Early in April, two of our staff had the honour of presenting as witnesses at the committee hearings for Bill C-243. Bill C-243 is a private member’s bill calling for a review of Canada’s national maternity benefits strategy. The Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities heard from both Alicia and Anna as mothers who care deeply about women having the opportunity and option to stay home with their children.
Speaking at these hearings allowed us not only to speak for ourselves as mothers, but also to raise issues that affect many more Canadian women. As Anna cited in her presentation, Statistics Canada reported in 2009 that 40% of new parents could not afford to take maternity leave, and, of those who did, 81% would have stayed home for longer than they did if they felt it was financially possible.
Of course, these statistics only apply to those who chose to continue their pregnancies. Anna also noted the 100,000+ babies lost to abortion each year in Canada, for whom maternity leave could never be applied. The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada reports that finances are a main reason women choose abortion. AbortioninCanada.ca states that at least 20% of women choosing abortion cite finances as their #1 reason for doing so. This means at least 20,000 pre-born babies are sacrificed annually for primarily financial reasons. No doubt countless others look at the maternity leave options available and choose not to get pregnant in the first place.
All of this points to the pressing need to evaluate and update Canada’s maternity benefit strategy. It needs to support women both in the workforce and in the home by ensuring financial stability during and after pregnancy.
Melodie Ballard, who inspired Bill C-243, did not choose abortion, and both she and her son suffered for it. Ms. Ballard was just starting a career in welding when she became pregnant and her doctor advised her to stop working in her current position. Her employer was not able to transfer her into another position, so she ended up on sick leave very early in her pregnancy. She was not sick, but Service Canada did not know how else to classify her. On sick leave, she was unable to work without being penalized. When she later found out she could only take maternity leave 8 weeks prior to her child’s birth (this has since been increased to 15 weeks), she ended up with an income gap that led to her losing her apartment and having to move more than 10 times during her pregnancy and in the first two years of her baby’s life.
This is an articulate, hard-working young woman who crashed from a full-time job to near-homelessness in the span of a year because our maternity benefits system did not know how to deal with her. This is a situation that would never, ever happen to a man. It should never happen to a woman either. We put so much talk and money into abortion access, yet we do not have proper supports in place for women who want to choose motherhood.
Much discussion was had by the committee regarding the need for maternity benefits to be adaptable for each woman’s needs. This customised approach would mean women do not slip through the cracks, as Melodie Ballard did. Alicia spoke to the committee about adding the option to apply for child benefits sooner, to prevent the two- to three-month gap that occurs when you apply after your baby’s birth. Anna spoke of the need for a health benefit plan for women who do not have access to one elsewhere. This would cover prescription costs for both mother and child to ensure the best possible care is received during and after pregnancy. Both also spoke about the cultural value of motherhood, and how a national benefits strategy can enhance or demean that value.
Ms. Ballard speaks of motherhood as her top priority. She has bravely found ways to build a life for her son that includes her, even as her poverty deepens and the stress takes a toll on her mental health. Having a child, though, should not be a choice between poverty and stability, or a choice between career and no career. Motherhood is a career choice in and of itself. We need to allow women to make that choice without stigma, and without fear of the financial repercussions.
Bill C-243 is an excellent opportunity to evaluate how we can support women who want to choose motherhood but feel unable to for financial reasons. It is a bill that every pro-life individual should wholeheartedly support, as pro-life goes beyond life in the womb. We want women to thrive in pregnancy as well as in motherhood, and support any effort to build a society that allows that.