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Commemorating 20 years of abortion rights

Montreal gays march with women's groups

Gays and lesbians joined a coalition of women’s groups in Montreal Jan 27 to mark the 20th anniversary (Jan 28) of the decriminalization of abortion in Canada. They marched through the downtown core to commemorate and reinforce people’s right to control their own bodies.

Holding placards with slogans such as “Mind Your Own Uterus”, the group of about 20 people braved the chilly weather and took to the streets at noon, departing from Montreal’s Palais de justice courthouse and taking their message to anyone who would listen.

Participants drew parallels between the fight for abortion rights and the fight for gay and lesbian rights.

“These battles are on the same front against the religious right,” Caroline Briand, one of about 20 people taking part in the noon-hour demonstration, told Xtra.ca.

Fellow participant Karina Kesserwan said that the government should not interfere with private choices when it comes to people’s own bodies.

“The state has no business in either the uteri or the bedrooms of the nation,” said Kesserwan.

Matthew McLauchlin, co-president of the NDP Quebec Section LGBTT commission, one of the organizations participating in Sunday’s demonstration, agrees.

“The fight for abortion rights is all about being able to control your own body and your own sexual and reproductive integrity. The queer community owes it to itself to be in solidarity with the struggle for women’s right to choose,” said McLauchlin. “This concerns not only queer women, but all queer people.”

He said abortion rights and queer rights should not be taken for granted.

“As recently as the 2005 Tory convention, there was very strong support for the reopening of the abortion issue and there remains a vocal anti-choice caucus in the Liberal Party,” McLauchlin said. “Just as we saw with the Conservative attempt to reopen the same-sex marriage debate in 2006, we can never take these rights for granted.”

McLauchlin is also critical of the Unborn Victims of Crime Act, a private members’ bill introduced in Parliament last fall by Conservative MP Ken Epp of Alberta. Bill C-484, which received its first reading in November, would “amend the Criminal Code by making it an offence to injure, cause the death of or attempt to cause the death of a child before or during its birth while committing or attempting to commit an offence against the mother.”

He said the bill is not about preventing violence against women.

“It’s pretty clear where this bill is coming from. It’s not coming from a place of concern about violence against women. It’s coming from a place of wanting to create a precedent for legally treating the fetus as a person,” said McLauchlin. “This bill is not going to prevent violence against women.”

“It’s pretty clear that the Tories have a strong socially-conservative agenda and [that] they’re not going to stop using whatever methods they can to undermine women’s rights and queer rights,” he added. “Efforts like this bill are all part of the Conservatives’ attempt to chip away at the gains that we’ve made.”

Former NDP leader and current Halifax MP Alexa McDonough expressed similar worries in her speech at the second reading of the bill in December.

“I would say that at the heart of my concern about the bill is that it does indeed arouse considerable concern, real apprehension, about whether it is in fact a thinly veiled step in the direction of recriminalizing abortion in our country,” McDonough told the House of Commons.

Amy Darwish, co-president of the NDP Quebec Section women’s commission, another group participating in Sunday’s march, stressed the importance of protecting the achievements made with respect to women’s rights and gay and lesbian rights.

“We must remain vigilant in order to hold on to the gains that we’ve made,” she said. “We really can’t afford to be asleep at the wheel.”