CNS photo/Leah Millis, Reuters

One woman crusade has outsized influence on federal government

  • January 23, 2024

Joyce Arthur and her Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC) convinced the Trudeau government to kick pro-life organizations out of the Canada Summer Jobs program seven years ago.

Now, the British Columbia atheist-humanist is pressing to open MAiD eligibility further — and do away with “paternalistic, unethical” faith-based health care.

Arthur’s ARCC is a small non-profit with a staff of seven and about 400 members. Yet  it punches above its weight class when it comes to wielding clout on government policy for so-called reproductive rights.

In an Oct. 25, 2023 submission to the Commons human resources committee examining CSJ funding eligibility, Arthur argues that existing requirements she successfully lobbied for in 2017 as ARCC’s founder and executive director should not only be retained but extended.

The original requirements excluded any organization that would not attest that its “core mandate” respected “reproductive rights.” The attestation was removed from the application the following year. CSJ funding is still dependent, however, on demonstrating that no jobs or activities “actively work to undermine or restrict a woman’s access to sexual and reproductive health services” or “engage in activities that directly or indirectly infringe, undermine, weaken or restrict the exercise of rights legally protected in Canada.” Abortion has never been declared a constitutional right in Canada.

Arthur says in her submission to the Commons committee that “the change to eligibility has been working very well as far as we can tell. CSJ funds to anti-abortion and other anti-human rights groups have virtually stopped since 2017.”

“My understanding is that the change put in place in December 2018 still has the same basic effect as the original attestation,” she adds.

She argues the pro-choice requirement should apply to not only individual jobs or activities but to entire organizations.

“When groups have a main focus on opposing human rights, funding them would contradict and even harm the government’s obligation to ensure equality,” Arthur writes. “Regardless of the Canada Summer job, even if it is to mow the lawn, that work gives sustenance to the group’s harmful mandate and activities.”

Arthur also moves beyond support for “reproductive rights” to a longer list of “rights.”

“Rights include not just reproductive rights but also LGBTQ rights, racial equality, the right to medical assistance in dying and any other fundamental right protected under our Charter and human rights codes.”

One “fundamental right” or, in the words of the Charter, “essential freedom” that Arthur and her organization has fought are religious and conscience rights.

Arthur has spent much of her energy as an abortion advocate focused on attacking the notion of conscientious objection, particularly in health care. The website Academia lists 13 articles about conscientious objection she has authored or co-authored. 

In a 2017 article “Conscientious Objection in Reproductive Healthcare is Immoral and Should Be Abolished,” Arthur wrote that the “majority of so-called “conscientious objection” is exercised today in reproductive health care and is not really about protecting the right to conscience. It’s about a person in a privileged position of authority (there by choice) imposing their personal beliefs on a vulnerable other in a dependent position (not there by choice).” 

In recent years, Arthur has aligned her pro-choice advocacy efforts with pro-euthanasia lobby groups including Dying with Dignity Canada. In December 2023, ARCC announced that it, along with Dying with Dignity, was a partner in a University of Ottawa study “gathering experiences on belief-based denial of Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD).” Arthur is listed as media contact for the study along with Helen Long, executive director of Dying with Dignity Canada.

In their 2023 activities account, ARCC reported “We began three new research projects through PBSC in 2023, with three UNB law students. Topics are: charitable tax status of anti-choice groups, the Canada Health Act and reproductive healthcare, and allowable limits on freedom of expression.”

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