Madam Speaker, women in Canada and around the world have fought long and hard for the right to control what they do with their own bodies. Sadly, many women still do not have this right or they have actively lost it. In some cases, particularly here in Canada, the right to choose is only available in theory. The practice of this right is hindered by the fact that consecutive governments have not ensured that all women have the same rights under the Canada Health Act or the charter.
To my utter dismay, here we are again. This private member's bill, Bill C-233, is nothing short of a direct attack on women. Despite all the rhetoric claiming to be in defence of women's equality and despite the Conservative leader's assurances that his party will not reopen the abortion debate in Canada, we are debating a bill that does just that.
I am not surprised. He, like so many former leaders of the Conservative Party, has allowed his members to repeatedly try to undermine women's rights. Since 2006, members of the Conservative caucus have tried seven times to introduce anti-choice laws. In fact, this is not even the first time the member for Yorkton—Melville has tried to challenge women's rights under the charter, and like the other anti-choice private members' bills introduced by Conservative Party members, Bill C-233 is a Trojan Horse.
I am proud to say that women must retain their rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and as a New Democrat in the House and as a woman who has the privilege to speak here tonight, I will never vote for a bill that is quite literally a slap in the face to women who have fought long and hard for the right to control their own bodies.
Dangerously, the argument that is being used within the bill is couched in language around gender equality, but I cannot state emphatically enough that Bill C-233 does nothing to address gender equality. Let me repeat that: Bill C-233 does nothing to address gender equality. It is a step toward regulating and eroding access to abortion.
When abortions are illegal, women do not stop having them. They only take more risks to access the services they need, and these risks can have deadly consequences. Before anti-choice laws in Canada were struck down, there were over 35,000 illegal abortions taking place every year. Thousands of women died because they were not given a choice. They were desperate and submitted themselves to clandestine procedures.
Our Supreme Court struck down the abortion law in 1988 because it violated a woman's right to bodily security. Recriminalizing abortion in any way would be a violation of the charter rights that cis women and transgender people have to life, liberty and conscience.
If we look at examples from India and Nepal, we see that laws against sex-selective abortion do not work, and because of these laws many women avoid the health care system. They risk their health and lives by resorting to unsafe abortions.
A 2019 study found that sex-selective abortion bans in South Korea, China and India are difficult to implement and have limited impact. They reduce access to safe abortion services and negatively affect the life chances of women and girls. By contrast, other studies have shown that policies that include mass messaging and measures to increase gender equality show a quick impact in reducing people's preference for having sons and in increasing parental investments in girls.
The sex-selective abortion of female fetuses is a symptom, not the problem itself. The root issue here is misogyny. A law banning sex-selective abortion only sends the problem underground. The answer lies in raising the status of girls and women over the long term.
In the promotion and protection of women's rights and gender equality, Canada must be a world leader. We must commit to the view that gender equality is not only a human right, but also an essential component of sustainable development, social justice, peace and security. These goals can only be achieved if women are able to participate as equal partners, decision-makers and beneficiaries of the sustainable development of their societies.
However, how can Canada be considered a world leader in women's rights when we have members of Parliament suggesting that we revert to the days of gender inequality through the restriction of abortion? How can Canada be considered a world leader when the government refuses to enforce the Canada Health Act, which requires provinces to fund equal access?
In 1988, abortion was decriminalized, but that does not mean everyone in Canada has access. Last year, Action Canada published “Access at a Glance: Abortion Services in Canada”. This overview of abortion care in Canada shows huge gaps in what care is available and where. There are significant disparities between rural and urban access to abortion. In some provinces, like Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario, abortion providers are only in urban centres, despite the fact that 35% to 40% of the population is living in rural or remote communities.
Hundreds of people are forced to travel out of their communities to access abortion and must pay for travel expenses out of pocket. Travelling to another city for a procedure can mean having to take time off work, planning and paying for child care or elder care. Some people cannot afford to pay for these expenses.
Access to health services should not depend on one's postal code or income. Unlike any other province or territory, New Brunswick illegally refuses to pay for abortion services outside of hospital settings. This means that abortions provided in clinics are not funded by the government. This is a human rights violation and contravenes the Canada Health Act.
For decades, people across New Brunswick and Canada have been advocating for the government to strike down this discriminatory regulation, yet successive governments and the so-called feminist Liberal government continue to ignore this call, and persist in maintaining an unfair, illegal policy that seriously impacts abortion access in New Brunswick.
Everyone has the equal right to the best quality health care, regardless of race, age, class, immigration status, gender expression, sexuality and ability, but abortion care is impacted by discrimination and bigotry, both systemic and as a result of individual prejudice on the part of service providers. Racism, xenophobia, classism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and ageism in Canada are all direct and intersecting barriers to accessing abortion.
If the member introducing Bill C-233 was truly interested in strengthening gender equality, this bill could have ensured everyone's right to access health services. It could propose solutions to fight against racism and poverty and homelessness or combat homophobia and transphobia. It could propose operational-based funding for women's organizations, ensure permanent funding for shelters in Canada, put forward a universal early learning and child care bill, introduce a guaranteed basic livable income, ensure free access to birth control or Mifegymiso, create a national action plan against gender-based violence, or implement just one of the 231 calls for justice from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry.
If the member for Yorkton—Melville was truly dedicated to advancing gender equality, she could have drafted a bill that actually addresses the social, economic or political inequities women experience as part of their daily lives, inequities exacerbated by past and current governments.
Tragically, this bill does nothing to implement the long-term solutions that would reduce the inequality between men and women. In May 2020, Canada celebrated the 50th anniversary of the abortion caravan, the convoy of activists, advocates and brave women who travelled from Vancouver to Ottawa to protest the criminalization of abortion in 1970.
Canadian women fought long and hard for the right to safe, legal abortions. Women have been forced to put their private lives under scrutiny in the courts and in the fight for the right to choose. I would like to thank all the brave women, organizations and abortion providers who fought for our right to choose.
I urge all members of this House to recognize this bill for what it is, an underhanded attack on women's choice. I urge all members to vote against it. If we are to sincerely achieve true gender equality, we will not tolerate the sham that has been perpetuated against women of this country.
Instead of attacking health services and access, we need to address the reasons why women are undervalued, underpaid and underserved. We need a government that would champion programs and policies that ensure women's contributions to society, the economy and leadership in this country are respected and encouraged. Access to safe, legal abortions is integral to these rights.
New Democrats, it is safe to say, do not support this bill. We will actively fight against any motion or future bill that would threaten a woman's right to choose.