If it wasn’t really a surprise, it is still a shock: on Friday, June 24, the Supreme Court of the United States of America overturned the Roe vs. Wade decision that had protected the right to abortion since 1973.
This is not a surprise, since it is the result of a strategy skillfully orchestrated by the religious and conservative right, which has been attacking sexual and reproductive rights in an organized and concerted manner for many years.
It was a shock, nonetheless, that left us —activists, advocacy organizations, feminists of all stripes— both stunned and outraged.
In tears and anger, we are more determined than ever to unite and stand up to the rollback of our rights, to strengthen our communities, our foundations and our solidarities in order to build unshakeable ramparts against stupidity, ignorance and hatred. We will protect ourselves from those men who want to control us and the systems that want to debase us.
Land of thwarted rights
Let us start from the beginning. In the United States of America, the so-called land of the free, each state is now free to legislate abortion as it sees fit. At the time of writing, 13 states already have or about to ban abortions within their borders. According to research institutes, about half of the states are expected to follow suit in the coming weeks.
This means that millions of women and gender minorities are now or will very soon be deprived of their basic right to control their own bodies. It also means a death sentence for tens of thousands of people who cannot give life without putting their own lives at risk.
When we know that maternal mortality is on the rise in the United States and that Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy than white women, the reversal of Roe v. Wade appears for what it really is: another way for the state to criminalize and harm the most vulnerable among us, particularly racialized populations.
Does this shock you? Wait and see, this is just the beginning.
Those who thought that everything was going to be fine now that Trump is out of power will be disappointed. This U.S. Supreme Court decision is just the tip of the iceberg.
Since last year, a dozen Republican states have passed legislation that infringes on the rights of young trans people, while others have passed laws to control how racism and sexuality are discussed in classrooms.
Meanwhile, in Canada
Far be it from me to compare us to our poor neighbours to the south. The right to abortion is well protected here. But still, we can’t help but be concerned.
Under the Canada Health Act, abortion services are available in all provinces and territories. However, for people living outside of major urban centres such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, access to this procedure remains complicated. In many provinces, it is virtually impossible to obtain an abortion in rural areas, and the economic barriers of travel are difficult for many people to overcome.
The example of the Clinic 554 in Fredericton, New Brunswick, remains the ultimate symbol of the strength of the anti-choice movement in this country. This clinic, which offered abortions in a safe space, but also general health care to the LGBTQ2+ community, was forced to drastically reduce its activities due to lack of adequate public funding. This is despite the federal government’s big election promises.
New Brunswick is the only province in Canada where out-of-hospital abortions are not covered by health insurance, following restrictive legislation passed in 1989.
Where do we go from here?
We do not need a new law to protect abortion rights in Canada. We need to normalize abortion for what it is: an essential health care service that must be accessible, funded and recognized.
Nor do we need to reinvent the wheel: there are already many sexual and reproductive rights organizations, service providers and activists doing great work on the ground, such as the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada or Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights (previously Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada).
Let’s support them. Let’s join them. Let’s make our voices heard so that our rights can never, ever be challenged.
Julie Gillet is the Director of the Regroupement féministe du Nouveau-Brunswick, a group that defends and promotes the rights and interests of all francophone women and gender minorities in New Brunswick. Gillet’s columns (mostly in French) reflect her personal opinion and not that of her employer.
This commentary was originally published in French by Francopresse.