Choice Joyce

Choice Joyce

Essays from a pro-choice feminist liberal skeptic infidel activist (and animal lover)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Refuting Elard Koch’s errors and distortions

Note: This piece contains information supplementing my 2012 article: Anti-choice Researchers in Chile try to disappear illegal abortion - and  women who die from it. It has been updated several times since then, with Addendums appearing at the bottom. 

by Joyce Arthur
First published June 1, 2012

The following refutes several egregious errors and falsehoods in Dr. Elard Koch's rebuttal to the Guttmacher Institute (published May 25, 2012 at PLOS ONE). 

Illegal abortions still common in Mexico

Koch grossly underestimates the number of abortions in Mexico by playing fast and loose with the facts. He wrongly compares Guttmacher’s previous estimated illegal rates for all of Mexico (between 700,000 and 1 million), to today’s officially reported legal rate for only Mexico City (just over 20,000 in 2011). Mexico City is the only area in the entire country where abortion on request is legal. Less than 20% of Mexicans live in the capital, and most women from other states would be too poor to be able to travel to the capital, which means they are still having unreported illegal abortions in their own communities. But even in Mexico City, legal access is still limited, leading many women there to continue resorting to illegal abortion. Further, only public sector abortions are counted in official numbers, not legal abortions done in the growing private sector.  

Increases in abortion after legalization to be expected


Koch complains that legalization causes an increase in abortions, but this reflects an anti-choice belief that denies the positive and obvious reasons for such increases. It also stems from Koch’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge the prevalence of illegal abortion. Common sense dictates that after legalization, reported legal abortions will begin to replace the previous non-reported illegal abortions. Since it takes time to ramp up services after legalization, of course numbers will increase for a few years as access improves. But if all goes smoothly and especially if contraception also becomes increasingly accessible, legal abortion numbers will eventually stabilize and start to go down. That pattern is now well-documented for most western countries.

Overreliance on official statistics and unwarranted dismissal of evidence that doesn’t fit anti-choice ideology


Koch’s trust in the accuracy of Chile’s maternal death registry is based on faith, not evidence. In a criminalized regime like Chile, there is good reason to believe that many healthcare workers misreport the cause of death when women die in hospital from complications of illegal abortion, since women themselves (or a family member) would be highly motivated to lie to medical personnel about what happened when they arrive at the hospital, to protect themselves from prosecution. Healthcare workers are required to report women who have illegal abortions. While many would likely not ask too many questions and record the complication or death as a result of spontaneous abortion (going along with the woman's story in other words), some women are still being turned in by health workers to face arrest and a possible jail sentence, at least they were as recently as 2007. A 2010 article on abortion in Chile by researchers Shepard & Becerra notes: “More than 99% of abortions are not reported at all, disguised as a different procedure, or reported as spontaneous abortions in public hospitals.” They state the reason for the latter: “To protect both women and hospital staff from prosecution, hospital patient data reported to the Ministry of Health do not differentiate between spontaneous and induced abortion.”

Guttmacher cited this Shepard & Becerra article in its "Evidence Check," but Koch dismisses it, as well as another study in Spanish cited by Guttmacher. He refers to them as “mere opinions without any epidemiological evidence or quantitative data supporting such claims.” The context for that comment is a discussion of women's illegal use of misoprostol to induce abortions, in which Koch summarily dismisses the possibility that misoprostol might be contributing to a decrease in maternal mortality, again because of an alleged lack of hard evidence. However, self-use of misoprostol by women is an obvious and highly promising way to reduce abortion-related complications and deaths, because of its relative safety over other traditional clandestine methods. Further, Koch asserts that "no study currently exists to date, that seriously supports a decline in maternal mortality associated with the use of abortifacient drugs such as misoprostol in Chile," while ignoring studies from countries such as Brazil that demonstrate exactly that (these two   papers refer to several such studies).

I believe that Koch's practice of rejecting out of hand any data sources he deems invalid reflects an ideological desire to cover up evidence of widespread illegal abortion. For one thing, he chooses to ignore official statistics that don’t fit his ideology. The above-noted Spanish study that he discards as “mere opinion” used the following official sources to determine maternal causes of death: “Clasificación internacional de enfermedades, traumatismos y causas de defunción, CIE-9” (International Classification of Diseases, Injuries and Causes of Death, ICD-9) and the “Anuarios del Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas de Chile” (Yearbooks of the Chile National Institute of Statistics). The latter is apparently the same (and only) source that Koch used for his PLOS ONE study. But based on those two sources, the Spanish study determined that abortion was the second-leading cause of maternal death in Chile between 1990 and 2000, with 19.1% attributed specifically to “induced illegal abortion”, 73.6% to “unspecified abortion,” and 6.2% to “spontaneous abortion.”  Note that these figures are from after 1989, the year Chile's abortion law was tightened to eliminate the exception to save the life of the woman. So even while Chile's maternal mortality rate was still declining in the 1990's, women were still dying from illegal abortion, which simply means that the decline would have been even steeper if abortion was safe and legal.

Koch has not explained why alternative methods of collecting data (besides his preferred statistical sources) on maternal deaths from illegal abortion should be considered entirely worthless. He has no grounds for totally dismissing them, since other ways must necessarily be found to measure the incidence of illegal abortion and resulting deaths and complications (which include for example, surveys of women, surveys of specific healthcare facilities, and interviews with healthcare workers). His dismissal of the data these methods produce amounts to a gratuitous slur against the hundreds of reputable scientists and researchers who spend large amounts of time carefully gathering, comparing, and adjusting such data under challenging circumstances.

Small numbers of pre-1989 legal abortions in Chile. 

Koch asserts that the pre-1989 abortion law in Chile, which allowed abortion only to save the woman’s life, was often interpreted liberally. Yet he can only cite a single documented case of 3,000 abortions being performed “on request” at one hospital in Santiago in 1973. In reality, liberal interpretations of the law did not appear to be common, and Koch himself explains that: "Flexible interpretation of the practice of ‘therapeutic’ abortion was progressively restricted and prosecuted until the definitive derogation of all types of abortion in 1989." A statement in the Koch et al study's Appendix S1 clarifies further: "It is documented that an undetermined number of elective abortions were conducted by several medical doctors utilizing the latter law [in force from 1967-1989], but this practice seemed to be strongly restricted after 1973 by the military government until the definitive derogation in 1989." (emphasis added)  Therefore, Koch has refuted his own conclusion that the 1989 abortion ban “meant a major transition from a partially restrictive to a fully restrictive law in practical terms,” because legal abortion was already very rare many years before 1989. In fact, this falsifies the central claim* in Koch et al’s PLoS ONE study, as stated in the final two sentences of the conclusion: "Finally, prohibition of abortion in Chile did not influence the downward trend in the maternal mortality ratio. Thus, the legal status of abortion does not appear to be related to overall rates of maternal mortality." In reality, the new law would not have led to any noticeable difference in maternal mortality rates anyway. The number of reported legal abortions had already dropped to miniscule proportions by 1989, and the illegal abortion rate would have remained about the same as before.

It's also worth noting that since the pre-1989 law allowed abortions only to save the woman’s life and required the approval of two doctors, it’s highly unlikely that large numbers of Chilean women would have even attempted the process, let alone succeeded at it – especially poor, indigenous, uneducated, rural, and other marginalized women with few resources. Such common-sense considerations seem to be beyond Koch, because of his insistence on considering hard data and nothing else.

(* I call this the central claim because we hardly need a study to determine that declines in maternal mortality would be associated with higher education for women, improved access to health facilities and doctors, nutrition programs, clean water, skilled birth attendants, and similar factors. Such findings are already well-documented elsewhere and are pretty much self-evident. Therefore, I believe the authors' focus on those factors serves as a smokescreen to help conceal the study's true agenda, which is political and ideological - part of an anti-choice campaign to ensure that abortion stays criminalized throughout Latin America.)

**************

One of the most offensive things about Koch’s insistence that illegal abortion does not negatively impact women’s health is that it throws under the bus the most vulnerable groups of women who have little power or voice in society, and who resort to illegal abortion the most. But the most offensive thing of all is that, because maternal deaths from illegal abortion do appear to be quite low in Chile (compared to other developing countries), Koch seems to think it's acceptable that those few should be sacrificed unnecessarily under Chile's harsh criminal laws, and that the rest – anywhere from 40,000 to 160,000 a year – should continue jeopardizing their health and lives, not to mention arrest and imprisonment, and all the upheaval and psychological trauma that these things entail, just because they needed an abortion - an action taken by half of all women around the world to protect their lives, families, and futures. 

In my opinion, based on the above analysis and my published rebuttal, Koch's anti-choice advocacy as a privileged male academic in Chile is an irresponsible abuse of power that puts women's lives and health at risk – not just in Chile, but throughout Latin America wherever abortion is mostly illegal.



***************

Addendum, July 30, 2012:  Guttmacher has published a rebuttal to Koch et al's attack on Guttmacher's methodology for estimating the number of illegal, unsafe abortions in Latin American countries:   Summary   •   Detailed rebuttal   Guttmacher says: "The Koch et al. critique is characterized by pervasive distortions of Guttmacher's methodology, and their proposed alternative methodology is based on scientifically unsound and illogical assumptions and contains such serious errors that its results are not valid."

Addendum October 2012:  During the CEDAW review of Chile's record on women's rights, including questions to the Chilean delegation on its abortion laws, the Chilean delegation was disingenuous in its claim of a low mortality rate due to abortion, and greatly exaggerated the availability of contraception

On Oct 2, 2012, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) considered the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Chile on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. When questioned by CEDAW experts on its abortion legislation, the Chilean delegation claimed that "Therapeutic abortion was allowed in Chile, and could be carried out by a doctor if the woman’s life was at risk." (emphasis added) The word "could" is a grasping-at-straws hypothetical. In fact, no exceptions are allowed under the law and few doctors would dare risk prosecution by causing an abortion, even if unintended. Moreover, the claim that unintended abortion may occur in order to save a woman’s life rests on the immoral ideology that doctors must wait until a pregnant woman’s life or health is already put at risk or seriously compromised before she receives any healthcare that may endanger the fetus.

The Chilean delegation also claimed (paraphrased in the report): "Maternal mortality due to abortion only amounted to between six to ten women per year. Over 50 per cent of those deaths were due to identifiable causes, and 47 per cent were due to non-identifiable causes. In Chile abortion was illegal so any death due to abortion fell within that 47 per cent. The Government had passed a law to provide contraceptives, including emergency contraceptives, in order to ensure wider distribution guaranteed by law. Any person refusing to provide emergency contraceptives would be committing a criminal offence, and technical guidelines were distributed to health centres on how to help women who had had an abortion, relating to privacy and other related reproductive health services. Although abortion was criminalized there had been no sanctions in the reporting period."

The Chilean delegation is being disingenuous in its claim of a low mortality rate due to abortion. As explained previously, deaths from abortion are almost certainly underreported to at least some degree, while much of the morbidity from induced abortion would be hidden under the "unspecified abortion" loophole in order to protect patients and staff from prosecution. Regardless, even 6-10 deaths a year is 6-10 more than necessary, since these could all be eliminated if abortion was legal.

As for the alleged wide availability of contraception, that too turns out to be a hugely exaggerated claim. An April 2012 article from Chile's Santiago Times quotes Dr. Beatriz Salgado, a general practitioner at the Department of Public Health at the Universidad de Valparaíso. She explained that sexual health is a taboo topic in Chile, and contraceptive methods are both expensive and often difficult to access. The article states: "In 2008 a constitutional court struck down attempts to make the distribution of the morning after pill free. Two years later Congress finally ruled that the morning after pill had to be freely distributed by the public health system, but young girls who need the pill must be accompanied by one of their parents. Many pharmacies still refuse to stock the morning after pill for religious or moral reasons." Dr. Salgado believes most of the decline in maternal mortality in Chile is due not to good contraceptive use, but because of increasing numbers of women successfully self-administering misoprostol.

Interestingly, the Chilean delegation claims that no one has been prosecuted for abortion during CEDAW's previous two-year reporting period (2010-2012). With at least 40,000 abortions a year (and as many as 160,000), either doctors and patients are becoming very adept at evading the long arm of the law, or Chile is no longer enforcing its criminal abortion law - maybe out of embarrassment after years of being pilloried in the international press for throwing women into jail? 

Addendum, December 14, 2012:  Guttmacher criticizes Koch for recycling his disproven claims about Guttmacher's methodology: Everything Old Is New Again—Debunked Criticism of Guttmacher Methodology Resurfaces 

Addendum November 13, 2014:  RH Reality Check has published a "False Witnesses" series documenting anti-choice activists and researchers who have published false information designed to mislead the public, lawmakers, and the courts about abortion. One piece exposes Elard Koch for his "Signature Falsehood": That making abortion illegal does not result in more maternal deaths.  RH Reality Check says: "The overwhelming evidence from reputable scientists and organizations, including the World Health Organization, is that there is a direct link between illegal abortion and higher maternal death rates."

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Patriarchal values dominate the sex work debate

Cross-posted from Rabble.ca, April 4, 2014

Much has been said and written since the Supreme Court of Canada struck down three prostitution laws in December because they imposed dangerous conditions on sex workers, thereby violating their constitutional right to security of the person. Sex work is legal in Canada, but the criminal laws prohibited various activities around it, including communicating in public, operating or working in a brothel, and living off the income of a sex worker.

The basic question we should be grappling with is: How best can we ensure the safety and rights of sex workers? But that's not really the issue that people seem to be most concerned about, except for sex workers themselves. The battle has become about how best to control sex work under the guise of "protecting" sex workers. Most anti-prostitution activists want to treat sex workers as victims to be rescued and criminalize clients to "end demand," even though that model has failed in Sweden and Norway. On the other hand, many Conservative members of Parliament, some police forces, and right-wing religious groups favour full criminalization of everyone involved.

Sex workers across Canada are virtually unanimous in advocating for full decriminalization as the best protective model, and their position is based on reams of evidence, experience and common sense. So why aren't sex workers being listened to? Why are people so determined to "abolish" sex work? What are they really afraid of?

Prohibitionists (those who want to abolish prostitution through prohibition) can't seem to make up their minds whether sex workers are victims to be rescued or "dirty, evil whores" to be punished and eradicated. This paradox represents a modern version of the old Madonna/Whore complex and the sexual double standard. In Sweden for example, so long as a woman agrees to quit sex work she can be "rehabilitated," but women who don't want to quit are denied legal protection and social services, may suffer eviction and loss of custody of their children, and are deported if they are foreign workers. In other words, if a woman refuses to conform to the stereotype of "victim" or "fallen woman redeemed" she is stigmatized and punished.

The Swedish law is strongly backed by a segment of feminists whom sex workers call "radical feminists" because of their stance against pornography, sex work, transsexuality and anything else that doesn't conform to a vanilla vision of sex. Despite being feminists, their views are closely aligned with those of right-wing conservatives and Christian fundamentalists, which should set off alarm bells in the mind of every thinking person. The right-wing religious contingent longs for a return to tradition and sexually chaste women who save themselves for marriage. They espouse patriarchal ideals where a woman's place is in the home with children, but is that view really much different from the one in which women who choose to do sex work must be punished for it?

I believe that both views are rooted in antipathy to free sexual expression and autonomy, especially for women who dare to have sex in ways that offend moral sensibilities -- sex for pleasure in the case of the Christian Right, and sex for money in the case of prohibitionists. The belief that women need to be protected not only from others but from themselves gives radical feminists the self-appointed right to speak for sex workers and to "rescue" them, in the same way that anti-abortionists have appointed themselves to save women from the "dangers" of abortion by criminalizing it and promoting abstinence until marriage.

I've written previously on the many striking parallels between anti-abortionists and radical feminists. Both cast women as victims and use dehumanizing language to describe sex workers and women who have abortions. Both are paternalistic and don't recognize women's agency. Both demonize third parties as exploiters or profiteers and want to criminalize them -- "pimps" and brothel owners for radical feminists, and abortion providers for anti-abortionists. Both exploit the sad stories of the minority of women who feel damaged by sex work or abortion, and both ignore the majority who choose sex work or have abortions without regret. Both rely on ideology and emotional appeals, as well as their own B.A.D. science (biased, agenda-driven) full of distorted statistics and fabricated "facts." For example, both falsely claim that abortion and sex work are inherently dangerous and bad for women. And both share the delusion that prostitution and abortion can be abolished via criminal laws, despite overwhelming and conclusive evidence that women cannot be stopped from selling sex or having abortions, and that criminalization of either puts women in danger.

The belief that sex work violates human dignity reflects society's moral disapproval of sexual freedom for women, and disbelief that women can actually choose to do sex work. But treating sexuality as if it's some sacred thing to be reserved for love or marriage is narrow-minded. Sex is just sex -- there's all different kinds including casual sex, and people should have complete freedom to do whatever they want sexually as long as they're not hurting others. Retired sex worker Maggie McNeill says: "The decision to sell sex, which seems so extreme and shocking to prudish middle-class women, is for many working-class women not really that big a deal; this is especially true when other members of her peer group are already doing it and she can make 15 times as much in one hour as most of her countrymen make in a day."

In puritanical 19th-century Europe and America, it's estimated that 5.5 per cent of women were working as prostitutes at any given time. Today's estimate is 0.3 per cent of all women. It therefore seems logical to conclude that the best way to "end demand" for paid sex is to continue our path towards more sexual freedom, especially for women. I have argued that the best way to reduce the need for sex work (if that's what we want) is to encourage more women to engage in casual sex more often. After all, modern access to effective contraception and safe, legal abortion means that women need not be held back by fear of pregnancy.

Instead, prohibitionists are determined to repress the "dangerous" male sex drive, a project guaranteed to fail. Some even liken sexual intercourse to violence against women because of the penetration, which is an offensive and total negation of women's sexual agency and desire. Prohibitionists also say that men don't have a "right" to sexual access to women. But sex is a primal human urge that cannot be denied, everyone needs human intimacy and touch, and sex has significant physical and mental health benefits. Since many people have difficulty forming relationships or finding sexual partners (such as the elderly, disabled, obese, socially withdrawn, etc.), sex workers often deliver a necessary health-care service that should be funded by medicare.

Whether money is exchanged for sex or not seems almost irrelevant, since a lot of sex is ultimately transactional in nature, including within marriage. Transactional sex goes back to the very origin of our cultural evolution -- which women engineered and controlled, according to anthropologist Chris Knight in his book Blood Relations. He credits women's granting of sex in exchange for meat as the basis for establishing permanent home bases, a unique innovation that led to agriculture and civilization. By synchronizing menstruation, women were able to stay home (where it's safer and easier) and compel men to go hunting and bring back meat to share before being allowed sexual relations. Knight amasses a wealth of evidence to support this view, and other research corroborates it. Taboos around menstruation originally represented women's power over life, and men's fear of that power. Ironically, the birth of agriculture gave rise to private property, giving men the means to overthrow women's power by treating them as property along with the crops and livestock.

Some feminists may not take kindly to the idea that human culture was founded on a form of prostitution, but that would be a reflection of their own biases against it. If you posit instead that sex (and sex work) is a means of power that women have over men, and a positive expression of their sexuality and autonomy, then the perspective changes dramatically. I've often wondered -- since feminist prohibitionists blame the patriarchy for prostitution, would it end if we managed to achieve an egalitarian world? My answer is no, since there will always be people who cannot obtain sex, and sex workers would likely enjoy influence and prestige in an egalitarian society. Our modern society's negative attitudes towards promiscuous women are a legacy of patriarchy and the male need to guarantee paternity of children by controlling women's sexual behaviour.

Nickie Roberts said in the foreword to her book Whores in History:
"I am wholeheartedly on the side of the unrepentant whore, the most maligned woman in history…in [this book she] speaks up to denounce and challenge her oppressors, and thereby overcome the centuries of lies, denial and stereotyping that have been her lot. Only when she is listened to by the rest of our society will women finally and irrevocably be able to end our division into Good Girls and Bad Girls."

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“Dishonourable disobedience” – Why refusal to treat in reproductive healthcare is not conscientious objection

by Christian Fiala and Joyce Arthur

Published March 29, 2014 in: Woman - Psychosomatic Gynaecology and Obstetrics

Summary

In medicine, the vast majority of conscientious objection (CO) is exercised within the reproductive healthcare field – particularly for abortion and contraception. Current laws and practices in various countries around CO in reproductive healthcare show that it is unworkable and frequently abused, with harmful impacts on women's healthcare and rights. CO in medicine is supposedly analogous to CO in the military, but in fact the two have little in common.

This paper argues that CO in reproductive health is not actually Conscientious Objection, but Dishonourable Disobedience (DD) to laws and ethical codes. Healthcare professionals who exercise CO are using their position of trust and authority to impose their personal beliefs on patients, who are completely dependent on them for essential healthcare. Health systems and institutions that prohibit staff from providing abortion or contraception services are being discriminatory by systematically denying healthcare services to a vulnerable population and disregarding conscience rights for abortion providers.

CO in reproductive healthcare should be dealt with like any other failure to perform one's professional duty, through enforcement and disciplinary measures. Counteracting institutional CO may require governmental or even international intervention.

Continue reading full article at Science Direct. (html)

Click here for PDF Version

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Government Criminalizes Jobs to Protect Workers

Cross-posted from Rabble, March 7, 2014
(Under the title:
When a government protects workers by criminalizing them
___________________________________________________________________

Imagine for a moment, if the debate over prostitution laws was aimed at other types of workers...

In a bold move aimed at protecting workers from exploitation while on the job, the government today passed a new law that criminalizes most employers and customers. The law addresses the void left by the Supreme Court of Canada in December 2013, when it struck down laws that it said prevented workers from taking safety measures to protect themselves from abusive customers, but which the government said were designed to prevent people from working, period.

"Our government is concerned about the significant harms that flow from being compelled to work for a living," said Law and Order Minister Punter MacCunny at a press conference to announce the new law, which was passed without any Parliamentary debate. "Working is harmful to vulnerable individuals, particularly women, who should be home having babies."

The most dangerous jobs in Canada are believed to be in the male-dominated industries of logging, fisheries and construction, but reliable data is unavailable due to the government's ongoing "Bonfirefest" program targeting science libraries. "We don't need evidence to know that most jobs pose unacceptable risks to workers," insisted MacCunny. "Every day, workers are compelled to do disgusting or dangerous things for money, like scrubbing toilets or conducting rigorous peer-reviewed studies. This economic exploitation must end."

MacCunny pointed out that 95 per cent of people hate their jobs and want out, according to a new government-commissioned study by the Fundamentalist United Church of Canada (FUCC). Pastor Dan Ho of FUCC said he surveyed about 50 people in Winnipeg, mostly cashiers at Tim Hortons. "Canadians who've been innocently enjoying their coffee and Timbits every morning need to know that all the workers' smiles are forced," warned Pastor Ho, discreetly whisking a crumb from his beard.

Police welcomed the new law, which gives them sweeping new enforcement powers to target the huge increase in organized crime. According to Det. Sgt. Billy Clubber, head of the RCMP's new Slave Save Squad, "We'll be cracking down on slavery rings, basically any place where workers are bribed with wages to provide services for pimps and johns." The law now designates employers and customers as "pimps" and "johns," respectively.

The squad will be recruiting 10,000 new officers to conduct raids of exploitive workplaces across the country. "The price tag is ginormous, but it's worth it to rescue victims," exulted Clubber. "After breaking down doors and waving our guns around, it's gratifying to pacify terrified slaves by tasering them. Then they'll be taken to special rehabilitation centres, where they'll have a chance to learn honest skills such as making licence plates."

However, to reduce program costs, Clubber said that foreign-looking workers will be immediately deported, while a range of pimps and johns will be exempt from the new law, including the Top 1%, elected officials, law enforcement, celebrities, CEOs, devout Christians, and all family and friends of the aforementioned.

To fund the new initiative, the government has diverted $1.2 billion from the Maternal and Child Health program for developing countries. That initiative was abruptly cancelled last year after the government discovered it would have to spend some of the money on birth control pills. Further controversy arose at the time when it was revealed that one of the PMO's top advisers was right-wing talk show host Rash Bimbough, who announced on air that "We're not paying for slutty sluts to have sex!"

Member of Parliament Jilly Schmut has been advocating the criminalization of customers for years, and strongly supports the new law. "I am convinced that the most effective route to tackling wage slavery is to end demand for goods and services by targeting buyers." Schmut also had harsh words for those who traffic hapless workers to different branches or affiliates of the same company, coercing them via promotions and raises, while the traffickers reap huge profits from the slaves' advanced servitude. "These predators are dehumanizing individuals by reducing them to a commodity to be bought and sold," fumed Schmut.

Some wage slaves protested the move to criminalize their customers, claiming it would push them into an underground economy where they would be even more at risk of exploitation and harm. Others insisted that they were not slaves at all, and that they had freely chosen their work and even enjoy it. However, wage slave expert Malicia Fibberly dismissed these anonymous claims, explaining that working 9 to 5 is inherently demeaning and dangerous and must be abolished. "It's annoying to come across people who've been brainwashed into believing they're empowered by their work," complained Fibberly. "That syndrome is called 'false consciousness.'" While Fibberly conceded that some workers probably did enter their profession willingly, she cautioned that "Such people are not representative, and are part of a small, privileged elite. Don't listen to them!"

Law and Order Minister MacCunny agreed, and said the government had to dismiss the voices of workers during the public debate in the lead-up to the new law. "We heard rumours that many workers were inexplicably speaking out against the proposed law during our public consultation process. However, experts advised us that most slavery victims suffer from Stockholm Syndrome, so we plugged our ears."

When questioned further, MacCunny admitted that the government had been "completely overwhelmed" with the over 30,000 online responses it received from the public on possible legal solutions to the wage slavery crisis, only one month before the new law was passed. "Luckily, we had already made up our minds to pass the new law, so we didn't have to bother reading the comments. That also saved a lot of taxpayer money, making it a win-win for everybody!" he declared, pumping his fist in the air.

He also offered assurances that the comment database would never be made available to researchers or the public because "it's now in the same place as the Gun Registry."

MacCunny concluded his comments on a celebratory note. "Let freedom ring! Canadians can now stay home and have babies, and never be exploited by working for a living again."

In other news, the government has promised to explore ways to address the rising incidence of poverty, homelessness, drug abuse, violence, exploitation, and social unrest, and plans to open another public consultation soon.

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Undermining democracy and human rights: A cautionary tale about anti-choice politics

Cross-posted from Rabble, February 7, 2014

Last week, Parliament and the pro-choice movement got a temporary reprieve from the relentless  onslaught of anti-choice motions and bills introduced by Conservative backbenchers who won't take Harper's "No abortion debate allowed" for an answer. Not a single one made the list of pending private members' business for this session.

The news must have come as a huge disappointment to the anti-choice movement, which had been eagerly anticipating the introduction of two explicit anti-choice motions that had already been fully prepared and announced in December by long-time Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott (Saskatoon-Wanuskewin). So what happened?

Vellacott actually had a total of four private member items on the order paper. This forced him to make a "difficult decision," since only one item can proceed to second reading and a vote. On January 31, he chose to go with his Bill C-560, which would require judges to apply the principle of "equal parenting" in custody disputes unless there is proven abuse or neglect.

Vellacott's fourth item was a cloaked anti-choice motion. It would have made it easier to bulldoze just about any private member bill or motion through Parliament, no matter how offensive or illegitimate, by removing committee powers to deem them non-votable. Ironically, Vellacott called this a "democratic reform initiative." All three of his dropped motions can be viewed here.

One might wonder why Vellacott created this surplus of private member business to begin with, knowing he'd have to sideline three out of four items. The main clue is his announcement last July that he's stepping down from politics and will not run again in 2015. The motions therefore represent his last kick at the can, the "pro-life" legacy he wants to leave, and the final kudos he wants to bask in from the anti-choice movement.

Still, why bother with three extra motions that won't go anywhere? Likely because Vellacott is confident that they'll be back soon, even if he won't be: "[B]ased on considerations I have been a part of, I have good reason to believe that the other three items I have on the order paper will be picked up in due course by other good MPs who have spine and foresight." The wording hints that Vellacott himself is a member of this elite club of brave visionaries, and that he's been busy convincing the other members to boldly go forth into the future with his motions.

Vellacott has been an MP since 1997 and has a perfect "pro-life" record according to Campaign Life Coalition. Over the years, he has introduced six anti-choice private member bills, all with the same single-minded goal: to protect healthcare workers from any negative consequences of refusing to do their jobs if they object because of personal or religious beliefs. The last version was the most preposterous.

Returning to the "equal parenting" bill for a moment, it's notable that this bill is at least several degrees less contentious than abortion (although it makes one wonder about Vellacott's possible affinity with "Men's Rights Activists"). One might also wonder whether Vellacott was the object of a talking-to by some higher-up who may have been anxious to avoid yet another iteration of the dreaded "abortion debate."

Since Vellacott's three dropped motions may indeed be coming back, are they worth worrying about? It's almost certain the two explicit anti-choice motions would never go anywhere even if they were introduced, but the cloaked motion to remove the ability of the Committee to veto private members' business, M-490, is perhaps a bit of a wild card. Vellacott claims that:
The motion would fix a current vulnerability in the system that has led to a situation where a small group of MPs are able to control, often from behind closed doors, what issues are and are not allowed to be voted on in the House of Commons. … The motion I am proposing is a bulwark against arbitrary and capricious decision-making when it comes to Private Members Business. Were this motion to pass, decisions on the votability of private members' bills and motions would be made in a fair and objective fashion, free from any sort of political interference or shenanigans.
Really though, the shenanigans are mostly on the side of anti-choice politicians like Vellacott (and Stephen Woodworth, Mark Warara, and others), who continually put forward these hopeless motions and bills against the wishes of Harper, and occasionally throw a hissy fit when they fail to go anywhere. Or, when a bill start to go somewhere like in 2008 with Ken Epp's Bill C-484, it creates division in the caucus, a media circus, and a headachy distraction from the government's agenda. Instead of getting the message though, anti-choice stalwarts in Harper's caucus carry on like they're more determined than ever -- not unlike true fanatics.

With his M-490 motion, Vellacott is complaining about the treatment of Mark Warawa's Motion 408 last March by the Parliamentary Subcommittee on Private Members' Business. That motion, to "condemn discrimination against females occurring through sex-selective pregnancy termination" was deemed non-votable because it failed to meet two of the four votability criteria -- so it wasn't exactly an "arbitrary and capricious" decision.

Bills and motions must not concern questions that are outside federal jurisdiction, or are substantially the same as ones already voted on in the current session of Parliament. The Subcommittee members said that abortion is healthcare and therefore under provincial jurisdiction, and that Stephen Woodworth's Motion 312 was also about abortion and was voted on just six months previously, in September 2012.

The other two criteria are that the bill or motion must not "clearly violate" the Constitution Acts and Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that it must not be on the same topic as items currently on the Order Paper or Notice Paper as items of Government business.

Vellacott's motion would have dispensed entirely with the constitutional and Charter violation criterion, as well as the one requiring it to be within federal jurisdiction. One can only imagine the kind of odious private member business from backbenchers that would have to be "debated" in Parliament without the Charter criterion in place to deflect them.

Ironically, Warawa's Motion 408 wasn't deemed non-votable based on the Charter criterion, so Vellacott's motion would have made no difference to the result anyway. Vellacott even retained in his motion the criterion that bills or motions could not be "substantially the same" as ones already voted on in the current session, even though that was probably the key criterion that deep-sixed M-408. The Subcommittee's decision was made unanimously by three MPs from three parties (Liberal, NPD, and Conservative), which weakens Vellacott's accusations of political interference. Finally, although the Subcommittee's "expert analyst" had advised the members that Motion 408 was votable under all criteria, the analyst's interpretation was nowhere to be found in the criteria's straightforward language and had no evidence or precedent to support it. Also, his advice was non-binding, so the MPs were free to discount it.

Vellacott's "democratic reform initiative" in M-490 was designed to undermine democracy and remove basic safeguards that protect human rights and other constitutional guarantees, in order to make it easier to smuggle in anti-choice bills and motions.

It's worth remembering that the anti-choice movement has never been a friend of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Let's also remember the decidedly undemocratic motivations behind this motion should it arise again in Parliament.

In the meantime, the pro-choice movement will be happy to say goodbye to Maurice Vellacott.

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