The pro-choice community was relieved when, on September 26th, Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth’s Motion 312, was defeated. This latest back door attempt to recriminalize abortion called for a Parliamentary Committee to examine “what medical evidence exists to demonstrate that a child is or is or is not a human being before the moment of complete birth.” The definition of “human being” in the Criminal Code of Canada, states that “a child becomes a human being when it fully proceeds out of the birth canal alive.” Any change that would give legal rights to a fetus obviously poses a serious risk to women’s rights, health and lives.
Immediately, following the defeat with Motion 312, B.C. Conservative MP, Mark Warawa, introduced Motion 408 to condemn discrimination against females occurring through sex-selective pregnancy termination. In other words, they aim to ban abortion in cases of sex selection. As was the case with Motion 312, this anti-choice MP is stepping way back in the process so the motion seems innocuous. But is it? The anti-choice lobby thinks they have found the feminist Achilles heel. They have not.
In my play, The Abortion Monologues, there is a monologue delivered by a character who is having an abortion because she is having a girl. She talks about being at a women’s centre and telling the worker there that she is having an abortion and they tell her she doesn’t have to do this, that in Canada, it is acceptable to have a girl and no one can force her to have an abortion.
The character explains that her husband and his family are unhappy and that she also is unhappy about having a girl, about letting them down. The point is, her beliefs are their beliefs. She knows what she knows. She wants the abortion. She knows more than anyone what it will be like for this girl to be born into this family at this time. The girl will suffer as she has suffered. Although it “should not” be this way, and girls “should” be as welcome as boys, in fact, they are not.
As women, when we decide whether or not to continue our pregnancies, we deal with what is, right now, not with what should be or what is theoretically palatable. This woman knows she cannot provide for this child in some way that matters to her.
Is it any different than knowing one cannot provide economically for a child and choosing an abortion for this reason? Will we tell the woman of no economic means that this is not a good reason to have an abortion? No. We all wish it weren’t so, and know that in a perfect world all women would be capable of supporting their families. But in our imperfect world, they are not. Women still earn much less than men, have less steady work, work in lower paid part time jobs and without benefits. We lack affordable and decent child care.
Is it any different than knowing one cannot provide for a child that will have significant and potentially devastating medical needs. Will we tell this woman that this is not an acceptable reason for having an abortion? No. We all know that in a perfect world, the needs of every child, no matter how specific, how costly, how out of the ordinary they may be, would be met. But in our imperfect world, they are not. Again, we deal with what is, not with what should be.
Ultimately, when we factor out all the “reasons” for abortion, whether they be economic or social, there will still be abortions. The whole line of thinking that some abortions are done for reasons that are more valid than others, because someone was raped, for example, is problematic. Any woman can choose an abortion for any reason, and she doesn’t have to tell us what it is. It’s none of our business. Meanwhile, we do not stop striving to make the world a place where little girls are as wanted as little boys, where the systemic discrimination of women is a thing of the past.
Demanding a woman give birth to an unwanted girl to make some sort of anti-sexist point is to sacrifice her will for ideology. It is as coercive as demanding she abort the girl, also a demand that potentially sacrifices her will for ideology.
The motion will undoubtedly allow racism into the argument. Someone will suggest it is the place of “Canadians” to teach “Others” how to live. I have no problem asking “Canadians” to be exemplary. To do that, let’s clean up our own backyard and make sure Canadian women have true equality and that we bring an end to the kind of systemic discrimination that leads to girls being worth less than boys. But let’s not pretend we have this figured out already. We don’t.
Our bottom line has to be to let the woman decide. Always.
Jane Cawthorne is the author of “The Abortion Monologues.”