By Michael Swan
The Catholic Register
When a union declares itself pro-choice and tries to shut down debate about the legal status of a fetus, its stand is neither progressive nor representative of its membership, said Toronto pro-life feminist Martha Crean.
The Canadian Auto Workers wrote to Prime Minister Stephen Harper June 7 objecting to any debate in Parliament over the legal definition of a human being, as proposed by Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth’s Motion-312. The nation’s largest private sector union, representing over 200,000 workers, also organized counter protests to denounce a series of anti-abortion protests organized by the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform.
The CAW-led protests backfired in Windsor June 24 when more people showed up for a protest against the CAW position, and Local 444 president Dino Chiodo distanced himself from the official CAW protest by telling the media it had been organized above the heads of Windsor union officials.
“We have a huge membership. And because we have such a big membership and our ideas are so vast and broad, they (CAW) certainly shouldn’t be involved in this arena at all,” Colleen Ferrato told the CBC as she joined the protest against the CAW pro-choice rally. “They need to keep their nose out of it because their membership does not feel this way. We’re outraged and disgusted that our voice is not being heard.”
“In every poll, working class people are more pro-life than non-working class people — every poll ever been taken, United States and Canada,” said Crean. “The leadership may be out of touch, and perhaps knowingly out of touch, with the rank and file.”
But CAW director of women’s programs Julie White claims the CAW has been pro-choice since the early 1980s and its decisions are made democratically by elected representatives.
“We’re a social union. We understand the importance of not just taking care of workplace issues like wages and benefits,” she told The Catholic Register. “Our union believes we have a responsibility to our communities.”
That members would protest against their union’s official position is just a normal expression of the democratic nature of the labour movement, said White.
“It’s like the Catholic Church. I know lots of Catholics who don’t believe in the position of the Catholic Church on it also.”
The assumption by unions that pro-choice is the progressive, feminist position is wrong, Crean said. Early feminists leaders, including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, objected to abortion.
“They were very opposed to it. They saw it as damaging to women. They didn’t feel this was the way to achieve women’s equality,” Crean said.
Crean was once a member of the NDP for Life Caucus, but in the 1980s was pushed out by people who could not accept a leftist pro-life position. But to argue the state has a role in protecting both the unborn and women faced with economic and social pressure to abort can never be a laissez-faire, conservative, right-wing position, she said.
“There was this ideology that there was one way and one way only for people in the women’s movement, people in progressive movements, people in the NDP to be,” said Crean. “It became, in a sense, an oppressive ideology.”
As a supporter of Feminists for Life and the Consistent Life Ethic, Crean finds she can’t be politically progressive without being pro-life.
“This is discrimination against women if we are not mandating that every woman should have all the support she needs to carry that child to term and whatever her choices after that to raise or have others raise the child,” she said. “When you say ‘a right to choose’ what you are abdicating is the responsibility to support.”
As the medical profession becomes concerned about sex-selective abortions, the threat abortion poses to women comes into sharper focus, said Crean.
“The pressure is on (pregnant women). And you double that when you go for pre-natal testing,” she said. “The assumption is that you will do the responsible thing if any anomaly — by definition of those who test — is discovered. And that anomaly in certain communities in Canada may be that the child is female.”