A POTENT Mix of Issues

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On June 18 of this year, the "G" case went before the Supreme Court of Canada, once again sparking debates about fetal rights and women's rights, and pointing to the serious lack of gender-sensitive treatment programs for women with addictions, especially for pregnant women and mothers.

The decision that comes down could fundamentally change Canadian law, with serious -- perhaps even disastrous -- consequences for the women of this country.

The question before the court is whether the state has the right to force pregnant substance users into treatment programs. If the court agrees that it does -- declaring that a woman legally owes a "duty of care" to her fetus -- the door could be opened to a wide range of actions to control the behaviour of expectant women.

Chances are good that this power would be used most harshly against the poorest and most marginalized women among us. But giving legal rights to the fetus, something that the Supreme Court has avoided doing so far, could also result in a battle to expand those rights in a way that has the potential to curtail the reproductive freedom of all women. If that happens, women's hard-won access to abortion could be seriously jeopardized.

To protect women's right to autonomy, a strong campaign was mounted by health care providers, community groups and researchers to convince the court, and the public, that legal force is the wrong way to handle this complex social problem.

The "G" case shows us that the ultimate solution lies, not in punishing society's victims further, but in redressing societal inequities and strengthening our system of social supports.

To find out more about the potent mix of controversial issues raised by this case, and their implications, read our Special Report on Women, Substance Use and Reproduction.