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The Call



Tawnie Olson, composer

Rosemary Brown, text

tawnie olson.jpg


The term “reproductive justice” had not yet been coined in June, 1987, when Rosemary Brown gave a passionate speech opposing a private member’s bill in the House of Commons that would have made abortion illegal in Canada. But as I set her words to music, I found myself thinking more broadly about reproductive issues; not just the people forced to carry pregnancies to term against their will, but also those subjected to involuntary sterilization and forced abortions. And then the question of how well (or poorly) we - as individuals and as a society - provide support to new parents and safe environments in which children can be raised.

Across the globe, people’s “right to control the terms and circumstances of [their] reproduction” seems to be continuously in flux. In every country there are those who press for the preservation or return of laws and policies that force gestation and birth on some and/or limit it for others. As Brown says, we must question why anyone would support these horrifying measures, and how it is that their advocacy sometimes meets with success. Then each of us must decide what we will do about it.

I am very grateful to musica intima and to the SOCAN Foundation for commissioning this piece. I also offer my deepest thanks to UBC Rare Books and Special Collections for giving me legal permission, and to Cleta Brown for giving me moral permission to set these texts to music. (TO, 2023)

from “The Issue is Choice” Speech, July 1987, Toronto, Ontario:

1. We must question our continuing lack of choice, our lack of power and the threat to our right to control the terms and circumstances of our reproduction. [...]

2. There are no euphemisms to describe this attack on our personhood - it really is life threatening and we who celebrate life, life freely given and lovingly nurtured cannot permit - nor afford - to lose this struggle. Too many women have paid too high a price [....]

3. This is a call to all those women who have gone through the doors opened for them by the feminist struggle, [...] A call to all those women who have not until now been part of the liberation struggle - a call to concentrate all of our determination, skills, strength and commitment to forge an unshakeable unbreakable force - to deal with this matter now and forever [...]

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