CFUW Demonstrates Solidarity with Radical Handmaids in Effort to Protect Reproductive Rights


Tomorrow (April 26th) the House of Commons is set to debate Motion 312, which seeks to set up a special parliamentary committee to determine if human rights should be extended to fetuses. While on the surface this may sound relatively harmless, it is in fact a backhanded attempt at reopening the debate on abortion, and could result in criminalizing some activities of women during pregnancy.

A group called the Radical Handmaids organized a rally on Parliament Hill to oppose the motion. Pictured above is Niki Ashton, newly appointed Status of Women Critic for the NDP, alongside the Radical Handmaids. Ashton gave an impassioned speech stating her intention to stand up for women’s right to choose. Also pictured, is a Radical Handmaid holding a sign with the image of a coat hanger along with the message “NEVER AGAIN”. Prior to the decriminalization of abortion in Canada, women used to resort to using coat hangers to deal with unwanted pregnancies. This serves as a warning to politicians about some of the risks associated with turning back the clock on women’s rights.

CFUW attend the rally to demonstrate our solidarity in opposition to this motion. Our President, Brenda Wallace, has also sent letters to the Party Leaders asking them and their caucuses to oppose it. For example, here is the letter that was sent to Prime Minister Stephen Harper on April 5th:

The Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada
House of Commons
K1A 0A6

Dear Mr. Harper,

Re: Oppose Motion 312

I am writing you today on behalf of the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) to ask that the Government of Canada oppose MP Stephen Woodworth’s motion M-312, which is scheduled for debate on April 26, 2012.

The motion calls for a special parliamentary committee to examine whether the Criminal Code’s definition of when a child becomes a human being should be changed to extend legal personhood to fetuses. If this were to happen, it would ironically remove women’s rights as full human beings, and possibly even criminalize their decision-making during pregnancy.

This motion appears to be an attempt on the part of Mr. Woodworth to reopen the debate on criminalizing abortion. There is no other reason that Mr. Woodworth would want to discuss the extension of human rights to fetuses, independent of women, other than to seek assurances over their “right to life, liberty and security of the person” under section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The law has always treated a pregnant woman and her fetus as one person. The courts have stated that the intimate connection between a woman and her fetus cannot be considered in isolation, and that giving rights to fetuses would impose a duty of care on a pregnant woman that would result in extensive and unacceptable intrusions into her bodily integrity, privacy, and autonomy.

Not only would fetal personhood seriously undermine the constitutional rights of women who need abortions, but also the rights of any pregnant woman. This is because it would invite the prosecution of pregnant women for any perceived harm to fetuses by creating confusion around how child welfare laws and policies apply to fetuses as legal persons. In the United States, hundreds of women have been prosecuted because of so-called fetal homicide laws and thousands more have been subjected to punitive and counterproductive child welfare interventions that treat what women do or experience during pregnancy as evidence of child neglect or abuse.

The issues raised in this motion have already been addressed by Canada’s Supreme Court (including in Tremblay v. Daigle, Dobson v. Dobson, Winnipeg Child & Family Services v. Ms.G.D.F., Borowski v. Attorney General of Canada, and R. v. Morgentaler). Please do not let Canada start down the same road as the United States. CFUW urges the Government of Canada to oppose this dangerous motion.

CFUW is a non-partisan, voluntary, self-funded organization of close to 10,000 women university graduates, students and Associate Members in 112 Clubs across Canada that works to improve the status of women and human rights, education, social justice, and peace. CFUW holds special consultative status with the United Nations (ECOSOC) and belongs to the Education committee of the Canadian Sub-Commission to UNESCO. CFUW is the largest of the 61 affiliates of the International Federation of University Women (IFUW).



Brenda Wallace
National President, Canadian Federation of University Women

The Honourable Rona Ambrose, Minister responsible for the Status of Women
The Honourable Robert Nicholson, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Mr. Stephen Woodworth

You can visit the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada’s website for petitions and template letters you can send to your own Member of Parliament:

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