Two decades later, still work to do for choice

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On the 20th anniversary of abortion legalization, we have 20 years of thank yous to make. Thank you to Dr. Morgentaler, the activists, abortion providers, clinic staff, lawyers, escorts, and all who have fought hard so that people in Canada can themselves make the best decision over their own bodies.

I have traveled to the volatile state of South Dakota over the past two years to fight, on the front lines alongside our neighbours, for choice and I can assure you that we have much to be grateful for living in Canada. Of all the counties in the U.S., 87 percent lack an abortion provider, never mind the extreme religious anti-choice circus that is so prevalent around the country. I can officially say today I'm proud to be Canadian and proud to be pro-choice.

But let's take a closer look at where we are now. Canadians for Choice released a report in 2006 entitled "Reality Check," for which researcher Jessica Shaw called each hospital posing as a pregnant woman and sent each hospital a written questionnaire. The findings of this research are astonishing. The report revealed that only 15.9 percent of hospitals across Canada have accessible abortion services, the majority of which are located in major urban centres within 150 km of the U.S. border.

What's more, Jessica was repeatedly laughed at, hung up on, given dead end referrals, and dealt with staff who did not even know what to do with her call. At one hospital, she was even offered the morning after pill to cure her well-established 10-week pregnancy.

One of the other barriers that is creeping up more and more that was also a definite finding of this report was the referral to anti-choice organizations. We are seeing this happen in both open and covert ways. Often these organizations pose as "pregnancy crisis centres." They use language that sounds supportive but being inside their doors means being given one choice only. These organizations are usually faith-based and may be funded by religious affiliates. Their entire purpose is to prevent women from having abortions, often through misinformation and coercion.

The question of who is affected by these barriers is also not one that is discussed enough. While we look at geography and where people are isolated from both clinics and sexual health services in general that would enable them to make more choices about their sexual well-being and life, we have to consider the actual people who suffer the greatest inequities in terms of receiving the care that we in the pro-choice movement advocate.

I myself am a 22 year old multiracial woman of Mohawk and Chinese ancestry, so I always find it interesting when references to feminism and the notion of reproductive rights are centred solely on the movements of the 1960s. I come from a matriarchal society where we have always believed that women's bodies are women's business. Our women were in charge of land, resources, and family. The idea of sustainable childcare and social programs comes from our cultural teaching that we have always lived by âe" that it takes a community to raise a child. Of course, the genocide, severe oppression, and rape and pillaging of our land demonstrates that there has been an attempt to wipe out and make us forget these values, but we are rebuilding, restructuring, and trying to go back to the old ways.

The time has more than arrived to recognize the racism, classism, and homophobia that is present in reproductive and sexual health services. Being pro-choice must encompass ethnically and racially diverse voices and realize that the concept of "choice" is distorted when placed on the platform of poverty, race, culture, and oppression. We shouldn't all have to follow the feminist framework instituted by white middle-class, western feminists. It's up to my generation to redefine the movement.

The conversation that has been reignited on the 20th anniversary of the Morgentaler decision shows that youth have become somewhat apathetic towards reproductive rights and not aware of the battles that have been won. However, it's essential to remember that youth today are strong, involved in various activisms, and indeed are working hard to make the world a better place.

At times, we get caught up in "I'm working for this movement" or "I'm campaigning for that cause" mentality and it's difficult to see where we can align ourselves and become real allies. Yet this means that we are missing out on a great opportunity to strengthen all of our interests and advocacy. People often ask me why I'm pro-choice and while a good portion of that has to do with my family, culture, and teachings, it also has to do with the fact that once you take away a person's right to make decisions over their own body, this opens the flood gates to take away other basic human rights to which everyone is entitled.

What we have to remember today is that we are in a much better place than 20 years ago. These positive changes in the trends of reproductive health care are the direct result of the continuous dedication of those who have tirelessly worked to make abortion legal and those who are currently working to keep these services available to all.

As reproductive justice activist Dorothy Roberts has so poignantly said:

"Reproduction is not just a matter of individual choice. Reproductive health policy affects the status of entire groups. It reflects which people are valued in our society; who is deemed worthy to bear children and capable of making decisions for themselves. Reproductive decisions are made within a social context, including inequalities of wealth and power."

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