Tomorrow, the so-called March for Life will take place in Ottawa, culminating in ‘pro-life’ activists demonstrating on the steps of Parliament Hill. This highly-visible display seeks to cast the debate around reproductive choice as an either/or dichotomy, calling on Canadians to identify as either “pro-life” or “pro-abortion.”
But we know from our work at Planned Parenthood Ottawa, that ‘choice’ is much wider than this false construct. “Choice” cannot simply mean the right to choose to have an abortion (a choice, in any case, constrained by region, socio-economic status, access to medical services, and more). Being pro-choice goes far beyond the choice to have an abortion or carry a pregnancy to term. So if pro-life activists want to talk about choice, let’s talk.
At Planned Parenthood Ottawa, we offer free, pro-choice, evidence-based, non-judgmental counselling for women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy. The foundation of this service is that women have the right to accurate, unbiased information in order to make a well-informed decision that is right for them. We trust women, and we are ready to discuss any or all of the pregnancy options: parenting, adoption and abortion.
In order to ensure a real choice for women, we need to recognize that choices do not happen in a vacuum. Real choices are only available when we have real options. To get to that point, we need proper support for all women and all parents – not only when they’re pregnant, not only when they decide to carry a pregnancy to term, but throughout their entire lives.
First, we must ensure that everyone has access to evidence-based sex education. We need to make sure that everyone learns about healthy relationships and consent, about sexuality, contraception and sexually transmitted infections. Knowledge lays the foundation for us to make well-informed choices. We know that age-appropriate sex and relationship education delays the first sexual experience, and reduces unplanned pregnancies and STIs.
If you say you want to reduce unplanned pregnancies, last year, PPO distributed 72,000 free condoms. The Guttmacher Institute estimates this prevented nearly 12,000 unplanned pregnancies and saved taxpayers nearly $50 million. These are tangible, real results. We must make contraception affordable and accessible, especially for at-risk populations.
We need to provide better financial and social assistance for parents – especially those who worry that they can’t afford to raise children. We must fight for flexible workplaces and accessible and affordable childcare for everyone. We need respect for people who choose to remain child-free, and more affordable access to fertility services for those needing reproductive assistance. Adoptive parents and people placing a child for adoption need better support at all stages.
It is unacceptable to demand someone carries a pregnancy to term, while opposing the education to prevent an unintended pregnancy, and denying them the social and financial supports needed to raise a happy, healthy child.
Tomorrow, as anti-choice activists march on Parliament Hill, we must reframe the discussion around choice. In Canada in 2015, we are past debating a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion. Our rights are not a topic for debate. It’s time to offer women real choice: the choice to have an abortion without stigma and with support; the choice to carry a pregnancy to term and be certain that they and the adoptive parents are ready and supported; the choice to raise a child knowing that there are appropriate supports at every life stage.
Let’s talk about creating and fostering a society where everyone can make decisions that are right for them. Let’s talk about ensuring everyone gets effective and accurate education and access to sexual and reproductive health care. Let’s talk about consent, violence against women and rape culture.
It’s time to listen to and raise the voices of marginalised people. To ensure support is available and affordable to women of colour, indigenous women, trans people and those in rural and remote communities. It’s time to make sure that everyone has access to the sexual and reproductive information and care necessary to make the right choices for them. And when people make these choices, based on the best information available and on their personal experiences and values, we need to support that, too. No stigma, no judgement. That is what choice means in 2015.
So, let’s talk.