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Plus ça change

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What a day it was. Monday May 11, 1970.

Thirty-five women, with chains hidden in their purses, infiltrated the public galleries of the House of Commons. They shackled themselves to their chairs. During Question Period, they started to shout. The business of parliament came to a halt. It was the culmination of what became known as the Abortion Caravan, a defiant country wide trek aimed at putting the issue of abortion access on the national agenda.It called to mind some of the more audacious tactics of the suffragettes more than fifty years earlier – in the first wave of feminism. But this was very much a “second wave” event, in which abortion on demand symbolized a fight for women’s autonomy on every front.

Listening to a documentary about this on CBC Radio’s Sunday Report a few weeks ago was pretty riveting. First of all, I hadn’t heard of this event before. Secondly, it was quite extraordinary to hear so many women proclaim, so loudly, the importance of choice. Everyone seems to tiptoe around the subject these days. Ssh. Wouldn’t want to offend anyone.

One of the most striking clips was one of the women speaking with one of the male (of course) politicians—I didn’t catch who. She pointed out he, being a privileged, wealthy man, would be able to arrange for a woman in his life to have a safe abortion, if she wanted one. But other Canadian women, those of lesser means and lower social standing, could not do this.

“So?” he replied.

“I couldn’t believe it, ” she recollected, this many years later. “It was so arrogant, so dismissive.”

Then today, there’s this:

No abortion in Canada’s G8 maternal health plan

International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda said the government would consider funding family planning measures such as contraception, but not abortion under any circumstances.

“They just reopened the abortion debate,” [Bob] Rae told reporters outside the House of Commons. “We are saying to the countries that are the poorest: ‘We won’t apply the law that we have in Canada’.”

Or to paraphrase, we are saying, “So?”

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