Dr Henry Morgentaler’s Legacy

I hail from New Brunswick originally. I left for university, and by the end of my degree, I had decided to remain. At the time, the government was growing more conservative, and one of their great bugaboos was the number of people moving out — their population was essentially in free-fall.

Granted, the population wasn’t exactly huge to begin with. It had declined from 738,133 in 1996, to 729,498 in 2001 — a loss of 1.2%. It stagnated through 2006 — 729,997. The government started making noises about enticing emigrants, about stabilizing the job market and doing something about its flagging tech sector; there was a big to-do about this decline, to be sure. And the population began to swell again, to 751,171 in 2011.

In late 2013, another population decline — a mere 1000 person shortfall — caused another huge stir, such that the “Progressive” Conservative legislature under leader David Alward lamented the possibility of only seeing his grandchildren through Skype.

In the wake of that first scare, followed by the more recent revelation that outmigration is skyrocketing, it’s no surprise that the conservative New Brunswick political scene voted for the “Medical Services Payment Act”, Regulation 84-20, which had a bomb in it for abortion services. Now, throughout the province, abortions are no longer funded by the government as mandated by Health Canada, unless certified by TWO doctors as being “medically necessary”. How else are you going to swell your numbers except to force women to give birth?

As a result of this abrogation of women’s right to bodily autonomy, the Morgentaler clinic in Fredericton — founded by the legendary Dr. Henry Morgentaler himself — is forced to close.

The rules of the clinic were set up such that nobody who needed abortion services would be turned away under any circumstances, and because the government stiffed them on the bills and they took a huge loss last year, they have to close up shop.

Back in 2009, Carl Urquhart, a Conservative MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly, the Canadian equivalent of a congressman) suggested with regard to the population decline that women should be making more babies, a statement he posted on Facebook that he’d later walked back. He was especially chastised for this in light of the province’s growing teenage pregnancy problem.

That’s about as transparent a reasoning as you can get for Conservatives’ anti-choice efforts. It was a refreshing moment of honesty from that party.

And this huge success in the fight to control what people can and cannot do with their reproductive organs comes just shy of a year after Dr. Henry Morgentaler — founder of the clinic — died of a heart attack. Morgentaler’s efforts practically single-handedly won the fight for safe, legal abortion nation-wide in 1988 with his appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, where they overturned the whole of the Canadian abortion law as unconstitutional. The man was a lion for women’s rights, human rights, and reproductive freedom. And his legacy is being rent before our eyes.

Women can still theoretically get abortions in hospitals — providing they get two doctors to sign off on the “medically necessary” waiver — but as this map shows, access to abortion didn’t come with its newfound legality. When your government tightly controls the demand for babies, you can force the supply by restricting access to any choice but becoming a baby-factory.

You might understandably make the mistake that the “demand” is actually for abortions, but then you’d be misunderstanding the directionality of these laws. In the fight for women’s bodily autonomy, the uterus is actually the supply, and the government apparently gets to make the demands.

For what it’s worth, here’s the state of the struggle for abortion rights through Canada. You’ll note that almost no place in Canada actually has access to an abortion clinic or hospital within a reasonable travel time, and that the gestation limits are terribly restrictive in a number of cases — some as low as 12 weeks, like New Brunswick. Many provinces have absolutely no access to abortions, medical or otherwise.

This fight is hardly won, despite it being unconstitutional to restrict abortions, and despite it being both legal and defined explicitly by Health Canada.

David Silverman’s “Darwin Was Wrong” Moment

Surely New Scientist’s terrible choice in creating the “Darwin Was Wrong” cover happened not so long ago that the skeptical community has forgotten the sturm und drang that rightly came after it. And yet, here we are.

To explain: the science rag’s cover was designed to tease an article wherein the phylogenetic “tree” shape is explained to be less accurate than the more web-like structure with speciation and cross-pollination that we now understand to be the case today. So, Darwin was wrong, yes — but he was not wrong about evolution. And yet to this day, you will find creationists who use that misleading cover to suggest that evolution did not happen, therefore God. Despite being technically correct, the messaging was so poor as to cause splash damage, and atheists and skeptics were pretty mad despite the right-on-a-technicality nature of the problem.

So it’s honestly surprising to me that so many people are so bent out of shape over David Silverman’s poor messaging very recently at CPAC — no, not the people who are upset that what he said caused splash damage to women and was worth criticizing. I mean, the people who are bent out of shape over the CRITICISMS of such.
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A Dynasty Falls

And good riddance.

Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the Duck Dynasty reality television show, recently did an interview in GQ — yes, Gentlemen’s Quarterly — wherein he described how his evangelical Christian beliefs come into conflict with the idea that some people might be gay in an absolutely offensive display of what many Christians really do believe. His TV show on A&E about his family of conservative rednecks — who became rich after he built an empire on the Duck Commander duck lures — now faces the terrible wrath of public opinion.

When my sister heard the news that he’d given his interview in GQ, and that GLAAD had publicly denounced his words, she posted a link on her Facebook wall. One of her friends — an ex co-worker apparently — swanned in to drop this steaming pile of opinion on her wall about how terrible it was… that anyone was asking A&E to reconsider hosting this douchenozzle’s opinion.
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UN classifies lack of abortion access as a form of torture

PolicyMic reports:

Last year, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Reproductive Rights, Anand Grover, broke major ground by demanding the removal, without delay, of all barriers with regard to reproductive access globally, as well as granted access to contraception. In his report, Grover declared denial of access to abortion as discriminatory. Coupled with the new report from the Special Rapporteur on Torture, women’s rights activists worldwide are cheering.

In his report, Méndez, too, holds that denial of reproductive justice is discrimination on the basis of gender and denial of that right can cause “tremendous and lasting physical and emotional suffering” to women. According to the Special Rapporteur’s report, such violations include:

Abusive treatment and humiliation in institutional settings; involuntary sterilization; denial of legally available health services such as abortion and post-abortion care; forced abortions and sterilizations; female genital mutilation; violations of medical secrecy and confidentiality in health-care settings, such as denunciations of women by medical personnel when evidence of illegal abortion is found; and the practice of attempting to obtain confessions as a condition of potentially life-saving medical treatment after abortion.

I absolutely agree that every aspect condemned as torture would, if done to a man under apposite circumstances, count as torture — as cruel and unusual punishment, as discriminatory. That it takes the United Nations to declare it such suggests to me that people do not realize this fact; that people do not realize this fact suggests further that the people claiming “patriarchy is a lie” are incapable of seeing torture of women as actual torture, because the evidence is right there in their faces that these torturous circumstances exist only for and disadvantage only women, and that men are using the fact of women’s ability to become pregnant to control them utterly.

Does this declaration mean we can frog-march people attempting to restrict abortion access in, say, Texas and elsewhere, off to The Hague? A guy can dream…

Tell Canadian senators not to pass “Pope Day” bill!

Theobromine of CFI Canada, regular commenter here and elsewhere on FtB, passed along this change.org petition asking the Canadian government to reconsider the private member bill which has passed the House of Commons on its third reading, and is now apparently in the Senate. The bill would honour Pope John Paul II, who attempted to intervene with Chretien and gay marriage, who spent his 25 years as pope furthering the Catholic causes of undermining human rights worldwide, who misspent those same 25 years doing absolutely zero for the children being abused under his watch, with a designated day of celebration in his name.

Bill C-266 is a Private Member’s Bill, sponsored by Wladyslaw Lizon (Mississauga East—Cooksville). It recently passed third reading in the House of Commons, and is currently before the Senate (more information here).

By signing this petition to oppose Bill C-266, you are showing your commitment to the principles of human rights for all, regardless of religion, sexual orientation, and gender. An email will be sent to Senate Speaker Noel Kinsella, and James Cowan, leader of the opposition in the Senate. We encourage you to contact other members of the Senate, by phone, email, or post – contact information is here.

You can find a record of how MPs voted on this bill here.   We encourage you to thank your MP for voting “NAY” or to protest your MP’s “YEA” vote; MPs’ contact information is here.

To:
Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker of the Senate
Honourable James S. Cowan, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate
Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker of the Senate
Honourable James S. Cowan, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate

The designation of a day for Canada to officially recognize Pope John Paul II is inconsistent with the goals and values established and promoted by the Government of Canada.
While John Paul II was a charismatic figure, his record as leader of the Catholic Church is full of scandal and poor management. Barbara Blaine, head of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) group, points out, “In more than 25 years as the most powerful religious figure on the planet, John Paul II did almost nothing to safeguard kids.”
Pope John Paul vigorously supported the Catholic Church’s opposition to contraception, abortion and homosexuality. He personally intervened to advise Jean Chretien against introducing legislation to allow same-sex marriage. His edicts against condom use undermined worldwide public health efforts to control the spread of AIDS.
For these reasons, I ask you to refuse to pass Bill C-266, the bill that would that establish April 2nd as Pope John Paul II Day in Canada.

Sincerely,
[Your name]

I can’t stress enough how odious and antithetical to the causes of humanitarianism and charity and every positive trait the worldwide community knows of Canada as a country. Honouring the past Pope would undermine everything we claim to hold dear as Canadian citizens. Go vote. I’m doing so, as a genuinely concerned Canadian citizen who dearly wants my nation to uphold my values, even if I’m not living in the country any more.

I signed the following:

Everything Pope John Paul II stood for is antithetical to Canadian values. His views on so-called moral issues like abortion, homosexuality and AIDS were anti-science, anti-reality, and anathema to more enlightened views on how society should interact ethically. I see no reason, except as a sop to religious sentiments, why a “Pope Day” would in any way be a good fit for Canada or for Canadians. I think honouring people for their stances against basic human rights and civil liberties is blinkered, and the MPs who voted for this should be ashamed of themselves.

Canadian abortion rights doctor Morgentaler dead at 90

Doctor Henlek “Henry” Morgentaler, Polish-born Canadian immigrant, has died of a heart attack on May 29th, 2013. He was a Nazi prison camp survivor, and became a physician and family planning doctor in Montreal in 1955. He presented a brief to the House of Commons in 1967 about illegal abortions, arguing that women had the right to safe, legal ones. He eventually began performing abortions in 1968. He was physically assaulted and jailed in Canada numerous times for his advocacy, but ultimately vindicated by society.
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Solidarity at #wiscfi

You might have seen this FtB solidarity photo from Women In Secularism 2 floating around, where the members who were on-hand after Maryam’s talk got a group photo taken with our signs expressing solidarity with the atheists in Muslim countries who are being persecuted for daring to think freely — whose lives are made miserable, and in some cases made forfeit, because they dare disagree with the majority.

Stephanie Zvan, Ophelia Benson, Brianne Bilyeu, Maryam Namazie, Jason Thibeault, Kate Donovan, Miriam Mogilevski, PZ Myers, Ashley Miller. Photo by Brian D. Engler.

Stephanie Zvan, Ophelia Benson, Brianne Bilyeu, Maryam Namazie, Jason Thibeault, Kate Donovan, Miriam Mogilevski, PZ Myers, Ashley Miller. Photo by Brian D. Engler.

Left to right, signs say:

Free
Happy
Defiant
Ateist
– Stephanie Zvan

WE ARE ATHEIST
WE
ARE
WITH
YOU
– Ophelia Benson

Recognize The
WORTH of
Non Believers -
- Respect The
RIGHTS of
Non Believers
I stand in SOLIDARITY with
ATHEISTS!
– Brianne Bilyeu

THOUGHT
IS
NOT
A CRIME
– Jason Thibeault

We stand
with you
– Kate Donovan

Secularism for
ALL women –
NOT just Western!
– Miriam Mogilevski

ATHEISM
IS A VIRTUE
NOT A CRIME
– PZ Myers

Together
We are
Stronger
– Ashley Miller

(You might also have seen a photoshopped version of this photo stripping it of its important message and making it all about a certain self-promoting asshole. That’s, I’m sure, SLIGHTLY more important than decrying the human rights violations perpetrated on fellow atheists, right?)

But you may not have seen the full scope of this effort.
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Transgender rights bill passes in Canada!

Back on March 20th, despite the Tories’ attempts at kicking the can down the road, NDP, Liberals and a whopping 15 Conservatives passed the controversial transgender rights bill in the House of Commons, making assault on a transgender person a hate crime, and protecting trans* folk against discrimination.

I hate having to say “the controversial” in this case, but as usual, it’s controversial because Conservatives don’t want to pass anything making it any less acceptable to attack anyone who isn’t a straight white cis-gendered males in this world. Making it illegal to discriminate against a trans* person, in the same way as it’s illegal to discriminate against any other non-ciswhitestraightmales, well, would simply be a bridge too far to most of them. So they’ve been fighting it with the rhetoric that it would allow sexual predators to assault women in bathrooms by pretending to be transgender. They’ve honestly smeared it throughout the media and throughout the political discourse as “The Bathroom Bill”.

Yeah, it makes about as little sense as it sounds.
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United Nations: “Access to contraception is a human right”

Via Think Progress and CBS, the UN has explicitly called family planning a human right for the first time.

“Family planning has a positive multiplier effect on development,” Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the fund, said in a written statement. “Not only does the ability for a couple to choose when and how many children to have help lift nations out of poverty, but it is also one of the most effective means of empowering women. Women who use contraception are generally healthier, better educated, more empowered in their households and communities and more economically productive. Women’s increased labor-force participation boosts nations’ economies.”

The report effectively declares that legal, cultural and financial barriers to accessing contraception and other family planning measures are an infringement of women’s rights.

This comes hot on the heels of a scientific study of the affects of denying abortion. As it turns out, the longitudinal study found that women who are denied abortions are three times more likely to end up in poverty two years later, and that there are no mental health consequences associated with having an abortion as compared to carrying a baby to term.
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Write your local MP: No more Canadian aid for Uganda while they’re murdering gays

Update: Please read Melanie Nathan’s caution on what should and shouldn’t be done to fight this initiative — she strongly urges that countries not withdraw aid because of this bill, because the LGBTI community will be scapegoated and targeted as a result.

I leave the rest of this post intact because I am concerned that they are already in trouble — every activist in Uganda risks being arrested as it stands, with or without economic sanctions from countries opposed to Uganda’s declared murderous intentions. Her advice is excellent for outsiders like us looking in, though.

Uganda’s apparently delivered an early “Christmas gift” — their words, not mine– to all the homophobic Christians in their theocratic regime. Thanks to GOP members, Catholic pastors, and other outside interference by various and sundry religious bigots, Uganda’s finally built enough momentum and passed the two-year-old proposed bill that will require the death penalty for the high crime of “aggravated homosexuality”. Update: Apparently Kadaga declaring that it will become law doesn’t make it set in stone. There’s a chance this won’t be passed despite her sabre-rattling.

Speaker Rebecca Kadaga said the anti-gay bill will become law by December since most Ugandans ‘are demanding it’.

Referring to the law as a ‘Christmas gift’ to the population, she spoke of ‘the serious threat’ posed by homosexuals.

The law will broaden the criminalization of same-sex relationships by dividing homosexuality into two categories; aggravated homosexuality and the offense of homosexuality.

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