It must be said that there is no issue more personal than that regarding our health care and family planning choices. It must also be said that in a country that constitutionally recognizes the equality of men and women, the choice of family planning method – which could include abstinence, the pill, condoms, IUDs, or abortion – is NOBODY’s business but the person directly affected by them.

Our government is responsible for upholding the constitution, which includes making sure that groups that do not recognize people’s constitutional right to make their own decisions regarding their healthcare will not get public funds. The Canadian federal government has made this clear via their recent announcement regarding the Canada Summer Jobs Program (CSJ).

The Canada Summer Jobs Program is an initiative by the federal government to encourage employers to take on summer students at the secondary and post-secondary levels by offering to subsidize the students’ wages for them.

The subsidy works for public and private employers as well as non-profit organizations and small businesses and has several priorities including the supporting employers who hire students from underrepresented groups such indigenous Canadians, the disabled, and visible minorities, and those that support opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) for women. Applications for the subsidies must be made by potential employers, though recently the Trudeau government added an additional catch to the program’s requirements.

Those who apply to the CSJ program now have to attest that:

“Both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights. These include reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.”

The federal government’s website adds the recognition that women’s rights are human rights and that their rights include “sexual and reproductive rights — and the right to access safe and legal abortions.”

This announcement was never meant to turn Canada into the next front in the battle between those that believe people have a right to their choices and those who do not. That issue was already settled in the early 90s when, following the Supreme Court striking down Canada’s abortion laws in 1988, the Senate voted against a new abortion law put before Parliament by the Mulroney government. Public opinion confirms this, for according to a 2017 Ipsos poll, 77 percent of respondents feel abortion should be permitted.

The announcement was simply meant to be a way to fix a subsidy issue after the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada published a report indicating that federal funding was going to anti-abortion groups in the summer of 2016. Federal Employment Minister Patty Hadju’s office then put out a statement apologizing for the oversight and stating that “no such organizations will receive funding from any constituencies represented by Liberal MPs.”

All the Trudeau government is doing is obeying the law by enforcing the gender equality statutes in the Canadian Charter of Rights by making anyone who does not conform to them ineligible for Federal funding.

It is Conservatives who have turned this minor subsidy issue into a religious crusade about abortion. The fiasco that followed is not an ideological debate about religious freedom but rather the result of some groups’ anger at losing government money they feel they are entitled to.

Organizations like The Southern Alberta Bible Camp who have publicly said “we don’t believe abortion is right” stand to lose about $40 000 in subsidy money if they refuse to sign the aforementioned attestation.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has accused the Prime Minister – a self-proclaimed “proud feminist”- of imposing his views on faith groups. This is the same Andrew Scheer one of his supporters assured me would not take on abortion rights in Canada following his election to leadership of the party.

“I believe that the federal government should respect the freedoms that Canadians enjoy to have different beliefs and that by imposing personal values of Justin Trudeau on a wide variety of groups is not an appropriate way to go,” Scheer has said.

The government has not said that groups that openly condemn abortion and LGBTQ2 groups cannot operate in Canada. As per our religious freedoms and right to freedom of speech guaranteed in the constitution, they can do as they please within reasonable limits prescribed by law. All the federal government has done is said that they cannot get government money to hire young people to help them do it.

Since the Conservatives have turned this into an abortion issue, let’s look at those that claim to believe in women’s equality and still be pro-life.

Despite the claim of many conservatives, one cannot recognize the constitutional right of women’s equality to men and be pro-life at the same time. It is not feminism these self-proclaimed “pro-life feminists” are embracing, but rather benevolent sexism.

The reason is this: the most secular anti-abortion arguments rest on the unspoken notion that women are not strong enough, mature enough, or intelligent enough to make their own decisions regarding their reproductive health. They are welcome to every freedom men have, except with regards to their deeply personal reproductive choices. ]

They will use arguments about sex selective abortions to make this point, while completely ignoring the numbers and whether or not the procedure was necessary to save the woman’s life. It is the same kind of benevolently sexist argument the most vicious secularists make in Quebec when trying to force Muslim women to stop wearing the hijab or niqab: the infantilizing argument that presumes that no woman is capable of making such a decision of her own free will but rather makes difficult decisions out of selfishness, impulsivity, or external pressure.

It is a notion that must be recognized for what it is: a contradiction of the notion of gender equality entrenched in Canadian law.

Those who stand to lose funds as a result of this will be doing so because their mandate does not fit with that of the Canadian government. We also need to ask how much the federal government will be checking up on those who do sign the attestation.

Is this an administrative rubber stamp where people can attest to one thing and do another? Or will the federal government take steps to make sure that those who do get the funds stay true to their attestation?

Without any sort of checks, the attestation is meaningless.

If it is meaningless, then groups who really want to the money to hire a student to distribute photos of fetuses outside clinics should have no trouble signing it.

January 28th marks the twenty-eighth anniversary of the Morgentaler decision by the Supreme Court of Canada. On that day in 1988, a majority judgment struck down section 251 of the Canadian Criminal Code thus legalizing abortion in Canada.

Despite every subsequent attempt by the Conservatives to make abortion illegal again, the women of Canada remain free to choose.

And it was all thanks to Dr. Henry Morgentaler.

Henry Morgentaler was born in 1923 in Lodz, Poland, and spent five years in a concentration camp where his mother and sister perished at the hands of the Nazis. He came to Canada after the Second World War, went to medical school and became a doctor.

Somewhere along the way he became a humanist, and after witnessing the suffering caused by so many botched abortions – entire hospital wards were devoted to them – and hearing the pleas of desperate women, he began performing abortions, then illegal, in safe, clinical environments.

At the time, abortions fell under Section 251 of the Canadian Criminal Code. Under Section 251, abortions were illegal except in very specific circumstances. In order for a woman to get an abortion, the law required that the decision be put to a panel of three doctors who would assess whether it was required under the circumstances. The only criterion was the health of the mother. If the panel agreed that carrying the pregnancy to term would put the woman at risk, the right to an abortion was granted, after which a fourth doctor would have to administer it.

The law was an impractical one. Many hospitals didn’t have enough doctors to form the required panel and the extra one to perform the abortion. The notion of a woman’s health was applied subjectively and could mean her physical or mental well-being. In many major cities the decision was often rubber stamped and granted to anyone who asked. In more conservative and rural areas, hospitals seemed to find any excuse not to grant a woman an abortion, and so the botched back alley abortions continued, and women continued to die as a result.

Morgentaler was tired of seeing this happen, and he performed abortions on any woman who came to him for help, some even secretly referred to him by his fellow doctors. Eventually he was arrested. He bravely told the authorities to go ahead and prosecute, no jury would convict him.

And he was right.

Despite the fact that he had clearly broken the law, he was acquitted every time.

In 1974, the year following his first trial, with no legal precedent behind it, the Quebec Court of Appeal overturned his acquittal and replaced it with a conviction. Morgentaler was sentenced to 18 months in prison which he began serving in 1975. In prison he suffered a heart attack while in solitary confinement and was briefly transferred to a nursing home. Despite legal custom that made a prisoner eligible for parole after serving a third of his sentence, Morgentaler was only released after ten months, in 1976.

His treatment by the authorities caused massive outrage and protests erupted all over the country. The government recognized that was time for change.

The year of his release from prison, the Canadian Government under Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau changed the law so that appeals courts COULD NOT overturn an acquittal by a jury.

This amendment, known as the Morgentaler Amendment, was created as a direct result of his defiance of and persecution by the authorities.

In other words, before Morgentaler, if a jury found you not guilty of a crime, say, for example, firebombing a clinic and killing a doctor, a higher court could simply say “No, I don’t think so,” make it a guilty verdict, and send you to jail.

Following the Amendment, all an appellate court can do is order a new trial.

Whether you are Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, male or female, religious or not, the Morgentaler Amendment affects and protects YOU.

It guarantees that you won’t arbitrarily be sent to jail if you are acquitted by a jury of your peers.

And for that alone, Morgentaler is a hero.

On May 29, 2013, Morgentaler died, and news sources everywhere erupted with timelines and debates about the morality of what he did.

The perceived morality or immorality of what Morgentaler did is irrelevant.

Regardless of your position on the subject, remember that any time you find yourself facing criminal charges and end up a free man at the end of your trial you owe your freedom in part to an abortion doctor.

Anti-abortion activists are once again upset after the federal government announced last week that the Department of Foreign Affairs has funded the “morning after pill,” also known as Plan B, to give out in their maternal health program in Afghanistan.

The contraceptive was given out as part of a program which began in 2010 under PM Harper. The pill recently made the news for the announcement that the current federal government would also seek to add an additional 3.5 billion dollars of funding over the next five years to improve maternal health across the developing world.

One part of this program – a very, very small part of it – is focused on family planning, in which funding for Plan B is included. The drug, which is available over the counter (though access to it varies province to province) has been distributed by the Afghan Family Guidance Association, which is partnered with the international branch of Planned Parenthood and the Canadian government.

The anger over Plan B appears to be in the way the drug operates. It actually does nothing to end pregnancy, only preventing the fertilized egg from being able to stick to the uterine wall, as well as delaying the fertilization of the egg and temporarily stopping the release of an egg from the ovary.

Why is important that the federal government actually stands by their decision to fund Plan B, not only in Afghanistan but all other countries that receive funding for maternal health? Essentially one of the most fundamental elements of maternal health is the decision of whether or not to have a child. Funding this contraceptive – as it is a contraceptive, not a drug that causes abortion – is just one part of maternal health and this should continued to be respected by this government.

By listening to anti-abortion “activists” the Conservative government will be denying women around the globe options to access resources for family planning and maternal health. If this money is going toward family planning and maternal health, than it should be funded, since decided not to have a child is a huge part of family planning, as well as an important component in the health of the mother.

Another thing to point out is the fact that a very small amount of the money that the Conservative government has gifted for maternal health is for family planning – only 0.55 per cent, according to the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). The Federation is even calling on the government to continue to show more commitment to the issue of family planning, stating that over 222 million women around the globe lack access to a range of modern contraceptive options.

Recently the IPPF, along with a number of civil society groups from around the world, came together to address the Harper government, calling on them to recognize the role that family planning has in the health of women and children. The federal government should listen to these civil society groups and continue to fund Plan B, along with other forms of contraceptives and family planning options and not be afraid of the backlash from anti-abortion activists, if they are as committed to maternal health as they claim they are.

Media attention to abortion in Canada ebbs and flows, and has recently been in the spotlight yet again since the impending closure of the Morgentaler clinic in New Brunswick. The clinic is the only private clinic on the island and it’s closure ultimately speaks to the broader creation of barriers for women to find accessible options.

The closure, which will officially happen at the end of July, comes after years of legal battles between the clinic and the province over provincial funding for the clinic. The clinic cannot continue to operate without provincial funding. New Brunswick is the only province in Canada where private clinic abortions are not funded by provincial medicare.

Such a closure should bring home the fact that access to abortion rights in Canada are not accessible to all, and that it varies – at times massively – from province to province. The access those seeking abortion have, in the case of New Brunswick, can sometimes take the form of no choice at all. Even more shocking, the Morgentaler clinic in Fredericton is the only private abortion clinic east of Montreal.

Last week Justin Trudeau came out in favour of pro-choice, stating that in order to run in the Liberal caucus, a member must be pro-choice, or at least, vote pro-choice. The statement has garnered criticism from both external and internal sources. Not surprisingly, an Archbishop in Toronto has called on Trudeau to rethink his decision on the stance, and just yesterday a recording of Liberal MP John McKay criticizing Trudeau’s choice to issue such a stance was obtained by CTV News. In this incident, McKay called the subject “toxic” and questioned Trudeau’s decision to take such a stance.

Despite these criticisms, the fact that Trudeau is setting a party line on abortion is good to hear. Trudeau’s stance may meet party criticism, but it is a welcome reassurance for those in Canada who care deeply about the guarantee of rights for those looking for abortions. The stance also speaks to the fact that there could be a time when the debate is reopened at a federal level. It provides comfort for Liberal voters who are pro-choice that their MP will vote in a similar fashion.

However, recent media attention around Trudeau’s stance could be best shifted toward the closure of the Morgentaler clinic in New Brunswick. While it is perhaps a step to know that Trudeau is aware of the debate re-opening in Parliament, what are the major political parties doing to actively ensure that abortion rights are met in provinces across Canada

Efforts to rally around the Morgentaler clinic have mostly been grassroot, with the hashtag #NBprochoice becoming popular across Twitter, and pro-choice rallies for #NBprochoice happening across the country in the last month. According to the #NBprochoice campaign, there has been no reaction from the New Brunswick government, despite it being nearly two months since the clinic closed.

While it’s good to hear that politicians are aware that abortion rights in Canada are still being threatened, it would be much more comforting to see real action being taken to an urgent issue at hand. In order for federal parties to call themselves “pro-choice” they should be taking more action to actively ensure these rights are upheld – including pushing for provincial funding for the Morgentaler Clinic. Being pro-choice is not just something that matters in the 2015 election season, and not just in a House of Commons debate. It matters on the ground and beyond election season, each time a woman seeks abortion and is denied for lack of simple access.

This post originally appeared on, republished with permission of the author

This Tuesday, we mark the 40th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision on abortion. The January 22, 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling was a 7-2 triumph that established a nationwide right to abortion. While the ruling could be considered a landslide by today’s standards, there has been no politically charged topic that divides the United States more than abortion.

Nowhere is the divide more visible than at the state level, where state’s like New York are promising to broaden abortion rights while other states do what they can to reduce them.

Over the last few years, as conservatives have shifted further to the right, we have seen a massive movement to limit access to abortion and reproductive rights. These actions include mandated performance of non–medically indicated ultrasounds, restriction of abortion coverage in private health insurance plans and required pre-abortion counseling that is medically inaccurate or misleading.

In 2011, all fifty States introduced 1,100 provisions related to reproductive rights. In the end, 135 of the new reproductive health provisions were enacted. Ninety-two (or nearly three quarters) of these enacted provisions sought to restrict abortion in some form, three times the previous record for just one year.

While the race to limit abortion rights is being won by conservatives, mainly in Republican controlled states, public opinion is still divided nationally. 63% of Americans believe Roe v Wade should not be over turned, while 52% say abortion should be legal under certain circumstances. On the extreme side, 25% want it legal in all cases and 20% want it outlawed in all cases. All these numbers are roughly the same as they were back in the 70’s.

There have been fifty-five million abortions in the United States since 1973, an astounding number when you see the number on paper. However the number itself does not tell the whole story, the social benefits of terminating fifty-five million unwanted pregnancies is equally staggering.

For instance, if abortion had remained illegal there would be tens of millions more Americans. A higher population is not necessarily a bad thing until you consider that all of these people were unwanted. The majority of undesired children come from poor households, aren’t raised properly and they are often mistreated, beaten or worse.

pro_choiceHad abortion remained illegal, it would have had a negative effect on the social safety net with millions of more uneducated or unmotivated adults draining the system. Not only would the kids have been more prone to living off the system when they grew up, but the parents, often teenagers at the time of their pregnancy would have been forced to abandon their education and get a job.

Let’s not forget the most important aspect of all this; unwanted kids are often cast aside as a burden or nuisance by the parents which often leads the children to live a life of crime when they come of age. It is no small coincidence that crime rates across the country started to drop drastically 18 years after Roe v Wade. The mid 1990’s saw a significant reduction in crime thanks to millions of unwanted babies not being born anymore; don’t be fooled by Rudy Giuliani’s tough on crime nonsense.

Whatever issue comes up in Washington, Republicans usually espouse liberty as their fundamental motivation for supporting certain laws, but abortion is not one of them. Even though legal abortion has proven to lighten the load on the safety net and reduce crime, Republicans are guided by a higher power. Sometimes it seems they don’t mind killing or locking up the poor so long as they’re born first.

As for me, I like to consider myself of strong moral fiber so I’ve always thought that should I get pregnant, I would go through with the pregnancy. I know these are strong words coming from a man who will never be in a situation where I’m forced to make that choice.

Regardless of my opinion, I still have no business telling individuals of the opposite sex what they can and can’t do with their own bodies… I’d like to think that was the final thoughts of seven Supreme Court justices forty years ago.

The official statement is that the Harper government has no intention of reopening the abortion debate. I acknowledge this off the bat, as it means that I officially have nothing to be worried, let alone seething about.

So why am I feeling particularly proprietary on the subject of my ovum?

On Monday, the Tory MP for Kitchener Centre, Ontario, Stephen Woodworth, tabled a motion that got my teeth grinding. He’s calling for a special committee to officially determine at what point a human actually factually becomes a human, and then reassess existing abortion laws from there.

He took time to address reporters, asking, “…does it make medical sense in the 21st century to say that a child is not a human being until the moment of complete birth?”

And here’s where I come in and say, no, probably not…

And that doesn’t change my opinion. Despite what some folks say on the medical evidence, and veritable nitty gritty, I’ve never heard a woman who’s had an abortion say “oh, it was no biggie; not like it was a person or anything.” Who is this guy? If the wording was in place to actually explain when life begins, it would say something poetic, about the imperceptible breach from nothing to something at the moment when a soul drops from the ocean into itself. No. The words are there for legal purposes, and leagalese is not the language of life. This is a matter of semantics, the house of cards on which laws are built, and he’s trying to knock it down from behind.

I was inexplicably ill once, and as the doc was going over what tests he was thinking of running he checked my file, and asked me if I felt pregnant. No, I didn’t. He turned to the student doc, explaining that when a woman has been pregnant before, they have a good grasp of what it feels like, and so it was a pretty fair bet that if I didn’t feel pregnant, I wasn’t.

Given that all pregnancies are vastly different, the only thing I imagine he meant by that “feeling”, the only feeling I checked for when he asked me that question, was that of another life sharing my body. That feeling seems pretty universal, from the women I’ve spoken to, which is why the question works out to be medically sound.

I bet the feeling is the same for women who have decided to terminate their pregnancies, for their own vastly different and intimately personal reasons. I can only assume, because those women don’t talk to me about that, and how callous would I be to ask? I’ve instead sat with puffy eyed friends, before, after, in waiting rooms, often in heavy silences, as they sit with innocently occupied wombs and the responsibility that comes with doing what you feel to be the right thing no matter what the cost to your heart.

What year is it that this guy can come along waving the flag of medical logic and all that stuff, trying to find a round about way to get heat up about the Moment It All Happens so that there’s an excuse that even Harper can’t deny to make it worth discussing abortion on the national stage.

Have you ever heard any pro-life arguments that didn’t come down to a matter of morals, and by morals in this context, I mean thinly veiled right wing religious rhetoric? I hadn’t, so I got Googling, because hey, there’s some kind of everything online. First I found campaignlifecoalition, and was feeling pretty vindicated as I scoped out how they’re also against gay marriage, stem cell research, euthanasia, all the things I would expect them to be against.

They had the word Faith on their homepage though, and it wasn’t that many clicks till the word Christian turned up. My argument for faith based arguments: if it’s about God, isn’t it between that person and God? And since when are we mixing God with law?

Then I found, which is exactly what it sounds like. They feel abortion is unconstitutional as it interferes with right to life (without concerning itself with quality).

But what would the pro-lifers do if they had their way and 93,755 unwanted babies had popped onto the scene in 2009? That’s the number of abortions performed in Canada that year according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (an independent, not-not-for-profit outfit that apparently gets its hands on more recent stats than StatsCan).

Of course, there’s adoption, and I don’t want to leave that out, because I’ve known lots of adopted folks (including family) and it came up in the talks for this article. Adoption’s pretty great; I think it’s courageous, compassionate, maybe even soul expanding to be a part of adoption. And, if everyone lived from that place, we would be better humans. That’s my answer to that, which doesn’t even begin to breach the surface when you think of rape and incest victims, women who aren’t in a place in their lives where they can ensure a healthy pregnancy, women in violent homes, and girls who, though acting like women, may be better served by having an abortion than bringing a child to term in grade 8. The age of consent here is 14, if you really check your fine print.

As a friend put it, pro-lifers are committed to the moment of the choice, not the subsequent life, and given how many babies would be born in a pro-life world to parents who couldn’t care for their needs, couldn’t love them how we each deserve to be loved, couldn’t protect them and give them the quality of life we all wish for our children, those things outweigh the beating of a tiny heart (which, by the way, begins around the 18th day after conception, on the official). This same friend looks forward to when she will be a mother, and is a vegetarian to boot, so babies and non-violence are up her alley, and she is still eloquently and adamantly pro-choice.

Beacause pro-choice does not mean pro-death, Never has. A seemingly obvious fact apparently lost on pro-life Liberal, Trifon Haitas, who was gunning for the MP position in the upcoming Danforth-Toronto by-election, the spot left prematurely vacant due to Jack Layton’s passing, which speaks volumes about the constituents and their opinions. I hope he gets all the way to nowhere. I can’t help but get vehement when I see him quoted as saying: “I’m alive today because both my parents are pro-life. My grandparents didn’t want me to be born.”

Um, hi; we pro-choice parents are here too. There’s even an (albeit tiny) Facebook group on the subject. The pic’s great: it’s (ostensibly) the page admin with her kids and a caption that reads “A Pro-Choice Woman Chose Me.” Sing it, sister!

Being pro-choice also means that having my daughter was a choice, not a consequence. She, and every child born as long as we as a nation have had and continue to have legal, safe, abortions, is an active joyful choice, not a biological inevitability. My concern now is to ensure that when she’s old enough to make sexual decisions, she is free to make the choices that apply to her own body, regardless of what anyone’s moral opinion may be. The laws in this country have some pretty strict rules about keeping unwanted hands off my body; the government, at the very least, should stick to that one.