Sunday, 31 January 2010

The Abortion-Breast Cancer Link

My professional life has been spent mostly in the academic world. For much of my time, that world held without reservation to letting evidence take a researcher to whatever conclusion the data seemed to demand, and that the conclusion could be voiced without fear of discrimination. Regrettably, times have changed somewhat.

Certain conclusions are now seen as inappropriate rather than merely unsubstantiated. In some fields, a researcher who feels led by her or his research to take a position can fear being attacked for their motives rather than their research skills. Climate-gate is a stellar example.

An area that has puzzled me greatly along those lines is the alleged abortion-breast cancer (ABC) link. Dozens of studies have substantiated this risk, but none of the relevant authorities will admit to it. Breast cancer is not merely an academic discussion for me. It took my mother at age 59, as well as two of her sisters. A third sister is a survivor. In the past 18 months, three of my sisters-in-law have also contracted this potentially deadly disease.

If you were to look up the alleged abortion-breast cancer (or ABC) link in that well-known resource Wikipedia, you would read this:

The abortion-breast cancer hypothesis posits that induced abortion increases the risk of developing breast cancer. This position contrasts with the scientific consensus that abortion does not cause breast cancer.

The Canadian Woman’s Health Network recommends an article published by the Childbirth by Choice Trust that outlines the medical debate concerning the possible link between abortion and the development of breast cancer later in life. It summarizes the results of recent studies showing no credible link between the two.

The Canadian Cancer Society says this:

At the present time, the body of scientific evidence does not support an association between abortion and increased breast cancer risk.

We base this perspective on the findings from a workshop of over 100 of the world’s leading experts who study pregnancy and breast cancer risk. The workshop was organized by the US National Cancer Institute and it took place in 2003. The experts reviewed existing human and animal studies on the relationship between pregnancy and breast cancer risk. Among their conclusions were:
• Induced abortion is not associated with an increase in breast cancer risk
• Spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) is not associated with an increase in breast cancer risk

By the way, the American Cancer Society makes the identical claim, also referencing this 2003 study, among others.

You might conclude from this that there is no link between the procurement of an abortion and an increased risk of breast cancer. When Abbotsford Right to Life sponsored a public lecture on the abortion-breast cancer link a couple of years ago, our local university student newspaper had as a headline on the front page, “The Myth of the Abortion-Breast Cancer Link”.

But I want to explore a little further the reference by the Canadian and American Cancer Societies to the conclusive 2003 workshop that is the basis of their opinion. Here is a summary of that workshop:

In February 2003, Dr. Louise Brinton, the National Cancer Institute's chief of the Environmental Epidemiology Branch, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, served as chairperson at an NCI workshop in Bethesda, MD, to assess whether abortion was implicated as a breast cancer risk.

In the opinion of "over 100 of the world's leading experts," said the subsequent NCI report, including Dr. Brinton, the answer was no....

At the time, 29 out of 38 studies conducted worldwide over 40 years showed an increased ABC risk, but NCI workshop experts nevertheless concluded it was "well established" that "induced abortion is not associated with an increase in breast cancer risk."

It should be pointed out that none of the authors of the 29 studies that did find a link of anywhere from 30% to 100% were invited to that workshop.

But then a funny thing happened. In April 2009 that same chairperson, Dr. Brinton, co-authored a research paper published in the prestigious journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, which concluded that the risk of a particularly deadly form of breast cancer that attacks women under 40 raises 40 percent if a woman has had an abortion.

Now a cancer society “insider” had found the missing link.

The Toronto Globe and Mail wrote to the NCI on Jan. 8/09 and reported the results of their correspondence as follows:

An e-mail to Dr. Brinton on Friday was returned by an Institute spokesman named Michael Miller who said: "NCI has no comment on this study. Our statement and other information on this issue can be found at" That link turns up [the] 2003 document that says a workshop of more than 100 leading experts concluded that having an abortion or miscarriage does not increase a woman's subsequent risk of developing breast cancer.

Requests for an explanation of the apparent discrepancy between that position and the information contained in the study released last spring went unanswered by NCI…

The Globe concluded:
[T]rying to prevent abortions by scaring women with breast cancer would truly be wrong. But so too would be suppressing the risks of abortion or any medical procedure.

But if you go to the NCI website, you will see no reference to Dr. Brinton’s 2009 article, nor does she refer to it herself in the list of research interests on her personal page. NCI continues to hide the remarkable conclusions of the study of one of its own decorated scientists. She herself has never repudiated the results, but she doesn’t promote them either.

The Liberal Party of Canada would prefer that they remain deep-sixed as well. When Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott referred to the issue and the Globe and Mail’s coverage recently, the Liberals' Status of Women critic Anita Neville was quick to call on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to silence Vellacott for his supposedly "false and misleading" statements. In a media release, Neville claimed Vellacott had denigrated "women and their rights and freedoms, adding "enough is enough . . . women deserve better from their elected representatives."

By the way, a 40% increase in risk is not considered to be particularly high. But to put things into context, governments and cancer agencies have done everything they can to reduce our exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke in order to protect us from contracting cancer. The increased risk of cancer from second-hand tobacco smoke is 20 - 30% according to that self-same NCI.

But consider the way second-hand smoke risk is dealt with compared to the higher-risk associated with abortion.

A report from the California Environmental Protection Agency in 2005 concluded that the evidence regarding secondhand smoke and breast cancer is "consistent with a causal association" in younger women. This means that the secondhand smoke acts as if it could be a cause of breast cancer in these women. The 2006 U.S. Surgeon General's report, The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke, found that there is "suggestive but not sufficient" evidence of a link at this point. In any case, women should be told that this possible link to breast cancer is yet another reason to avoid being around secondhand smoke. My source for this information? --The American Cancer Society.

Susan Martinuk, writing about the Brinton article in the January 29, 2010 edition of the Calgary Herald, added this comment:

The topic of breast cancer has long been a media darling and, consequently, there's been no shortage of reports on the plethora of new medical discoveries that are constantly shifting the rules for preventing, diagnosing and treating this disease. We're told about coffee, chocolate and wine; and the usefulness (or not) of mammograms and the harms (or not) of hormone replacement therapy. But this urgent need to keep women informed and up-to-date on the latest research suddenly dissipates if it means turning a critical eye to the sacred cow of abortion.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Canada is NOT Pro Choice: Why I Wish it Were

I would like to invite readers who live in the Fraser Valley of beautiful British Columbia to attend a free public lecture that I am giving on Thursday, February 4 at the Clearbrook Public Library in Abbotsford at 7:15 p.m. It is entitled Canada is NOT Pro Choice: Why I Wish it Were. The library is located at 32320 George Ferguson Way, Abbotsford.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Women's rights--Where does this take us?

Hey, I'm no philosopher, nor a political scientist, nor a human rights specialist. I can't tell you with certainty what full and equal women's rights should look like here in Canada or anywhere else.

What can I tell you?

First of all, in terms of all the ways in which women endured discrimination in the past, western liberal democracies are more or less in the same place. They claim to abhor such discrimination and have brought in legislation to eliminate it. The same goes for violence against women. Some might claim that more could be done by way of, say, affirmative action programs or gay marriage. These things are debated but there appears to be no consensus among countries, or even within countries in many cases.

What appears to be a major difference between how many Canadian feminists understand equal rights for women as opposed to other countries is with respect to abortion and reproductive rights. Canadian female members of Parliament, various provincial legislatures, and many women's organizations link full women's rights with abortion on demand. In almost all other countries, abortion on demand does not exist, at least on paper.

So we either have to say that these Canadian feminist spokespeople are right, and all of the other countries are wrong, or that Canada is a "one off" in terms of what is construed as full and equal human rights.

There is one more complication. As poll after poll has indicated, the majority of Canadian women would accept restrictions on abortion. A very large percentage would even eliminate public funding for same. Therefore, the majority view of Canadian women appears to be consistent with our European, American and Australian colleagues, rather than with the Canadian feminists on this topic.

As a male, I am not going to tell the Canadian feminists that they are wrong. But it looks like Canadian women are doing so.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Bite 2b - Laws regarding abortion in other countries

Since many Canadian pro-choice activists link full access to abortion at any stage of the pregnancy with full and equal human rights for women, I thought that it might be instructive to look at laws regulating abortion in other western liberal democracies with a commitment to full women's rights.

1. United Kingdom - In 1967 the Abortion Act legalized abortion under certain circumstances, and amendments were made in 1990. Currently the Act permits termination of pregnancy if two doctors are of the opinion in good faith:
a) that the pregnancy has not exceeded its twenty-fourth week and that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family; or
b) that the termination is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; or
c) that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated; or
d) that there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.

2. United States of America - The 1973 Supreme Court ruling gave American women the right to an abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy, and regulated the procedure during the second trimester "in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health." In the third trimester, a state can choose to prohibit abortion, except when necessary "for the preservation of the life or health of the mother."

This decision arose out of the famous Roe v. Wade case before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court chose not to deal at length with the related controversy of the personhood of the fetus. Rather it took the following position:

A central issue in the Roe case (and in the wider abortion debate in general) is whether human life begins at conception, birth, or at some point in between. The Court declined to make an attempt at resolving this issue, noting: "We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man's knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer." Instead, it chose to point out that historically, under English and American common law and statutes, "the unborn have never been persons in the whole sense" and thus the fetal child are not legally entitled to the protection afforded by the right to life specifically enumerated in the Fourteenth Amendment. So rather than asserting that human life begins at any specific point, the court simply declared that the State has a "compelling interest" in protecting "potential life" at the point of viability (source: Wikipedia).

3. France - Abortion is legal on-request in France in the first trimester. Abortion has been decriminalized since the passage of the Veil Law in 1975. After the first trimester, two physicians must certify that the abortion will be done to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; a risk to the life of the pregnant woman; or that the child will suffer from a particularly severe illness recognized as incurable.

Since 1994, French law has required that multidisciplinary diagnostic centers decide which birth defects are severe enough to make abortion after the 12 week limit permissible.

4. Germany - Abortion in Germany is legal, but only when done before the 3rd month of pregnancy. Abortions are not covered by public health insurance except for women with low income.

5. Sweden - The current legislation is the Abortion Act of 1974. This states that up until the end of the eighteenth week of the pregnancy the choice of an abortion is entirely up to the woman, for any reason whatsoever. After the 18th and until the 22nd week a woman needs a permission from the National Board of Health and Welfare to have an abortion. Permission for these late abortions is usually granted for cases in which the fetus or mother are unhealthy.

6. Switzerland
- Abortion in Switzerland is legal during the first trimester, upon condition of counseling, for women who state that they are in distress. It is also legal with medical indications – threat of severe physical or psychological damage to the woman – at any later time.

Persons performing illegal abortions are subject to payment of a monetary penalty or imprisonment of up to five years. A woman who procures an illegal abortion is subject to a payment of a monetary penalty or imprisonment of up until three years.

7. Denmark - Abortion in Denmark was fully legalized on October 1, 1973,[1] allowing the procedure to be done on-demand if a woman's pregnancy has not exceeded its twelfth week. The patient must be over the age of 18 to decide on an abortion alone; parental consent is required if she is a minor.

8. Finland - A 1985 bill allowed abortion up to 20 weeks of pregnancy for underage women and up to the 24th week if an amniocentesis or ultrasound found serious impairment in the fetus.

Abortions are provided free-of-charge in hospitals. It is illegal to perform abortions in clinics, though doctors are empowered to provide abortions outside of hospitals in dire circumstances. Illegal abortions are very rare because in practice a woman can get an abortion on demand.

9. The Netherlands - Under the act, termination of a pregnancy must be given careful consideration: a woman and her physician must agree that her circumstances are compelling. The doctor must inform her of other possible solutions. To give the woman time for reflection, there must be a lapse of at least five days between the woman's first consultation with her doctor and the actual termination of the pregnancy.

In the Netherlands, abortions are performed until approximately 24 weeks into pregnancy; however, as a result of the ongoing debate among physicians about the viability of the fetus, abortions are only rarely performed after 22 weeks of pregnancy. Abortions after the first trimester must be performed in a hospital.

10. Australia - Abortion in Australia remains a subject of state law rather than national law. The grounds on which abortion is permitted in Australia vary from state to state. In every state, abortion is legal to protect the life and health of the woman, though each state has a different definition.

The only state with a law that is similar to Canada's abortion on demand regimen is the Australian Capital Territory. Abortion law in the Australian Capital Territory was for many years governed by case law and the criminal code of New South Wales. However, in 2002, it became the first jurisdiction in Australia to legalize abortion in full, when the Stanhope ALP government, with the assistance of Green and independent members, passed the Crimes (Abolition of Offense of Abortion) Act 2002, removing abortion from the criminal statute books altogether.

By way of contrast, in Queensland abortions are carried out as "therapeutic miscarriages", performed by specialists, upon request of the patient after an appointment with their local GP. An abortion is lawful in Queensland if carried out when there is serious danger to the woman's physical and mental health from the continuation of the pregnancy.

Bite 2a - Ignorance of the law regarding abortion

Before going on to the topic of what information is necessary for women to make an informed choice in our pro-choice environment, I want to look at how much Canadians do or do not know about prevailing laws--or lack of same.

In my last post, I explored the Supreme Court ruling that left us where we are today; i.e., with no law governing abortion whatsoever. Canada is unique among western nations in having abortion on demand at any stage of pregnancy, including partial birth abortions. Remember, Canadian women do not have a constitutional right to abortion as Americans do. The law and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are silent on the subject.

But what do Canadians actually know about this state of affairs? First of all, this rather startling reality--80% of Canadians don't know what the law is--or isn't. Many polls have explored this, but lets look at the latest from the respected polling organization Angus Reid, taken in early January 2010.

All right, if 80% of Canadians don't know what the legal situation is governing abortion, simplistic questions like, "Do you agree with the laws governing abortion?", or, "Do you think that our abortion laws should be changed?" don't mean anything. Respondents can't give a proper answer because their basic premise is likely wrong.

Fortunately, Angus Reid delves much deeper than this superficial level. Here are some major findings:

1. 43% of Canadians believe that a woman can have an abortion, with no restrictions, only during the first trimester of her pregnancy.
2. A further 14% believe that not only is abortion limited to the first three months, but only if there is a danger to her life, if she's been raped, or the fetus has serious defects.

So there are 57% of Canadians who believe that abortion is limited to the first trimester of pregnancy. But there's more.

3. 10% of Canadians believe that a woman can have an abortion anytime during her pregnancy, but only if her life is in danger, she was raped, or if the fetus has serious defects.

So two-thirds of respondents believed that there were significant restrictions placed on the availability of abortions, either to do with the time within which it could legally be obtained, the circumstances under which a doctor could perform the surgery, or both. [As an aside, abortions for danger to life, or for reasons of rape and incest amount to only 5% of all abortions obtained.]

Now, some would say that it is our responsibility to acquaint women more fully with their rights (I guess I'm doing that right now). Should women know what the state of regulations concerning abortion really are (or complete lack of regulations to be more exact) they would swing behind the prevailing ideology; i.e., Canada should remain as the only western country with abortion on demand with no restrictions.

To get a better read on Canadian attitudes, Angus Reid in fact told respondents what the legal framework actually is, and then asked them some more questions. Armed with the proper knowledge concerning our Canadian situation, respondents then supplied the following regarding their attitudes and beliefs:

1. Knowing the real situation changed virtually nothing. I noted above that 67% of women were under the mistaken belief that abortion was restricted either in time, in reasons for abortions, or both. Having been apprised of the actual legal framework, only 30% of respondents said that they supported it--women should be able to have an abortion at any time with no restrictions.

The majority of respondents still felt that having restrictions was desirable. Here is how they answered:

2. 24% would accept abortion on demand with no restrictions for the first trimester, and thereafter only in the case of danger to health, rape, and serious fetal defects.
3. 15% would limit availability to the first three months.
4. 13% would limit availability to the first three months, and then only in the case of the horrid triumvirate--health, rape and fetal defects.

That adds up to over half of Canadians who could, more or less, accept abortion during the first trimester only. It is fair to say, however, that only 5% would abolish abortion entirely.

5. 6% would allow abortion at any time, but only in the case of the three conditions.

Beyond this, respondents felt that the following further conditions ought to prevail:

1. 41% would restrict public funding for abortions only to medical emergencies.
2. 53% would require parental consent for females under 18 who want to abort (right now no such consent is required).
3. 79% would make it mandatory for health workers to provide information regarding alternatives to abortion.

And finally, female respondents were more likely then men to support our prevailing legal framework--but only half of the women indicated this.

These findings appear to me to make the link between unfettered access to abortion, and full human rights for women, somewhat more tenuous. Presumably the 70% of respondents who accepted restrictions limited to time and/or medical factors believe in women's rights. Yet they did not feel that this belief was diminished by accepting some restrictions on access.

Interestingly, as I have noted before, heroes such as Madame Justice Wilson and Dr. Henry Morgentaler* (Order of Canada), believe likewise.
*Morgentaler was greatly criticized by some abortion advocates because he would not permit the abortion of unborn babies at his clinics beyond 24 weeks gestation. His position was, “We don’t abort babies, we want to abort fetuses before they become babies … around 24 weeks I have ethical problems doing that.”

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Bite 2 - Women and the right to abortion

The decision whether to terminate a pregnancy is essentially a moral decision, a matter of conscience. I do not think there is or can be any dispute about that. The question is: whose conscience? Is the conscience of the woman to be paramount or the conscience of the state? I believe, for the reasons I gave in discussing the right to liberty, that in a free and democratic society it must be the conscience of the individual.
Justice Bertha Wilson, Supreme Court of Canada, R. v. Morgentaler, 1988.

No one should debate my rights over my own body.
Tracey Ho, Director, Univ. of Victoria Students' Society, 2008.

There are many incorrect beliefs about the legal status of abortions in Canada. Some people believe that Canadian women, like their American counterparts, have a constitutional right to an abortion, and that this right is absolute. Others believe that a legal abortion is available only up to a certain point in the pregnancy, such as the end of the first trimester.

In fact, abortions in Canada are limited only by the availability of a doctor who will perform the operation, and by the availability of a hospital or clinic where the surgery can take place. There is no law placing limits on whether and when a woman can obtain an abortion. But there is no constitutional guarantee for abortion either. There is no law whatsoever. We have abortion on demand in Canada because there is no law (since 1988) prohibiting it.

Justice Wilson (quoted above), somewhat of a hero is pro-choice circles for her reasoning regarding "a woman's right to choose," actually took a more conservative position on government restrictions on access to abortion than in fact prevails in Canada. Citing relevant American legislation, she wrote as follows:

For our purposes the most interesting development in this area of American law are the decisions of the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), and its sister case Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179 (1973). In Roe v. Wade the Court held that a pregnant woman has the right to decide whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. This conclusion, the majority stated, was mandated by the body of existing law ensuring that the state would not be allowed to interfere with certain fundamental personal decisions such as education, child-rearing, procreation, marriage and contraception. The Court concluded that the right to privacy found in the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of liberty ``. . . is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy" (p. 153).

This right was not, however, to be taken as absolute.
At some point the legitimate state interests in the protection of health, proper medical standards, and pre-natal life would justify its qualification. Lawrence H. Tribe, Professor of Law at Harvard University, in his work entitled American Constitutional Law (1978), conveniently summarizes the limits the Court found to be inherent in the woman's right. I quote from pp. 924-25:

Specifically, the Court held that, because the woman's right to decide whether or not to end a pregnancy is fundamental, only a compelling interest can justify state regulation impinging in any way upon that right. During the first trimester of pregnancy, when abortion is less hazardous in terms of the woman's life than carrying the child to term would be, the state may require only that the abortion be performed by a licensed physician; no further regulations peculiar to abortion as such are compellingly justified in that period.

After the first trimester, the compelling state interest in the mother's health permits it to adopt reasonable regulations in order to promote safe abortions -- but requiring abortions to be performed in hospitals, or only after approval of another doctor or committee in addition to the woman's physician, is impermissible, as is requiring that the abortion procedure employ a technique that, however preferable from a medical perspective, is not widely available.

Once the fetus is viable, in the sense that it is capable of survival outside the uterus with artificial

aid, the state interest in preserving the fetus becomes compelling, and the state may thus proscribe its premature removal (i.e., its abortion) except to preserve the mother's life or health (emphasis added).

Interestingly enough Canada's abortionist laureate, Henry Morgentaler, agrees with this view. He will not permit abortions in his clinics after 24 weeks.

The Chief Justice of the day, Brian Dickson, admitted that his court had not written the last word on the abortion issue, nor did he rule that abortion on demand was the only way of satisfying the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He pointed out that the Court was dealing only with specific Canadian legislation that placed certain restrictions on the availability of abortions and whether this legislation was constitutional. The majority found that it was not. But Dickson went on to say this:

During argument before this Court, counsel for the Crown emphasized repeatedly that it is not the role of the judiciary in Canada to evaluate the wisdom of legislation enacted by our democratically elected representatives, or to second-guess difficult policy choices that confront all governments. In Morgentaler v. The Queen, [1976].....I stressed that the Court had "not been called upon to decide, or even to enter, the loud and continuous public debate on abortion." Eleven years later, the controversy persists, and it remains true that this Court cannot presume to resolve all of the competing claims advanced in vigorous and healthy public debate. Courts and legislators in other democratic societies have reached completely contradictory decisions when asked to weigh the competing values relevant to the abortion question. See, e.g., Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973); Paton v. United Kingdom (1980), 3 E.H.R.R. (European Court of Human Rights); The Abortion Decision of the Federal Constitutional Court -- First Senate -- of the Federal Republic of Germany, February 25, 1975, translated and reprinted in (1976), 9 John Marshall J. Prac. and Proc. 605; and the Abortion Act, 1967, 1967, c. 87 (U.K.) (emphasis added).

Well, that's a lot of legalese, but it is worth wading through. Canada has no law pertaining to abortion. But the key Supreme Court of Canada decision that struck down the last law regarding abortion ever enacted by a Canadian Parliament did not in fact say that there was no place for laws placing restrictions on access--quite the opposite.

Nevertheless, opposition to the pro-life movement in Canada is founded, in the final analysis, on the conviction that restrictions on abortion are incompatible with a woman's charter rights. No Canadian court has ever ruled as such--but this is the position taken.

In my next post, I'll attempt to deal with the ways in which the pro-choice sorority goes beyond anything the courts or the Charter prescribe in attempt to muzzle the pro-life movement--and in doing so placing restrictions on a woman's right to an informed choice.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Bite 1 - What are equality rights for women and men?

Women's rights belong to a broader category called "equality rights." These are part of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms introduced in the early 1980s by the Trudeau government. For those readers who are unfamiliar with this bit of Canadiana, a brief explanation follows from the (now defunct) Court Challenges Program of Canada:

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a statement of our basic human rights and freedoms. Some of these are: the right to free expression and freedom of belief, the right to vote, the right to a fair process and trial if you are accused of a crime, the right to educate your children in your mother tongue, if you are from an official language minority community, and the right to equality. The Charter became part of Canada's Constitution in 1982.

The CPP goes on to explain what equality means:

Equality means giving every person equal respect in society. Sometimes, people are treated differently or unfairly because of things like the colour of their skin, their religion or a physical disability. This is called discrimination. Many groups of people through history have suffered discrimination. Equality means that all people are treated fairly, without discrimination.

Equality rights have been utilized in sorting out many societal and legal anomalies. Two illustrations of laws that were deemed to be in conflict with equality rights follow (again from the CPP):

1. A law which says that an Aboriginal women loses her legal status as an Aboriginal person if she marries someone without this status, but that an Aboriginal man may marry whomever he pleases without affecting his status

This law creates a direct difference in treatment on the basis of sex (gender) by singling out Aboriginal women and taking away their rights.

2. A law which says only married and opposite-sex common law couples can get certain tax breaks

This law creates a direct difference in treatment on the basis of sexual orientation by singling out people in same-sex relationships and denying them tax breaks.

But for our purposes we will focus on women's rights, particularly as they relate to life issues such as abortion.

The single most significant moment in the development of women's rights goes back to the famous Persons Case of 1929, nicely summarized by that invaluable source Wikipedia:

In 1927, five women from Alberta petitioned the Supreme Court [of Canada] to decide whether women were included in the definition of the word "persons" as used in the British North America Act (Canada's de facto constitution at the time). Hinging on this decision was whether women could be appointed to the Senate or not -- the body which approved divorces among other decisions important to women. The Supreme Court, interpreting the Act in light of the times in which it was written, ruled in 1928 that no, women were not "persons" and could not be so appointed.

The five women, led by Emily Murphy, appealed the case to the Judicial Committee of England's Privy Council. In 1929, the five Lords of the Committee ruled unanimously that "the word ‘persons' in Section 24 includes both the male and female sex.…" They called the earlier interpretation "a relic of days more barbarous than ours."

As the Virgina Slims tobacco company put it in their famous 1968 marketing campaign aimed at young professional women, "You've come a long way, baby." Of course, for Virginia Slims, this meant that women now had the equal right with men to inhale, and suffer a premature death from,  carcinogens. But the slogan was based on the growing feeling among women that they were beginning to be all that they were meant to be in a society previously dominated by the male of the species.

Much has been accomplished in this area of equality of the sexes since 1929. Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, for instance, makes this claim:

Canada is a world leader in the promotion and protection of women's rights and gender equality. These issues are central to Canada's foreign and domestic policies. Canada is committed to the view that gender equality is not only a human rights issue, but is also an essential component of sustainable development, social justice, peace, and security. These goals will only be achieved if women are able to participate as equal partners, decision makers, and beneficiaries of the sustainable development of their societies.

Judging from the list of women's rights organizations in Canada, however, many clearly feel that further progress is necessary. You can view this list at

Women's rights have been expanded in many ways besides voting (or smoking). With respect to abortion, we must look at the key Supreme Court of Canada decision of 1988, again from Wikipedia:

In the R. v. Morgentaler case in 1988, Canada's abortion law was struck down by the Supreme Court using the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Bertha Wilson, the first woman on the Supreme Court, had been appointed in 1982. Section 287 of the Criminal Code states that abortion is a crime. However, section 7 of the Charter says "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice." Henry Morgentaler, who was trying to establish abortion clinics, forced the courts to rule on this issue, and in 1988 the Supreme Court ruled that section 287 of the Criminal Code was of no force or effect.

This is where we will pick up in my next bite--er, post. What is the link between abortion and women's rights as the Supreme Court saw it?