Last Thursday, I had the privilege of moderating a discussion panel concerning Stephen Woodworth’s Motion 312. For those unaware, the motion is aimed at creating a committee to re-examine current Canadian law concerning when life begins. The event, co-hosted by Beyond the Numbers and the University of Toronto Liberals, was a tremendous success thanks to our lovely panellists Haley Turnbull (blogger of The Scarlet Woman), former MP Martha Hall Findlay and Dr Melany Banks.
Of all the fascinating points brought up that night, one in particular really struck me. When I first heard about this motion, I was appalled and outraged, and saw it as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It struck me as an insidiously deceptive motion that refused to acknowledge its evident aim: the illegalisation of abortion. Personally, even though I knew the motion would not pass, I saw the fact it would even be discussed in the House of Commons as a serious setback for women. Given the feeling in the room, I was not alone in these assumptions.
Martha Hall Findlay, however, challenged my assumption very effectively. She saw the motion in a light that, in my anger, I hadn’t been able to; she saw it as an opportunity. Canadian women, she argued, can either be afraid of Motion 312, or can use it to bring women together. Young women have not had to deal with debate around reproductive rights in our lifetime. As Liberal women, we can use this motion not only to reanalyse and reaffirm our pro-choice positions, but also to engage currently apolitical women concerned about reproductive rights. Motion 312 is doubtless a Trojan horse designed to reopen the abortion debate, but it is also certainly a tool Liberals and progressives can use to excite and engage women around the country.
It is still undeniably true, however, that this motion marks a new stage of a disturbing change in Canadian politics that has been slowly taking place since 2006. With cutbacks to the Status of Women budget, the refusal to fund abortions in aid-receiving nations and a lack of significant female caucus members, the Conservative Party of Canada has managed to severely undermine women’s rights with relatively little outcry. It was only a matter of time before they came after reproductive rights, and it is not surprising that they have decided to do so in such a subtle way. Motion 312 should serve as a reminder to women that we can never take what we have gained for granted. We cannot allow ourselves to become apathetic about women’s rights, because there will always be people seeking to take those rights away.
Motion 312 is the greatest proof of the necessity for initiatives like the Beyond the Numbers movement. Women’s issues are clearly relevant today, but we live in an era where feminism can be a dirty word. It is our job as Liberal women to change that notion. The only way to do so is to engage young women and educate them on the current relevance of women’s issues.
(I’d like to thank Alyx Holland, Maddie Webb and Jonathan Scott for organising the event, and Megan Trush for moderating with our amazing panellists. I know I speak for the entire University of Toronto Liberal executive when I say that I sincerely hope we can collaborate on another event in the near future.)
Devyn Noonan, Women’s Issues Director
Follow Devyn on Twitter: @Devyn_Noonan