Abor­tion Be­yond Bounds 2018

The McGill Daily - - Front Page - Danielle Czar­necki and Sofia Misen­heimer News Writ­ers

Over two hun­dred stu­dents, alumni, and fac­ulty at­tended the Abor­tion Be­yond Bounds con­fer­ence on Oc­to­ber 11 and 12. At­ten­dees heard both lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional speak­ers of­fer di­verse per­spec­tives on the im­pact of Canada’s re­cent le­gal­iza­tion of the “abor­tion pill” (mifepri­s­tone) and the dis­par­i­ties of abor­tion ac­cess world­wide. The speak­ers spanned many fields from providers, ac­tivists, and artists, to emerg­ing and es­tab­lished re­searchers and schol­ars. Pre­sen­ta­tions con­tex­tu­al­ized the re­peal of Ire­land’s 35-year abor­tion ban in May, the wave of protests to de­crim­i­nal­ize abor­tion in Ar­gentina last month, and the an­tic­i­pated fur­ther ero­sion of reproductive rights in the United States fol­low­ing Brett Ka­vanaugh’s Supreme Court con­fir­ma­tion ear­lier this month. The con­fer­ence pro­vided a timely as­sess­ment of con­tem­po­rary ques­tions sur­round­ing au­ton­omy, tech­nol­ogy, and ac­cess re­lated to reproductive care, the evolv­ing role of in­sti­tu­tions and law, and ac­tivist strate­gies for mov­ing for­ward.

Or­ga­nized by Mcgill’s In­sti­tute for Gen­der, Sex­u­al­ity, and Fem­i­nist Stud­ies (IGSF) and Cen­tre for Re­search on Gen­der, Health, and Medicine (CRGHM), the con­fer­ence emerged from re­search by co-or­ga­niz­ers Re­bekah Lewis (Fac­ulty of Medicine) and Jen­nifer Fish­man (So­cial Stud­ies of Medicine, CRGHM), which co­in­cided with the 30th an­niver­sary of the Mor­gen­taler de­ci­sion that over­turned crim­i­nal abor­tion law in Canada.

The con­fer­ence opened with a work­shop by artist Laia Abril, who in­tro­duced a cen­tral theme of the event: how to make the in­vis­i­ble vis­i­ble. Abril’s work is com­prised of stark pho­tog­ra­phy and in­ter­ac­tive in­stal­la­tions. In her talk she de­scribed how her artis­tic prac­tice not only gives a voice to the largely un­heard sto­ries of those af­fected by abor­tion re­stric­tions around the world, but also brings view­ers less fa­mil­iar with the dan­gers of re­stric­tive con­texts into the con­ver­sa­tion. “The goal for me is to show view­ers that ev­ery­thing is con­nected [...] Art can bring peo­ple who may not be aware into the dis­cus­sion,” she said.

Donna Ch­er­niak, au­thor of The Birth Con­trol Hand­book (1968) and open­ing key­note speaker, de­scribed her own ef­forts to ed­u­cate her­self on the sub­ject decades ear­lier as a 19-year-old un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dent at Mcgill. Full of vi­tal con­tra­cep­tion and abor­tion in­for­ma­tion that was il­le­gal to dis­sem­i­nate at the time, the hand­book even­tu­ally sold mil­lions of copies in Canada and abroad, many of which were printed from Ch­er­niak’s Mon­treal apart­ment. With the pro­ceeds, she hired an artist to ren­der vi­brant im­ages of real bod­ies that would ac­com­pany the text and il­lus­trate the link be­tween plea­sure, sex­u­al­ity, and abor­tion. “Not only is it amaz­ing to think of [Ch­er­niak] work­ing here at Mcgill to make this in­for­ma­tion ac­ces­si­ble to stu­dents, but I am also sur­prised at how rel­e­vant many of her in­sights con­tinue to be to­day,” said Kelly Gor­don, a Po­lit­i­cal Science as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at Mcgill and con­fer­ence co-or­ga­nizer. As part of the key­note pre­sen­ta­tion, Anne Lardeux from the Univer­sity of Mon­treal read ex­cerpts of the hand­book out loud while pro­ject­ing 16mm archival prints of its il­lus­tra­tions. “Learn­ing about The Birth Con­trol Hand­book and its his­tory was an in­spir­ing re­minder of how young peo­ple have [long] mo­bi­lized to ed­u­cate, em­power, and de­mand greater reproductive rights and ac­cess,” said Daniela Spag­n­uolo, a grad­u­ate stu­dent pre­sen­ter from the Univer­sity of Toronto.

Stu­dent pre­sen­ta­tions through­out the first day re­vealed an emerg­ing gen­er­a­tion of schol­ars ex­plor­ing key im­ped­i­ments to abor­tion ac­cess and care. Sr­ishti Hukku, a doc­toral stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Ot­tawa shared her ex­ten­sive re­search on mifepri­s­tone, a safe and ef­fec­tive abor­tion pill that has been legally avail­able in many coun­tries since the 1980s, but only be­came le­gal in Canada three years ago. Krina Pa­tel, Daniela Spag­n­uolo, and Parisa Shar­ifi, grad­u­ate stu­dents from the Univer­sity of Toronto, dis­cussed Health Canada’s reg­u­la­tory cri­te­ria for pro­vid­ing the pill, which not only de­parts from over­whelm­ing sci­en­tific ev­i­dence and global stan­dards of prac­tice, but cre­ates bar­ri­ers to ac­cess through strict reg­u­la­tions, like manda­tory ul­tra­sounds and in­va­sive check-ups. The co-au­thors warned against con­flat­ing “choice with eq­ui­table ac­cess,” since le­gal bar­ri­ers too of­ten ren­der the right to abor­tion mean­ing­less, es­pe­cially for those who are al­ready most vul­ner­a­ble. Kate­lyn Mitchell (Univer­sity of Leth­bridge) and Sarah Mcleod (Aca­dia Univer­sity) as­serted that wide­spread mis­in­for­ma­tion proves a fur­ther bar­rier to ac­cess. The pre­sen­ta­tions high­lighted the need to trust, rather than po­lice, those seek­ing reproductive care and al­low them to in­ter­pret the needs of their own bod­ies. “Un­less per­sonal choice is ac­tively and ro­bustly sup­ported by so­cial means—ge­o­graph­i­cal and eco­nomic ac­cess, ed­u­ca­tion, an ex­panded sense of what con­sti­tutes care—le­gal ‘ac­cess’ is just a pa­per prom­ise,” said Alanna Thain, a con­fer­ence co-or­ga­nizer and Di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for Gen­der, Sex­u­al­ity, and Fem­i­nist Stud­ies at Mcgill.

The sec­ond day of the con­fer­ence fea­tured ex­pert pan­elists fo­cused on ways of cir­cu­lat­ing abor­tion knowl­edge, tech­nolo­gies, and care to those with­out ac­cess. An­gel Foster, pro­fes­sor of Health Sci­ences at the Univer­sity of Ot­tawa, de­scribed how or­ga­ni­za­tions like Women Help Women use telemedicine to de­liver abor­tion pills to women in need across the world. Law pro­fes­sor Joanna Erd­man (Dal­housie Univer­sity) urged at­ten­dees to shift the fo­cus from “un­safe” abor­tion to un­just laws that so of­ten harm vul­ner­a­ble in­di­vid­u­als and com­mu­ni­ties. She ended her talk with a pow­er­ful call to ac­tion: “If a law is un­just, we are not only right to dis­obey it, but com­pelled to do so.” Farah Diaz-tello, se­nior coun­sel for the Self-in­duced Abor­tion (SIA) Le­gal Team based in Cal­i­for­nia, also pushed at­ten­dees to think be­yond in­sti­tu­tional bound­aries. She drew at­ten­tion to the his­tor­i­cal ex­clu­sion by the med­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment of tra­di­tional sources of knowl­edge, like mid­wives, which re­sulted in early abor­tion laws and crim­i­nal­iza­tion. “Abor­tion has al­ways had ra­cial im­pli­ca­tions and class im­pli­ca­tions,” said Zakiya Luna, a pro­fes­sor of So­ci­ol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Santa Bar­bara. Luna re­minded at­ten­dees that abor­tion crim­i­nal­iza­tion is cen­tral to global his­to­ries of in­equal­ity. She sug­gested that al­lies, to help un­der­mine these in­equities, make do­na­tions to sup­port or­ga­ni­za­tions led by peo­ple of colour. “Money is not evil. Or­ga­ni­za­tions need money,” she said.

Wear­ing a t-shirt em­bla­zoned with the mes­sage, “Ev­ery­one Loves Some­one Who Had An Abor­tion,” pro­duced by the US Na­tional Net­work of Abor­tion Funds, Luna went on to es­tab­lish the com­pat­i­bil­ity of love and abor­tion. She en­cour­aged at­ten­dees to re­frame the dis­cus­sion around abor­tion by el­e­vat­ing the role of emo­tion and imag­i­na­tion in re­sponse to an­ti­choice move­ments. Words can serve to build more ex­pan­sive and in­clu­sive move­ments, she ex­plained, even be­tween groups in seem­ingly in­tractable op­po­si­tion. Lan­guage as a po­lit­i­cal and rhetor­i­cal tool for both ex­pand­ing and restrict­ing abor­tion ac­cess emerged as a com­mon theme across pan­els. Colleen Mac­quar­rie, a psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Prince Ed­ward Is­land, cred­its the imag­i­na­tive power of vis­ual ex­pres­sions in so­cial move­ments for re­in­stat­ing abor­tion ac­cess in PEI af­ter three decades. “We need ac­ces­si­ble ways to tell our sto­ries,” she said. “If we try to em­brace the ways in which we en­joy be­ing to­gether, or give our­selves per­mis­sion to laugh, it serves to build our strengths and our en­ergy. I had not ex­pected to learn so much about the im­pact that lan­guage can have within con­texts of reproductive health. It al­ters our un­der­stand­ings and can have the po­ten­tial to cre­ate hos­tile or wel­com­ing spa­ces. It re­minded me to be con­scious of the words that I use and ques­tion their ef­fect,” said Alice d’aboville, a U4 In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment stu­dent and in­tern for the con­fer­ence. A.J. Lowik, a grad­u­ate stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia and au­thor of the Trans-in­clu­sive Abor­tion Ser­vices Hand­book, ex­plained how the com­mon lan­guage of women- cen­tered ser­vices ex­cludes and erases the abor­tion needs of trans­gen­der peo­ple. They en­cour­aged re­con­sid­er­a­tion of the his­tory of care dy­nam­ics, which are “laden with power.”

Ear­lier, re­cent Mcgill grad­u­ate Ri­han Lewis dis­cussed how vol­un­teer driv­ers in Texas, where 96% of coun­ties have no clin­ics that pro­vide abor­tion, ad­dress the state’s “care deficit.” She urged at­ten­dees to re­think what abor­tion care looks like, be­gin­ning a larger con­ver­sa­tion at the con­fer­ence. Main­stream con­cep­tions of “self-care” of­ten cen­tre on con­sumerism, such as man­i­cures and spa trips, which are far from the orig­i­nal mean­ing of the phrase. Black fem­i­nist the­o­rist, Au­dre Lorde, orig­i­nated the term in the con­text of “self-preser­va­tion” and sur­vival for Black women. Mar­sha Jones, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of The Afiya Cen­ter, echoed Lorde when she spoke about the pol­i­tics of care. The Afiya Cen­ter re­cently erected a bill­board in Texas that read, “Black women take care of their fam­i­lies by tak­ing care of them­selves. Abor­tion is self-care.” Jones, hold­ing up a copy of Rad­i­cal Reproductive Jus­tice to the au­di­ence, ex­plained the ur­gency of the bill­board and her so­cial jus­tice work: “Why is abor­tion self-care? Be­cause it is life-sav­ing. It means that one gets to live to see to­mor­row. Be­cause our lives mat­ter.”

“Learn­ing about The Birth Con­trol Hand­book and its his­tory was an in­spir­ing re­minder of how young peo­ple have [long] mo­bi­lized to ed­u­cate, em­power, and de­mand greater reproductive rights and ac­cess.” — Daniela Spag­n­uolo, Univer­sity of Toronto

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