Our Bodies Are Our Own: Connecting Abortion and Social Policy

By Bourgeois, Sonya | Canadian Review of Social Policy, January 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Our Bodies Are Our Own: Connecting Abortion and Social Policy


Bourgeois, Sonya, Canadian Review of Social Policy


Introduction

The right to access abortion in Canada was shaped by feminist activists fighting for the protection of a woman's right to control her reproductive body. Abortion was decriminalized by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1988, as the court struck down the Criminal Code of Canada, which criminalized women accessing abortion without the consent of a doctor (Jenson, 1997). The court found that the criminalization of abortion infringed on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that guaranteed security of the person; the court decided that security of the person included access to medical care and procedures (Jenson, 1997). This amendment was a significant step for women, who were granted autonomy in reproductive health decisions; however, access to abortion has been a struggle for women in Canada, and continues to be an everyday struggle for women all over the world.

While women are able to access abortion in Canada, pro-life advocacy and legislation attempts to limit a woman's right to choose. The demand for choice presents major challenges to dominant discourses of femininity and sexuality, and in particular, pro-life discourse. The goal of the pro-choice movement is to support women in choosing how to best respond to pregnancy, whether it be abortion, adoption, or becoming a parent, while the pro-life goal is to limit abortion as a reproductive option. Some pro-life advocates in Canada engage in public education through advocacy groups such as the Campaign Life Coalition (CLC), while others attempt to legislate change in the Parliament of Canada.

This paper examines themes within selections of pro - life advocacy materials, including CLC online materials, and seven bills that have been proposed in the Parliament of Canada. The purpose of this paper is to understand how women's reproductive choices are represented within pro-life discourse, how traditional views of femininity and sexuality are reinforced, and how pro-life advocates are attempting to shape the abortion debate and to create an anti-abortion climate in Canada. The four themes identified, The Fetus has Rights, Abortion is Traumatic, Women are First and Foremost Mothers, and Women do not Really Need Abortion present a particular narrative about women who access abortion. It is important to understand pro-life strategies to ensure that women have substantial, not merely formal, access to abortion.

Background: Abortion Access and the Pro-Choice and Pro-life Debate

Section 179c of the 1892 Criminal Code of Canada stated that the sale or advertisement of any drug or material intended to prevent conception or to cause an abortion was an offence and liable of up to two years in prison (McLaren & McLaren, 1997). Homosexuality, the distribution of birth control information, and access to contraception were also prohibited (Pelrine, 1972). In response to the Criminal Code of Canada, an organized birth control movement developed in the 1930s, as a group of women and some doctors in Ontario organized around the need to regulate women's reproduction (Pelrine, 1972). Individual doctors, in the privacy of their offices, would hint at contraceptive options or help to induce miscarriages, but doctors would not publicly recommend the termination of a pregnancy by a surgeon (McLaren & McLaren, 1997). Many women sought illegal abortions, and those without the means to pay for an illegal procedure would take other dangerous measures.

The Criminal Code of Canada was reformed in 1969 because doctors wanted to provide abortions for women who faced medical risks (Jenson, 1997). Through this reform, women could have an abortion if a therapeutic abortion committee, consisting of a group of three doctors, approved the request as medically necessary (Jenson, 1997). The committee gave consideration to women whose pregnancy threatened their lives, physical health, and in some cases mental health, but never on the grounds of socioeconomic conditions or a woman's right to choose (Pelrine, 1972). …

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