In March and December of 2016, the Genocide Awareness Project (G.A.P.) set up shop on the UBC Vancouver campus, presenting large posters and distributing fliers which argued that abortion was an act of genocide. As it does so every year with its presence on UBC, the pro-life group sparked a debate on campus.
This featured heated arguments in the rain in front of the Lasserre building, and in December, G.A.P.’s presence in front of the AMS Nest. Both incidents were accompanied by counter pro-choice rallies that advocated for the right of a woman to choose to abort her child. Whether women should be allowed to stop a pregnancy, the human right of a fetus to live, and the availability and accessibility of child care services that would help a woman take care of her baby were all called into question.
The actions of the G.A.P. and a discomfort over their message were what made Kacey Ng, a third year student in the Department of Sociology, decide that this needed a conversation. I first met Kacey at a conference presented by the UBC Asian Canadian and Asian Migration Studies program called “Sexual Violence in Asian Communities in Canada.” Amongst discussions of discrimination against Asian communities and sexual violence in Asian histories, the G.A.P.’s presence on campus became a topic of interest for the panelists and audience.
It was during this discussion that Kacey introduced her plans for a reading group, where in addressing her own discomfort with G.A.P.’s actions, she planned to further discuss abortion, contraception and more broadly, reproductive rights in Canada. I signed up for her group then, and excitedly took my best friend with me to the first meeting. The group met throughout the summer of 2016, and addressed issues such as the discussion of reproductive rights in society and popular media; access to contraceptives and health services in Canada (with comparison to the U.S.); and the choices or lack thereof for women regarding support and services.
Students holding a protest sign during the GAP’s visit in March 2016. Image courtesy of Phebe Ferrer.
Canada’s stance on abortion
Currently, the country has no laws on abortion. In 1869, Parliament had imposed a ban abortion with a punishment of life imprisonment; however many illegal abortions were still carried out despite the law, and many women died from botched procedures.
The Liberal government under Pierre Trudeau then passed the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1968-69, which legalized abortion on the condition that there was approval from a committee of doctors on the woman’s medical need and mental well-being. Henry Morgentaler, who was a doctor and activist for the right of women to choose abortion and carried out many abortions in his own clinic, started a movement against this legislation that resulted in the Supreme Court striking down the laws as unconstitutional in 1988. With no federal laws on the issue, the provinces were left to devise their own policies on abortion. This currently ranges from relatively easy access in BC, to almost no access to services in New Brunswick.
At this point, I would humbly ask the reader to let go of presumptions that they may have about the unicorn rainbow love of Canada’s policies in contrast to the bleaker reality in the US. Canada, for all its good points, is not completely different from its neighbours to the south. There remains a challenge to access to vital health services required by women such as in New Brunswick, and it is crucial that these are not forgotten or remain unaddressed by the public and provincial governments.
An interview with Kacey Ng, and discussions on social sustainability
I sat down with Kacey in summer of 2016 to discuss her reading group, as well as her own perspective on abortion and women’s reproductive rights. She described her interests in current feminist issues like the issues covered in the reading group, and how her initial impetus in starting the group was “remembering that the fight is not quite over,” specifically how women are still a disadvantaged group and considered a minority group.
However, the main trigger was on Women’s Day, March 8 2016, when G.A.P. first came to UBC with their message and graphic stands. She spoke of how she had never felt so much emotion towards taking action as she did then. She recognized that there was not much use in just approaching and yelling at them, instead understanding that she must arm herself with information to have a conversation with the group and others, and taking on an approach that recognized the group’s perspective and right to free speech. She realized that this may be problematic and harmful to others.
She spoke to me about her position in being pro-choice, distinguishing this term from being pro-abortion namely in how she advocates for the choice of having an abortion, but not necessarily for abortion itself. She observes most UBC students’ opinions on the issue to be unsure or “on the fence”, and the possible danger of G.A.P. in convincing them that women should not have autonomy over her body because abortion is a genocidal act.
In light of this, her goals for the reading group include inclusivity in discussion, particularly how men must also be included and not just women, and in arming herself and others with the information needed to have informed conversations about choices for women and others capable of reproduction. Though she is unsure of where to begin for action towards the issue of abortion and reproductive rights, she hopes that at least by gaining knowledge towards these issues through the group, she will be able to relay it to others and give support to those who need it, and change the culture and discourse towards abortion a little bit at a time.
Kacey’s group and the discussions generated over these issues are a crucial part, I would argue, of social sustainability. This term does not have a set definition, but one that is offered is the following; that it is “the ability of a community to develop processes and structures which not only meet the needs of its current members but also support the ability of future generations to maintain a healthy community.”
There has been much discussion lately of environmental sustainability, but the social aspect, in terms of relationships between people and communities, not also needs attention. Here I would argue is where initiatives like that of Kacey are needed, in sparking discussion and promoting inclusivity and informed opinions towards issues like abortion so that society may move towards change in this respect.
Abortion is not an easy topic to discuss. Whether it is because of personal experiences or religious and cultural views, we must recognize that for some people there will be difficulty surrounding the discussion of this issue. However, it is still important that we have a discussion of abortion, access to contraceptives and services, and overall, reproductive rights. Even with established policies on abortion, contraception and others, if there is no conversation, action, or translation of policy into everyday reality – especially that of the people who need it most – we won’t see whether these are effective and if they are properly addressing the issue.
To take care of our current society, and ensure the care of our future generations, we must realize and discuss the realities of abortion, and most importantly take action.
If you are interested in contacting Kacey Ng and/or joining the reading group, please contact the author of the article or leave a comment. Additionally, included below are a few documents from the reading group.
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