Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Boiling Over

This week so far has been like a strange dream that I have floated through. The decision out of Ferguson did not surprise me but it stunned me, and ever since I have been detached and numb. It can't help that I had my IUD removed (more on that in another post!), had a flu shot, went to the Ferguson solidarity rally here in Toronto and screamed my frustration and anger and hopelessness into the cold air. And now this announcement - the newly-elected New Brunswick Liberals have taken a baby step towards improving access to abortion in NB by getting rid of the infamous "two doctor rule". What does this mean?

First, you might wonder why I write on the blog so infrequently these days. I have my reasons, but mostly the frustration of being outside of New Brunswick - but still caring very much what happens there - has made me somewhat cynical. And when I offer my input, being treated as a "from away" who doesn't understand the issues has made me somewhat bitter. Typical Fredericton, of course (love ya New Brunny!). Not entirely unjustified. But still, there it is.

I want to be as hopeful and idealistic as I always was, and failing that, I want to keep my cynicism off this blog. Its home is in my weekly calls with my mum, where we indulge in it together as family tradition dictates.

So anyway, this is big news, and full credit should go to the hardworking activists who have been pushing for years/decades - yes, including me; I may have come from away and left again but I did work hard and still do - and not to the ultimately cynical (glass houses I know) Liberal Party, who did this out of strategy and practicality and nothing more, which, fine, that's how politics works. Let's just try not to pretend it's anything it ain't.

And of course there's more to do, as wisely pointed out in the RJNB press release. This means nothing without more doctors - the two that have been performing abortions in hospitals have been turning people away since they started because the demand is simply too high. And the "only in a hospital" rule needs to go. The Liberals are being dicks even as they give us a victory, blindsiding us with the announcement to elicit the outpouring of unexamined gratitude. Well fuck that. The response is, as it should be, "Thanks - finally! Now what about the rest?"

The words "the system isn't broken, it was built this way" have been echoing through my head since last night at the rally. Here is yet another example. Failing tearing down the whole system, each piecemeal improvement has to be relentlessly fought for, and even then, who does it help? Those on the margins, the rural, poor and the racialized, can no more get to one of the two hospitals than they could to the clinic. For many New Brunswickers those hospitals may as well be on the moon.

A system couldn't be built to be impenetrable, so it had to be built in such a way that each small change, each tiny capitulation, needed to be ripped and squeezed over lifetimes, on the backs of those with the heaviest burdens.

Anyway, I am still angry.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Vasectomies for some, miniature Canadian flags for others!

Do yourself a favour and go read this excellent piece by Leigha Ariana at the Toast, about how a woman named Norma Ellen Verwey trolled the entire country by proposing mandatory vasectomies to the Royal Commission on the Status of women. An important part of our history.

Everything, according to Norma, went exactly as she’d hoped. After being called onto talk show after talk show – “as expected, the moderators who contacted me were either impolite, chauvinistic and sarcastic, or patronising and full of good-humoured male upmanship,” she writes – she eventually got more than one medical doctor to call in, amidst the vulgar phone calls and personal attacks aplenty, to admit that, even in 1968, vasectomies had 60-70% reversibility. Some men phoned in to admit they’d had a vasectomy, and that they were happier for it, while others phoned in to express a wish to get a vasectomy; and soon, the conversation about vasectomies began to change. 
By the end of it, she says, no matter what else you wanted to say about it, “No listener in the Vancouver area, male or female, could claim that they had never heard of reversible vasectomy.” 
So please, never forget, if you are Canadian or even if you are not, this courageous woman who almost single-handedly changed the landscape of the Canadian birth control story with what began as a social experiment. She endured a great deal of ridicule in order to give this gift to us; the threatening phone calls did not end, though she received several in her support as well, and she was a topic in the papers for years to come.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

National Day of Action for Access - September 20, 2014

The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC-CDAC) is hosting a National Day of Action this Saturday - come on out if there is an event in your city! If not, I highly recommend you get in touch with ARCC or with RJNB for tips on how you can help in the battle for abortion access in the Maritimes.

The Toronto event will be featuring a speech by yours truly! (Exciting, I know). Here is the ARCC release in full:

Reproductive Justice Rallies Across the Country: Sep 20

National Day of Action in Solidarity with New Brunswick and PEI: Equal Access Now! 

NATIONAL – Reproductive justice activists across the country will be rallying this Saturday
September 20 to stand in solidarity with the citizens of New Brunswick and PEI, who lack
access to abortion. The former Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton was forced to close in July for
financial reasons, because the provincial government had refused to fund it for 20 years in
violation of federal law and Supreme Court precedent. The province continues to refuse to
improve access, even though many women are now being forced to travel out of province.

In Prince Edward Island, Health PEI blocked the application of three doctors willing to provide
abortions at the Charlottetown hospital, saying "it was not in line with current government
policies." But the PEI government does not have a policy on abortion, or any other excuse. The
proposal was cost-neutral, and lack of a provider has been the only barrier to providing services

Across Canada, especially in northern, rural, conservative, and low-income areas, there is often
a lack of access to basic sexual and reproductive health services (SRH) and information.
The most vulnerable usually pay the highest price, including youth, LGBTQ people, Aboriginals,
refugees, racialized communities, people with disabilities or health issues, and those of low
income. To achieve equality and justice, women and marginalized communities in NB, PEI, and
across Canada are demanding recognition of their rights, and Equal Access Now to services.
Reproductive justice includes a range of issues that are integral to equality for all, including not
just access to SRH services, but also affordable childcare, pay equity, housing, stopping
violence against women, defeating racism and colonialism, and transgender people’s right to
non-discriminatory access to healthcare and employment. Saturday’s rallies will feature
speakers on many of these issues.

Rally Information

Halifax: Equal Access Now Event--National Day of Action. 1pm, Victoria Park.

New Brunswick: National Day of Action: Equal Access Now / Journée nationale d’action :
Pour l’équité, dès maintenant.

• Rothesay: Rally, 9-10am, look for our red banner on Hampton Rd.
• Sackville: 12:30pm, Fall Fair Parade (starting from 165 Main Street)
• Fredericton: Photo booth at Farmers Market Boyce (8 am to 13 pm)

Charlottetown: Rally for Abortion Access at Province House. Noon, Province House.

Montréal: Journée nationale d’action : La justice reproductive : Pour l’équité, dès maintenant.
2-4pm, Place Émilie-Gamelin.

Toronto: Rally & March, Reproductive Justice: EQUAL ACCESS NOW! 11am. Lake Devo,
Ryerson U. (corner of Victoria and Gould Streets).

Vancouver: Reproductive Justice Solidarity Rally. Noon, Thornton Park, 1166 Main Street.

Resources and Further Info:

National Day of Action Facebook page:
Reproductive Justice New Brunswick website:
Abortion Access in New Brunswick (ARCC):

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Sex & Health: All about abortion

FYI, Fédération du Québec pour le planning des naissances (FQPN) has produced this new card game(!) called Sex & Health: All about abortion. From the description:

"A very handy tool comprised of 52 questions/answers about abortion and abortion access in Canada. Ideal to stimulate a group discussion, spread some knowledge end refresh memories! 
How to recognize a crisis pregnancy centre? Is it necessary to obtain the consent of one's sexual partner(s) before having an abortion? Do all women have free access to abortion in Canada? Who is Chantal Daigle?"

It's available on the FQPN website for $10 ($15 with shipping) and also comes in an accessible format. Order it!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Without Access there is No Choice

On September 20th, ARCC is hosting a National Day of Action on Reproductive Justice, the theme being Equal Access Now! Check out the Facebook event here for details.

Something that is often missed in the mainstream pro-choice movement is the fact that abortion being legal does not make it accessible - and the same goes for other reproductive and sexual health care. Stigma, accessible facilities, a strong support network, a solid financial situation, relationship status, systemic oppression - these are all factors in the accessibility of reproductive health care.

At the recent Abortion: The Unfinished Revolution conference in PEI, many of the international delegates were shocked to find that Canada was not the abortion haven they had all pictured, this free and easy abortions-on-demand paradise of reproductive justice. Just because there is no abortion law does not make things rosy for Canadians looking to exercise their rights over their bodies. Check out this video from PEI Pro-choice:

And for more info on how a lack of access affects our ability to "choose" our pregnancy outcomes, check out this paper: Travel and Access to Abortion.

Join us on September 20 - and check out ARCC's new page on abortion access in New Brunswick for more info on how you can help. RJNB also has the latest on their campaign to repeal the restrictions on abortion there.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Contraceptives of the Future!

I know this is kind of old news, but a friend of mine sent me this story and I've been meaning to blog about it for weeks.

Future contraceptives will let women remote-control their fertility

The gist is that the Gates Foundation is backing a biotech company specifically to design and build a contraceptive device straight out of science fiction. Here's the scoop:

MicroCHIPS has been testing the "intelligent drug delivery system" with osteoporosis patients who would otherwise require a daily barrage of injections. Bill-and-Melinda Gates and MIT's Robert Langer, however, believe that the technology could solve the family planning crisis that exists in the world's poorest countries. Reservoirs of levonogestrel, a contraceptive hormone would be kept inside the 1.5cm device, and could be activated and deactivated at the whims of the user with some sort of wireless device. 

So - that's a thing. Here are my thoughts.

1. I love that the Gates Foundation is just quietly on the forefront of every new BC technology lately (so it seems, anyway) - and more often than not, it's not just a birth control/family planning focus but a real bodily autonomy concern - of marginalized bodies - that is their motivation. Like I really am into the Gates Foundation in a big way.

2. Hippie granola concern: having a drug dispenser inside of me for 16 years doesn't really appeal to me, but I guess it's not really me that it would be targeted at. I just feel like we should be moving away from long-term drug-based contraceptives because we don't really know yet all the ways it fucks up our bodies and the environment. It worries me that people are on hormonal birth control from 14 to 44, only stopping to have a couple kids.

3. Security seems like a really big hurdle to get over with this - how are they going to ensure that it can't be screwed with? It's one thing to poke a hole in a condom, or replace a pill with a sugar pill; it's another thing to control the drugs being pumped into someone's bloodstream. This could be a suuuuuuuper easy way to kill someone and get away with it.

4. I would love to see less focus on the fancy technology of birth control and more on simpler ways of making it available and accessible to people and educating folks about their options. I feel like that's the greater need. Like I could see this being great for Western middle-class women, but if you're in a position where birth control is societally condemned and/or not available, this won't really help that much.

Mostly I'm all about concerns #3 and #4. I do applaud the Gates Foundation for being forward-thinking and all, but I feel like they need to back up a few steps and find a more productive way to use all that money. Let's assess the real problem vis-a-vis contraceptives in the world right now: the technology is not the problem. Inequality is the problem - unequal access, a lack of education, and oppressive systems that keep people from determining what they want for their bodies, and being informed enough - and free enough - to ask for that. I am oversimplifying it but there you are.

Thoughts? Is this something you would use (once they figure out the glaring security issue)?

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Call Out to Public Abortion Storytellers

Signal boost for the Sea Change Program - if you are a public abortion storyteller (or know someone who is), read on:

Hi Friends, 
I'm writing you to announce an exciting new project that I am working on with The Sea Change Program! 
As you may know, I have been sharing my abortion story publicly for several years. This experience has brought great joy, a feeling of empowerment, and connection to other people who have had abortions across the country - especially other storytellers. While this has been wonderful, it also brings harassment, both online and off, threats of violence, and thus has highlighted the missing pieces of support for abortion storytellers in our movement. 
To ensure that storytellers are truly supported, I am conducting a survey and interviews with public abortion storytellers to look at what support systems have been working for them, and what we as a movement could do better to ensure their needs are met. 
To that end, I am asking you to complete this survey, if you're a public abortion storyteller, and forward it to any and all people who previously and currently share their abortion story in public forums including: journalism, media, video, workshops and panels, nonprofit advocacy campaigns, lobby visits, and interviews. I want to hear about all the best (and worst) practices so we can crowdsource a list of recommendations on how to best support our public abortion storytellers emotionally, mentally, and physically. 
The survey can be found on The Sea Change Program's website at: 
Please feel free to tweet and post the link to the survey on your Facebook pages and blogs. This is a public survey and I'm hoping to share reach as many public abortion storytellers as I can. 
The survey should take 20-30 minutes and we're taking responses through August 10th. 
Got questions? Email me at 
Let's make sure the people we're asking to share on the front lines, get the best support our movement can offer! And, thank you for your support!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Movie Review: Obvious Child

Ok so I saw 'Obvious Child' last night, and I adored it, and I'm not just saying that because it's an "abortion movie".

You may have heard a little about this film - I actually remember seeing the short film version online a couple years ago - basically it is the story of Donna, who is in a really shitty place in her life, hooking up with a dude, getting pregnant, and deciding to have an abortion. I know it doesn't sound like super feel good rom-com material, but hear me out.

Donna is a stand-up comedian at a rough bar in Brooklyn (this is not her day job). When we first meet her she is doing a pretty funny bit about underwear stains that was TOO REAL. Shortly afterwards her boyfriend dumps her (in the bathroom!!) and shortly after that, she finds out the bookstore she works at is closing, and she will soon be out of a job. The breakup is clearly the hardest on her heart, but it's all kind of a terrible spiral. Fortunately she has a great (and predictably quirky) support network - her divorced parents, feminist roommate, gay bestie, etc.

Donna meets Max, who is totally square. They have a fun and hilarious night together. They are very drunk and may or may not have correctly used a condom. Donna finds out she is pregnant, immediately decides to have an abortion, goes to Planned Parenthood (realest scene in the movie) and continues to spiral into awfulness thanks to her impending unemployment and the $500 cost of the abortion - which she has scheduled for Valentine's Day.

You have to watch the movie, it is just so lovely. There were definitely some rom-com staples (aforementioned gay bestie comes to mind, although totally worth it for his line about getting a guy's mouth pregnant), and everyone was pretty white, and there were too many fart jokes for my personal taste. But those were seriously the only criticisms I had.

What I love most about the movie is that it isn't really about the abortion (or the pregnancy) at all - even the scenes that are about it. It's about Donna. It's about her life and her friends and the circumstances around the abortion, but this movie doesn't feel the need to spend any time on the actual decision-making process, and that's awesome. It makes sense that this character would make this choice. It is consistent with who she is, that she would not agonize over maybe having the baby.

Some viewers might find some of it preachy - the roommate does use the word "patriarchy" at one point, and the mother's confession is a little convenient - but overall I think that even if you don't give a shit about abortion, you will probably enjoy this movie. Jenny Slate is extremely likeable and creates a Donna that we can get behind.

The scene where she talks about her abortion in her stand-up is the bravest shit I have seen in a movie in a long time, maybe ever. My heart, you guys! I cried and cried. Please see this movie.

If you're in Toronto, it's playing at the Cineplex at the Manulife Centre (at Bay and Bloor). Otherwise I guess check your local listings.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

If Not Now, Then When?

Today it was announced in Fredericton that the Morgentaler Clinic will be shutting its doors after 20 years. From the press release:

The Morgentaler Clinic is closing for the following reasons:
Many women are unable to pay for their abortions. As a result, the clinic revenue has never met expenses. Shortfalls were made up by Dr. Morgentaler personally.  In the past ten years the clinic has contributed over $105,400 to subsidize abortions for women unable to pay the full amount.
The 2008 flood caused damage to the clinic totalling more than $100,000.  Many downtown businesses received some compensation but the clinic was denied any because it was not owned by a resident of New Brunswick.  Had Dr. Morgentaler not paid for the required repairs to keep the clinic open, the clinic would have closed in 2008.
The clinic cannot continue to provide abortion services that are not publically funded.
As a former employee of the clinic, I can vouch for all three of these reasons. Every week I made appointments for women who didn't have any of the money to pay, or only had part of it. Of course we tried as much as possible to help direct them to funds, and we even sometimes tried payment plans, although of course this was a futile effort. I'm actually surprised the amount subsidized was not more than $105,400.

After the 2008 flood we spent hours in the basement of the clinic, trying to rescue as many patient files as possible, and using a borrowed ShopVac to frantically bail out the water. The city was compensating businesses affected by the flood; I was there when the government employee charged with inspecting the damage pulled up to our building, and, upon learning what kind of business it was, got back into his car and drove away without conducting the inspection. 

A clinic like this could never continue unfunded in a province like New Brunswick, and anyone who believed it could was dreaming. I think the provincial government may feel a sense of relief upon hearing the news of the clinic closing, but what they don't recognize is that this will only hurt the province - socially and economically - in the long term. 

The silver lining is that the clinic's closure may be the impetus needed to finally push the province into action. We must strike when the iron is hot; it is time for the people of New Brunswick to organize. In the wake of this news I would love to see two things:

1. Some kind of referral/support network for providing folks seeking abortion with the immediate care they need, just like in the bad old days when abortion was illegal. There needs to be a network where people can go and find out: sympathetic referral doctors; doctors who will provide medical abortions (when RU486 becomes available); funds to travel out of province for abortions; and people who can help with transportation and accommodations in that regard. It is important that people who need abortions continue to be able to access them.

2. Grassroots, hardcore protest action. Not standing outside the clinic with candles, because why would any legislator give a shit? I mean identifying specific targets and taking actual, stand-up-and-take-notice action. Set up a tent on the lawn of the Legislature and start providing abortions in it. Hang bloody coat hangers on the mailboxes of anti-choice MLAs. Abortion caravan that shit, chain yourselves to seats in the Legislature. They won't listen to reason, so get radical. Lives are at stake.

I hope that New Brunswick finds the energy and the spirit to fight back. If not now, then when?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Keeping the Pressure On

A bold group of students from Saint Thomas University in Fredericton have created an online petition that is getting some attention. The aim is to ask/force/demand the government of New Brunswick to pay for abortions performed at the Fredericton Morgentaler Clinic, and runs thusly:

For more than 25 years, the New Brunswick government has been enforcing a regulation that allows Medicare coverage for abortions only to be done at hospitals (in Moncton),by an Ob/Gyn, and approved by two doctors in writing as "medically required". This violates the Morgentaler Supreme Court decision of 1988, which ruled that restrictions like these are unconstitutional because they violate women’s rights. The regulation also violates the Canada Health Act, which Health Canada has said mandates full funding of abortions at both clinics and hospitals. Over 60% of NB women needing abortions are forced to pay out of pocket for abortion care at the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton, because hospital access is inadequate. The cost for the procedure at this clinic ranges from $700-$850 for women that are up to 16 weeks in their pregnancies. This discriminates against women, especially those of lower socio-economic status. 
Women who are considering an abortion should not have to worry about covering the costs of the procedure. 
Lets inform our apathetic government that they need to make women's reproductive rights a priority! 
*Also, for those who are wondering about their tax paying dollars, this procedure would cost approximately $2.21 per annum.   
We call upon the New Brunswick government to fully fund abortions at the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton, and repeal the provincial law restricting abortion payment (Regulation 84-20, Schedule 2 (a.1), of the Medical Services Payment Act).

Now I feel like I have articulated my position on petitions before, but I feel like, hey, it costs you nothing to sign this - it will take maybe 30 seconds of your time - and it does show that there is a demand for this, and that we are not going away.

Click here to sign the petition.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Summer is not so far away...

Wishful thinking? February really does drag on, doesn't it? Anyway, there are two very interesting looking but very different conferences happening in August that you should know about:

1. Abortion: The Unfinished Revolution

An international conference being hosted at UPEI, this endeavour is very ambitious in its scope and should attract an interesting mix of academics and activists. From the website:

In recent years, there have been numerous attempts worldwide to limit women’s access to safe abortion.  In 2012, an anti-abortion bill in the Canadian parliament that purportedly aimed to open a discussion on “when life begins” was interpreted as an attack on abortion rights and was defeated by Members of Parliament in a vote of 203 to 91.  In Ireland that same year, Savita Halappanavar was denied an abortion, even though she was miscarrying the fetus. Her subsequent death sparked international outrage and renewed calls to relax abortion restrictions in that country.  In Texas in 2013, despite an inspiring eleven-hour filibuster by Senator Wendy Davis, Democrats ultimately failed to block stringent new restrictions on abortion availability in that state.  Meanwhile, the Mexico City Policy continues to affect the abortion experiences of women throughout the world. Thus, in spite of the many gains that have been made in women’s rights since the mid-twentieth century, reproductive autonomy continues to elude women in many countries around the world. Even in Canada, where there is no federal abortion law and abortion is regulated like any other medical procedure, there is tremendous disparity in access to abortion services across the country. For example, Prince Edward Island is touted by the Canadian anti-abortion movement as being a “life sanctuary” since it eliminated access to safe surgical abortions in 1986,  a point that was a focus of that movement’s national conference in 2013.  Attendees are invited to PEI to reflect on the status of abortion internationally.

Full disclosure: I am presenting at this conference (on restrictions to access in New Brunswick).

The conference is August 7-8 at UPEI in Charlottetown.  Early bird registration is $85 for students/income challenged, and $145 for salaried/employed and faculty. Register here.

2. YoniFest

This is not actually a conference, more of a gathering/festival focused on birth culture - along with workshops, YoniFest promises burlesque, music and dance, and a "village spirit". From the website:

YoniFest is an international festival organized by YONI, a non-profit organization committed to questioning birth culture today. YONI has faith in intuitive and instinctive ways of knowing. YONI creates spaces in which to question, reflect on, express and manifest the sacred quality of birth and the capacity of women to birth their baby and placenta by themselves. We celebrate the universal power of women and babies and their right to be born in dignity and security.

The festival is being held in Coaticook, Quebec, August 1-3. Early bird registration includes camping onsite and is $300, or $225 for students. Register here.

Also they are still accepting proposals for workshops until March 1 (this Saturday!) so if you have an idea, you can pitch it here.

See you this summer!!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

R.I.P Dr. Garson Romalis

I know I'm a bit late on this, but I didn't know Dr. Romalis and don't have a lot to say, except to give my sympathies to his family and friends.

From the Globe and Mail obituary:

Motivated by his stint in Chicago and an earlier case involving the abortion-related death of a Vancouver woman, Dr. Romalis, who loved nothing better than delivering babies, was among the first in Canada to provide legal abortions after the law was liberalized in 1969. Dr. Romalis’s unwavering commitment to what he believed was a quick, harmless way to improve a woman’s life almost cost him his own life – twice.
Read the rest here.

Thank you for your dedication, Dr. Romalis. Rest in peace.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Signal Boosting: Abortion Access on PEI, TV Show About Abortion Clinic

Ok two things that I've been slow on the uptake about, but really want to signal boost if I can:

1. Colleen MacQuarrie (UPEI) has released her research on how the lack of abortion services on PEI directly and negatively affect women's health. Obviously there is a lot to say about this but I really think Dr. MacQuarrie's research speaks for itself. From the abstract:

All participants have experienced multiple barriers and have witnessed blocked access to abortion. The access to abortion was described as a maze of multiple paths leading to dead ends, barriers, and delayed access but participants in the project somehow found a way to end the pregnancy. Some were forced to leave the province, others tried to self induce by their own hand or with the help of boyfriends and others used medical abortion; however without local surgical termination, this choice in at least one case resulted in maltreatment in the local emergency room. Some women were forced to continue the pregnancy, give birth, and parent against their will. All participants documented various harms to health in the maze of trying to access abortion services in PEI.
You can read the whole report here.

2. When I worked at an abortion clinic, my friends would always say there should be a TV show about it; at the time I couldn't imagine any aspect of my life being interesting enough to be on TV, but given the growing interest in what other people's jobs are like, and the ever-polarizing "debate" around abortion, a nuanced view of an abortion clinic could be just what the public needs to see.

So if that is something that interests you, I recommend you support this pilot for such a show - watch the clip below, imagine it with higher production values, and then click here to donate to their fundraising campaign.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

R U 4 Choice? (sorry, I had to)

It is the 26th anniversary of the Morgentaler decision. As always we should celebrate this milestone, but only for what it is; a milestone, not the journey's end. Just because abortion is legal in Canada does not mean any person can have one at the drop of a hat, or at all. Rich white people have always been able to get the health care they need; choice means nothing without access.

Health Canada has spent over a year considering whether or not RU-486 (mifepristone) should be available in Canada. RU-486 would allow people to have medical, as opposed to surgical, abortions, which require significantly less trouble for patients and doctors alike.

In many places across the country, access to surgical abortion is severely limited (to non-existent), and as always it is marginalized populations who suffer the consequences. Rural communities, folks who cannot afford to travel long distances, folks who cannot take time from work, etc. Abortion providers, too, are over-worked and clinics are often under-staffed, and still waiting lists build up. Being able to have an abortion in one's own home, in a less intrusive fashion, would make a huge difference to so many people.

Consider undocumented agricultural workers, some of whom are fired and consequentially deported if they become pregnant. Taking a day off to drive to the nearest urban centre for an abortion can be an insurmountable obstacle; a medical abortion could really change that.

I don't think RU-486 being available in Canada will really turn anything on its head on a national level, or make a dent in the overall attitude of the federal or provincial governments regarding bodily autonomy. But on an individual level it could change lives. It is harm reduction. There is no reason for Health Canada to continue sitting on something that is already being used safely in several other countries, and I hope they run out of excuses soon.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Fuck. This.

So I just read the This Magazine cover story "No Choice: Why the pro-choice movement won't let women grieve after abortion" and...well. I have thoughts.

First of all, in the interests of full disclosure, I was interviewed by the author, Rebecca Melnyk, at the start of her research for this article or what I imagine would become this article. Never have I been happier to avoid being quoted; I can't imagine being associated with this mess. When Melnyk reached out to me she identified herself first and foremost as strongly pro-choice. She probably still does. I'm sure she didn't choose the title of the article. But holy hell, what is going on here?

It seems to me that the premise is that both "sides" of the abortion "debate" only offer post-abortive people counselling in a politicized environment with some kind of agenda, and that the pro-choice side is routinely dismissive of the range of feelings someone might have after having an abortion. At no point does Melnyk quote a pro-choicer who backs up this assertion; on the contrary, every pro-choice person she mentions points out that folks feel any of a variety of different emotions after abortion and that they should have access to counselling:

That same month, on a warm afternoon in Toronto Miriam McDonald, an editor at the Marxist newspaper Spartacist Canada, struts up and down a hallway at the Ontario Institute of Secondary Education at an International Women’s day rally. “Abortion is just a medical procedure like getting a wart off, except it’s all politicized,” she says. “A woman’s capacity to control her fertility opens the doors to full equality. That’s why it’s … stigmatized.” Another woman standing next to her in a baseball cap, handing out newspapers, says post-abortive women need counselling, not to overcome negative feelings related to abortion, but rather, to cope with society’s stigma and culture of shame.


Some women may need counselling services before or after they have an abortion, says Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC). She does not believe, however, that PAS is real. “It’s like the anti-choice movement works in its own bubble,” she says, “making up it’s own science and ignoring mainstream evidence and consensus.” The result, she adds, is confusion—public misinformation that scares women considering abortion. In Arthur’s mind, the act of abortion continues to be blamed for the source of trauma when, in reality, the unwanted pregnancy is often what’s truly traumatic. It’s not to say women don’t experience negative effects, she adds, just that it’s more complex than the anti-abortion activists portray.

Over in Vancouver, Everywoman’s Health Centre is an abortion clinic that provides free, non-judgmental counselling services and resources like the book, Peace After Abortion. Erin Mullan, who’s been a counsellor for over 20 years, works there. “When it comes to abortion, nothing is in the range of normal,” she says. “A woman’s culture, her religion or history, could all inform how she’ll feel.” For the small number of women she refers out to other counsellors who offer long-term support, abortion is not the main cause of negative feelings, but rather, “it opens a door of pain.” That door can reveal bad relationships, abuse, or mental depression. Mullan points out that coercion—if a woman’s been forced to have an abortion—accounts for one third of the problems she treats. “It can sit unfinished, inside of her for years,” she says, “if she wasn’t given the space to make choices.” At this clinic, the acknowledgment that abortion can be intimately connected to negative feelings serves no greater purpose than a woman’s well-being.

And then Melnyk goes on to describe how many other abortion clinics across the country offer both pre- and post-abortion counselling, usually for free, along with referrals for follow-up counselling with specialists. At no point in the article is there any indication that pro-choicers "won't let women grieve after abortion".

My feeling is that the thrust of the article, the point that Melnyk is trying to make is that the options for counselling after an abortion are either shaming, Christian, anti-abortion drivel or militant pro-choice propaganda, that there is no option for folks just looking for non-judgemental counselling. Which is a load of bullshit not even borne out by her research. Yes there is a lack of accessible post-abortion therapy because there is a lack of accessible any therapy - ask any low income person with a mental health issue how easy it is to get in to see a counsellor. But the idea of a lack of non-judgemental post-abortion counselling is especially heinous when the article itself talks about the many clinics that offer it. "Pro-choice" IS "non-judgemental" - no abortion clinic counsellor worth their salt is going to judge you for feeling guilt or regret after your abortion. That's what counselling is about. That's why it makes a difference that the counsellors in abortion clinics are trained specifically in non-judgemental pre- and post-abortive counselling and the people in "crisis pregnancy centres" are just random volunteers trained only in making people feel like shit - like they have something to "repent" for - because they had an abortion.

There is a disturbing amount of false equivalence being thrown around in this article.

It just really pisses me off because pro-choice organizations in this country - including abortion clinics, sexual health centres, and organizations like ARCC, NAF, Canadians for Choice, and CFSH, among others - deliberately provide listings of non-judgemental counselling options on request, and often go to great lengths to ensure that people find the care they need regardless of pregnancy outcome. All of these organizations are explicit about not favouring any pregnancy outcome over others, and the number one concern is getting folks the care they want and need in the safest and most accessible way possible.

There is no neutral on abortion, really there isn't. Not the way it's framed right now. Either you believe it shouldn't be allowed, or you believe it should. There is no magical third party who are the only people who can provide non-judgemental counselling. If you believe people have the right to choose how to handle an unwanted pregnancy - if you are pro-choice - then that belief extends to how people feel after their abortion. Anyone providing actual non-judgemental counselling is pro-choice by definition.

I think Melnyk knows this, but I don't know how to explain this mess of an article. I think she is (rightfully) concerned for folks - like her - who have had abortions and haven't received the support that they need. And that is legitimate. But the solution there has to be more support and funding for pro-choice, sex-positive, woman-positive counselling services; fighting against abortion stigma; advocating for reproductive and sexual health services in underserved areas - not bizarre magazine articles attacking the pro-choice movement for imagined slights, for not "letting" women grieve. Women can do what they damn well please - isn't that the whole point?


ETA: A great take-down of the article at DAMMIT JANET! by fern hill.