Abortion is a deeply personal medical decision. Taking that decision out of a woman’s hands is a severe and discriminatory incursion into her personal autonomy.
We are in Ottawa at the Supreme Court of Canada this week to argue that a law school doesn’t have a right to take that choice away from women, just as it doesn’t have a right to determine with whom its prospective students and staff have sexual relationships.
The case of Trinity Western University (TWU) concerns law society accreditation of a proposed law school at TWU, an evangelical Christian university located in BC. The school requires students and employees to sign a Community Covenant prohibiting abortion and sex outside of heterosexual marriage before admission and hiring. Students, faculty, and staff who are found to be in violation of the terms of the Covenant may face serious consequences, including expulsion from the university. The Law Society’s decision not to accredit the law school rested solely on the requirement to sign the Covenant, rather than the religious affiliation or pedagogy of the school.
West Coast LEAF will argue – as it did before the BC Supreme Court in 2015 and the BC Court of Appeal in 2016 – that, along with discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, which is contrary to the Charter, the Community Covenant also discriminates on the basis of sex and marital status.
We say that that Law Society of BC – the body empowered by government to ensure a diverse and inclusive legal profession – couldn’t legally accredit a law school that discriminates in its admissions and hiring practices. Canadian institutions that educate future lawyers and judges must respect fundamental equality rights enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Any woman who is unwilling to relinquish her reproductive rights, or any person who believes in reproductive choice for women, will not have access to TWU as signing the Covenant would be antithetical to their beliefs. Further, any woman who has an unwanted pregnancy while attending TWU will face an unconscionable restriction on her autonomy in having to continue with that pregnancy or face expulsion or other discriminatory sanction for accessing legal abortion services. For unmarried women, the repercussions of this decision may be compounded, given the Covenant’s restriction of sex outside of marriage.
TWU is seeking accreditation for a law school that would engage in discriminatory admissions practices. This would be a first – no other law school in Canada prohibits admission on discriminatory criteria. The Law Society is bound to comply with the Charter in its own decision-making, particularly in respect of the maintenance of a diverse and inclusive legal profession.
Discrimination in the law profession is unacceptable. We are proud to speak out in our nation’s highest court to fight for equal access to legal education for people of all genders, sexual orientations, and marital statuses. Equality lifts all people.