One Kind Word heads to PEI for Abortion: The Unfinished Revolution

Held in the city Charlottetown from August 7th-8th, the first International academic conference on abortion in Canada, Abortion: The Unfinished Revolution, is set to start tomorrow at the University of Prince Edward Island. Over the span of two days, more than 70 papers will be heard with presenters arriving from across North America, the UK, Europe, Australia, India, and Africa.

The decision to hold the conference in PEI was very much a symbolic response to the province’s elimination of access to safe surgical abortion in 1986. PEI will be the hub for discussions and reflections on the status of disparities in access to abortion across Canada and internationally.

One of the key organizers of the conference, Dr. Colleen MacQuarrie, studies activism around abortion in PEI and her research on the effects that this lack of access has on women in PEI is highlighted in a blog series Active History is hosting on their website:

“PEI stands alone in refusing women any provincial access to this service, but that doesn’t mean that abortions don’t take place here. An examination of the provincial billing records over the past 18 years tells the real story. Those records show that without legal abortions in PEI, unsafe abortion practices resulted in up to two illegal and/or failed abortion attempts each year.”

Martha Solomon, one of the editors behind One Kind Word: Women Share Their Abortion Stories will also be attending the conference and exhibiting women’s portraits and stories from the collection. One Kind Word features the personal experiences of women from the East Coast and across Canada who have had abortions. By fostering open dialogue with other women, these stories help put a face to reproductive health and are an important step in stopping the anti-choice movement from framing the language around abortion experiences and dictating how women should feel. One Kind Word, and the countless other experiences that are bound to be shared at this conference show that the personal is political and prove just how empowering women’s voices can be.

Another area of interest that will be touched on in the conference — and in One Kind Word by Jillian Bardsley of Medical Students for Choice — is the role of physicians in the history of abortion.

Katrina Ackerman, one of the graduate students in attendance whose conference paper is excerpted here, looks at the scientific, ethical, legal, and moral beliefs that influenced Canadian and international medical societies’ views on abortion. Ackerman’s work aims to help shed insight into the development of anti-abortion politics.

Excerpts from Jessica Shaw’s paper are also available online. Shaw focuses on the role of physicians in abortion access as well, but instead highlights the doctors who support women’s rights to abortion access and the stories of their commitment. Shaw is a strong advocate for the power of stories in the fight to decriminalize abortion:

“It was stories of illegal abortion that compelled Canadians to demand that our country’s abortion laws be abolished. It is stories of women in areas where abortion remains inaccessible that remind us why our fight for abortion is not over.”

Shannon Stettner, a historian of women’s health, women’s rights, and media activism in Canada, is one of the organizers of the conference and her panel, Language choices: naming a movement, is another important area of focus. The New York Times recently published a piece about the evolution in terminology used by the women’s rights movement and the progression from using the word “choice” — widely used by activists in the 1960s and 1970s — to the umbrella term “women’s health.”

One of the keynote speakers at the conference, Ricky Solinger, will examine the consequences of associating women’s reproductive rights with the consumerist term “choice” and how the term has structured policies about which women are legitimate mothers and which are excluded or defined as “illegitimate” mothers.

You can view the entire program for the conference online. The papers cover a wide variety of issues that reveal the complexity of women’s experiences through the intersections of race and global policy. The language used in the women’s movement, and the depiction of abortion in literature and popular culture are just some of the other interesting panels taking place.

Following the conference, Active History plans to make the keynote addresses available to readers. The outcomes of the built in discussion periods will also be worked into future posts on the website. Additionally, you can follow the conference twitter handle #abortionpei to stay up to date on developments.