‘We women are not here to beg male politicians for our rights. We are here to tell you what our needs are and to find out whether you are prepared to act.’
In May 1970 the Beatles ‘Let it Be’ was released, 4 students were killed at Kent State, M*A*S*H was in theatres (not yet a sitcom), Chatty Cathy was introduced to the world and suede fringes were everywhere. It was a time of student protests against Vietnam, the genesis of Earth Day and in Canada, women were pushing back.
Fifty years ago this month, a group of women travelled from BC to Ottawa to demand change to legislation over their bodies. Aptly named the Abortion Caravan, they were calling for the repeal of the mention of abortion from the criminal code and the pardoning of all persons who had been charged under the criminal code for participating in abortions.
The lead vehicle in the Caravan carried a coffin filled with coat hangers to represent the deaths of women from illegal abortion. It made twelve stops on the way to Ottawa to gain publicity and followers, and arrived on Parliament Hill on the symbolically chosen Mother’s Day weekend. The women gathered first in the Railway Committee meeting room to hear speakers like New Democrat Member of Parliament Grace MacInnis, Dr. Henry Morgentaler, and anti-poverty activist Doris Power. Following their speeches, a group of approximately 300 women broke off from the main demonstration and marched upon the Prime Minister’s residence and laid the coffin on his doorstep.
On Monday, May 11, women engaged in two concurrent protests. Outside the House of Commons, one group marched around the Centennial Flame, while a smaller group of other women inside the House began shouting for “free abortion on demand.” The women, some of whom had chained themselves to seats in the visitors’ galleries, were removed from the House by security guards and escorted outside. As a result of these bold actions, discontent with the abortion law received national media attention.
Today we honour the herstory of the Abortion Caravan and the bravery and tenacity of the ‘caravaners’ and while much has changed in Canada (1988 Supreme Court of Canada struck down the abortion law as unconstitutional) access to safe and timely abortions in Canada is still not equal. During this time of COVID 19, advocates for reproductive justice worked to ensure that abortion was deemed an essential service in Canada. Despite the support of the Federal and Provincial Governments and agreement to not change service delivery, we know that certain populations face greater challenges around access. Those in rural communities, people who rely on public transport, clinicians who can’t access necessary training and gaps in health insurance for some remain barriers to free and timely care.
We have reached out to our friends at the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC). You can find out more about the Abortion Caravan here: