"Forcing women to give birth without their consent is akin to indentured servitude. These laws have the ability to turn women into involuntary birthing vessels. This attack on women violates our fundamental right to life, libery and security of the person." — Elisabeth Ballermann, NUPGE Secretary-Treasurer
Ottawa (16 May 2019) — On May 15, representatives for the State of Alabama passed into law some of the heaviest restrictions on women's reproductive rights in the United States. These new restrictions do not allow women to terminate a pregnancy. Not in the case of rape, not in the case of incest. Doctors who perform abortions could go to jail for 99 years. This means doctors that perform an abortion for a woman pregnant as a result of a rape could receive a longer sentence than the man who raped her.
Alabama, latest attack on women
In 2017, Alabama had the worst infant mortality rates of all US states. It also topped the list for having the harshest restrictions on abortions. A 2017 study by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Ibis Reproductive Health, a healthcare think tank, found that hostility to reproductive rights tended to go hand-in-hand with a lack of state-level policies supporting women’s and infant health.
Unfortunately, Alabama is not alone in legislating away women's rights. Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, and South Dakota already have trigger laws on the books that criminalize abortion. Nine states — Alabama, Arizona, Michigan, New Mexico, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, Arkansas and Mississippi — have yet to revoke their pre-Roe laws. Roe v Wade was the case where the US Supreme Court ruled that a women's right to an abortion was implicit in the right to privacy protected by the US Constitution's 14 amendment.
Republicans in the US have railed against the Roe vs Wade decision for decades. Since the election of Donald Trump, there have been more conservatives appointed to the Supreme Court. Those looking to overturn Roe v Wade are deliberately passing laws that will be deemed unconstitutional upon a legal challenge. Conservatives want to have this fight — all the way to the Supreme Court — so they can try to abolish the protections women have had under the 14th Amendment.
"Margaret Atwood's, 'The Handmaid's Tale,' is supposed to be fiction, not a prediction of the future!" says Elisabeth Ballermann, Secretary-Treasurer at the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE). "These laws have the ability to turn women into involuntary birthing vessels. This attack on women violates our fundamental right to life, liberty, and security of the person."
Women's rights in Canada at risk
In Canada Conservatives often have pushed for similar restrictions on the reproductive rights of women. While abortion is legal in Canada, the right was hard won, and it was only in 1988 that the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that women have the right to choose to end a pregnancy in R v Morgentaler. Until January of 2017, women from Prince Edward Island had to travel out of province to access the procedure. Anti-choice organizations have never stopped their efforts to again ban abortion in Canada, and the seepage of US conservative politics across our border does not go unnoticed.
"We are not immune from the attacks on women that are playing out south of the border," says Ballermann. "We have sitting politicians who are actively undermining women's rights across our country."
In Canada, Conservative governments have been systematically undermining the rights of women for decades by eliminating funding for public services that support vulnerable women, like women's shelters and counselling, defunding pre- and post-natal care programs, removing access to affordable child care or refusing to increase the minimum wage.
Most recently, in Ontario, 3 Conservative MPPs — Sam Oosterhoff, MPP for Niagara West, Christina Mitas, MPP for Scarborough Centre,and Will Bouma, MPP for Brantford-Brant — took the stage at a recent anti-choice rally in front of the legislature in Toronto. In an interview with CBC News, Oosterhoff said that, "we pledge to fight to make abortion unthinkable in our lifetime." When the Premier was asked during Question Period if he supported Oosterhoff's position, Doug Ford refused to condemn the statements. Oosterhoff was also recently in the news when his staff called the police on seniors who were holding a peaceful vigil outside his office.
History of Roe v Wade
The decision came about when in 1973, "Jane Roe' challenged the Texas law that refused a woman's right to abortion (unless it was medically necessary). Roe was actually a young woman, Norma McCorvey, who wanted to terminate her pregnancy. She had previously put 2 children up for adoption. Being poor meant that McCorvey did not have the financial means to travel to a different state of country that would allow a doctor to perform the abortion. She was not alone. Many women had to resort to illegal back-alley abortions. McCovey was referred to lawyers who wanted to challenge the anti-abortion law. Her lawyers filed a lawsuit against well-known Henry Wade, the district attorney of Dallas County.
The Texas district court ruled against the state's ban on abortion as it violated the US Constitution. The ruling was appealed and found its way to the US Supreme Court. In a 7-2 decision, the Court upheld the judgement, legalizing the procedure across the US.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE