First in a series of blog posts by playwright Anna Burkholder, recipient of the 2018 More than a Footnote commission for her play The Caravan
Me: It’s May 11th, 2020. A special day.
The voice in my head: Huh? A special day?
Me: Yup, a special day.
The voice in my head: Because we’ve been in self-isolation for almost 2 months?
The voice in my head: Because yesterday was Mother’s Day?
The voice in my head: Because … ?
Me: Because today is the 50th anniversary when 35 bad-ass women closed down Parliament for the first time in Canadian history, fighting for equal and legal abortion access.
OK, OK, OK. I’ll stop with the amateur expository dialogue. I’ve never written a play before, so I’m just trying to get my practice in, you know? And, if someone can teach me how to format dialogue, in the meantime …. and umm… write dialogue…. and ummm, write a play….that’d be great.
OK, OK, OK. Stop procrastinating, Anna. Let’s GET REAL.
50 years ago, 35 women entered Parliament in Ottawa and chained themselves to the gallery, demanding for a reform in the Canadian abortion law. At the same time, a decoy protest, with hundreds of women, erupted on Parliament Hill.
Their voices were not heard. Trudeau ignored them. The Health Minister ignored them.
30 years ago, the reform finally happened and abortion was fully legal in Canada.
It was a fight of 20 years.
….And the fight continues.
Tonight, as I’m reflecting on this, I am scared.
The women of the 1970 Abortion Caravan paved the way and I’m worried that their story is not widely known, or celebrated. If more people knew their story, would it elevate the Canadians who are still fighting for reproductive justice today?
50 years later, Canadian women still do not have equal abortion access. Voices are silenced. Even though abortion is legal in Canada, equal access does not exist between provinces and territories. Atlantic provinces, rural and Northern communities face barriers in accessing abortion. Sterilization continues for Indigenous women. Clinic 554 in Fredericton is at risk of closure and transgender and LGTBQ2S+ folks have to navigate non-inclusive medical spaces and language. Now that we are in a pandemic, how will providers continue to perform abortions? Are pharmacies truly stocking mifegymiso (the abortion pill), as they should be?
Not only am I scared for Canadian women, I’m scared for reproductive rights in the USA and around the globe.
It’s been 50 years. Why is there still abortion stigma? One in four women will have at least one abortion in their lifetime and yet their abortion stories are continually silenced. Women’s access to sexual education, reproductive rights and stigma-free medical care is not just a feminist issue; it is a societal issue.
Today is a special day. A sad day. A scary day. But, I feel hopeful.
The voice in my head: Hopeful? Why? Anna, you’re making this sound dire.
Me: There are amazing organizations and women who are making a difference, fighting for reproductive justice: Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC), ACTION Canada and the National Abortion Federation.
The voice in my head: Why not leave the work to them? They sound waayyyyyyy more legit than you.
Me: They are legit. Way more legit than me. And much more well-versed in Canadian abortion issues than I am. It’s scary how little I truly know. But, what scares me more is that the general public may know even less I do. And reproductive justice and ending abortion stigma requires an entire shift in the public. As many people as possible need to be on board to make changes.
The voice in my head: Choo Choo. I’m on board. And maybe, hey, you should write a play. So, you know, more people can also get on board?
Me: On it.
The in my head: Turn off Netflix.
The in my head: Turn off Netflix.
The in my head: Don’t make me turn it off for you.
Me: It’s research.
The voice in my head: Love is Blind is not research.
….don’t worry I will end this seemingly charming dialogue. But, you know, just gotta get in that dialogue practice. (Please, someone teach me about dialogue!)