Friday, December 10, 2010

Things You Think Are Choice, But They Aren't

Always good to see major media sources focusing on problems with access to reproductive health care, as in this CBC piece on the lack of abortion services on PEI. I'm even more pleasantly surprised than usual, because this isn't just another filler issue on "abortion is legal but there's still lots of hurdles, etc. etc." but actually spotlights a problem that even some pro-choice people don't know about: there are NO ABORTION SERVICES AT ALL on PEI. Not a one.

It also touches on the complexity of the issue: the "choice" between travelling to Halifax to have a government-funded abortion, or travelling to Fredericton to have the guaranteed confidentiality of a Morgentaler Clinic abortion, costing the woman $600 - $800. Of course, neither is an option to women who, for whatever reason, are unable to make either trip. But assuming travel was not a problem, it still isn't a choice and there are a lot of class issues here: either you get privacy, or a free abortion. Only women with $600 to spare are allowed to have privacy. That's fucked. The right to privacy is one of the foundations of the decision to decriminalize abortion in this country. All three provinces in this case (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island) are essentially spitting on R. v. Morgentaler by making their own judgements on who can and can't access abortion, and how and where and when and by whom. This is not choice.

I know that of these two non-options, many women choose privacy despite the cost. When I worked at the clinic in Fredericton there were not many clinic days when we didn't see one or two women from PEI. Our appointments were all in the morning, before 10am, so most of these women and their partners had woken up at some ungodly hour to drive for four or five hours, or stayed overnight at their own expense the night before, only to make the drive back afterwards. Depending on your own life experience and privilege (or lack thereof), this might not seem like such a hardship, but it really should not be a reality in a country fully capable of funding abortion providers in every province. Even one doctor providing abortions one day a week on PEI would make a world of difference.

So there are a lot of issues here: class (definitely), regional disparity, lack of abortion training in medical schools, lack of incentive to be any kind of doctor in the maritime provinces (the ol' "brain drain"), degree equivalency for new Canadians, race, and of course gender. Of course of course. Stephen Harper does not care about women; nor, I guarantee you, do the premiers of the three provinces in question - at least, not as much as they care about votes, the retention of power, and their own ridiculous careers.

In some ways, abortion's decriminalization in this country is a curse, in that it makes us think the work is done. Well, it isn't done. Not by a long shot. Just ask the women of PEI.

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