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Tory threat to abortion rights

Pam Johnson

November 20, 2011

The year 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the US Supreme Court decision affirming a woman’s right to an abortion. It will also be 24 years since the abortion law in Canada was struck down in 1988. Abortion rights were won through hard fought struggles by women and men and marked a high point of the gains of the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s.

Today these gains are under attack by Harper’s Conservatives and Tea Party-fuelled politicians in the US. The economic crisis of 2008 followed by government austerity measures have led to scapegoating tactics to detract from the real cause of the crisis, including, once again, attacking a woman’s right to choose.

On November 8, Mississippians voted in a referendum to reject a draconian law that would have redefined abortion and most forms of contraception as murder–with no exceptions for rape or incest or when a woman’s life is in danger–and banned any contraception that may prevent implantation of a fertilized egg.

Sadly, both Republican and Democratic politicians have supported the bill, although the Tea Party inspired initiative had been voted down twice in Colorado. With the Tea Party influence undercut by the rising Occupy movement, even the largest US anti-choice organization, National Right To Life Committee, refused to support this toxic bill.

In Canada, Harper has infamously said that he will not reopen the abortion debate. It is clear in poll after poll that a majority of Canadians support choice, making any direct attempt to undermine it political suicide. Since 2006, Harper’s regime has kept the lid on his party’s social conservatives, while allowing backdoor attempts to whittle down women’s rights—something pro-choice activists have called “anti-choice by stealth.”

In 2008, Tory MP Ken Epp introduced a private member’s bill, the “Unborn Victims of crime” Act, attempting to set a precedent for “fetal” rights. In the lead-up to the G20 summit, Harper’s maternal health initiatives for poor countries included the stipulation that no funding go to abortion services.

And now that they hold a majority in parliament, the social conservatives are coming out of the woodwork. Tory MP Brad Trost said recently that anti-choice activists must become more aggressive.

He is demanding that the Harper government go further and cut funding to the International Planned Parenthood Federation for contraception and sex education programs in developing countries.

Planned Parenthood has pushed back, stating the move will inevitably lead to more unsafe abortions. Pro-choice activists in Toronto, including young women and men new to the struggle, held a successful emergency counter protest to a recent anti-choice rally.

Rekindling the pro-choice movements of the 70s and 80s with new layers of activists is the kind of activity that will be required to meet new challenges to women’s rights.

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