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Monday, August 23, 2010

Being Pro-Choice and Doing Pro-Choice

For years now in Canada, it's been easy to separate being pro-choice from any actual activism. Since 1988, women have been able to get an abortion without concern for legal consequences. The Supreme Court said that legal restrictions and therapeutic abortion boards and the like infringed on a woman's security of the person, delaying access to time sensitive and necessary medical help. Since then, abortion has been considered like any other medical necessity, is regulated by the medical profession and, according to their guidelines, available to any woman on request until 20 weeks. Imposing legal restrictions also hinders a woman from exercising another of her rights and freedoms guaranteed by our charter - freedom of conscience. A generation later, it is still easy to think that we are "done" with this issue. In fact, organizations like CARAL shut their doors believing they were no longer required.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Access continues to be a huge issue for rural women, northern women, women in PEI where there is no access at all to abortion, and women in New Brunswick who still have to have a doctor's referral and approval to obtain an abortion within medicare or who must pay out of pocket at a private clinic with no opportunity for reimbursement. There are very few doctors in New Brunswick who perform abortions. It is, arguably, the worst place in Canada for a woman seeking termination. In other parts of Canada, there is no reciprocal agreement between provinces for abortion care, meaning women who must seek abortion care outside of their home provice must pay for it themselves. However, if they were to have a broken bone set or their appendix out, other time sensitive and medically necessary procedures, they would be covered. On top of all this, the anti-choice are gearing up for another fight. We see it all around us.

Once again, it will no longer be enough to just "be" pro-choice. More and more of us will have to "do" pro-choice again. Obviously, it is difficult. I know. It is hard to be vocal about a divisive issue. We are concerned about backlash, we fear offending our friends. The other side has instilled fear. They've done it by trying to shame women who are pro-choice, by bullying and name-calling, by fostering myths of post-abortion trauma, by blaming cancer on abortion, by killing doctors. No wonder we are reluctant to "do" pro-choice.

Perhaps our greatest strength, our deep respect for the views of others, or belief in everyone's right to hold thier own opinion - this hallmark of the pro-choice movement - is also our greatest failing. It makes us unwilling to trample, even unintentionally, on someone else's views.
But we must remember, the vast majority of Canadians agree with us.

We must find in ourselves a new willingness to speak publicly. When we are willing to vocalize our strongly held beliefs that a woman must be able to control her own body, to make her own choices, our example will encourage others to speak out as well. Faced with anti-choice protesters demonstrating at clinics and prevention oriented organizations, faced with their signs and their propaganda, we must be willing to engage with other pro-choice people and say, "We will not be dragged back a generation, to a time when women were not trusted to make their own choices. We will not be forced into unsafe conditions. We will not be shamed." We must be willing to assert that "Reproductive rights are human rights." We must not allow the anti-choice to dictate the terms of the discussion. We must remind the anti-choice and ourselves that pro-choice IS NOT pro-abortion. To be pro-choice is to support a woman's choice to do whatever SHE feels is best for her and to make sure that the conditions exist in which she can carry out her intentions. It does not force or coerce any women into terminating. But anti-choice tactics of disseminating misinformation to delay care and instill fear do coerce women into continuing unwanted pregnancies .

We must be willing to speak the truth, to write letters to our legislators when we perceive infringements on our rights, no matter how minor they may seem. We must be willing to put our selves and our beliefs on the line to protect our rights, the rights of our daughters and sisters and friends, the rights our mothers and grandmothers fought for and won.

In the patriarchal world in which we live, abortion is a "nexus" issue. This means it is pivotal, linked to every other issue related to women's rights and, I would argue, human rights. It is all well and good to have the right to vote, to earn similar pay for work of equal value, to be included in traditionally "male dominated" professions, but it is not enough. What good is any of this if we do not have the right to control our own bodies? Without this, women are no better than slaves.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Fake help: Crisis Pregnancy Centres

There have been some pretty interesting articles lately about various pregnancy crisis centres, the way they lure unsuspecting women into them and then misinform them and delay their attempts to access abortion services. I've already linked to that great article in the Toronto Star about the tactics used by these groups in a previous post. Now, check out this article (again in The Star) describing the Ontario Ministry of Health's reaction to suggestions these "clinics" should be regulated. 

We (that's the Royal We) want to be appalled at the shell game going on here. It's easy to find a reason not to do something, much more difficult to figure a way to take responsibility and protect women from quacks. We (the Royal We again) think that if these people are going to pretend to be clinics, and the Ministry can't stop the pretending, they should be regulated the same way. Of course, they'd never make it through the regulatory process because... they're fakes! So then, can the Ministry make these fakes put some clarity around their purpose? If not, I can set myself up as "Jane's House of Healing." What's to stop any of us from setting out with the medicine wagon and selling snake oil? All I'm saying is, these fake clinics can't have it both ways and right now they do.

But the real failing of the Ministry of Health is not that they won't regulate the fake clinics or put some limits on them, but that they have created the situation where they exist in the first place. It is the failure to adequately stress and fund sexual health as part of the overall continuum of health that the Ministry must be taken to task about. Because they have failed to adequately educate, inform and provide accessible services, there is a serious gap in health care. This leaves a space for quacks like the Pregnancy Care Centres of the world to enter. Without the gap, there would be no women searching the yellow pages for "pregnancy counselling." Information would be readily available in every doctor's office (real doctors that is), every walk in clinic, every hospital, on ads in buses and in schools and there would be no shame or fear surrounding it. When sexual health is fully integrated into overall health, when shame and fear are no longer associated with this vital part of health care, the pregnancy crisis centres will evaporate into thin air. This is where the Ministry of Health needs to strengthen its efforts.

And this goes for Health Ministries in all the provinces, not just Ontario.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Anti-Choice services spread misinformation

The Toronto Star recently ran a terrific article on the tactics used by anti-choice "clinics" such as the pregnancy care centre.

I am particularly grateful for the inclusion of a list of claims made by their "counsellors" with a reality check following each one.

What mystifies me is that this is still thought of as news, as in something new, as in a new discovery or journalistic coup. This has been going on for as long as this American based group of religious zealots set up camp in Canada and found a home with Stockwell Day in his old riding of Red Deer Alberta. Anyone remember the November 2000 W-5 program on CTV? It exposed some of the tactics used by anti-choice organizations to dissuade young women from seeking abortion services. A young woman shared the story of her visit to the Calgary Pregnancy Care Centre which she went to after hearing an ad on the radio about an organization that would provide support for young women who were pregnant, alone and afraid. Same tactics, ten years ago. My point (and I do have one) is that this has been going on forever. I'm glad the Star is highlighting it again, but the question should be asked why are we still allowing this to happen?

The other thing that bugs me is that if you put "abortion services" into google, the first thing that pops up is the Pregnancy Care Centre. Yet, they don't provide abortion services. Hmmm. This is their first big lie, one that they pay for by the click. So if you want to cost them some money, click a few billion times on their link.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The New Abortion Providers

Check out this excellent article in the New York Times Magazine about "the new abortion providers," doctors providing women with abortions in their own offices and within their family practices. It is a really good analysis of how the provision of abortion care became narginalized in the first place and how the model that has us provide this care in the separate setting of a clinic has been partly responsible for this marginalization.

But change is on the way, and the future is looking better. Good to see an optimistic article for a change.