Defending reproductive rights in Alberta

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Defending reproductive rights in Alberta

Kathy Dawson is a board member of the Alberta Pro-Choice Coalition (APCC), which brings together groups from across the province to "protect and support sexual health and reproductive rights in Alberta." As a provincial election looms that may well bring the United Conservative Party (UCP) under Jason Kenney to power, Scott Neigh interviews Dawson about the threats she sees to sexual and reproductive rights in Alberta and about the work of the APCC to counter those threats.

On January 28, 1988, a Supreme Court of Canada decision – one that was only made possible by decades of determined feminist organizing – overturned Canada's abortion law. Since that time, pregnant women (and other pregnant people) in Canada have had a right to receive an abortion on request.

As crucial a victory as that was, however, circumstances these 31 years later illustrate that the absence of formal legal restrictions is a very different thing than genuine freedom from substantive material barriers – and not just to reproductive choice narrowly conceived, but to sexual and reproductive rights more broadly.

Dawson's entry into pro-choice activism was in response to the ways that youth are denied access to their sexual and reproductive rights through being denied knowledge. She lives in Edmonton, where at that time her daughter attended a school in the public system. In her sex education class, her daughter was told numerous inaccurate and highly troubling things. This prompted Dawson to initiate a campaign that ultimately resulted in the Edmonton Public School Board passing a policy to ensure its schools teach comprehensive, inclusive, and evidence-based sex ed.

Dawson then became involved with the national Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, and eventually connected with the Calgary Pro Choice Coalition, which had been around since 1994. After some discussions with the Calgary group, they decided to launch the Alberta Pro-Choice Coalition in 2016.

The APCC is an all-volunteer initiative that takes action in a number of ways. They do research. They develop resources about issues and tools for campaigns that can be taken up by local groups in different communities in the province. And they use social media to mobilize in support of both their own campaigns and those of affiliated local groups.

An important element of how reproductive rights are limited in substance and even potentially threatened with formal legal roll-back is through the activities of an extensive and well-funded anti-choice movement. Much of the APCC's work so far has involved countering that movement.

For instance, anti-choice demonstrators have sometimes intimidated and harassed people attending clinics that provide reproductive health care that includes abortion services. APCC was involved in pushing for and supporting the legislation passed by Alberta's NDP government that mandates a minimum distance for protests, or "bubble zone," around clinics and around the homes of providers.

Many anti-choice organizations have found ways to access public funding that then directly or indirectly supports their agenda of diminishing reproductive rights. APCC has been working on a number of levels to de-fund anti-choice organizations. The federal decision to place greater restrictions on access the Canada Summer Jobs program was in part due to APCC's campaigning, and they are attempting to do similar things at the provincial and local levels in Alberta.

They have also campaigned against anti-choice ads, challenged inaccurate and propagandistic sex ed in some school systems, and worked to get listings removed from public referral services that point people seeking health information and services towards anti-choice organizations. They also hope soon to focus on addressing the uneven access to abortion services for different populations and in different parts of the province.

At the moment, however, Dawson said that the biggest threat to sexual and reproductive rights in Alberta is the possible outcome of the provincial election that will be happening at some point before May 31, 2019. There is a serious chance that the United Conservative Party will form a majority. Dawson said that anti-choice groups are committed to ensuring that the UCP candidates in at least 52 of the province's 87 ridings hold anti-choice views. While the party has said it will not legislate on the issue, there are a huge range of other things that right-wing governments can do to interfere in sexual and reproductive rights.

Image: Flickr photo by Zhu.

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Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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