Affirming the right to make a hard choice
Birth mother’s lack of choices both saddens and inspires MLA
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This article was published 01/08/2022 (304 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It was with both sadness and relief that a young Lisa Naylor learned her birth mother would have chosen abortion had it been an option while she was pregnant with her 56 years ago.
Comfort came with knowing her biological mom — who agreed to put her daughter up for adoption in 1965 after becoming pregnant as a teenager — supported abortion and the reproductive rights movement, a cause fiercely championed by the former Toronto-based Morgentaler abortion clinic volunteer who is an NDP MLA.
The hurt, however, came with knowing her mother never had that choice.
“She didn’t want to be pregnant. She was a child,” the Wolseley MLA said in a recent interview with the Free Press, recalling a formative conversation with her birth mother nearly 30 years ago.
Naylor was adopted and raised by a loving family in Essex County in southern Ontario. Growing up, she knew she was adopted and would one day seek out her birth mother. And, at 21 years old, she was able to track down her mother, who lived just 30 minutes away from her childhood home.
The two accepted each other without judgment but didn’t talk politics, the NDP MLA said, adding they held opposing political views. It wasn’t until about a decade later that Naylor finally broached the subject of abortion and asked outright whether her mother would have terminated her pregnancy, to which she said yes.
However, abortion was neither safe nor accessible at the time her mother was pregnant, Naylor said, and unmarried women of all ages faced intense pressure to bring a pregnancy to term and then put their child up for adoption.
“It was never on the radar. Her choices were to mother or to place her child for someone else to mother,” Naylor said. “I also felt very sad for her that she didn’t have that choice and I’ve never felt anything but. I’ve never had a moment of like ‘Oh, thank goodness I’m here.’”
“It added to my belief in choice.”
Following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that overturned Roe v. Wade and cascading bans and threats to abortion south of the border, Naylor said her birth mother’s story serves as motivation in her continued fight to guarantee abortion access in Manitoba.
Amid the renewed discourse on reproductive rights, suggesting a so-called key question in the abortion debate — namely when life begins — has been overlooked is disingenuous and a distraction, she said.
By sharing her perspective on abortion as a person whose mother would have opted for the medical procedure decades ago, Naylor said she wants the right for pregnant people to maintain bodily autonomy to remain at the forefront of the public dialogue.
“To me, a life that isn’t viable outside of another person’s body, it is still up to that person whether they’re going to allow that life to be viable,” Naylor said. “Of course I’m glad I’m here, but my life isn’t more important than my birth mother’s life.”
The Progressive Conservative government could do more to show “a true respect and a defence of the rights to reproductive health,” Naylor said, noting past health ministers have spoken at anti-choice rallies or deferred questions about abortion care to the minister for the status of women.
“It’s perception but to me, it’s also a threat of what could happen,” Naylor said.
The MLA said the government could begin by passing justice critic Nahanni Fontaine’s private member’s bill to establish protest buffer zones around abortion clinics.
“It’s very important that lawmakers provincially and federally continue to protect abortion as a right and as part of our healthcare system,” Naylor said. “It needs to always remain as part of our healthcare system and be protected in that way.”
The Progressive Conservatives have stated there will be no change to abortion services in Manitoba.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.