#NewsMatters: The National Assembly Report
QC political parties unequivocally pro-choice; however, women's rights still in jeopardy
A surprise and shocking leak this past week of a draft ruling from the United States Supreme Court has Quebec lawmakers and Quebecers in general speaking up for abortion rights. You might have noticed a common Facebook message being shared this week that begins with “I'm not pro-murdering babies. I'm pro-Becky…” Both women and men have felt compelled to exclaim loud and clear they are in favour of a women’s right to choose what to do with her own body.
The same goes for Quebec political parties represented at the National Assembly, who are also “pro-Becky.” They have publicly stated that they are unequivocally pro-choice. Premier François Legault confirmed all 76 Coalition Avenir Quebec MNA’s and all candidates running under the CAQ banner in this fall’s election are pro-choice. He said “it’s not normal” to accept that people with anti-abortion views become candidates.
The draft ruling leaked to Politico last week showed the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision that guaranteed access to abortion nationwide. Overturning Roe vs. Wade would allow states to greatly restrict access to abortion or even ban it outright.
“Yes, I am worried,” Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade told reporters. “Because we are not sheltered from this kind of thing and we must not make any compromise in regards to women’s rights.”
Anglade called on all political parties in Quebec to make sure their candidates are pro-choice. While most parties agree, Eric Duhaime, leader of the Conservative Party of Quebec, said he will not prevent people with pro-abortion views due to religious convictions to run for his party. However, he stated that his party is also pro-choice.
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said he never thought he’d see a reversal of this kind in his lifetime. Like most of his generation he said he thought the question of the right to abortion had long been settled.
“It’s a brutal reminder that we can not definitively take women’s rights for granted,” he said. “We must continue to fight, notably us men, alongside and behind women to defend these rights. These battles are never finished.”
He said the provincial government now needs to study the impacts of this decision south of our border on our province. He said it also needs to look at how the Quebec health care system can accommodate a potential increase in demand from American women seeking abortions in Quebec.
“We cannot exclude the possibility of coming to the aide of these women. I think it’s a duty of solidarity that we have,” he said.
This pivotal debate around abortion and women’s rights comes at a time when we see many women quitting Quebec politics, including high-profile MNA’s such as Liberal Paule Robitaille and Quebec Solidaire’s Catherine Dorion who are only serving one term. In recent interviews, Dorion alluded to harsh media criticism of women politicians as being a factor in her decision.
The National Assembly is also losing some of its most esteemed women veterans. Former ministers Lise Thériault and Christine St-Pierre, first elected in 2002 and 2007 respectively are not running for re-election this October. Neither is Parti Quebecois MNA Véronique Hivon, a long-time champion of women’s rights. Hivon was a key participant in the trans-partisan commission that presented recommendations to combat domestic violence and other forms of violence against women. She was also a strong advocate for the creation of specialized sexual assault courts, something the National Assembly unanimously adopted last fall.
In 2018, Quebec elected a record number of women to the National Assembly – they currently make up 42 percent of sitting MNAs. However, with so many women leaving office, political parties will have to work that much harder to recruit women candidates to replace them. Recruiting women to run for politics has often proven difficult. Like Dorion, Anglade recently called out the double standards still present in politics that mean women are judged more severely than their male counterparts.
This is a problem. Not because there’s a legitimate risk Canada could follow its southern neighbour in banning or restricting abortions. Even if a Conservative government was elected, this still remains unlikely. However, other women’s rights are still in jeopardy. This was made blatantly clear with the wave of femicides in Quebec over the last two years of the pandemic. Having women represented at the National Assembly, as we’ve seen, has made a difference: Quebec is the first jurisdiction in Canada, for instance, to introduce electronic monitoring bracelets.
The province is still a long way away from reaching parity in the National Assembly, but we shouldn’t abandon this objective. Political parties should make it an even greater priority. As was demonstrated this week, women’s rights can never be taken for granted.