So right at about the same time as the American anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, yesterday, we hit the 20th anniversary of the Morgentaler decision, which stands as the precedent for defining the right to acccess an abortion here in Canada.
So I will take this opportunity to note a couple of things about the reality and the discussion of reproductive justice in Canada.
One: I’m really grateful that the legal case setting out the terms of the issue rests on the principle that not granting it is a threat to a woman’s “life, liberty and security of person”, not on the nebulous and tangential concept of “privacy”. It’s nice that if we’re going to be talking about the legality or lack thereof, at least we’ll be talking about the actual point, and frankly, at least it’s easy to understand, whereas I can get very lost very quickly in discussions around the finer points of the Roe v. Wade distinction.
Two: I used to find it disconcerting that we in Canada had no actual law with respect to abortion, but the more I looked at it, the more I appreciated that not defining restrictions or terms is the only way that this:
An abortion is now treated like any other medical procedure and is governed by provincial and medical regulations.
…can be true (quoted from the linked CBC article). And is the way it should be. And while I have absolutely no faith whatsoever in our current Conservative federal government with respect to…well, anything, I tend to trust the courts in Canada, and while I think the Tories are perfectly willing to play rhetoric games with abortion issues, they’re not going to make any steps toward legislating against it, because they’d lose when it hit the bench.
Three: The problems with access to abortion in Canada are just that–access. Unsurprisingly, pretty much the same problems that plague every other aspect of our health care system, though the time sensitive nature of the need for this particular procedure would seem to emphasize the need to improve provision. Some notes:
- medical schools are barely teaching the procedure these days. Several of the major schools in the country teach it only at a very high level of specialization.
- women outside of major urban centres, especially in the North, essentially have no access at all. This is also the case in the US, but the kinds of geographical barriers we’re talking about here really need to be understood. Morgentaler has been talking about open “a” clinic in the territories to help meet this need (and good on him, because not having said it yet, it’s worth noting that this man is awesome). Look at a map and talk to me about the size of those territories. When I was living in Edmonton, we had a number of our research consultants come in from small towns/reserves in the NWT, and they considered it par for the course that there were literally no roads into town (have to fly out), especially in the winter, and that it would cost at least $1500 round trip per person just to get to Edmonton.
- The other thing that has to be stated is that when we in Canada are talking about “Northern” issues, we are also inevitably talking about issues that are wrapped up with First Nations/Inuit issues. And I don’t think I could possibly do justice to the extent to which medical care on reserves/in the North is, to say the least, limited, and to which the debate around it is entwined with heavy post-colonial racism
Making the link between those three points, it seems to me that the most important thing the Canadian medical establishment could do right now with respect to choice issues would be to start teaching abortion procedures to GPs in medical school and encouraging more remote placement. The latter part needs to be focused on for the purposes of all kinds of medical care, but given the geographical reality that a GP may be the only kind of doctor any individual is able to see on any kind of a time-appropriate basis, that doctor needs the skills to meet a patient’s needs. Well, that doesn’t really link in the last point I made about the racism, but suffice it to say that I think it would be awesome if we could stop withholding medical care by using racist justifications.
(posting with no time to preview, forgive any typos, spelling errors or lack of brilliance accordingly)