Over the past few days, all technological apps in my life have been dutifully filling my computer and phone screens with ads, restaurant suggestions and news alerts from Canada. The reason? I’m currently on a two-week trip to picturesque Nova Scotia, and my phone is staying on top of it! Among the helpful suggestions of Canadian breweries near me (Google knows me too well), I also started seeing some Canadian news pop up in my news feed. And, while keeping me posted on local developments, my phone recently managed to remind me that, far beyond a mere geographic delineation between North American neighbors, the US–Canadian border currently symbolizes a vast divide in basic respect for women’s rights and health as well.
As I was enjoying a refreshing beer at one of those local breweries Google introduced me to, I was browsing through my women’s health news alerts (everyone does that at bars, right?) when I came across these two titles, listed on top of each other:
Rape survivors must now inform their attacker if they want an abortion in this US state
Canadian Development Minister Calls Abortion a ‘Tool to End Poverty’
Both headlines were startling on their own (though for very different reasons), but the combination of the two popping up one after the other felt utterly ironic. Although being confronted with depressing news about women’s rights has become routine in the past eight months, reading about legislators implicitly empowering rapists will never stop being rattling. At the same time, seeing a headline about a person in power saying something that makes logical sense while also taking into account women’s humanity is so rare these days that I felt like I was reading sci-fi.
A quick recap of the two stories. Arkansas legislators recently passed House Bill 1566, which supplements an existing legislation according to which family members must agree on the disposal of a diseased person’s body or of a dead fetus. The new bill adds “fetal remains” from abortions to this category. Although the H.B. 1566 creators claimed that the core goal of the bill is to differentiate fetal tissue from medical waste, ACLU lawyers, who have filed a lawsuit against the new law, point out that the bill could be used to require women seeking abortions to discuss the disposal of the fetal tissue (and, by default, the procedure itself) with the person who impregnated them, even if the pregnancy resulted from rape or an abusive relationship. Always invaluable to need the input of your rapist into your medical decisions or to have to return to an abusive home for a nice, friendly chat with your abusive partner regarding your abortion, right? I just don’t see the downside to any of this.
Meanwhile in Canada, the Trudeau administration pledged $650 million in global aid to fund reproductive health programs across the world. The funding adds to an existing $3.5 billion set aside for maternal and child health. While the pledge was made in March (on International Women’s Day), this week Canadian development minister Marie-Claude Bibeau defended the decision in the face of criticism from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. Bibeau said that the goal of the policy is to “give [women] the control over their lives” and called abortion and contraception “tool(s) to end poverty.” Acknowledging that women have the right to control their lives and bodies and highlighting the connection between that control and economic development is utterly essential in the year when the revised U.S. global gag rule is putting millions of women across the world in danger of losing access to reproductive health (and to numerous other health programs as well).
Having a government that prioritizes women’s autonomy, health and safety over the rights of fetuses or the opinions of abusers and rapists and that has a woman in power advocating for women’s development across the world should not be that unusual in 2017. And yet, no amount of Canadian beer can help me forget how far such a scenario is from the current political reality in the U.S.