidates have no dog-gone clue what to do about said bigger issues. Still, any feminist worth her salt will warn that the anti-contraception, anti-abortion, anti-sex talk should not be so easily dismissed. Rather, as Katrina vanden Heuvel argued compellingly in The Nation last week, 2012 must become the Year of the Woman. Featuring this pleasingly sarcastic barb, “Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell announced that the GOP will pursue legislation permitting any employer to deny contraception in their health insurance plans. He said, “The fact that the White House thinks this is about contraception is the whole problem. This is about freedom of religion.” Thank goodness Mitch is there to let women know when we are mistaking religious freedom for contraception,” vandel Heuvel’s article insists that there must be a groundswell of female activism and politics.

While all of this is happening in the US, Canadians should take heed. We must proactively defend women’s rights, including and perhaps most importantly reproductive rights, and we must do so through not only making a lot of noise, but through achieving decisive political victory. Now is the time to act and to organize.

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The recent Tory assault on a woman’s right to choose continued this week. This Globe and Mail article details the intention of a Tory Backbencher, Stephen Woodworth, to bring a motion that would seek to have MPs debate whether a fetus is a human at conception, or at the moment a baby has fully emerged from the birth canal (as Canadian law currently holds): http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/ottawa-notebook/mps-have-duty-to-debate-rights-of-unborn-backbench-tory-argues/article2299369/

This is part of a series of moves by Tory Backbenchers to re-open the “abortion debate” and is distressing for anyone who believes in the need to protect a woman’s right to choose and to make her own decisions about her body and her life. Social conservatives have been steadily working to erode this right.

This is a contentious subject (for some – we at the FLF consider the matter closed. See R v Morgentaler (1988), and in particular, the strong concurring opinion by Justice Wilson). What are your thoughts? How should this political maneuvering be addressed by  feminists and allies?

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Feminist activists united in Toronto this past weekend for a self-proclaimed “slut walk” to protest the sexism that still persists in policing and justice around sexual assaults. This protest is particularly interesting because it was spurred by comments made by a police officer while speaking to students at Osgoode Hall. The turn-out was huge – reported to be over 3,000 people. But one has to wonder – why did it take over two months after the comments were made? And how many law students joined in the protest? One would hope that the law students were at the fore of organizing this march, but my own current pessimism around whether or legal education encourages us to confront sexism or simply teaches us how to use the law to reinforce it has left  me doubtful. I am relieved that staff and students at York demanded an apology, but a little activism from the legal community can go a long way. On this note, if you are a law student at Osgoode who participated in the march, or in other activism around this event,  please let us know! In the meantime, here’s what the Institute for Feminist Legal Studies at Osgoode had to say: http://ifls.osgoode.yorku.ca/2011/02/what-not-to-wear/

And a Globe report on the march: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/toronto/women-walk-the-talk-after-officers-offending-slut-remarks/article1969430/

Election fever is back in Canada – or with the current apathetic climate, more of an election cold, or perhaps just an election sniffle. There’s lots of talk happening on the campaign trail, but notably missing (at least from media reports) are feminist issues. While Stephen Harper said today that a majority Conservative government would avoid socially conservative moves like cracking down on abortion, this shouldn’t stop us from questioning his government’s track record (or, for that matter, how it is possible for a government to limit access to abortion without making it illegal…) This government has been bad for equality, but that doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s radar. Examples are numerous, so why isn’t anyone talking about it? Let’s take a little tour of recent history:



(take this one with a grain of salt – its Liberal campaign literature)http://www.liberal.ca/newsroom/news-release/canadian-women-worse-years-harper/


Let’s re-visit that last article for a moment – Conservative MP Rod Bruinooge introduced a private member’s bill in the house that would have seen coercing women to get an abortion become illegal. Many commentators believed this to be a “back-door” attempt to re-introduce the abortion debate, a move not supported by the PMO. So if the Conservative party itself rejected this, why does it matter? Well, Mr. Bruinooge is the MP for Winnipeg South, the riding that encompasses the U of M. In a way, all U of M students and staff are therefore also represented in Ottawa by Mr. Bruinooge. His approach to equality issues, and in particular abortion, is extremely troubling.

Bruinooge is chair of the parliamentary “pro-life caucus”. He once wrote to the National Post stating “”I have no choice but to advocate for the unborn and seek to have their value restored in my Canada. Our collective future depends on it.” His opinion piece in the National Post “Why I am Pro-Life” makes the analogy that since you can’t make the choice to sell your kidney on the black market because it is unethical, abortion too should be illegal. I would link this piece, but it seems to have disappeared from the National Post website in the last week.

Some things to think about!

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Some political developments with potentially dire consequences for women’s choice are unfolding in the United States. Reproductive rights activists in Canada should carefully follow what’s happening south of us. Its worth it to take a moment and consider funding and access restrictions in Canada, and how an already bad situation could be exacerbated by anti-choice developments in the States.


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Despite politicians steadfastly refusing to discuss the matter, abortion remains an issue in Canada. What many people don’t realize is that abortion is still politically controlled even if not criminalized. Crucially, funding and availability make access to abortion extremely problematic in Canada, even today.

Find out more:


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