Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Michael Ignatieff Dares Harper to Make Safe Abortion a Women's Health Issue

The rights revolution has become a sexual revolution, and in the process, it has transformed all our most important social relationships: between men and women, between parents and children, and between heterosexuals and homosexuals.

All liberal democracies have gone through the same social transformation. The only distinctive aspect of the Canadian pattern has been the speed with which courts and legislatures have responded to demands for children's rights, easier divorce, abortion rights, the equation of marriage and cohabitation, and the full entrenchment of rights to sexual difference. The fact that these rights were conceded speedily does not mean that they were conceded without a struggle. Nor does it mean that the struggle is over.
Michael Ignatieff (1)

That was the Canada that I knew, with a full entrenchment of rights. And while we knew that the struggle wasn't over, we didn't realize that we would have to start to fight the same battles again. The battles we had already won.

When Stephen Harper announced with much fanfare that the theme for the international summit would be maternal health, Michael Ignatieff asked if that was going to include access to safe abortions and birth control, and what happened?

Michael Ignatieff was criticized for “politicizing” the government’s program by asking whether it would include funding for “reproductive health services,” but I applaud him for taking an unequivocal position here. It’s unusual these days to hear a politician take a stand on something other than hockey, our troops and the laughter of innocent children. (2)

He was accused of promoting eugenics and was even called racist. But the sad truth is that women often need access to contraceptives and safe abortion, if they have any real chance of survival. Bringing more children into their situation, only increases their impoverishment and limits their opportunities to better themselves. The World Health Organization estimates that 68,000 women die every year from botched abortions, often leaving their other children orphaned.

I know the abortion issue is a contentous one, but it is a women's health issue that cannot be ignored. From Antonia Zerbisias:

“We don’t want to have women dying because of botched procedures. We don’t want to have women dying in misery,” Ignatieff told reporters today after meetings on Parliament Hill on issues of international development. “We’ve had a pro-choice consensus in this area for a couple of generations and we want to hold it.”

Of course, if Harper gets his majority, it's game over for women's reproductive freedoms. The Prime Minister announced in the Star and at Davos, Switzerland, last week that the health of mothers and children would be the focus of Canada’s attention during this summer’s G-8 meetings in this country. Harper has not specifically said what this aid would include, but support for abortion would be a tough sell for him within his own Conservative caucus, where there are pockets of considerable sentiment against abortion. ''Pockets?''

The Harper government has entrenched themselves in the "pro-life" movement which is now the politically correct term for anti-abortion. But if this group was really pro-life they would be lobbying government to eradicate poverty and protect our public health care and education.

But none of that is taking place. Instead they are pushing for lower taxes, especially to corporations, in an attempt to starve the beast of government. Too much interference in their lives they claim, yet they are interfering in the most personal aspects of our lives. The right to choose when and if to procreate. It doesn't get more personal than that.

In 2006, Canada was tied for second place out of 17 developed nations, in terms of infant mortality rate. The United States was the highest. In 2008, the numbers of children who did not survive their first year rose by almost 10%.

From the Toronto Star

One in nine Canadian children, more than a million, live below the poverty line according to the 2008 Report Card on Child and Family Poverty in Canada ... “For many families, it’s very difficult to get out of poverty. There isn’t enough money to feed the children, clothe them properly, or even enough money to pay for the bus fare or to look for a job,” says Grant Wilson, President of Canadian Children’s Rights Council. It’s even harder for new Canadian children and aboriginal families as they are at a greater risk of living in poverty. (3)

So why isn't that on the pro-life agenda? It's one thing to want all pregnancies to go full term, but they offer no solution to families ill equipped to properly feed, clothe and shelter these offspring.

Here in Canada, in one of the richest countries of the world, the very poorest are getting poorer. This is not the result of some external or unforeseen crisis. It is happening in the midst of a long-running economic boom and reflects the deliberate decisions of elected governments presumably supported by the Canadian public at large to purge the roughly 1.7 million people consigned to welfare from our collective consciousness.

It is shameful. It is pretty much criminal. And, as the National Council on Welfare, an advisory body to the federal government, warned in a report released yesterday, it is remarkably short-sighted. In particular, it is short-sighted for those of us in the broader middle classes who assume wrongly that we could never end up on the dole. (4)

So maybe instead of marching with signs to simply end abortion, they should march against poverty and homelessness. I am pro-choice, but it might be nice if women were provided with more choices. However, that doesn't mean that access to birth control and safe abortions aren't among them.


1. The Rights Revolution: CBC Massey lectures, By Michael Ignatieff, Anansi, 2000, ISBN: 978-088784-762-2, Pg. 87

2. Mr. Harper, ‘maternal health’ isn't very healthy without a choice: It isn’t possible to separate women’s health from issues of birth control and abortion. Our uteruses won’t allow it, By Tabatha Southey, Globe and Mail, March 4, 2010

3. Rich Nation, Poor Children, by Vipal Jain, The Toronto Star, November 20th, 2009

4. In rich Canada, welfare worsens: Recipients get less than 20 years ago, Public is turning a blind eye to issue, By Thomas Walkom, The Toronto Star, August 25, 2006


  1. Hey, did you see, Antonia mentioned your blog in the newspaper today - which is why I've checked it out. It's wonderful!