The fight for Women’s Reproductive Freedom has been going on in every country around the world. Jane Cawthorne has been a long-time advocate for women’s rights in Canada. She is the writer of the play “The Abortion Monologues”. The play, according to Vicki Saporta, President and CEO of the National Abortion Federation,“…gives a voice to the perspectives of real women who are all too often missing from the public debate. These powerful monologues have the potential to change the way people talk about abortion.”
In the following article, Jane asks us to take a moment to appreciate what our work can accomplish.
By Jane Cawthorne
Calgary, Alberta – These days with women’s reproductive rights under constant attack, especially in the United States, it’s sometimes hard to remember our true goals are in the reproductive justice movement. While we are busy trying to explain what’s wrong with legislating mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions, or explaining why it’s unacceptable and unethical for doctors to be forced to lie to women about their pregnancies so they won’t consider abortion, or fighting to make sure women facing poverty can access contraception, we might need a reminder of what winning really looks like when it comes to reproductive rights.
In Canada, a recent report describes how teen pregnancy and abortion rates in Canada dropped 36.9% between 1996 and 2006. This is an incredible achievement. The study is from the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada and Alexander McKay, one of the reports’ authors, credits this incredible decline to Canada’s “balanced, sensible approach to adolescent sexual health.” McKay says that,
“Generally speaking what you find is that the more a society has an accepting attitude toward the reality of adolescent sexuality, the lower the teen pregnancy rate is. Canadians tend to have a more relaxed attitude towards adolescent sexuality than people in the United States.”
Teen birth and abortion rate comparison
The United States’ emphasis on abstinence only education coupled with a lack of universal health care have meant higher teen birth rates. Further, McKay says, “The United States has large, well-entrenched pockets of inner city poverty and that clearly is linked to higher teen pregnancy rates.” He notes, “In those communities where young women feel optimistic about their educational and employment opportunities, the [teen pregnancy rates] tends to be lower.” The study is worth reading in full.
Here is another success story from Canada. Teens in Toronto can now simply text for accurate information on sexuality, thanks to a new program by Planned Parenthood. Their new text messaging service lets teens connect directly with trained peer volunteers for personalized answers to their sexual health questions via text message. We know that access to accurate and timely information on sexuality helps teens make informed decisions that are more healthy and safe.
Similarly, we can take heart in the fact that a recent attempt to bring the “abortion debate” back to Canadian Parliament and potentially re-criminalize abortion has been dealt a blow. The Conservative government has made it clear that a vote in favor of this new motion is a vote against the Prime Minister who says he has no interest in re-opening this issue. The Conservative Party Whip, Gordon O’Connor gave the most impassioned speech against the motion, stating, “Whether one accepts it or not, abortion is and always will be part of society. There will always be dire situations in which some women may have to choose the option of abortion. No matter how many laws some people may want government to institute against abortion, abortion cannot be eliminated. It is part of the human condition. I cannot understand why those who are adamantly opposed to abortion want to impose their beliefs on others by way of the Criminal Code. There is no law that says that a woman must have an abortion. No one is forcing those who oppose abortion to have one.” This is what winning looks like, when legislators stand up for women and for common sense.
In an American example, the US Conference of Mayors just passed a resolution supporting women’s reproductive rights and funding for Planned Parenthood. This is great news. Seeing elected officials in the United States stand up for choice might be a sign that this ruthless war on women is coming to an end.
Our efforts in the reproductive justice movement do have positive results. We will have won when we are not shamed in our sexuality. We will have won when everyone has access to accurate, comprehensive and timely information on sexuality and sexual health and unrestricted access to the full range of reproductive health services from contraception to abortion. We will have won when women and men are healthy in all parts of our lives, including our reproductive life, and we reproduce consciously and willingly
The report’s full title is: “Trends in teen pregnancy rates from 1996-2006: A comparison of Canada, Sweden, U.S.A., and England/Wales.” Published in The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, Vol. 19 (1-2) 2010.