Canadian women's groups feel chill over abortion policies



MONTREAL, Virginie Salmen- Canadian women's groups say they feel threatened by abortion policies advocated at home and abroad by the Conservative government.
"It's a threat we've been feeling for months," said Patricia LaRue, executive director for Canadians for Choice, a pro-choice group based in Ottawa.



Canadian women's groups feel chill over abortion policies
"We feel that sexual and reproductive health is not really a priority (for the government)," LaRue told AFP.
At issue are several private member bills dealing with abortion in Canada.
One bill introduced last month would make it a criminal offence to "coerce" a woman into having an abortion. The proposed legislation was introduced by pro-life Conservative MP Rod Bruinooge, after a man in Winnipeg tried to force his girlfriend, Roxanne Fernando, into having an abortion in 2007. When she refused, her boyfriend murdered her.
The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC) said the problem of coercion does not occur on a grand scale, and that bill C-510 "should be scuttled in favour of a bill prohibiting the much more common practice of coercing a women into childbirth."
Another bill, C-484, which was approved in April in a second parliamentary reading, makes it a criminal offense for someone to attack a woman with the intent of killing her unborn child.
Proponents say the bill is designed to close a gap in the criminal code, but opponents say it is another attempt to give legal status to the fetus, recriminalize abortions, and open the door to restricting access to the procedure.
"There have been five bills since the Conservatives have come to power, which call into question, either directly or indirectly, the right to abortion in Canada," said Alexa Conradi, president of the Quebec Women's Federation.
"Abortion is more threatened than ever before in Canada," Conradi added.
Christine Pelchat, president of Quebec's Council on the Status of Women, called the recent legislative moves a "hypocritical (attempt) to recriminalize abortion and take away this right from women."
The abortion debate has remained largely dormant for years in Canada, which is one of only a few nations with no legal restrictions on abortion. Regulations and accessibility vary between provinces.
But the debate was recently reignited when Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper introduced his G8 maternal health initiative, which aims to strengthen nutrition and health care systems in the developing world but would not include funding for abortions in those countries.
Women's groups, opposition MPs and aid organizations have roundly slammed Harper for the initiative, accusing him of hypocrisy and pandering to a conservative agenda.
Last week, Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth told a group of aid advocates and women's rights groups in Ottawa that they should "shut the f*** up on this issue."
"We've got five weeks or whatever left until the G8 starts. Shut the f--k up on this issue," said Ruth, who touched off a firestorm.
"If you push it, there'll be more backlash. This is now a political football. This is not about women's health in this country."
The Conservative senator went on to say that Canada was "still a country with free and accessible abortion. Leave it there. Don't make this an election issue."
Within days of Ruth's comments, opposition Liberal MPs said the Conservative government had cut federal funding to more than a dozen women's groups because they dared to criticize government policies.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said the moves amounted to a "campaign of intimidation."
Patrice Powers, a director with the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, said Harper was in no position to revisit abortion law in Canada but wanted to push his ideology abroad -- on safer territory -- through his G8 maternal health initiative.
"We know that Harper is afraid of pro-choice forces in Canada," said Powers.
"He doesn't want to do anything in his own country. He wants to send a message to the electorate."
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Monday, May 10th 2010
Virginie Salmen
           


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