September 29, 2020

BY LINDSAY TESSIER

When Status of Women Minister Rona Ambrose voted in favour of Motion 312 in Parliament last month, it was a slap in the face to the women of Canada.
M-312, brought forth by Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth, sought to study whether a fetus should have legal rights before birth. Currently, a fetus is considered a human being under the law only after it has emerged from its mother’s body.
The motion was nothing more than a back door attempt to re-criminalize abortion.
Given that most Canadians, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, really don’t want to revisit this issue, it was no surprise that the motion was easily defeated 203 to 91. However, it was discouraging that 10 Conservative cabinet ministers supported the bill. And it was downright appalling that one of those supporters was Rona Ambrose, the minister responsible for the status of women.
Ambrose faced calls for her resignation and a barrage of criticism from the public, press and fellow MPs after standing up in support of M-312.
An online petition calling for her resignation garnered thousands of signatures, and organizations including the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC) and the Federation des femmes du Quebec publicly demanded that Ambrose step down.
A number of people have risen to her defence, saying she was simply voting her conscience, something she should be allowed to do.
Normally, I would agree. On private member bills, MPs and cabinet ministers can be expected to vote their conscience. But when Rona Ambrose voted yea to re-examine when life begins she risked taking away the rights of all women in Canada to make a conscious, informed choice of their own.
By voting for M-312, Ambrose indirectly voted to criminalize abortion and decided to play fast and loose with the lives of millions of Canadian women.
Access to safe and legal abortion is a fundamental right for Canadian women, protected under constitutional guarantees to bodily security, life and liberty. Ambrose showed us that as far as she’s concerned, those rights are up for grabs.
If she had wanted to properly represent all women, she should have voted against M-312. A pro-choice vote acknowledges that every woman has licence over her own body, and she has the option to make the choice that’s right for her – whether that’s having a baby or aborting it.
The Minister for the Status of Women clearly has different obligations on a subject like this. Her job is to advance the rights and interests of women, to be our voice in Parliament. She failed in this and should be called out on it.
Ambrose owes Canadians an explanation as to why she voted against the interests of the people she is mandated to protect.
Perhaps the biggest mistake she has made is that she has remained silent since her vote on the issue, other than a vague tweet.
“I have repeatedly raised concerns about discrimination of girls by sex selection abortion,” she wrote when asked to explain her vote, adding, “No law needed, but we need awareness!”
Awareness of what exactly? Abortion? Sex-selective abortion?
Also, if Ambrose believes no abortion legislation is necessary, why did she vote in favour of establishing a committee to determine when fetal life begins and is defined in the Criminal Code? In fact, why bring up sex-selective abortion at all when M-312 had nothing to do with it?
I guess she knew something we didn’t.
The next day, Conservative MP Mark Warawa introduced Motion 408 asking Parliament to “condemn discrimination against females occurring through sex-selective pregnancy termination.”
Our government, including Rona Ambrose, seems to think that women cannot be trusted to make decisions about their own bodies. That they know better than we do and that it’s perfectly acceptable to debate whether women should have basic human rights, even in the year 2012.
While an election is still a while off, now is as good a time as any to take stock of the status of women and girls in this country. I hope that if nothing else, the defeat of M-312 can start a much-needed discussion about women and reproductive rights in this country.
We seem to really need it.