“Legislated misogyny”

It seems the abortion issue in Canada is still on the front burner for some, even though the surgical procedure has been legal for more than 30 years. Just this month, the Campaign Life Coalition tried to force a vote at the Conservative Party policy convention to throw out the party’s policy pledge not to support legislation to regulate abortion.

Fortunately, that proposal as well as others put forward by Campaign Life did not make it to the virtual floor of the convention, leading Jack Fonseca to say:

“I think our voice is being suppressed . . . They’ve done dirty tricks in the past and we believe this is another one.”

Given that several duly elected federal governments, as well as the Supreme Court of Canada, have long since established that women have the right to determine whether or not to continue with a pregnancy, maybe it’s not so much a case of voices being suppressed or dirty tricks as a matter of political parties and most of the rest of us being ready to consider this a done deal.

Making abortion unthinkable”

Sam Oosterhoff, first elected to the Ontario legislature in 2018 when he was 19 years old, would not agree with me about that. He pledged at an anti-choice rally in 2019 “to make abortion unthinkable in our lifetime.”

That’s quite a commitment coming from someone who will never have to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. Perhaps, instead, he could have pledged to make gender-based violence unthinkable, or poverty, or homelessness, or any of the other social conditions that are among the reasons women face pregnancies they are not in a position to continue.

Last week, Oosterhoff was the speaker at “Gen Z: Challenging abortion in politics; an evening with Sam Oosterhoff.” The event was put on by three Ontario university anti-choice organizations with the backing of the National Campus Life Network, an organization that has equated abortion with the Holocaust.

When challenged, Premier Ford said that he would be “having a conversation” with Oosterhoff, but there is no indication yet about whether that conversation has happened or what was said. Erin O’Toole kicked far-right anti-abortion Conservative MP Derek Sloan out of the caucus when his connections to white supremacists became public earlier this year. Doug Ford should do the same to Oosterhoff.

Then there’s New Brunswick

While it’s not easy for women in many parts of Canada to get an abortion, women in New Brunswick have faced some of the most persistent hurdles. After much opposition, the province permitted Henry Morgentaler to open a free-standing abortion clinic in 1994 but, contrary to the Canada Health Act (CHA), did not cover the cost of abortions performed there. (It also, until 2015, required two doctors to confirm that an abortion was “medically necessary” before a woman could legally have one; another violation of federal law.)

These are blatant violations of the CHA, which says that provinces must pay for all insured health services (which abortion is) whether or not they are performed in a hospital. Nonetheless, it was not until 2019 that the federal government withheld $140,000 in transfer payments; money it later provided anyway, because of the pandemic. In other words, New Brunswick has not paid a price for breaking the law by refusing to cover the costs of abortions performed outside the three hospitals that offer the service.

In 2015, Clinic 554, a family practice that also offers surgical abortion services, opened in the old Morgentaler clinic in Fredericton. It has recently had to close its doors because, without provincial health insurance covering the costs of the abortions performed there, it could not survive. The owner, Dr. Adrian Edgar, who is continuing to provide abortions until the building is sold, said:

“It has never been financially sustainable to provide barrier-free abortions at Clinic 554 without Medicare reimbursement from the province. We remained open all these years through sheer perseverance and due to the charity of individuals from all across Canada.”

In January, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association launched a lawsuit against New Brunswick, noting that successive provincial governments have been “politically and principally opposed to providing barrier-free abortion services.”

Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, the CCLA director of equality programs, says of the lawsuit to strike down the sections of Regulation 84-20 that place non-hospital abortions on the list of non-funded services:

“The province is violating women’s, girls’ and trans people’s fundamental right to make their own choices.”

Too painful to watch

I heard of the film Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always almost a year ago. It tells the fictitious story of a young woman in rural Pennsylvania facing an unwanted pregnancy, laying bare the challenges for those living in jurisdictions where parental consent is required for an abortion. The film had great reviews, but the pandemic meant it didn’t come to movie theatres. When it hit the small screen on Crave, I looked forward to watching it.

I made two tries last week, but only lasted for a total of about 20 minutes. Not because the movie is bad; quite the contrary. It was just too good. Watching Autumn struggle with the confirmation of her pregnancy, her attempts to get helpful information while also hiding her situation from her mother, and her amateurish endeavours to terminate her pregnancy herself transported me back 48 years to my own unexpected teenage pregnancy. I remembered, as though it were happening all over again, the terror I felt when I finally admitted the obvious to myself; the fear as I anticipated telling, first, my boyfriend and, then, my parents; the embarrassment that something this awkward was happening to my body. While my story ended up a happy one, many do not.

I will freely admit that anti-choicers, especially those who are men, make me angrier than pretty much anyone else. I stay away from counter-demonstrations at anti-choice rallies for just that reason. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, my favourite episode of the TV series Blacklist has a gang of women medical professionals working together to impregnate anti-choice men. Scientific improbability aside, this really appeals to my sense of some kind of justice.

People who will never know the terror caused by an unwanted pregnancy should stop thinking that their opinion matters and shut up. Maybe then, the real-life Autumns of the world could get the support and services they deserve to have.

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