Happen to Reproductive Rights Under a Harper
By Joyce Arthur, Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada
May 18, 2011
The Harper majority and its
right-wing base could take many actions over the next four years to
restrict or try to restrict reproductive rights and access. A
Conservative majority means that the pro-choice movement, its allies,
and the public are the true Official Opposition when it comes to
protecting the right to abortion. We must hit back hard and fast at any
attempt to restrict abortion rights or access. Even if that attempt is
likely to fail, it will still give us an opportunity to educate the
public and establish closer working ties with the NDP.
The following list is a prediction
of possible actions that could be initiated or promoted by anti-choice
MPs, the Pro-Life Parliamentary Caucus, the Prime Minister, and other
anti-choice government officials, as well as by the anti-choice
movement. Predictions are based on the history of past anti-choice
actions, anti-choice news stories and wish lists, mainstream news
stories, and U.S. anti-choice measures that could be imported to
Canada. The likelihood of each prediction coming to pass is also rated,
although this is somewhat subjective.
Private Member Bills
Introduce private member bills. (highly likely, top priority for
the anti-choice movement)
There have been 43
anti-choice private member bills and motions introduced in Canada
since 1987. None have passed, but with a majority government, the
chances of passage increase, especially if we can’t count on Harper
whipping his Cabinet to vote against them. Anti-choice leaders are
already warning us to expect a private
member’s bill limiting abortion by the fall. Here’s some past PMBs
and motions that may be the most likely ones to be re-introduced:
New PMBs that could be
introduced are based on existing restrictions in the U.S.:
- Establish legal
personhood for fetuses, such as by making them separate victims of
crime (similar to Bill C-484), or by changing or muddying the
definition of “human being” in the Criminal Code.
- Permit medical
personnel to refuse to serve patients who request abortion or birth
control services (similar to Bill C-537).
- Criminalize abortion
after 20 weeks of gestation (similar to Bill C-338).
- Criminalize “coercing”
women into abortion (similar to Bill C-510).
- Compel abortion
providers to provide medically-inaccurate information to patients under
the guise of “informed consent”, including false claims that abortion
leads to breast cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, infertility,
etc. (similar to Motion M-482).
- Force women to undergo
and view an ultrasound of their fetus before they can have an abortion.
- Require women under 18
to obtain parental consent for seeking abortions, or require abortion
providers to notify parents of minors.
- Require women seeking
an abortion to receive mandatory counselling from a religious
anti-choice “crisis pregnancy centre” (similar to the bill recently
passed in South
- Require women to
notify the “biological father” before they can have an abortion.
Defunding of Abortion
2. Launch provincial
campaigns (by the anti-choice movement) to try to defund abortion,
particularly in the Prairies and Maritimes. (highly likely, top
Call for a national referendum to defund abortion, and if
successful, penalize provinces that fund abortion, similar to Bill
C-515 or Motion M-83. (highly likely, top priority for the anti-choice
Continue to allow New Brunswick to openly violate the Act by not
funding the Fredericton Morgentaler Clinic, and refuse to enforce the
Canada Health Act against other provinces that defund abortion. (highly
Continue not enforcing the Canada Health Act in general, or amend it to
make it more toothless. (highly likely)
Harper said in the election
campaign of 2004 (the year he became leader of the Conservative Party),
that he would oppose any bill limiting provincial funding to abortion
services, and would not support a referendum on abortion. But in 2001,
Harper said that provinces should exercise complete autonomy over
healthcare, including funding
it. After he became Prime Minister, Harper expressed support for
the Canada Health Act, but
has shown he cannot
be trusted. As soon as the Conservatives were first elected in
2006, they largely stopped
enforcing the Canada Health Act,
allowing provinces to flout the Act openly. For example, the
feds simply dropped the arbitration process that the previous Liberal
Health Minister had initiated with New Brunswick, essentially giving NB
the thumbs-up to continue its illegal refusal to fund the Fredericton
Morgentaler Clinic. At least five provinces are turning
a blind eye to private clinics that charge a fee, with no
repercussions from Health Canada. Further, Harper supported the Quebec plan
to allow private health care insurance and private clinics, breaking a
2006 election promise that he would enforce the Canada Health Act.
If the Harper majority further
erodes the Canada Health Act, it
could lead to the gutting of national healthcare standards, leaving
each province free to do its own thing. Besides the risk of increased
privatization of healthcare and patient user fees, it would make it
easier for provincial governments to defund abortion. Since New
Brunswick is already not being penalized, other provinces have little
to fear from the feds if they defund abortion, at least at private
However, defunding abortion may be
a near-impossible task for the anti-choice movement, as provinces would
be reluctant to invite a Charter challenge. In 1991, 63% of voters in
Saskatchewan voted to defund abortion, but the incoming government
dropped the issue after getting legal advice that it would be unconstitutional,
because defunding abortion while funding pregnancy and childbirth would
constitute discrimination on the basis of sex. Nonetheless, it will be
very important to fight a defunding campaign and use it as an
opportunity to educate the public on the medical necessity of abortion.
A recent Angus Reid poll showed that 44%
of Canadians support full funding for abortion, so we are not far
from achieving a majority in case a referendum ever does take place.
Reproductive Health and Rights
6. Continue defunding domestic
organizations and women’s groups that support or advocate for
reproductive rights. (highly likely)
Continue denial of funding to International Planned Parenthood
Federation. (highly likely)
Defund other organizations and programs (domestic or
international) that provide abortion services or other reproductive
health services, including contraception and comprehensive sex
education. (highly likely, at least for abortion)
Fund anti-choice “crisis pregnancy centres.” (highly likely)
of domestic groups have had their funding reduced or cut under
Harper’s reign so far. The IPPF submitted a new funding application to
CIDA in the spring of 2010 that complied with Canada’s new prohibition
against funding safe abortion, but have still
not heard back.
Abortion is not the only area of
women’s healthcare that may be at risk. In the U.S., the Christian
right is working hard to cut
all federal funding for reproductive healthcare for women,
including contraception, PAP smears, STI screening and treatment,
breast exams, cervical cancer screening, and other essential care.
Meanwhile, tens of millions of dollars in federal funding have been awarded to CPCs in the U.S.
Supreme Court, and Legal Measures
10. Appoint two or three
anti-choice judges to the Supreme Court (out of at least five
vacancies), and appoint mostly conservative judges at lower courts.
Appoint more anti-choice Conservatives to the Senate. (highly likely)
Appoint anti-choice ministers, secretaries of state, or other officials
in portfolios that affect women’s health or reproductive rights.
Continue to weaken and undermine Parliament and its committees, so that
the voices and work of pro-choice MPs can more easily be silenced and
shelved. (highly likely)
Refuse to ratify or recognize international agreements,
protocols, treaties, and laws that recognize women's reproductive
rights. (highly likely)
Invoke the Charter of Rights "notwithstanding" clause to override court
decisions that conflict with government ideology. (not likely, but
often touted by anti-choicers)
16. Use the new “Office of
Religious Freedom” to privilege and empower right-wing religious groups
over secular groups. (highly likely)
Promote or implement anti-choice policies or positions in health,
education, the justice system, human resources, foreign affairs, and
other areas. (highly likely)
Refuse to sanction research or support medical trials on abortion drugs
or new abortion technologies, and discourage Health Canada testing and
approval. (somewhat likely if mifepristone approval gets closer)
Ban public funding for research or programs involving the use of
embryonic stem cells. (not likely, but a priority for the anti-choice
- Campaign Life
Coalition. 2009. Legislative
Press. May 12, 2011. ‘Debate
is on’ as thousands protest against abortion on Parliament Hill. Globe & Mail.
Patrick. May 12, 2011. 59%
of Canadians want restrictions on abortion as March for Life revs up:
poll. LifeSite News.
News. May 4, 2011. Tory
backers push for 'truly conservative' government.
- Jalsevac, John. May 12,
debate is on!’ - Record-breaking 15,000+ attend Canadian National March
- Leishman, Rory. May 10,
for a referendum on abortion funding. The
- Mrozek, Andrea. May 3, 2011.
musings. ProWomanProLife. [proposing a bill to
ban abortions after 20 weeks]
- Pro-Choice Action
Autumn 2000. Dooms'Day'
in Canada: Abortion Rights Threatened by Alliance. Pro-Choice