Reproductive Freedom is a Fundamental Human Right, Not a Political Playing Card

by Kayla Ishkanian

Here we are, in 2017, and we still have politicians using reproductive rights for their own political gain.

This past spring, Attorney General Yasir Naqvi announced Ontario would be introducing legislation that would create “safe access zones” around abortion facilities across the province, in response to escalating protests and physical intimidation outside the Ottawa Morgentaler Clinic. While anti-choice groups made their usual “free speech” arguments about being silenced, pro-choice groups across the province welcomed the announcement and issued a statement in support of the proposed legislation that was brought forth in early October. There is precedent for this type of legislation in British Columbia and in Newfoundland, which both have their own access to abortion laws.

Ontario’s proposed legislation differs slightly from laws in its fellow provinces in terms of access zone size around facilities and the ability for it to be increased by regulation. It includes the following provisions:

  • The size of the automatic safe access zones around clinics would be 50 metres, but this size could be decreased or increased up to 150 metres by regulation.
  • Other facilities that provide abortion services (e.g., hospitals, health centres, and pharmacies) could apply for safe access zones of up to 150 metres.
  • Health professionals who provide abortion services outside of clinics could apply for safe access zones of up to 150 metres around their offices.
  • Staff at Ontario abortion clinics and health professionals who provide abortion services outside of clinics would receive automatic safe access zones of 150 metres around their homes.

While reproductive rights advocates welcomed the much-needed protection, it did not take long for our elected officials to exploit women’s bodies for their own political gain and turn this into an election issue. These tactics were not appropriate in the 1980s; they are certainly not appropriate in 2017.

The day after the proposed legislation was introduced, Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown released an odd video:

 where he accused the Liberals of re-opening debates about divisive social issues and then immediately followed his comment with stating that he is pro-choice. This is in direct contrast with Mr. Brown’s previous voting history as a federal Conservative backbencher. In 2012, he voted in favour of Motion 312, which would have created a new study on when life begins in the womb- a clear path to changing existing abortion laws with some pro-choice groups arguing had the potential to limit women’s reproductive rights. However, his tone has switched since becoming the leader of the PCs with him regretting courting social conservatives and appearing to succumb to political pressures from vocal downtown progressives.

Later that same day, the PCs introduced a motion to automatically pass the bill but were stopped by the Liberals who claimed that they needed more time to consult with groups during the committee stage. Unfortunately, this was clearly a political maneuver to expose the anti-choice members within the PC’s during the committee stage in hopes of dragging the issue out so it remained top of mind for voters come June 2018, not an opportunity to improve the bill as the Minister announced in May that consultations would take place throughout the summer. Given Mr. Brown’s flip flop on abortion rights and previous courtship of SoCons, it is likely the Liberals wanted to highlight the inconsistencies in the PCs platform– claiming to be socially liberal and fiscally conservative yet having socially conservative members with outdated views on women and reproductive rights lurking in the background, ready to send us back to the 1950s with the strike of a committee vote.

As a young woman, I am sick of politicians (read: male politicians) continually using abortion as a political dog whistle to appeal to either the greying social conservatives or the avocado toast-loving progressives. Abortion has been legal in Canada since 1988, so why are women’s reproductive rights still used by politicians as a way to appeal to their respective bases? Do politicians really value women so little that they are willing to keep this issue open to use when it is politically convenient for them to do so?

In particular, I am disappointed with the Liberals for using an important bill that actually protects women as a cheap political tool for their own gain. But alas, exposing the dinosaurs in the PCs appears more important to the Ontario Liberals than addressing the religious fanatics that day in and day out stand outside of abortion clinics across the province to harass, shame, and intimidate women who are making one of the most personal and difficult decisions of their lives. The hypocrisy on the part of both parties is nauseating.

So no, Mr. Brown, the debate over abortion is not being re-opened for the Liberals’ political gain. Your base has not allowed us to close this debate and move on from it in the past thirty years. Fortunately, it appears Minister Naqvi has responded to political pressure, as the Liberals have agreed to fast track the bill, with the bill being approved at second reading. Here’s hoping women in Ontario can finally get the protection they deserve and politicians have learned their lesson about playing politics with women’s reproductive rights. Should they try, this nasty woman will be here to hold them accountable.

Kayla Ishkanian was born and raised in Burnaby, British Columbia and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and History from McGill University. As a stand-up comedy enthusiast, Kayla can be found either watching a comedy show or writing jokes, as well as spending her student loans at Sephora.