The Many Barriers to Bodily Autonomy

Speakers Discuss Intersections of Colonialism, the Environment and Reproductive Justice

Simone Leibovitch (left), former manager of the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton, N.B., and Hirut Eyob (right), founder of Integrated Lactation Consulting. Photo Elysia-Marie Campbell

Roughly 70 people attended a panel discussion organized by the Centre for Gender Advocacy on Thursday, examining how the issue of reproductive justice relates to colonialism, environmental degradation and other forms of violence.

Iehente Foote, a youth activist and Quebec representative on the National Aboriginal Youth Council on HIV and AIDS from Kahnawake, spoke of alcohol abuse, sexual violence and other social injustices imposed by life on the reserve. Foote emphasized the lack of resources for pregnant women and girls.

She explained that the shaming of pregnant girls, lack of emotional support and cycles of violence on the reserve create an environment where reproductive justice is almost non-existent.

The systematic violence of generations of oppression “just keeps going and going,” Foote said. “Sometimes you don’t feel like there’s anyone who’s there for you, even when you have a family.”

Foote expressed hope for a new generation that is trying to break away from the effects of colonization.

“You can’t kill our voice,” she said of First Nations activism. “We’re being reborn as a nation.”

Hirut Eyob, the founder of Integrated Lactation Consulting, wiped tears from Foote’s eyes.

She spoke of her first pregnancy, during which there was little to no pregnancy support for women of colour. Spurred by her limited options, Eyob set out to bring about change.

She undertook intensive research and started organizing to help women of colour looking for spiritual and physical guidance through their pregnancies. She’s now working as a doula—a nonmedical childbirth assistant—for under-represented women in Montreal.

Eyob is steadfast on diversifying the midwife and doula industries and promoting reproductive justice.

Another speaker, Simone Leibovitch, is the former manager of the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton, N.B. Leibovitch began by discussing the clinic, which was recently shut down.

Its closure has left the province of New Brunswick without any abortion clinics. Prince Edward Island also lacks abortion clinics.

“This is an unjust situation in the provinces of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island that needs to be addressed,” she said.

“Women need to be respected for the choices they make.”

The situation in New Brunswick and P.E.I. has caused various activist groups fighting for reproductive justice to emerge.

The newly elected Liberal premier of New Brunswick has since promised to review the province’s policies on abortion services, providing slivers of hope for reproductive justice activists, Leibovitch said.

This article was last updated February 14, 2015