Opinion: This budget will put Trudeau’s feminism to the test

Originally published in the Huffington Post

Trudeau needs to put women back in the budget. Because it’s 2016.

A key part of being feminist is respecting all people’s choices about their own bodies. While a gender-balanced cabinet is a step in the right direction, there is no such thing as gender equality without bodily autonomy. If women aren’t able to make decisions about their own bodies, equality is null and void.

Despite the fact that abortion has been legal in Canada for almost three decades, it’s available in only one in six hospitals, mostly in big cities and 150 km of the United States border. On top of a limited number of services, there are other barriers like wait times, age, money, migration status, and doctors who refuse on moral or religious grounds.

Abortion is legal but not necessarily accessible in Canada.

Yes, health care – including access to abortion services – is a provincial/territorial jurisdiction. But, the federal government has a responsibility to guarantee that provinces and territories uphold their end of the Canada Health Act. That means universal access to essential health care services – including abortion.

A government that is serious about gender equality needs to guarantee that any person seeking to end their pregnancy can do so safely.

One way the government could make good on their pro-choice approach includes funding to provinces and territories for comprehensive, barrier-free access to sexual and reproductive health services like abortion. This must be part of a renewed health accord that is adequately resourced to meet the right to health of all people in Canada.

Another is investing in training for new and existing family physicians to provide the soon to be available Mifepristone in rural and remote areas. Mifepristone is the gold standard of abortion pills, already available in nearly 60 countries worldwide and listed as an essential drug by the World Health Organization. The drug, packaged under the name ‘Mifegymiso’, was approved by Health Canada last September and is expected to be available this summer.

While the availability of the drug could mean access in regions like Northern Canada, where only four abortion facilities cover the 1 million square kilometres across Nunavut, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, we need to address the issue of cost.

The abortion pill regimen is expected to cost $270.00. A pro-choice budget would include financial resources that cover all costs associated with the pill. A government like Canada that is positioning itself as a leader on gender equality and women’s rights in Canada and globally, must put its money where its mouth is.

The Trudeau government has also promised to remove a Canadian foreign aid ban on safe abortion services. And his Minister of International Development – the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau – recently told La Presse that abortion and contraception will no longer be treated as taboo. But actions speak louder than words.

The Government of Canada needs to fund initiatives and grassroots organizations that help countries expand access to sexual and reproductive health services, including contraception and safe abortion.

The government took a great step forward by committing renewed funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) for sexual and reproductive health programs and supplies . But Canada is far from meeting the global aid target – 0.7% Gross National Income. And it’s even further from the benchmark of allocating 10% of Official Development Assistance for sexual and reproductive health and rights.

This government needs to guarantee that rights like access to safe abortion are prioritized as part of new funding and are central to existing aid programs on Child, Early and Forced Marriage and Sexual Violence and the Muskoka Initiative on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. Up to now, these programs have specifically excluded safe abortion and neglected contraception despite evidence of the necessity of these two interventions.

But money needs to go beyond services. Part of a pro-choice commitment means budgeting resources to advocate for sexual and reproductive rights in countries that receive Canadian aid – in addition to increasing access to services in Canada and globally.

If Trudeau is serious about feminism, he needs to put women – and their sexual rights – back into the budget.

Posted on 2016-03-18
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