A counter-protester at the March for Life anti-abortion protest, May 9, 2019. // Paula Kirman

Support, listen: Men can be part of the pro-choice movement, but they need to be sure they don’t take up too much air in the room

By Tim Rauf

Across North America, reproductive rights are in a precarious position. Bans against abortion have been passed in 12 states, Alabama’s sweeping criminalization being the most infamous. North of the border, anti-abortion organizations are attempting to buddy up with right-wing political parties—groups like RightNow and Choice42 are taking bold steps to reopen abortion law in Alberta and Manitoba, respectively.

At a recent protest in Steinbach, Man., Choice42 founder Laura Klassen claimed that what is happening South of the border will affect Canada’s legal stance on abortion, because of the ties—both cultural and political—between the two neighbours.

In the meantime, RightNow’s efforts are to get as many anti-abortion candidates elected in Canada as possible. The group’s mission statement, readily found on its website, says it exists to “nominate and elect pro-life politicians by mobilizing Canadians on the ground level” and create teams in every riding in the country.

Janice Irwin stands with counter-protesters at the March for Life event, May 9, 2019. // Supplied, Paula Kirman

The group has also created a petition to send to the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, aiming to abolish bubble zones, the areas around abortion clinics where anti-abortion protesters cannot approach those entering the clinics.

As these groups grow bolder, it falls upon those in favour of reproductive choice to speak up. Fighting for the right to choose is not limited to women or people with uteri, either.

Kathy Dawson—board member of both the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC) and the Alberta Pro-Choice Coalition—says part of the reason it’s important for males to show their support is because, at least in Alberta, the majority of the population supports legal abortion. Strength in numbers can help demonstrate to anti-abortion groups that “there’s a unified pro-choice movement against them.”

According to the polling site ISideWith.com, in an open poll that has received 38,403 votes since its creation in 2011, 74 percent of Albertans are pro-choice in their stance on abortion. This rate is higher in Edmonton, at 77 percent.

However, believing in reproductive rights is only the first step.

“What we would like men to do is speak up,” Dawson says. “We welcome them to join us in peaceful rallies and protests. The numbers are important. And the message we want out there to the men as well is that, even though they may not have an abortion, it certainly impacts them and their right to decide when and how many children they have.”

Freelance journalist and media activist Paula Kirman recently covered the March for Life anti-abortion rally at the legislature, and the subsequent pro-choice counter-protest that followed.

Kirman argues for using male systematic advantages for the benefit of reproductive rights.

“I think it’s really important for people to leverage their privilege in a way that helps and benefits the common good.”

She says this leveraging is not limited to men, but all individuals with societal privilege, herself included.

In a statement released by Woman’s Health Options, Ltd. (WHOL), the group outlines the influence men in positions of authority such as doctors, politicians and teachers can have in ensuring women have access to proper resources.

The statement says doctors have the ability to provide accurate and, in some cases, essential information about contraceptives and “access to abortion services and even provide referrals for/or perform surgeries such as tubal ligations and hysterectomies without stopping a woman due to age, number of children, etc.”

It falls on teachers to accurately educate students in sex education, outline options for birth control and discuss what a healthy relationship looks like.

However, Dawson says that, in schools, the teaching faculty isn’t the only group responsible for proper education on reproductive health. School boards and counsellors are involved as well.

“Be involved in your school councils and boards, and basically any level where [anti-abortion groups are] electing people. Because what we find is that anti-choice also are anti-LGBT. And it’s important to keep them out of elected office at all levels.”

Although Dawson advocated for speaking out publicly in support of reproductive rights, she added that ultimately, those whose bodies are directly affected are the ones whose voices should speak the loudest.

“It’s very important for [men] to speak up in their communities, [and] speak up publicly. The only caution that I would add is that if you’re part of a rally for women and other people that can get pregnant, let them do the speaking. Let the people impacted speak about it.”

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