How hard-won rights can be taken away

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It seems that younger generations of Canadian women will have to carry on the good fight that won us the choice we have today.

Sometimes the toughest fights are ones that we assume are already won. For instance, as a woman in her 20s, I know that one of the greatest victories of the women's movement in North America is a woman's right to choose. Our generation has, however, been able, for the most part, to take that victory for granted.

Last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision, which fundamentally limits women's access to abortions, even if her own life is in jeopardy, is a stark reminder that we need to be vigilant in defense of our right to control our own bodies.

Of course, the most powerful court in the U.S. is full of conservatives appointed by the generations of Bushes who have occupied the White House. Bush Jr. recently appointed Justices Robert and Alito, and who can forget the controversy over the appointment of the sexually harassing Clarence Thomas, appointed by daddy Bush. The Supreme Court judges voted 5-4 in favour of reducing women's access to abortion, making it illegal to a perform a particular second trimester procedure, called a “DIX” or, in the lexicon of the anti-choice movement, “partial birth abortions.”

This decision has been welcomed by the anti-choice movement. It passed because of the changes in the Court's make-up that came with the departure of Justice Sandra Day O'Conner, who sat on the bench for almost a quarter century and was a strong advocate for women's right to autonomy. In 2007, it is hard to fathom that there is only one woman who sits on the bench of the Supreme Court. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, for her part, was clearly alarmed by the position taken by the all-male conservative majority. She stated that it “cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away a right declared again and again by this court, and with increasing comprehension of its centrality to women's lives.”

The conservative majority decision on this issue is their first step towards limiting choice. In addition, it is telling the medical establishment that they cannot perform a medical procedure. This procedure has been practiced for years and is deemed necessary by them, often used to save women's lives or to abort a fetus that, for instance, is already dead, or will be unable to survive if it were to be born. But, casting physicians' opinions aside, I guess the men who are the politically appointed judges of the Supreme Court really do know best.

As women's rights groups and doctors call foul, they illustrate that this decision is a purely political move to satisfy the evangelical right. The hypocrisy of the “pro-lifers” is extensive, but especially so for the shrill libertarian right-wingers. They want lower taxes, smaller government, and freedom from state “intrusion.” Take, for instance, that bowtie wearing right-wing mouthpiece, Tucker Carleson, who hates and opposes what he refers to as “nanny legislation,” things like seat-belt laws and smoking bans. You know, those “communist” laws that are put into place to keep people alive.

Individual freedom is the mantra of the right, but its application is inconsistent. This freedom applies to the sacred right to drive Hummers; to shoot endangered species for fun; to eat ding- (100 per cent transfat)dongs; and of course the precious second amendment right to buy guns and ammo clips on E-bay. In contrast, women's individual freedom to control their own bodies generates great enthusiasm for “nanny-state” government intervention to limit personal autonomy.

Although this decision will — we hope — not have much effect here in Canada, women should be worried about our right to access this medical procedure. The decision south of the border illustrates how hard-won rights can be taken away.

Some in Canada wish they could do just that. Take, for example, an article published on the weekend in the Calgary Sun by Ted Byfield, who commends the U.S. Supreme Court for its decision to end the “gruesome” practice of these types of abortions, and asserts that the abortion “revolution” went too far. He goes on to illustrate that there is nothing that drives a right-winger as crazy as feminists and gays, by making an irrational connection to the pro-choice movement and the rights of churches to be homophobic.

    When abortion was legalized, the idea of putting to death a child (sic) who was three-quarters born in order to suck its brains out was not even remotely consideredâe¦

    Similarly on the gay issue, we will now see the attempt made to remove the privilege of tax deductibility from any church that teaches homosexual practice as immoral. That too will be one step too far. (Byfield, Calgary Sun, April 22, 2007)

Anti-choice groups in Canada are alive and well, harassing women outside abortion clinics in this country and travelling university campuses as part of the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) which harasses students with their posters, claiming that the abortion of a fetus which could not live outside the womb is a situation identical to that of the murder of millions of Jewish people during the Holocaust.

Then there are the, less offensive but still disturbing, words of the federal leader of the “pro-choice” Green Party, Elizabeth May, who seemed like a promising addition to the federal scene. She has lost the votes of many feminists because of comments she made recently, stating that she has, “talked women out of having abortions. I would never have an abortion myself, not in a million years. I can't imagine the circumstances that would ever reduce me to it.” With friends like theseâe¦

Sadly, women have not reached equality and do not always have control over our bodies. For instance, 1 in 4 women in Canada will be raped in her lifetime. And a recent UN report confirms that over a third of women in relationships will be physically assaulted by our male partners. So imagine how open the discussion around contraception would be, if you knew you were going to be physically assaulted if you refused to let him do what he wanted. It is, therefore, irresponsible to conclude that women would use an invasive medical procedure as their preferred form of birth control — another common theme of anti-choice moralizing.

So it seems that younger generations of Canadian women will have to carry on the good fight that won us the choice we have today. For our motto, we could appropriate a little jingle by Sneakers, that friendly clown that I remember my elementary school teachers playing for us to teach us to identify people who wanted to do us harm:

    My body's nobody's body but mine
    You have your own body, let me have mine.

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