Reproductive justice: Beyond safe abortions

This article uses the terms “pregnant people,” “mothers,” and “women” based on the context. We are aware that there are separate statistics on trans men and non-binary people and we acknowledge that there is information available beyond this article.

Women who experience violence and abuse are less likely to have access to their reproductive rights. They experience more difficulty using contraceptives effectively than women who don’t face abuse due to the power exerted and control exhibited by their abusive partners to further subjugate them. This layer of abuse results to more unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and pregnancy at an earlier age.

Since COVID-19 has taken over many aspects of our lives as we know it, many women are currently living with extended families. Some of the women that Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS) serves, report to have no access to birth control as there is increased pressure from her extended family to have a child, making it difficult to break free from reproductive coercion. By the time she gets pregnant, she gets pressured to keep her child. Before COVID-19, she may have had access to BWSS, but COVID-19 limits everyone’s freedom to move around, and access to services.

This pandemic requires isolation: a perfect scenario for abusive men and sometimes, enabling extended families, who use isolation as a tactic. With more families isolated, many abused mothers who are either pregnant and/or have children cannot reach out for support.

When women are pregnant, violence increases.

According to a study in Australia, pregnant women are more vulnerable to physical abuse, which lead them to experience depression and high usage of substances leading to difficulty in gaining much-needed weight for them and their child. Pregnant women who are abused are less likely to have access to pre-natal care, which leads to an early death for their children, who are more likely to die before they reach their fifth birthday.

Men use different tactics including financial abuse, and sexual coercion to control women.  It is common for men who support a woman’s immigration to Canada to impregnate her right away as a form of controlling her.

Reproductive rights are less than 30 years old

In 1994, a group of Black women in Chicago gathered to launch a movement demanding for reproductive justice:

Sharing frustration about the global reproductive health status of Black women and the limitations of a privacy-based ‘pro-choice’ movement when women of color had minimal choices, the Black Women’s Caucus of the Illinois Pro-Choice Alliance determined the necessity of adopting a human rights framework for women of color and low income women that addressed issues of bodily autonomy with reproductive decision-making. 

Adopting human rights, social justice and reproductive rights tenets, these women created a transformational and grassroots-based movement for social change. With the definitions and concepts of Reproductive Justice in place, the Black Women’s Caucus sought affirmation and support from the cadre of women of color working domestically on reproductive health and rights.

National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda

They define reproductive justice as:

The human right to control our sexuality, our gender, our work, and our reproduction. That right can only be achieved when all women and girls have the complete economic, social, and political power and resources to make healthy decisions about our bodies, our families, and our communities in all areas of our lives. 

At the core of Reproductive Justice is the belief that all women have

  1. the right to have children;
  2. the right to not have children and;
  3. the right to nurture the children we have in a safe and healthy environment.
Canada has one of the most progressive abortion laws in the world, although is stiffened with limitations

Abortion procedures are common in Canada, with up to one of three women getting an abortion in their lifetime. Yet, although Canada has robust abortion laws as the only country in the world to not have any specific legal restrictions on abortion, and with abortion partially funded by the Canada Health Act, access to abortion in the country is still problematic.

Many pregnant people are restricted by their financial status, location, immigration status, and doctors who refuse to perform the procedure due to moral and religious grounds. Only one in six hospitals across Canada provide abortion services, with most providers located in major urban centres. For people who live in rural settings, abortion clinics are hard to get to because of lack of available transportation, the clinics are unavailable and are at capacity, which result to many people who end up having a child they were not prepared for. For pregnant people in Nunavut, they face restrictions to universal cost-coverage for medical abortion. As a matter of fact, there are actually no abortion clinics available at any northern regions of any provinces in Canada, and pregnant people have to be flown into a major urban centre should they face complications during their pregnancy.

In addition, for people who could get pregnant and also happen to not communicate in English or French, and/or are immigrants or refugees, they are presented with less to no options that are culturally appropriate and sensitive to their needs.

Pursuing abortion still carries plenty of stigma from families to pro-life activists who are often seen harassing pregnant people even at the time when they arrive at the abortion clinic. Beyond the reasons outlined, there are still plenty of barriers that halt pregnant people from making decisions over their own body.

Beyond abortion rights

Although access to abortion has been available for many white, able-bodied women who have financial resources and live in major urban centres, reproductive justice urges for a broader vision that includes Black, Indigenous, women of colour, and trans and non-binary people in health care and social policies. After all, it is Black women in the US who fought for abortion rights, access to contraceptives, sexual health education, rights to have children, rights to have birthing options, rights for parents to keep the children they have, and the right to raise their children in thriving communities.

Canadians shriek in horror over the US Trumpian imagery of children of migrants crying inside cages as they are willfully separated from their parents at detention centres. Many are children of parents fleeing violence from South American countries including El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, as well as children of migrants from the Caribbean who experience the effects of colonization and imperialism (which are US-sanctioned and supported). In September 2020, an African-American nurse, Dawn Wooten, made a whistleblower complaint reporting a doctor who performed hysterectomies (surgical removal of surgeries) on detained women without their knowledge of consent.

However, Canada has been guilty of separating families for far longer that what is officially recorded. The currently existing Indian Act had officially formalized the removal of 150,000 First Nation, Inuit, and Métis children in hopes “to kill the Indian in the child” in residential schools that operated from 1876 until 1996. Two thousand eight hundred children died in residential schools as per the report of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.  Furthermore, starting in the mid-1950s, dubbed as “The Sixties Scoop,” 20,000 kids were removed from their homes, mostly in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and adopted by non-Indigenous families in Canada and the US. This practice placing Indigenous children in the child welfare system continues to this day, where Indigenous children represent more than half of children in foster care in private Canadian homes but account for only less than ten per cent of the overall child population.

The right of parents to keep their children further target Black, Indigenous, and racialized, immigrant parents. Up until as recently as July 2020, the government of Ontario ended “birth alerts,” a practice that notifies hospitals of newborns who are deemed to need protection from their mothers: a high percentage of whom happen to be Indigenous and Black women. To date, only BC, Manitoba, and Ontario have ended this systematic separation of families, a recommendation made from the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The Ontario Native Women’s Association has told the government that 450 Indigenous families a year will benefit from the ending of birth alerts based on the programs they administer and sites they have in place instead.

In addition, a class action law suit is underway as one hundred Indigenous women have come forward with their unique stories of forced and coerced sterilization further exposing the systemic racism at play in Canada’s health care system. Many women have had their fallopian tubes tied without their proper and informed consent. This practice of eugenics –determining who should or should not have children—was mentioned multiple times in the National Inquiry for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls which states, “…the forced sterilization of women represents directed state violence against Indigenous women, and contributes to the dehumanization and objectification of Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people.”

Eco-fascist ideals continue for calls against people’s autonomy to have children. In September 2020 in Vancouver, an advertising campaign by One Planet, One Child has featured a Black baby with the ad copy, “The most loving gift you can give your first child is to not have another.” This campaign raised outrage from anti-racist climate justice activists, who highlighted that the myth of overpopulation targets families from poor, and racialized communities globally when “research has shown that an unequal distribution of resources is actually more to blame for the climate crisis than increasing numbers of people.”

In addition, transgender and non-binary people need reproductive justice, too. American journalist and trans woman Parker Molloy says: “Abortion is an issue of bodily autonomy. Being trans is an issue of bodily autonomy. Abortion is a trans issue.” Many non-binary people and trans men need reproductive justice as well, as they are often left out of conversations. Inequities that trans and non-binary people face especially in health care make it another barrier for them to access safe and great quality care, due to medical transphobia, income inequity, effects of organized religion, erasure, feeling judged and shunned by loved ones and many more.

Organizations such as Options for Sexual Health have put together a manual for Trans-inclusive Abortion Services to help service providers provide trans-inclusive services in abortion settings.

What good are rights when only a few could access them? Although reproductive rights have been granted in various ways, reproductive oppression limits many people from having autonomy and self-determination when it comes to their own health and wellbeing. Reproductive justice addresses the power imbalance within colonial and patriarchal institutions, social structures, economies, and the intersections that people face including their access to reproductive and sexual healthcare and information, their race, class, sexuality, geographical location and vulnerability to experiencing violence.

BWSS liberates victims from violence

For the past decades, BWSS has been responding to calls for reproductive justice through public education and by supporting women, non-binary people, femmes and girls through different programs suitable for their unique situation. Our wrap-around services understand the intersections women, non-binary people, femmes and girls live within when faced with unjust legal systems; precarious immigration status; unsecure and unstable financial supports; no access to maternal health care; ableist laws; a society that thrives in white supremacy, capitalism and patriarchy; and settler-colonial state violence.

BWSS services include:

  • Black, Indigenous, and Latin American Women’s programs
  • Thrive, a program that supports people involved in sex economies
  • AWARE, a program that leads women to financial empowerment
  • 2SLGBTQIA+ support
  • Counselling
  • Legal advocacy
  • And more

If you are experiencing abuse –whether it is mental, physical, sexual—, please know that you have options. When it is safe to do so:

  • Contact our free crisis line that is available 24 hours per day, seven days per week:
    • Call 604-687-1867 or 1-855-687-1868
    • Text 604-652-1867
    • Email intake@bwss.org
  • Contact Options for Sexual Health:
    • Call 604-731-4252
    • Call Sex Sense for questions about sex, sexuality, and other sexual health-related questions at 1-800-739-7367) or send them a message. Sex Sense is open Monday to Friday 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Financial Literacy Program for Black Immigrant Women

Occasionally, we proudly amplify the work of grassroots organizations who contribute to improving the lives of women, femmes, non-binary people, and children. In this case, we are excited to support the work of Vancouver Eastside Educational Enrichment Society (VEEES) led by Adaeze Jannette Oputa and Doriane Kaze who are looking for focus group participants that will lead Black immigrant, refugee, and migrant women to financial independence through their Financial Literacy Program for Black Immigrant Women.

This program is the first of its kind in Metro Vancouver, that will offer a range of courses designed specifically to educate and empower Black immigrant, refugee, and migrant women, helping them and their families reap the benefits of being financially confident and savvy.

VEEES will offer an independent and unbiased financial curriculum in an enjoyable and engaging environment. The courses are taught by Black women who have created and simplified the complex financial verbiage into everyday language to help women make better-informed financial decisions.

This program intends to highlight the concepts and significance of financial literacy and how it can contribute to improving socio economic wellbeing, financial sector development, poverty reduction and sustainable growth in black immigrant communities within and beyond BC.

They will be conducting a focus group to understand Black women’s

  • level of financial knowledge that already exists in the community;
  • needs as a Black immigrant, refugee, and/or migrant woman, so that VEEES can build strong wrap around services to support them

The focus group will be held online, on Thursday, September 17 from 11 am to 1 pm PST.  A $20 gift card will be provided for sharing your valuable time with VEEES.

If you:

  • Are a Black newcomer woman (immigrant, refugee or migrant) between 20 and 55 years of age
  • Live in Metro Vancouver
  • Have access to the internet

Please register to join the focus group by filling out the form on their website.

Financial literacy and independence is also important for survivors of gender-based violence, and this program is specific to support the needs of Black immigrant, refugee, and migrant women.

For survivors who look for additional supports, our employment program called AWARE is available to provide one-on-one help in navigating and accessing government, community, and peer supports as well as offering workshops on relevant topics that will set you up for success. If you or anyone you know is seeking employment services or supports, contact us by email claudia@bwss.org or phone 778-628-1867.

Supreme Court of Canada’s anti-SLAPP judgments endanger survivors of gender-based violence

On September 10, 2020, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) released judgments in two cases concerning the interpretation of Ontario’s anti-Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) laws on which BC’s Protection of Public Participation Act is modeled. In response to the decisions, the anti-violence sector urges the Supreme Court to centre the voices of survivors of gender-based violence who can be faced with SLAPP suits when they speak out.

These cases – 1704604 Ontario Ltd. v Pointes Protection Assn and Bent v Platnick – are the first opportunities that the Supreme Court has taken to interpret anti-SLAPP laws. Though the cases were not about expression concerning sexual assault or gender-based violence, these judgments (linked below) were anxiously awaited by members of the anti-violence sector who anticipated the impacts that the rulings would have on survivors of marginalized genders. 

In November of 2019, West Coast LEAF, Atira Women’s Resource Society, Battered Women’s Support Services, and WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre intervened in these cases in Ottawa, as a coalition of anti-violence organizations that work to combat gender-based violence and advance gender equity.

The coalition focused its arguments on the impact that strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) have on survivors of gender-based violence. SLAPP suits filed by those accused of gender-based violence are of grave concern, as they intimidate and silence individual survivors, further chilling the reporting and disclosure of gender-based violence. Gender-based violence is already a grossly under-reported crime, and the coalition shares concerns that these rulings may result in additional trauma for survivors.

The Supreme Court does not specifically address the impact that SLAPP suits have on survivors of gender-based violence in these decisions. The Court does recognize that, in considering what weight to give expression, judges may need to consider whether the expression at issue, or the underlying legal claim, may provoke hostility against identifiably vulnerable groups or groups protected by equality and human rights laws.

“We are concerned that today’s judgments will result in additional barriers that survivors of gender-based violence and sexual assault will face when seeking justice, or sharing their experiences of sexualized violence,” says Dalya Israel, Executive Director, WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre. “The potential for SLAPP lawsuits to cause survivors further traumatization will disproportionately affect those who are Indigenous, racialized, trans and gender diverse. These decisions are another example of how the criminal justice system continues to fail at providing protections for marginalized survivors and perpetuates the systemic oppression already faced by these communities.”

Amber Prince, Staff Lawyer with Atira Women’s Resource Society, says: “We appreciate that the SCC has defined the public interest broadly. It is critical that vulnerable groups, such as sexual assault survivors, be able to speak up about what happened to them, in order seek support, safety and redress without fear of being sued. It is also critical that sexual assault survivors have meaningful access to legal support and the Courts to protect themselves from SLAPP suits. The legal system must be responsive to the particular needs of sexual assault survivors, and the chilling trend of SLAPP suits being brought against sexual assault survivors across Canada.”

“These judgments have potentially serious implications for survivors of gender-based violence,” says Raji Mangat, Executive Director of West Coast LEAF. “Defamation claims against survivors of gender-based violence are of increasing concern. They have become more common in the backlash to the #MeToo movement and are often brought in cases where deep power imbalances exist. Without having their disclosure and reporting protected as a matter of public interest, survivors of gender-based violence face an unacceptable choice. They risk being sued in defamation and dragged through a lengthy civil court proceeding if they disclose or report their violence for any reason, including seeking support or ensuring safety for others. Or they lose their right to this expression.”

“We are working with women right now who are being sued for defamation for exposing their abusers,” says Angela Marie MacDougall, Executive Director of Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS). “Today’s decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada appears to have affirmed the power of those who perpetrate sexualized violence. However, we are undeterred. We will continue to take action on the front line, where the law meets the lived experiences of sexual assault survivors.”

Read the judgment in 1704604 Ontario Ltd. v Pointes Protection Assn by clicking here.

Read the judgment in Bent v Platnick by clicking here.

For information on BC’s Protection of Public Participation Act, click here.

Get a limited edition Dorothy Grant face mask and support BWSS programs and services

With more public spaces requiring face masks to reduce the spread of COVID-19, we are ecstatic to present this partnership with the one and only, Dorothy Grant.

Dorothy Grant is a legendary Haida artist, and she has created limited edition face masks with 10% of proceeds supporting survivors and victims of gender-based violence through Battered Women’s Support Services.

These masks are made of breathable 70% cotton and 30% silk, and have double layers with an open insert pocket for a filter, should you choose to use one. Say goodbye to single-use masks, and re-use these washable, long-lasting masks.

Not only are you supporting a local Indigenous artist, you are also helping women, femmes, non-binary people, and children access safety through BWSS programs and services.

Wear a piece of art while making a statement about your care for others through one or all four fabulous designs.

😷 Keep one at home
😷 Keep one at your work place
😷 Keep one in your bag
😷 Give one to a friend!

About Dorothy Grant


Dorothy Grant’s connection to her culture and Haida identity has been the driving creative force and her foundation as a contemporary fashion designer for over the past thirty-two years.

In 1988, Grant became the first to merge Haida art and fashion utilizing her formal training at the Helen Lefeaux School of Fashion Design. Dorothy believes that her clothing embodies the Haida philosophy Yaangudang meaning “self respect.” The driving force behind her clothing designs is “empowerment, pride and feeling good about oneself.”

Battered Women’s Support Services in need of more crisis line volunteers as support for domestic violence victims and survivors expand

Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS) has been taking calls from victims and survivors at their most vulnerable times for the past four decades. As of March 2020, BWSS expanded their community-based crisis line to support 24/7, and added a texting service in addition to communicating by email. BWSS’s crisis lines rely on dedicated, trained volunteers to support, educate, and empower callers to a life free from violence. More volunteers are needed and BWSS’s world-renowned Violence Prevention and Intervention Training Program is now accepting applications to join the fall cohort starting on September 18, 2020.

Participants of the free training program are provided skills-based knowledge grounded in a strong theoretical framework for understanding violence against women and girls in relationships and systemic oppression. The training program covers crisis intervention, peer counselling, safety assessment, safety planning, advocacy, referrals, group facilitation, and public education.

The crisis line typically gets 18,000 calls annually. However, this year, calls have increased by 300 per cent as the crisis line is now open 24/7 and as COVID-19 exposes more victims to danger and lethality for having to stay at home. Most calls from the crisis line are from victims and survivors, family members, children and youth, and coworkers. Forty per cent of callers are calling for the first time.

“The crisis line is where we learn of the unique and changing needs of survivors and victims across various demographics and we build our systemic advocacy based on the calls we receive,” said Angela Marie MacDougall, Executive Director of BWSS. “Volunteering with us is a way of giving back to the community for those who deeply care about ending gender-based violence. Our volunteers make a difference in the lives of thousands of victims and survivors as they are the first point of contact, becoming a gateway to accessing services including counselling, legal advocacy, and our various specialty programs that centre the needs of our callers.”

The training is now mostly virtual, which creates more options for participants who need the flexibility. Many of BWSS’s services are also offered virtually and in person. There are many shifts that need to be filled as the line is always open, and the crisis line offers shifts online and from home. Volunteers are supported and supervised by experienced and trained BWSS staff while on shift.

“Our goal is for victims to become survivors, and to live free from violence,” said Elza Horta, Crisis Line and Intake Coordinator at BWSS. “We also receive calls from people who want to help survivors and want to be active in the community especially during the increased rates of domestic violence during COVID-19. There are lots of education, life-changing and life-saving conversations happening over the phone.”

For more information about the Violence Prevention and Intervention Program and to apply for the fall training now, visit bwss.org/volunteer.

The BWSS Crisis Line is available 24/7 and can be reached by phone at 604-687-1867 or 1-855-687-1868; by texting 604-652-1867 or email intake@bwss.org.

 

BWSS Legal Services and Advocacy Program will be resuming our clinics

We’re happy to be resuming our Legal Forms Clinic

Our Legal Forms Clinic are for Supreme and Provincial Court Family forms. They are offered for no fee and are facilitated by legal advocates and interns who can help women draft very specific family law court forms. We’re able to  help women who know which forms need to be filled out (e.g Affidavit, NOFC, NOA, F8, etc.).
 

The clinic will happen twice a month, every other Thursday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Each appointment lasts two hours, and we ask women to come 15 minutes prior to their appointment so we can efficiently work together. There will be two BWSS legal advocates (Mayra Albuquerque and Summer Rain Bentham) and a legal intern from UBC Allard School of Law, allowing us to help three women per clinic. Legal advocates and interns will not be providing legal advice.

 

We are pleased to have family law lawyer Tanya Thakur who will be available as the duty counselor at each clinic, and will review the forms filled out by legal advocates and interns, and in some cases, will swear affidavits or F8.

 

The Legal Forms Clinic is available on the following dates from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.:
• Thursday, September 10
• Thursday, September 24
• Thursday, October 8
• Thursday, October 22
• Thursday, November 5
• Thursday, November 19

 

If you are interested in attending a Legal Forms Clinic, please contact the BWSS Intake Line at 604-687-1867 or 1-855-687-1868 (toll-free) or email intake@bwss.org.
Our Family Law Clinic is here to help women access justice

Our Family Law Clinic are staffed with pro-bono family law lawyers who will give free legal advice to women who are low-income (including division of assets & debt), and help them prepare to go to court. Please note that the pro-bono family law lawyers cannot prepare typed legal documentation or go into court on behalf of women.

 

Typically, the pro-bono family law lawyer advises women, and then, women will have to make a separate appointment with BWSS legal advocates to figure out their next steps. Appointments with the pro-bono family law lawyer will last approximately an hour, which will allow us to help three women per clinic.

 

Thank you so much to our pro–bono lawyers for their time and expertise in helping increase women’s access to justice. All too often women are self-representing in their family law cases without the benefit of legal support, and these services are extraordinarily important in dealing with abusive partners who often have lawyers to represent them.

 

The Family Law Clinic is available on:
• Saturday, August 29: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
• Wednesday, September 9: 5 to 8 p.m.
• Saturday, September 26: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m
• Wednesday, October 14: 5 to 8 p.m.
• Saturday, October 24: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
• Wednesday, November 4: 5 to 8 p.m.
• Saturday, November 21: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

 

If you are interested in attending a Family Law Clinic, please contact the BWSS Intake Line at 604-687-1867 or 1-855-687-1868 (toll-free) or email intake@bwss.org.