On Monday at a Parliament Hill gathering, feminist senator Nancy Ruth told the room that she thinks pro-choice activists should "shut the fuck up" about their concerns regarding a women's health initiative. Wait, what?
Ruth is a pro-choice, feminist, conservative politician. While she does support abortion, she is unwilling to entertain conversations about the government's decision not to fund abortion as part of an initiative to reduce maternal mortality rates abroad. Instead, she has advised her fellow feminists to let the issue go - but she claims this was simply a strongly-worded strategic suggestion, not a threat. "We have five weeks or whatever until the G8 starts. Shut the fuck up – on this issue," Ms. Ruth said. She went on to explain:
Let it roll out. I hope I'm not proven wrong, but I have every confidence that it will include family planning and so on … and I hope I'm right. It's just if you push it, there'll be more backlash. This is now a political football. This is not about women's health in this country.
We can't imagine how maternal health programs are not about women's health, but she continued:
Canada is still a country with free and accessible abortion. Leave it there. Don't make this an election issue.
According to Ruth, acceptable election issues include jobs and mortgages - not women's rights. She clarifies that she wants the government to focus on "more altruistic things." Although Ruth may be pro-choice, she clearly does not understand why covering contraception and abortion is a crucial part of improving women's access to health care, especially in developing countries. Her comments reveal a certain blindness to the needs of many women, even women in her own country with "free and accessible abortion." And what is more altruistic than trying to reduce the (disturbingly high) number of women who die each year in childbirth?
Katherine McDonald, executive director of Action Canada for Population and Development, says that Ruth's comments show how out-of-touch her party has become. "The time to speak out is now," she said, in response to Ruth's suggestion. "If we hadn't spoken out over the last three months, contraception would not be part of this initiative." Another panelist from the meeting added that women would not have very many rights if their strategy had always been "shutting up."