Update: On the evening of May 14, Alabama’s senate passed yet another super restrictive abortion bill. If the bill is signed into law, doctors who perform abortions could face up to 99 years in prison and there is no exception for cases of rape or incest. In response, Philipps posted to Twitter, saying, “1 in 4 women have had an abortion. Many people think they don’t know someone who has, but #youknowme. So let’s do this: if you are also the 1 in 4, let’s share it and start to end the shame. Use #youknowme and share your truth.”
When you decide to get married, a choice that will inevitably change the course of your life, you’re often asked if you have cold feet—as if doubt is a natural part of the process. Because it often is, and we accept that wedding jitters are a thing. But when you first find out you’re pregnant, a much more harrowing and life-changing event (take it from someone who has done both!), we’re taught that doubts should never enter a woman’s mind, because we were born to breed—not matter our age or stage of life. At least that’s what society and pop culture, for the most part, tells us, and the new groundswell of anti-abortionists would like us to believe.
And in response, women are still doing the emotional labour when it comes to changing minds surrounding our reproductive health and decision to become parents, something a viral plea from Busy Philipps highlights.
Philipps spoke openly on her just-canceled late night show Busy Tonight! about her choice to have an abortion when she was a teenager—and how she is now gravely concerned for women’s right to safe abortions after an anti-abortion bill was passed in the state of Georgia earlier this week. Philipps’ monologue once again shows a woman doing difficult emotional labour to make the point that we (i.e. anyone with a uterus) have the right to decide what’s best for us, and our bodies. But is this really what needs to happen? How much emotion do we need to see from women who are adding their voices to the fray before abortion rights are no longer seen as an option but just that, a right? And is it not complete BS that we still have to show our pain in this way just to make a point?
For the first time in a long time, abortion rights are also coming up in the news cycle, thanks to a host of politicians who are making pro-life statements as part of their platform, which is terrifying. But first, let’s break down abortion laws in Canada, which vary greatly from our southern neighbours. Here at home, abortion is legal at all stages of pregnancy, and is governed by the Canada Health Act. While there are some non-legal issues with our medical system when it pertains to abortions, our country, where abortion was illegal up until 1969, is one of the few nations with no legal restrictions on abortion. It’s also important to note that each province regulates their laws and funding surrounding abortions—which creates obstacles like access to clinics (for example, in Alberta, you can only have an abortion in Edmonton or Calgary, so travel, time and money become a big factor). We are also somewhat lucky, in that according to an Ipsos poll from 2017, 77 per cent of Canadians support abortion. But the tide may be changing, with a younger generation here at home, taking up the anti-abortion cause.
In the U.S., things are drastically different, and they’re only getting worse for pro-choice advocates. Since the start of 2019 (so… over the course of only four months), 34 abortion restrictions have been enacted in America. And this week’s news out of Georgia—i.e. what was so troubling to Philipps and so many others — is beyond upsetting, because it just made pregnancy termination beyond the six-week mark illegal and punishable by prison time. In fact Georgia just became the sixth state to pass this type of restrictive six-week abortion ban, following in the footsteps of Ohio, Mississippi, Kentucky, Iowa and North Dakota. (They haven’t been passed into law yet in any of these states; some are tied up in lawsuits, but most could come into effect as early as July of this year).
The so-called “heartbeat bill” essentially bans abortion—how many women even know they’re pregnant at six weeks? It also puts the entire burden on women. There is not one mention of men involved in getting said women pregnant throughout the entire bill. This piece of legislation also states that a woman could potentially be charged with second-degree murder and get 10 to 30 YEARS in prison if she is determined to be responsible for having a miscarriage. Yes, a miscarriage. Let me guess, a panel of white men will decide if she should be held responsible for something that is completely out of her control biologically? Welcome to Gilead, ladies.
So, how did we get here? Since the 1960s and 1970s, women have been carrying the weight of proving why we should be able to terminate unwanted pregnancies. In an essay for The New York Times in June 2018, former Glamour editor Cindy Leive talked about her abortion publicly at the same time the U.S. government was looking to defund Planned Parenthood (an organization that offers pelvic exams, birth control and abortions to women, among other medical treatments). In her essay, Leive noted the numerous women who came before her who have spoken publicly about their abortions, including French women like Catherine Deneuve and Simone de Beauvoir, who were part of the Manifesto of the 343, a group who fought for, and won, abortions rights in France. “The next year 53 Americans, including Gloria Steinem, Judy Collins and Billie Jean King, followed suit, publishing an open letter in Ms. magazine titled ‘We Have Had Abortions,'” Leive noted in The Times.
And there have been many women in the course of the past few decades who have talked about having an abortion publicly. Ally McGraw spoke to People magazine about her abortion in 1985 and was even pictured on the issue’s cover. Whoopi Goldberg penned an essay for the 1991 book The Choices We Made, detailing how she ended her own pregnancy by using a coat hanger at the age of 14 back in the late 1960s. More recently, Chelsea Handler, Jemima Kirke, and Nicki Minaj all spoke frankly about their personal choice to not carry through with a pregnancy.
What all these women have in common, is that they ended a pregnancy as a teenager, when they simply weren’t prepared to become a mother, just like the character Maeve on the Netflix show Sex Education, who terminated a pregnancy for a multitude of reasons. The scene was heart-wrenchingly good, as was the season one finale of the Canadian comedy Workin’ Moms, where one of the main characters, Anne, already of mother of two, goes to have her third pregnancy terminated with her husband by her side.
So while abortion is back in the zeitgeist, for better and certainly for worse, Leive argued in 2018 that perhaps these anti-abortion movements have benefited from women’s silence. And let’s get it straight, we’ve been silent for many reasons, including societal pressure to be seen as perfect role models, especially after we become mothers. But another thought is that we also became comfortable. We had so many women before us doing the hard emotional labour, that we, however wrongfully, assumed that we were in the clear.
But now, we need to stop being silent and to take up that mantle once more. This year marks 50 years since Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s government passed an omnibus bill allowing abortions under certain circumstances, which would eventually lead the way for our current abortion laws. (Also, Google Dr. Henry Morgentaler and Canada’s abortion laws if you want the full history—it’s an interesting tale of protests and even a fire bomb being set off at abortion clinic in Toronto.)
And just as we’ve seen a new “pro life” movement among Gen Z, Canadian politicians are now being bold with sharing their anti-abortion leanings. Simply look to conservative leaders like Doug Ford, Andrew Scheer and Jason Kenney and you’ll see that women’s rights are on thin ice in Canada, and may go the way of the U.S.
In 2015, the #ShoutYourAbortion movement in the U.S. on social media attempted to take emotion out of the abortion conversation, by sharing stories online to help fight the stigma around the issue. And since this week’s news broke, #ShoutYourAbortion is trending yet again. The movement, which spawned a book and currently has over 17,000 followers on Instagram, may very well gain more traction in the coming weeks, similar to the #MeToo movement.
And as we know, women are often discounted for being too demonstrative with our feelings—when headlines came out about Philipp’s latest viral moment, news outlets noted that she “held back tears” or that she “got emotional” when speaking about the current state of affairs in the U.S. But perhaps our best way forward, and our best weapon, actually lies in a combination of showing both our emotional selves and our practical and calculated sides—because we are inherently complex beings that are ruled by both our head and our heart.
But let’s make one thing perfectly clear: We do have a way forward and we have a voice.