Joyce Arthur is the Founder and Executive Director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. She has been an abortion rights and pro-choice activist since 1998. Arthur worked for 10 years running the Pro-Choice Action Network. In addition to these accomplishments, she founded FIRST or the first national feminist group advocating for the rights of sex workers and the decriminalization of prostitution in Canada. We decided to start an educational series on reproductive rights in its various facets. Here we talk about rising concerns.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: As we see a rise of, typically, rightwing authoritarianism in state-based secular and religious garb, we see the standard diversionary tactics: pointing the finger and directing vitriol at vulnerable targets or the normally vilified including feminists, activists, students, individuals with social programs and initiatives, progressive politicians and policies, and the non-religious. How is this rising tide impacting Canadian reproductive rights and its associated activists?
Joyce Arthur: We see the direct impacts here in Canada with the election of Doug Ford as Premier of Ontario, and the predicted election in May 2019 of Jason Kenney and his United Conservative Party in Alberta. In Ontario, Ford has repealed the progressive sex-ed curriculum passed by the previous Liberal government in 2015, which contained crucial references to sexual orientation, gender identity, and consent. Ford’s decision was based mostly on inaccurate right-wing propaganda and scare-mongering by right-wing groups and conservative parents. To give two examples, they claim that parents weren’t consulted, but in fact 4,000 were randomly selected along with dozens of child development professionals, mental health sexual health organizations, parent groups and police. The vast majority of Ontarians – students, parents, teachers, healthcare professionals – disagree with the repeal of the sex-ed curriculum. Second, right-wing groups claimed that kids would be taught graphic information about homosexuality and gender fluidity and forced to view them as normal, accepted practice. But in the 2015 curriculum, children were taught to respect people’s differences, that’s all.
Other threats include the possible repeal (or non-enforcement) of the safe access zone laws passed in both Ontario and Alberta recently, which help to protect women and providers from the harassment of anti-choice protesters; and attacks against LBGTQ rights, including the ability to join gay-straight alliances in Alberta schools without being outed to their parents.
We might have a tendency to feel complacent in Canada because of our liberal feminist government, but things go in cycles, and a future Conservative government is a question of when, not if. The previous Harper government inflicted a lot of damage on progressive groups and women’s equality groups, while elevating opportunities and funding for religious and anti-human rights groups. We can expect the same during the next Conservative government, with resulting setbacks for women’s rights, or at least no further forward movement.
Jacobsen: Why are women’s rights the first to be attacked by these regimes, politicians, and groups?
Arthur: We still live in a patriarchal society where white men rule and have many advantages and privileges (at least the wealthy and powerful ones). So they will fight to maintain that power. It’s often quite easy to roll back the rights of women and other disadvantaged groups – right-wing governments can pass laws, or just policies, that simply cancel or reduce their rights, and they count on the relative powerlessness of those groups, plus the fear of the general populace that inhibits them from speaking out in case of reprisals. For example, Turkey has a relatively liberal abortion law but it’s now meaningless because President Erdogan is anti-abortion and wants to increase the birth rate. He’s enforcing unwritten policies that make it extremely difficult for hospitals to provide abortions, plus information and access to contraception has disappeared. Meanwhile, Viagra is available over the counter in Turkey with zero controversy.
The right to abortion is a bedrock human right for women, because we can’t enjoy equality or fully participate in society without the ability to control our reproductive capacity. But equality for women is a scary thing for right-wing and authoritarian forces, so abortion becomes a flashpoint in countries dominated by such forces, including the U.S. Of course, churches and religious groups also hold a lot of power in many countries, which is why abortion is still illegal in most Latin American countries, and often unavailable in Italy, Spain, and South Africa because large numbers of healthcare professionals exercise “conscientious objection” due to religious belief and abortion stigma.
But women are increasingly wielding real power too, as shown by the #MeToo movement, and by the successful campaigns to legalize abortion in Ireland and Chile. When women are taken seriously and their rights respected by a majority of people, they CAN win. But we’re still fighting a deeply-entrenched patriarchy that continues to exert power in many countries around the world.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Joyce.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
Do not forget to look into our associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, and Centre for Inquiry Canada.
Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.
Image Credit: Joyce Arthur.