‘We are not passive receptacles, we are not handmaids, we are human beings’
By Joel MacKenzie, Staff Writer
On Tuesday, September 25, supporters of women’s abortion rights rallied outside the Vancouver Art Gallery in response to motion M-312.
The motion was created by Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth, who proposed the creation of a committee set to re-examine the point at which foetuses should be considered persons under Canadian law. The motion received little support from MPs, and was defeated on September 26 by a 91–203 vote. But its existence still proved a threat to women’s ability to legally have abortions, an issue that, since 1988, Canada has had no law regulating.
The rally included female speakers from a range of ages, including ones representing The BC Federation of Labour, the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, and the SFU Women’s Center. Many were dressed in radical handmaid costumes, reflective of characters from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian novel depicting women as subjugated by men in society. The group spoke to a crowd of men and women supporters.
Irene Lanzinger, with the BC Federation of Labour, blamed Prime Minister Stephen Harper for allowing this debate to continue, despite promising to not re-open it during his election campaign. “I thought we had the right over our own choice,” said Lanzinger during an interview. “We’re not turning back the clock on women’s rights,” she said in her speech.
[quote]The rally included female speakers from a range of ages, including ones representing The BC Federation of Labour, the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, and the SFU Women’s Center.[/quote]
The female speakers shared their experiences with abortion and their feelings about being denied something they consider a basic right, in some cases, by men. Speaker Susan Spratt, the Western Regional BC and Alberta director for the Canadian Auto Workers, said that in 1971, at the age of 17, she was denied the right to an abortion by a panel of men because they determined that she “looked” healthy enough to give birth. Many expressed feelings of oppression from the government who they consider to have no right, as speaker Zanib Ghlayem said during an interview, to “get involved in my own body.”
Joyce Arthur, founder and executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, said in her speech, “this is not an issue about abortion, this is an issue about choice—a woman’s right to choose.” She continued, “we don’t need separate protection for foetuses because we can trust pregnant women to make the best decisions for themselves, their families, and their pregnancy.”
Some, including SFU’s Dr. Suzana Kovacic, alleged that the bill had nothing to do with abortion rights, and that, more importantly, the motion would serve to create discussion on the definition of human life and its beginning. Questions did appear to hint at the motion affecting the ability to have an abortion, though, as it asked what the “legal impacts and consequences” on the “rights of a child before the moment of complete birth.”
The motion did receive a lot of support both from Conservative MPs, and allegedly from Canadians in general. Eighty-seven of the votes supporting the motion came from the Conservatives, the majority of the 163-member Caucus. And in a press conference following the vote, Woodworth commented that the government received massive amounts of mail in support of the motion.
Woodworth also added, “this issue was never closed, it’s not closed now and will never be closed if we in Parliament continue to stick our collective head in the sand.”