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Lecture

SOSC 1350 Lecture Notes - Therapeutic Abortion Committee, Henry Morgentaler, Sexual Sterilization Act Of Alberta


Department
Social Science
Course Code
SOSC 1350
Professor
Julie Dowsett

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March 14, 2012
REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS
PART I
1. The Scope and Nature of Reproductive Rights
When people speak of reproductive rights, they’re usually talking about abortion (a very high
profile issue), however, reproductive rights encompasses more than just abortion
Reproductive rights: legal rights and freedoms relating both reproduction and reproductive
health
Because of women playing a central role within reproduction, feminists have contended that
reproductive rights are women’s rights, but they don’t just encompass woman’s rights, they can
also encompass the human rights of men (i.e., men have been sterilized against their will just as
women have)
Rests on the recognition of the basic rights of people (men and women) to decide freely,
responsibly, and without constraint the number, spacing and timing of their children and have the
information and means to do so (e.g., information about birth control and accessing safe forms of
birth control)
Also encompass the right of everyone to make decisions about their own reproduction free from
discrimination, coercion and violence
Historically speaking, reproductive rights have been conceptualized around 4 of the following
issues
1. The right to access contraception the right to birth control
2. Sterilization the right not to be sterilized against your will or coerced into sterilization
3. Abortion reproductive rights have included the right to a legal and safe abortion, the right
not to have your fetus aborted against your will
4. Health care the right to access quality reproductive health care and the right to education
and access in order to make free and informed decisions about reproductive health
Today, with the advent of new reproductive technology, the range of issues extend far beyond
these 4 issues (i.e., genetic testing, aborting female/disabled fetuses, in vitro fertilization,
surrogacy, newer forms of abortion that are less invasive etc.)
In the contemporary context, there are a number of other issues that would be encompassed by
the term reproductive rights
2. Reproductive Rights and the Eugenics Movement
a. Social Darwinism applied "survival of the fittest" to human social life
Recall: scientific racism and social Darwinism from last term applies Darwin’s theory of
“survival of the fittest” to human social life
The first person to do so was Herbert Spencer (1820-1903)
Social Darwinists like Spencer applied this concept in order to attempt to explain
differences between groups. He and his contemporaries believed that there is a hierarchy
between inferiority and superiority within social groups
Very much related to scientific racism this position held that white Europeans were the
most highly evolved and white European men were the most highly evolved out of all
Europeans
b. Term “eugenics” coined by Francis Galton (1883) to refer to "good breeding"
Disability relates to social Darwinism laws concerning the practices of eugenics
Eugenics” was a termed coined by Galton to refer to “good breeding”

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c. Underpinned by the idea that "likes beget likes"
This theory at the time suggested that likes beget likes there are similar physical
attributes between one and one’s biological parents, and it can also be read to refer to
genetics and genetic disease. In the late 19th century this meant something very different
then today - i.e., prostitutes beget prostitutes this had nothing to do with the larger
social, economic aspects, rather it had everything to do with biology and genetics. If you’re
poor it’s because you have an inferior body, genetically speaking
Women with disabilities were seen as particularly problematic in this eugenics likes beget
likes discourse and disability was often associated with race. People who weren’t white
middle class (i.e., aboriginal people, people of color) were seen as disabled by their
“disingenuous biology”
Social reformers aimed to control these “progressions” of the human race by instituting
policies and legislation that would ensure “fit”(race, class were “good genes) members of
society would procreate (positive eugenics) and those “unfit” (lesser genes because they
were poor or because they were people of color or from Eastern Europe etc.) for
reproduction would not (negative eugenics)
d. "Positive eugenics" versus "negative eugenics"
Social reformers aimed to control these “progressions” of the human race by instituting
policies and legislation that would ensure “fit”(race, class were “good genes) members of
society would procreate (positive eugenics) and those “unfit” (lesser genes because they
were poor or because they were people of color or from Eastern Europe etc.) for
reproduction would not (negative eugenics)
Positive eugenics e.g., attempt in Quebec in increase the birthrates of white catholic
francophones. Over the course of the 20th century, immigration from places like france
declined and immigration from places like Algeria increased and there was this concern
that non-white francophones would take over and there was this need to increase the
white catholic francophone birthrate
Negative eugenics - e.g., Sexual Sterilization Act in Alberta as well as the Sexual Sterilization
Act of B.C (1933)
3. Sterilization in Canadian Law
B.C act was implemented to a lesser degree than the Alberta act
a. Sexual Sterilization Act (Alberta, 1928-1972)
In Alberta and other jurisdiction parallels were made between people and the development
of crops and the breeding of cattle it was seen that if science could determine which crops
and domestic animals were superior, then the same could be done with human race
Canadian eugenicists sought their intellectual inspiration from England and the U.S.
It was considered a “progressive” reform movement that was led and supported by
academics and activists in medicine, public health, social work and other university
institutions, especially biology and psychology
Canadian eugenicists envied the legislative acceptance of colleagues in the U.S. who got
laws through state legislatures that sanctioned sterilization of “defective” people, and
restrict immigration
Outside of B.C and Alberta, eugenicists in Canada never had this kind of legislation
Social engineers world-wide worked to pass laws and create policies that would have the
so-called “feebleminded” confined to institutions and eventually sterilized to prevent the
propagation of these so-called “unfit” members of society
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The first book study of eugenics in Canada was called Our Own Master Race
Women were vastly overrepresented in the sterilization reforms
The probability of sterilization was twice if you were a woman
Studies have demonstrated that the vast majority of cases showed no evidence of a genetic
disorder at all. Standard for “normal” was different for women and men
o Women’s family histories that were marred by promiscuity, flirting, dancing,
potential for sexual indiscretions were often enough grounds for sterilization.
Alberta’s peak for sterilization years happened during the 50s and 60s a time when other
jurisdictions were shamed in determining their eugenics programs as the horrors of
Hitler’s eugenics program were very well known
b. E. (Mrs.) v. Eve (SCC, 1986)
A judgment by the SCC regarding a mother’s request for the consent of court to have her
daughter sterilized (her daughter was, in the language of the 1980s, developmentally
challenged)
This was a landmark case because for the first time in Canadian law it was established that
people had a right not be sterilized against your will her daughter was not consenting
The SCC held that a non-therapeutic sterilization without consent can never be in the best
interest. Despite this, sterilization continues to be pushed amongst people who have
developmental challenges
4. Ableism, Genetic Testing and the AHRA
a. Ableism in pro-choice movement
Prior to landmark court decisions, there was a lot of ableism in the pro-choice movement
b. Able-bodied feminists assumed (correctly) there was a wider base of public support
for allowing a woman to refuse to carry either a rapist's fetus or a so-called
"handicapped" fetus
Feminists often assumed that they on stronger grounds in arguing for abortion in 2
particular situations: 1) when a woman was based 2) when her fetus was likely to be
disabled
Many contemporary feminists have critiqued this. On the one hand they had the ability to
terminate an unwanted pregnancy in the effort to take over her own life, but for many
disabled women, this discovery of a disability will often turn a wanted pregnancy into an
unwanted pregnancy
There is not a lot of support under neoliberalism for disabled children
There’s also this idea in aborting disabled fetuses that a disabled life is not worth living
c. More recent developments in ultrasound and gene research
How does this relate back to eugenics and eugenic screening?
In recent years, developments in ultrasounds and research on genetics that have increased
identifications of abnormalities in the spinal cord, and particular intellectual and physical
disabilities that the fetus will be born with
The fear is that fetuses with disabilities will continue to be aborted
d. Assisted Human Reproduction Act (or AHRA; Canada 2004)
This Act almost encourages that disabilities continue to be aborted
The language is very much about having a healthy baby very much informed by this idea
that a disabled life is not worth living
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