Legault’s “right to abortion” law is a wolf in sheep’s clothing

By Marianne Breton Fontaine 

Threats to women’s reproductive autonomy are not always as clearly presented as the US Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v Wade. Sometimes these threats come in the form of measures that do not even seem to specifically target women – through the privatization of public services, for example. They can even camouflage themselves under seemingly good intentions.

Last April, Quebec’s François Legault government announced its plan to pass a law protecting the right to abortion. This seemingly good idea worried many feminist activists because it provided a golden opportunity for anti-choice people to put forward restrictions on this fundamental human right. Even the Barreau du Québec (Quebec’s law society) warned the Minister responsible for the Status of Women, Martine Biron, that such a bill would bring no gains but would risk opening the door to serious setbacks.

In an article in Le Devoir, Barreau spokesperson Martine Meilleur explained that “in fact, as is the case in several jurisdictions elsewhere in the world, the right to abortion, once enshrined in law, could be limited, for example [to] the first trimester of pregnancy or by applying restrictions, conditions or constraints for so-called “late” abortions.”

Currently, there is no such legal restriction in Quebec – or anywhere in Canadian law – and that’s a good thing. In Canada, no woman can be criminalized for having an abortion, regardless of the reason, the number of abortions or how advanced the pregnancy was at the time of termination.

If the Legault government truly cares about women’s reproductive autonomy, it should instead respond to feminist movements’ repeated demands to guarantee universal access to abortion care and family planning services throughout Quebec. This was the recommendation in the recent report, “Guaranteeing the right to abortion by strengthening access to services,” from the Quebec Federation for Birth Planning (FQPN) and the National Association of Women and Law (ANFD).

The report, supported by hundreds of activists and groups including Quebec’s labour centrals (CSN, CSQ and FTQ), reiterates that “a legislative measure, even pro-choice, would represent a threat to free choice in Quebec.”

Specifically, the report warns that “a legislative measure offers the anti-abortion movement a new opportunity to exploit public debate and gain popularity among the population [that] a law regulating abortion opens the door to restrictions, now and in the future [and that] the adoption of any legislative measure on abortion gives a reason to mobilize to the Quebec anti-abortion movement.”

The report’s authors add: “By wanting to legislate, the Quebec government is preparing to generate a debate for which it is not ready. It underestimates the widely documented discursive strategies of disinformation, appeal to emotions and ambiguity used by the North American anti-abortion movement, and which could succeed in Quebec.

“Rather than proposing a legislative measure which the feminist movement opposes, we are asking that the government adopt a series of measures related to contraception, care pathways, research funding and funding of pro-choice organizations, with the aim of concretely improving free choice and access to abortion in Quebec.”

Currently, access to abortion care is unequal across Quebec. Several regions are poorly served or are even deserts, such as the Terres-cries-de-la-Baie-James region where no clinic provides this type of care. This means that many women have to travel hundreds of kilometres to terminate their pregnancies, which is far from a trivial constraint for many of them. Although it is a safe solution, access to the abortion pill is unfortunately quite limited. Furthermore, despite the fact that there are no legal restrictions regarding so-called “late” abortions, in practice, healthcare workers can refuse to perform such an abortion.

Unfortunately, the situation is not improving. Through laws like the mammoth Bill 15 health legislation – which opens the doors to more privatization in health, the concentration of power, and further deterioration of working conditions in public health and education – the CAQ government’s actions are harming the right to abortion, as privatization of public health services are a direct and major threat to equitable access to abortion care.

[Photo: Le Devoir]

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