By Michael Boriero - Local Journalism Initiative
The U.S. Supreme Court appears to be in favour of overturning Roe v. Wade, according to a leaked initial draft majority opinion published by Politico on Monday, and it has put women’s centres, shelters and advocacy groups on notice in the Eastern Townships.
Although the draft opinion has no immediate impact in the United States, if the apparent majority holds up, then the landmark decision from 1973 could be overturned come June, when the court’s ruling is formally released to the public. But nothing is certain yet.
Gayl Rhicard, a coordinator at the Avante Women’s Centre in Bedford, was in disbelief when she heard about the draft opinion. The centre, which promotes and defends women's rights towards autonomy and equality, believes women should always have freedom of choice.
“Women’s centres promote women’s freedom of choice concerning sexuality and reproduction. We believe it’s every woman’s personal choice,” Rhicard wrote in an email to The Sherbrooke Record on Tuesday, offering an official statement from the Avante Women’s Centre.
She also had some choice words for the Supreme Court threatening to end its 49-year-old legal precedent that legalized abortion across the country, but she preferred not to share those opinions with the public. Needless to say, Rhicard is incensed by the controversial news.
Centre Femmes des Cantons Coordinator Josiane Whittom told The Record in a phone interview that more than 200 women received an abortion in Brome Missisquoi last year. The problem is these laws to protect women are not untouchable, she said, it’s a constant battle.
This is a grave situation for all women in the United States, Whittom continued, as they may no longer have agency over their own bodies. She worries that women will be forced to resort to outdated abortion techniques that might put them in danger. It’s a step back, she said.
“It’s clear that this is aimed directly at women. It’s clear because the majority of time it is men that decide to pass laws like this. I know that in Canada, the Conservatives have also tried to modify the abortion law and we also find this to be very dangerous,” said Whittom.
While Canada’s laws protecting a women’s right to an abortion remain intact, it doesn’t mean that it lacks in dissenters. According to Whittom, this is cause for concern, adding everyone needs to keep an eye on any politician with an agenda aimed at diminishing women’s rights.
Emilie Theroux, a coordinator at the Collectif Pour Le Libre Choix, a non-profit organization in Sherbrooke that advocates for women's freedom of choice regarding the continuation or termination of an unplanned pregnancy, said that all eyes are on the United States now.
“It’s rare that there are leaks like this from the U.S. Supreme Court when it comes to redacted documents. We’re going to follow this with a lot of interest. We’re very concerned and we’re scared for all of the women losing their rights in the United States,” she told The Record.
She said that what concerns her organization is the fact that American ideology often seeps into Canada. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, Theroux believes it will only give more power and energy to right-leaning Canadians. However, she added that luckily the laws are better here.
There are more protections in place for women, she said, adding that between 18,000 and 20,000 Quebecers receive an abortion in any given year. But Theroux noted that in the past 30 years, there have been roughly 40 motions in the House of Commons to restrict abortion rights.
This is a very divisive subject, she continued, and with right-leaning ideology growing in the United States and Canada, the gap will only continue to widen between the pro- and anti-abortion crowd. And none of this is surprising to Theroux, she felt this coming for years.
“Am I surprised? Not really. Does it make me angry and discouraged? Yes. And we can’t think that we’re safe from this movement in Canada because every year there are motions and legislations tabled to restrict abortion laws,” she said, adding this law only affects women.
Theroux added that while the U.S. Supreme Court might see this as a way to stop women from getting an abortion, they may need to re-think that logic. Women will not be deterred from making decision about their own body, Theroux continued, and it could be dangerous.
“You have to understand that just because you criminalize abortion, it doesn’t mean women will stop getting abortions. They’ll continue to get abortions, and they’ll be putting their bodies and health in dangerous conditions,” she said, sharing it happens to women all over the world.