Keeping up the Fight for Reproductive Rights
On May 29, Dr. Henry Morgentaler, renowned for the key role he played in the abortion movement in Canada, died at 90 years old. Morgentaler, a Holocaust survivor who moved to Canada in the 1950's, used legal and illegal avenues to contend with anti-abortion laws that had been in place since the passing of the nation's first criminal code in 1892. In 1969 Morgentaler defied this law to open up an abortion clinic in Montreal, the first of a series of abortion clinics in major Canadian cities. These clinics became the target of twenty years worth of aggression and legal battles, until January 1988, when the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada's existing abortion laws as unconstitutional—citing violation of section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for infringing upon a woman's right to "life, liberty and security of person."
Although Dr. Morgentaler certainly played an important role in the fight for reproductive justice in Canada that culminated in the legal expansion of abortion services, it's important not to credit him entirely for a mobilization whose most dedicated constituents—namely working class women—worked tirelessly to lay the foundation for less fettered access to abortion. Some of this work took the form of the Abortion Caravan, which in the 1970's was Canada's first national feminist protest. The Abortion Caravan embarked on a cross-country tour that culminated in a demonstration in the House of Commons on May 11, 1970. Beyond the demonstration itself, the caravan served the important role of galvanizing and emboldening supporters Canada-wide in the protest against restrictive access to abortions.
As anarchists, we acknowledge the importance of extra-legal struggles whose goals include the codification of new laws in order to secure intermediate gains. These changes to the criminal code, although concessionary, cannot be overlooked, as they have placed reproductive control back into the hands of millions of women across Canada. However, we must resist the temptation to rest on our laurels. Clearly it's not enough to simply hope that access to these services will be expanded, just as it is insufficient to simply pine for a day when patriarchy is relegated to the past; rather, we must actively struggle for these advances.
We are living in a dangerous period for women, in which opponents of free-choice are striking back—whether in the form of March for Life demonstrations in Ottawa, Anti-Abortion Caravans, or Parliamentary motions quietly introduced by Conservative MPs. We need a strong and militant feminist movement in Canada, not only to contend with the misogynist wankers-du-jour embodied in the Men's Rights Activist (MRA) movement, but also to keep a constant eye on the tactics and mobilization of opponents of free-choice, in order to counter their efforts diligently and strategically. We must simultaneously work to increase access to abortions and contraceptives on reservations and in smaller cities, towns and provinces—keeping in mind that this work requires the active participation of the inhabitants of those communities. We must acknowledge that struggles over free and universal access to reproductive services that increase the autonomy and dignity of women are more than simply “feminist issues”; we must value them as important issues of self determination that affect the entire working class, and as an important part of a broader anti-capitalist struggle.