US Export To Canada: A Full-Bore Attack on Women’s Rights
You can’t say women are being ignored in the U.S. Republican nomination battle, exactly. If any one of the Republican candidates for the presidential nomination were to win power, the consequences for women could include an end to Planned Parenthood’s affordable cervical-cancer screenings, breast exams and contraceptive services; power handed over to employers in some states to deny, on personal-moral grounds, their female employees coverage for contraception; and some states simply outlawing most forms of birth control.
Happily, the prospect of a Republican winning the November presidential election is slim and getting slimmer by the day. A poll last week that stunned Republican candidates and their strategists found that female voters had turned sharply away from the party. The traditional Republican-vs.-Democrat gender gap had widened into a chasm. Women’s support of front-runner Mitt Romney dropped in three months from roughly equal to their support of the Democrats to 18 percentage points behind.
Women were finally reacting to the Republicans’ increasingly aggressive campaigning against contraception and abortion. A recent analysis of states’ attitudes toward abortion by the New York-based Guttmacher Institute - which promotes sexual and reproductive health through research, policy analysis and public education - found that states had enacted a “record-breaking number of new abortion restrictions” by 2011.
Two states in particular, Arizona and Kansas, had gone from being supportive of abortion rights to outright hostile in very short order. In case anyone was wondering whether it matters that women are elected to public office, the reason behind the abrupt change was the departure of two powerful female politicians. Until she finished her term as Arizona governor in 2009, Janet Napolitano “repeatedly vetoed provisions to limit abortion access,” the report stated. It was the same thing in Kansas, where Kathleen Sebelius, who also left the governorship in 2009 (to become the national health and human-services secretary in President Barack Obama’s cabinet), had long stood “as a bulwark” (as the Guttmacher report put it) against anti-abortion forces.
The report says that the most high-profile fight over abortion last year came when Mississippi voters defeated an initiative that would have restricted women’s access to both abortion and contraception by defining the term “person” under the state constitution as “every human being from the moment of fertilization.” Voters in Colorado rejected a similar initiative twice, once in 2008 and 2010.
The question of when “personhood” starts is the latest tactic in the campaign against abortion rights, a battle Canadians are not going to be spared if Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth has anything to do with it.
Even though Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised that his government would not reopen the question of abortion, Woodworth, a backbencher, has managed to get accepted a private member’s bill reopening a debate thought to have been settled in 1988. His bill, Motion M-312, calls for a special committee of the House of Commons to review the Criminal Code provision that states that a child becomes a human being “only at the moment of complete birth.” Woodworth has been granted at least one hour of debate in the House of Commons later this month, with further debate to follow.
This debate will take place despite the fact that the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 1988 that “Forcing a woman, by threat of criminal sanction, to carry a fetus to term unless she meets certain criteria unrelated to her own priorities and aspirations, is a profound interference with a woman’s body and thus a violation of her security of the person.”
But men like Woodworth refuse to accept that women should have such independence. This is the heart of the matter: a furious rejection of women’s right to self-determination. What better way to deny women’s freedom than to impose, under threat of criminal sanction, the obligation to carry a pregnancy to term?