Reproductive Rights Discourse

There is a war going on. It is being fought on the battlefront of women’s’ bodies. Our uteri have become organs to be legislated and fraught over. We have been deemed too feeble minded to make decisions about when we will engage in sexual activity and with whom. Women making decisions about their sexual lives is coming to an end in the United States. Even though all of this is taking place in another country make no mistake Canada is affected. Pierre Trudeau once astutely pointed out that we are the mouse living beside the elephant and if the elephant rolls over, well you get it.

Many Canadians avidly follow American politics. Given that their elections go on for years[1] they get a lot of airtime and ink (both real and electronic) spilled about their positions. When you factor in blogs and other social media the discourse coming out of the Republican Primaries is powerful. Just look at Sandra Fluke. I am fairly sure most people have either read or heard about what Rush Limbaugh said about her and the subsequent call that Barrack Obama made to her.[2] Even though advertisers have pulled their sponsorship from Limbaugh’s show the damage to women has already begun.

I am sure you are wondering why this matters to us in Canada. It is simple, as regressive and oppressive American politics make their way into the dominant discourse thoughts and opinions are formed. Many Canadians may well believe that women have it pretty good in this country. Abortion is legal and accessible. Contraception is just a visit away from a family doctor. Most Canadians believe that making women’s reproductive health accessible is the right thing to do. The separation of morality from medicine is more common in Canada than in other countries.[3]

If your only source of knowledge about women is the US primary race your view of women would be skewed. According to Republican presidential candidates, women are not to be trusted with decisions about their own reproductive health. Want an abortion? Almost half of States have some kind of legislation that impedes women’s access. These barriers can range from a waiting period, to an ultrasound in which the doctor must ‘explain’ exactly what the fetus looks like and its stage of development. Some states have gone so far as to mandate a ‘trans-vaginal’ ultrasound. Many feminists have correctly identified this as state-sanctioned rape. Women are also seen as the ‘gate-keepers’ to sex and that if sex happens out of wedlock or in other situations it is somehow her fault. It is as though all of women kind is expected to modulate the behavior of men. Last time I checked that didn’t work out so well.[4] And, as any woman knows, if some men really want to rape them it will happen.

What is interesting in the reproductive rights fight in the US is that there is little to no mention of men’s role in sex and reproduction. We all learn in school that it takes both a woman AND a man to create a baby. Men have pretty much unfettered access to drugs to ensure they can have sex long into their later years without any kind of intrusive exam. This is what is so absolutely galling about the Republican candidates positions on reproduction. Sex should be a negotiation between a consenting woman and man. Both should experience the pleasure and the pain of their actions.

Even though women enjoy more reproductive freedom in Canada it does not mean we should rest on our laurels. The presence of US styled misogyny can affect politics here. There are some extremely right-wing Christian religious groups in Canada who try to flex their political power. Often they receive funding from their compatriots in the United States. In fact, our current Conservative government may be receptive their messages – especially at the polls.

The political consequences of the Elephant rolling over are easy to delineate for Canada. What is more disturbing is the affect this has on the dominant discourse. Canadians are being indoctrinated with this negative view of women regardless of the political bent of our current government. As these ideas take hold it becomes easier for people to view women through this same lens. Canadians are the most wired country in the world. Internet penetration here is greater than any other place. This means that we are being exposed to this misogyny at a much greater level. Don’t be surprised if some of these ideas penetrate into our politics. We can only hope that Stephen Harper sticks to his decision about not re-opening the abortion debate in Canada. It would be disastrous for women if he did.

For an excellent overview of the ongoing disaster that is the Republican Primary please see Shakesville.


[1] The primary system whereby each state’s party members have a vote in selecting the candidate for president.

[2] He called her to thank her for standing up for women’s reproductive rights which, ironically, have been steadily eroded under his presidency.

[3] This is true for many things. However, when faced with a fat person, some doctors will attribute everything to weight. Got a hangnail? It’s because you are fat. But I digress…

[4] Foster Friess – who is associated with the Santorum campaign made this suggestion to women.

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