Since the announcement yesterday that the Morgentaler abortion clinic in Fredericton will be closing in July, many New Brunswickers have eloquently expressed why this is unacceptable, and why our government needs to stand up and change the status quo. I don’t have much to say that hasn’t already been said by people who are more active and knowledgeable about this issue than me, but I like the idea of filling as much space as possible with information about this total fucking travesty so I’m going to take a moment to add my piece to the conversation.
Just to go back in time for an extremely brief history lesson, 26 years ago a Supreme Court of Canada ruling decriminalized abortion in this country. The ruling states that legal restrictions on abortion are in violation of a woman’s charter rights. But here we are, 26 years later, and New Brunswickers still face ALL KINDS of restrictions when it comes to obtaining this basic medical procedure.
Up to now, there have been two ways for New Brunswick women to obtain an abortion. The first option is to find two doctors willing to deem the procedure “medically necessary.” This is a really weird, really stupid, really subjective phrase, and it’s never even been properly defined – it’s just a thing that exists in Regulation 84-20 of New Brunswick’s Medical Services Payment act that basically makes it impossible for a woman to access an abortion covered by provincial healthcare unless she can find two doctors who will say it’s OK.
So, step one: find two, pro-choice doctors. Keep in mind that more than 60,000 people in New Brunswick don’t have a family doctor. If you are lucky enough to have one, you’d better hope he or she is pro-choice, because otherwise you’re starting from square one. But let’s say you find two doctors willing to put in writing that an abortion is “medically necessary.” Next step is to go on a waiting list to have the procedure done in either Moncton or Bathurst. While abortions are a simple, routine procedure that can be performed by a family physician, in New Brunswick they must be performed by a specialist in a hospital setting.
The other option (until July) is to go to the Morgentaler clinic in Fredericton, which is a private clinic that provides abortions at a cost of $700-850. These costs must be paid out of pocket – the fee is not covered by Medicare and the government offers no reimbursement. Women who don’t live in the city must also, of course, find a way to get to Fredericton. The clinic ALSO serves women living on Prince Edward Island, where abortions are not performed at all.
It was just revealed yesterday that Henry Morgentaler, an advocate for reproductive rights who died just last year, refused to turn any woman away from his clinic, even if she was unable to afford the $700-plus fee. This means that, over the years, the clinic spent more than $100,000 to pay for pro-bono abortions. Between that and the fact that Morgentaler had to spend an additional $100,000 repairing the clinic due to flood damage in 2008, the clinic can no longer afford to continue operating. Of course, this facility doesn’t receive any government funding as it is in violation of total and complete bullshit Regulation 84-20.
So, just to recap, although we live in a country where abortion is legal, even after making the difficult choice to have an abortion, New Brunswick women must spend massive amounts of time, energy and money in order to get the procedure. And of course, the people who are really affected by this total fucking nightmare are the people who are the most disadvantaged in the first place, people who don’t have the funds or the time or the education or the resources to navigate this impossible system. Those are the people that suffer, and they’re the ones who will be most affected by the closure of the Morgentaler clinic.
I’ve heard a lot of incredibly brave statements from a lot of strong people over the past couple of days, and I’ve also seen a lot of misinformed comments. I don’t see much of a point in debating the anti-choicers, but there are a couple of lines of thinking that are so dangerously ignorant that I feel like I have to at least try to address them.
First, there are the people who are cheering on the closure of the clinic because they believe it will lead to a decrease in abortions. This is completely and totally incorrect. The closure of the clinic will lead to a decrease in SAFE abortions, that’s true. But through the history of civilization, women who don’t want a baby have found ways to, in fact, not have it. Whether abortion is legal or not, they’ll find a way to terminate their pregnancy. Women are going to be injured, and they’re going to die, but the actual abortion rate will not be reduced.
The other comment I’ve seen a few times is that changing the regulations is a bad idea because of the exorbitant cost of abortions. Many people seem to operate under the belief that, when provided with safe and affordable abortions, women will choose to use them as birth control. I do not believe that anyone WANTS to use abortion as birth control. But at the same time, women have the right to have two or three or four or more abortions, just as they have the right to have as many children as they want and it isn’t anyone else’s goddamn business. I have to wonder if people realize how much more money it costs taxpayers to support an unwanted child throughout his or her life compared with the cost of a one-time procedure. Spoiler alert: a lot fucking more.
Our Conservative government, led by David Alward, has no interest in repealing 84-20, as they pointed out in a super helpful statement yesterday noting that women can access abortion with the approval of two physicians. The Liberals aren’t much better – they’ve never attempted to introduce changes while in power, and the most Liberal leader Brian Gallant was willing to say yesterday was that he is personally pro-choice, and he would like to see an independent review of access to abortion in the province. Only NDP leader Dominic Cardy and Green Party leader David Coon spoke up in favour of repealing the regulation.
Here is the thing: we don’t need a review to know that women struggle to access abortion in this province, and common sense tells us it’s about to get a whole lot harder. The other salient point is that I don’t give a fuck what a politician’s personal thoughts and feelings are about this topic; I just care that he or she upholds the FUCKING LAW. Once again: ACCORDING TO THE SUPREME COURT OF FUCKING CANADA, LEGAL RESTRICTIONS ON ABORTION ARE IN VIOLATION OF A WOMAN’S CHARTER RIGHTS. Forcing women to jump through hoops in order to obtain a SAFE, LEGAL ABORTION is violating our charter rights. I don’t give a fuck if abortions make people uncomfortable, and I don’t care what their beliefs are; the option has to be available and it has to be accessible.
Do you know what makes me uncomfortable? The idea of women being forced to have children they don’t want. I don’t care why they don’t want them. Maybe they can’t afford to, maybe they’re in a terrible relationship, maybe their birth control failed, maybe they were raped, maybe they’re too young, maybe they just don’t want kids. I don’t care, any reason is a good reason, and I will always care about the lives of women over the lives of unborn fetuses.
Obviously I’m really angry about this. I’m not passionate about very many things, but I am extremely passionate about this, although I can’t believe this is something that’s actually happening in Canada in 2014. I’ve already written to my MLA, I plan to write to my MP, I’ve signed this petition and I’ll be at this rally next Thursday. I’m also tweeting using the hashtag #NBProchoice. Will any of it end up making a difference? I have no idea, but I could never forgive myself if I didn’t at least try to improve the situation. If you agree with what I’m saying, it would be awesome if you did some of these things too. This is quite literally a fight for the lives of New Brunswick women, and I have to believe that every little bit counts.