There’s strength in numbers, and together we can hold our government accountable to its promises

Posted on February, 14 2017 by Action Canada

It’s less than one month into the Trump presidency, and we’ve already witnessed an inspiring global demonstration of resistance and solidarity across seven continents, dozens of countries, and millions of people strong. Maybe you were one of them?

On January 21st, people joined women’s marches around the world to demonstrate for social, economic, and climate justice, and to protest Donald Trump’s presidency. In Canada, tens of thousands gathered in cities across the country to be counted. These marches were built on the advocacy and resistance of multiple communities and intersecting issues, and they demanded—and continue to demand—that governments, media, and citizens hear our call for equity and justice.

But what Donald Trump doesn’t know about justice could fill a book he’d never read. Two days after the Women’s March, Trump reinstated the Global Gag Rule, an executive order barring US foreign aid from going to NGOs that provide, advocate on, or even discuss abortion. His decision not only runs counter to more liberal international policy trends (which have significantly decreased unsafe abortions around the world), but also flies in the face of everything we have been marching for.

The President thinks he can stop abortion, but he’s only making it less safe. And it’s sure to have deadly consequences for women the world over.

The United States is the single largest donor to sexual and reproductive health in developing countries—and many of our international partners rely on that funding. The U.S. has played a critical role in supporting other countries to fulfill women’s rights by improving access to modern methods of contraception, strengthening health systems, providing essential health services to survivors of gender-based violence, and more. In 2016 alone, designated funds provided 27 million women and couples with contraceptive services and supplies, and prevented six million unintended pregnancies, two million unsafe abortions, and 11,000 maternal deaths. All of this is now in jeopardy.

Trump’s reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule represents a gross violation of women’s rights. And that’s not all. His version of the “rule” is more extreme than past administrations. This particular U.S. policy has been repealed and reinstated several times in the past, but Trump’s version of the Global Gag Rule goes beyond previous iterations and extends to all global health assistance provided across U.S. departments. That means the expanded policy will apply to as much as $9.458 billion in global health funding, which includes programming for maternal health, family planning, HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, and more.

The political and financial impacts will be devastating and far-reaching, and the lives of millions are on the line. That’s why we urgently need your help today.

It’s time for Canada and its allies, both governments and civil society organizations, to step up their efforts to safeguard and advance sexual and reproductive health and rights. The Dutch government has already announced their intention to establish an international fund to finance access to birth control and safe abortion in developing countries, to help close the gaps created by the Global Gag Rule. And thanks to our close work with International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau office and our strong recommendations, we’ve heard a lot of promising things from the Canadian government—namely that they have plans to increase their international assistance budget for sexual and reproductive health rights and services (possibly through the Dutch fund). But promises aren’t actions.

Canada needs to step into a leadership role and defend women’s rights and health care. Now is not the time for baby steps. Our country has the opportunity to show the world that we won’t abide injustice—that we believe women have the right to make decisions about their own bodies, regardless of where they live. We’re working hard to make sure that happens.

For the past year, our team has been working closely with Canadian MPs and key ministries to help build knowledge around sexual and reproductive health and rights, and to inform them of key policy considerations at home and abroad. In the days following Trump’s signing of the Global Gag Rule, that hard work paid off, as we engaged daily with Minister Bibeau’s office, to help them think through the implications of the gag rule, share our recommendations, and explore opportunities for international cooperation.

We also rallied support across the globe and released a statement explicitly condemning the Global Gag Rule and calling on the Canadian government to increase development funding and diplomatic efforts. The statement had more than 70 organizational signatories from a range of civil society, including NGOs, unions, health clinics, and more from Canada and around the world.

There’s strength in numbers, and together we can hold our government accountable to its promises. Will you send us a donation today to support this crucial work?

You need to know that your support makes all the difference. Just this month, after Action Canada has spent the better part of three years advocating for its swift and unrestricted release, Mifegymiso is now finally on the market in Canada. And last year, after 35 years of organizing and action, it was announced that surgical abortions will be available on Prince Edward Island—ending its shameful reputation as Canada’s only province not offering abortion services. These are certainly proud and positive developments in Canada’s sexual and reproductive rights history, but they didn’t happen on their own.

Human rights don’t defend themselves. Without the tireless work and sacrifice of many activists, advocates, health providers, and donors like you, we wouldn’t be able to move the needle on accessible abortion care or connect everyday people to choices that allow them to determine their own reproductive future. But our work at home in Canada is far from finished.

While the approval of Mifegymiso is an exciting development, the drug is still not widely available because of its remaining restrictions, including: physician-only dispensing; training requirements for physicians; and a needlessly restrictive gestational limit, among others. To date, the drug’s Canadian distributor has received less than a handful of orders from clinics. If only a very few doctors are prescribing Mifegymiso, its potential to increase access to safe abortion across Canada will remain just that, unrealized potential.

We need our government to ensure that the abortion pill is available to everyone who needs it, not just a select few. So, this year, we’re renewing our advocacy efforts in the hope of easing Mifegymiso’s remaining restrictions. We’ll be making our case to the health ministry, talking to key MPs, and gathering support. We’ll also be promoting Mifegymiso to hundreds of Canadian physicians, and connecting them to the training they need to dispense the drug. We believe that by raising awareness and building capacity amongst health providers, we can expand uptake for the abortion pill, and make certain it’s available to the greatest number of people.

We’re working with partners and allies across Canada to make broad, timely, safe abortion access a reality. Like in Prince Edward Island where we’re connecting with activists on the ground to promote the province’s newly available abortion services—groups like Abortion Access Now PEI, with whom we co-authored an op-ed for Charlottetown newspaper, The Guardian. We’ll also be promoting the use of Mifegymiso to PEI physicians, so that the lone hospital (and soon the Women’s Wellness Centre) providing the province’s newly available abortion services can make the most of its resources and reduce wait times for procedures. By providing an earlier option, Mifegymiso can help make certain that all of PEI’s residents and visitors can exercise their reproductive rights when and where they need.

Additionally, we’re closely monitoring grassroots efforts in New Brunswick to hold the provincial government accountable to the Canada Health Act. Although the federal law considers abortion a medically required service insurable by all provinces, New Brunswick does not currently cover private clinic abortions under its health insurance plan. Throughout 2017, we’ll be supporting and amplifying the messages and work of community-based activists like Reproductive Justice New Brunswick, who are fighting to ensure that abortion is fully funded regardless of whether it’s performed in a clinic or hospital.

There is a lot of work ahead of us, but there’s also a lot at stake. Together, we can stand up for sexual and reproductive rights in Canada and abroad.

Two and half years ago, when we amalgamated Canadians for Choice, Action Canada for Population and Development, and the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health, we envisioned a strong, sustainable organization that could advance sexual and reproductive health and rights by building a bridge between the national and global context. With your support, that vision is now reality. Our work is stronger because we are part of a diverse global and domestic movement toward advancing and safeguarding our health and rights. Our collaborations with global and Canadian partners strengthen our ability to do advocacy, to inform public policy, to raise awareness and educate, and to provide services that reduce the barriers faced by the most marginalized and least resourced members of our community.

Our success is your success. Action Canada not only exists thanks to people like you, it exists in service of people like you.

That means when hard-won advances in reproductive rights have been reversed or threatened, we stand with Canadians and with those around the world who have less choice and freedom.

That means where the presidential tide of indifference and contempt for women’s lives threatens to flood into Canada from the United States, we will build a dam.

That means where decision-making on sexual and reproductive health access and equity would benefit from both Canadian and international expertise, we will build a bridge.

And that means when the movements and marches of the oppressed are under siege, we will we stand in solidarity and fight for justice.

You and I both know that Trump’s reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule is only a first step of what will surely be a 4-year offensive on our hard-fought reproductive rights. And we can’t afford to be complacent about what’s happening here in Canada. That’s why we need your help. Will you take a moment now and support our efforts by making a generous donation to Action Canada?

Your passion, courage, and commitment are inspiring. Thank you. I know that together we can resist the forces that threaten to restrict or rescind the rights of the oppressed, and stand up for sexual and reproductive freedom at home and abroad.

Sandeep Prasad

P.S. The Women’s March wasn’t a one-time deal, and neither is defending women’s rights and health care. Become a monthly donor and help us stand up for sexual and reproductive justice today and every day!