Access to Abortion in Canada: Every Voice Counts

Access to Abortion in Canada: Every Voice Counts

I’ve had the pleasure of following Kathleen Pye and her advocacy work on Twitter for a little while now and conducted an interview with her about access to abortion issues in Canada. I’m grateful she took the time to do this and I hope you take the time to read her answers below:

Please provide a little background information on yourself, your work and research.

I guess I’m a lot of things: daughter, partner, cat owner/rescuer, researcher, counselling therapist, policy wonk, loudmouth adoptee, intersectional feminist, mental health advocate, prochoice activist, avid roller blader, collector of all the stuffed animals, and self-care enthusiast. I recently moved to Toronto after having lived in New Brunswick on and off for about 10 years. I first moved to New Brunswick to pursue my BSc in Kinesiology at the University of New Brunswick, left to go to McGill for an MSc in Nutritional Biochemistry, and then back to New Brunswick to complete a Masters of Education in Counseling Psychology and then onto a PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies. I am a PhD Candidate (now part-time), with a focus on the secrecy and stigma associated with eating disorders and issues. Outside of my academic life, I am the Researcher and Policy Analyst at Egale Canada Human Rights Trust (Egale), a national LGBTQ charity focusing on research, education, and community engagement. While I would say that I am a feminist activist in my spare time, social justice work is my full-time passion.

What are the most important access issues being faced by girls and women in Canada? And please explain how access issues are impacted by location, culture, age, status, etc.

I think the issue of reproductive access in Canada is a fascinating one for two reasons: 1) many folks in large urban Canadian cities and outside of Canada see the country as a ‘prochoice beacon’ – a place where the debate has ended and abortion is accessible; and 2) those folks are incredibly wrong.

Whether you have access to abortion in Canada is completely dependent on your geographic location and your privilege within Canadian society. For anyone outside major urban centres, access is anything but straight forward. I’ll use PEI as a devastating example. If you’re in Charlottetown and require an abortion, you must leave the island due to restrictive provincial legislation. You can try to go to Halifax or Moncton where there are two hospitals who will see PEI residents but there are a lot of obstacles in your way. First, there is the need for transportation on and off the island. Keeping in mind that you cannot drive immediately following an abortion, you either need a support person to drive you or use public transport. That’s if the weather allows you to leave the island – the Confederation Bridge often shuts down during high winds and storms (so consider the winter months). You can fly, but it will cost you. If you drive yourself or take public transport, but you may need to consider accommodations. You have to consider days off from work. And all of this is running on the assumption that you even get an appointment before the week limit. The only other option is to travel to Clinic 554, the only private healthcare facility in the Maritimes that offers abortion in addition to other inclusive and reproductive justice focused healthcare. You still must contend with all of the aforementioned barriers, in addition to the $700-850 price for the procedure due to lack of public healthcare funding.

We also have to consider small town shame and stigma around abortion. That’s not to say that large urban centres don’t have these same concerns, but it’s easier to find other modes of support and non-judgmental, like-minded folks.

Now, imagine all of these access concerns amplified because of intersecting identities. For example, imagine how difficult it would be for a trans/gender diverse person to access care when their reproductive healthcare is delegitimized by healthcare practitioners or they feel unwelcome in ‘cis women centered’ facilities. Think about the historical and current discrimination and oppression faced by Indigenous women and how this significantly impacts access to healthcare today. Or any other form of marginalization including, but not limited to, race/ethnicity, ability, body size, religious affiliation, gender identity and expression, and sexual attraction (orientation).The more oppressive identities you have, the more barriers you face.

Why do you think access varies by province and what can be done to change it?

While each province receives federal healthcare funding and must abide by the Canada Health Act, it is up to each provincial government to control healthcare within the province. Because of this, the political atmosphere in each individual province significantly impacts abortion access. For provinces like NB which have been predominately conservative, even under current and previous Liberal governments, access has been significantly restricted. In a province with such ingrained misogyny, it is difficult to convince those in charge to take steps forward – even if such steps make fiscal sense. What needs to happen is more folks to speak out and get angry – something not easy to do in a small place where everyone knows you and your livelihood is potentially dependent on those with control and conservative belief systems. Youth in New Brunswick are the reason we have seen small changes over the past year. They are brave, resilient, and not willing to accept the status quo. Change will only occur if youth continue to rally and demand better, while also convincing adults that they need to fight too.

This seems obvious but can you explain why safe access to abortion is important and the consequences of not having access?

Lack of access to abortion has deadly consequences. Abortion will always exist, whether it is legal or not. It is one of the most, if not the most, common healthcare procedure in the world. But the only way abortion can be safe is when it’s legal and easily accessibly within the healthcare system. Without it, folks will take whatever measures necessary to end pregnancies – and these measures are always detrimental to physical and mental health.

How important do you consider sex ed and prevention in the context of abortion?

Having sex positive prevention is very important. Humans are sexual beings and they will have sex whether they have adequate education around safe sex or not. All research points to the failure of abstinence policies, and the overwhelming success of harm reduction approaches. So, why not provide them with the information they need to be safe? It’s the best form of prevention and only benefits national healthcare initiatives. That being said, all the sex position education in the world is useless if folks don’t have access to birth control. We can’t have one without the other.

People’s religion forbid abortion. Without being disrespectful to their tradition, how do we ensure girls and women of that community have access to the health care options they need?

Providing safe, non-judgmental, and confidential services and ensuring information on all reproductive healthcare options is key. Abortion needs to be considered as safe and responsible a choice as parenting and adoption. If folks aren’t comfortable with the idea of abortion for themselves that is absolutely ok and we need to provide them with information on options they feel are best for them. If there are folks who are pregnant and are considering abortion, despite conflicting religious beliefs, they deserve access to services that will outline all their options and ensures their confidentiality regardless of their choice. They also deserve access to post-abortion support services if they feel it would be beneficial. All reproductive justice focused clinics will do this or provide referrals and/or resources related to this.

Is there a strategy to deal with angry pro-life trolls?

Absolutely – just don’t engage with them. I know – easier said than done, especially when they are yelling at you and spewing incredibly offensive, violent, and hateful words. Antichoice folks have the right to their opinion as long as their opinion doesn’t interfere with access. Think of it this way: antichoice folks feel as passionately about their side as we do ours. For example, if we thought ‘babies’ were being murdered in clinics, as they seem to think is happening in abortion facilities, we could be angry and protest, too. They have the right to protest, as long as it’s done in a respectful, peaceful, and non-intrusive way. Most antichoice folks do this and I don’t have an issue with them. However, if their opinion does act as a barrier to my ability to access reproductive healthcare or puts me or anyone else in harm’s way, then we need to work to remove that barrier by advocating for safety zones around clinics, challenging inappropriate information, etc. But at the end of the day, the debate in Canada is over. We are a prochoice country whether they like it or not. There is no point in arguing with antichoice folks who start engaging with you. We need to put our energy where it’s the most needed – to ensure everyone’s legal right to access is upheld throughout the country. Fighting them is just a source of negativity and can often feel very unsafe.

How can the general public take action and demand safe access to all family planning related resources across our country?

Talk about the importance of reproductive justice focused healthcare. Petition your local, provincial, and federal politicians to ensure sex positive education, access to birth control, and reproductive healthcare. Report healthcare practitioners (including pharmacists) who refuse to provide referrals to prochoice providers if they deny you access to birth control or abortion care. Donate to ensure abortion access to those in need through great groups like Clinic 554, Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, LEAF’s legal action against the PEI Government or any local feminist organization. If you don’t want to be a ringleader, be a supporter! Attend rallies, sign petitions, follow groups who are doing amazing advocacy work on social media platforms. Read prochoice blogs and learn about what’s going on across the country. Every voice helps.


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