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Manitobans Rally 2 Years After Roe v. Wade overturned

“We have to fight back because right now in Canada, bodily autonomy is under threat,” Leah Gazan said to the crowd outside the Manitoba Legislative Building. 

On the afternoon of June 24th, a group of approximately 80 people gathered outside the Manitoba Legislative Building for a women’s reproductive rights rally. The group came together to bring attention to the second anniversary of the United States Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.

The 2022 Supreme Court ruling -which passed with a 5-4 vote- held that access to abortion is not a constitutional right of Americans. Laws pertaining to abortion services became a state issue, leading to several states quickly criminalizing abortions, including individuals seeking services as well as outlets and individuals administering abortion services. Within hours of Roe v. Wade being overturned, doctors and patients fled states where laws were expected to change for fear of prosecution.

Today, access to abortion services is illegal in 14 states. Some such states have exceptions to the application of a felony charge, including whether the pregnant individual faces fatal risk if the pregnancy continues. It has been found that states where abortion is most limited report significantly higher rates of maternal and infant mortality. It seems at this point that absorption-related laws and regulations are being challenged and changed nearly weekly, and they have been doing so for two straight years.

The group at the Legislative building wore red and bore signs of “Keep your laws off my body” and “My uterus, my choice.” There were several speakers throughout the rally, including Winnipeg Centre MP Leah Gazan. Gazan was emphatic that women’s reproductive rights in Canada are under no less risk than in the United States.

“We have to fight back because right now in Canada, bodily autonomy is under threat,” Gazan said to the crowd. “Every day, I sit in the House of Commons with a bunch of pale males making decisions about my uterus. And what do I have to say to them? It’s none of your business!”

Gazan spoke passionately of what she has seen in Ottawa as a potential movement to disassemble women’s reproductive rights using backdoor legislation, seemingly innocent on its surface but insidious in its greater intentions and to this, Gazan specifically mentioned Bill C-311 which has faced opposition from groups such as the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC).

“Bill C-311,” Gazan said at the rally, is “another attempt of MP [Cathay] Wagantall to push through back door legislation to deny the right to choose. A piece of legislation that was opposed by every women’s based group dealing with gender violence in the country.”

According to the ARCC Bill C-311, which will amend the Criminal Code to create greater consequences surrounding violence against pregnant women, is “benign on its face and does not directly implicate abortion rights, there is considerable room for skepticism.”

A release from the ARCC puts forward a comprehensive breakdown of six reasons the Bill should be opposed. Among the listed points is that only “anti-choice groups support the bill,” while no anti-violence against women groups support the Bill. The listed reasons for opposition to the Bill also call the motivations of Wagantall into question, arguing the anti-choice movement is “hijacking the bill to push for fetal rights.”

The Bill itself does not make mention of unborn children, nor does it give rights to unborn children; it does recognize that harming a pregnant woman is a greater crime than a woman who is not pregnant. “While different groups might justify why this is true,” says the ARCC report, “pro-life Canadians can use this law as a stepping stone to argue for the personhood of pre-born children.”

“Shameful, the fact that another conservative MP got up the other day putting forward a petition denying a woman’s right to choose, an individual’s right to choose, in the name of protecting the unborn,” Gazan said at the Manitoba Legislative building. “The fact that there are petitions in the House of Commons right now violating the rights of trans women; the fact that the very leader of the conservative party just two days ago threatened a doctor to take away her license for opening a harm reduction clinic.”

“The threat is real. The threat against bodily autonomy is real, and we must take this seriously.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has spoken out against the Bill, calling it a “thinly veiled attempt” by the Conservative Party to restrict a woman’s right to choose. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has said that time and time again, the conservative party works to “find ways to go after choice in hidden techniques” while avoiding openly going after a woman’s right to choose.

Gazan, while sure to warn the crowd of what she has seen and heard in Ottawa, was sure to celebrate a recent bill passed by the Manitoba Legislature.

“I also want to congratulate the provincial government under Nahanni Fontaine for passing Bill 8.”

Bill 8, the Safe Access to Services Act, was passed in the early days of June. The purpose of the Act is to protect access to abortion services, protecting both patients and doctors by creating “access zones” around clinics and facilities. This means it is illegal in Manitoba to harass individuals seeking access to abortion services as well as any abortion provider within 50 metres of their place of work or home.

The Bill has been strongly promoted for years by Manitoba Minister of Families Nahanni Fontaine. Fontaine celebrated the Bill being passed into law with a post on Instagram.

“Manitoba now has abortion buffer zones and joins Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland/Labrador in providing critical reproductive healthcare safety supports for Manitobans.”

“I vowed to get this done,” she continues. “It. Is. Done.”

The passing of Bill 8 is a win for women’s rights to choose, though some, primarily those who are religiously motivated, see it as a threat. An opinion column by Daniel Zekveld, Policy Analyst for the Christian political advocacy organization the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA), said the Bill is unnecessary. He accuses the Bill of squandering dissenting opinions, arguing the “Manitoba government wants to ban persuasion or dissuasion of women accessing abortion services.”

Despite these arguments, studies show that people seeking abortion who are met with greater protestation outside clinics are at greater risk of experiencing post-traumatic stress than those who do not. Fontaine has referred to a 1997 murder of a Winnipeg clinician, which Zekveld believes is too old to refer to when arguing for Bill 8, but there have been several studies indicating there are legitimate harms caused by harassment outside of clinics.

The afternoon of June 24th brought out many supporters and saw many more online who could not attend on a Monday afternoon. To them, Gazan and other speakers spoke of the value of affirming a woman’s right to choose.

“We must ensure that we protect the women’s health clinic and make sure we have community-based abortion care,” Gazan told the crowd. “And I want to commit to you today that I’m going to continue pushing on the federal government to provide the funding that is needed to keep this service going in the women’s health clinic. I’m looking forward to working for this provincial government who respects bodily autonomy to make sure that happens.”

– Matthew Harrison, U Multicultural

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