Years ago, I became pregnant and did not want to be. First I called my doctor, who I trusted and who had known me since I was a kid. I knew that she would refer me to the hospital for an abortion. The voice on the phone, a nurse receptionist, told me that unfortunately my doctor was too booked up and didn’t have an appointment for me for another few months, which would put me into a far more complicated trimester for ending the pregnancy.
I didn’t even think to question what she told me at the time. I simply said, “All right then,” and went to the next resource I had, Dr. Morgentaler’s clinic. But, when I next saw my doctor, I told her. Her face turned ashen and she apologized to me. She said that she had found out that this nurse receptionist had been deliberately turning away her patients who were seeking abortions by telling them the doctor was too busy to see them until they were well into their pregnancies. She had promptly fired the nurse receptionist, of course, upon finding out.
But I couldn’t help wonder: how many women and girls had this person been able to turn away before she was fired? How many of them knew, as I did, about Dr. Morgentaler’s clinic? How many of them would have been able to get to the clinic, even if they knew about it? And how many of them were forced to bear a child they did not want, under what circumstances and with who knows whom, because of a stranger’s voice on the telephone? These women and girls, whose numbers and names I will never know, haunt me; they always will.
That’s my abortion story and it’s been on my mind since the election began. With some trepidation, obviously, because it’s such a private thing and also because of the stigmatization of abortion in our society, I am sharing it because I think we now need to start telling these stories to each other even if we would prefer them to stay private. There will be more such stories, I fear, and finally we may come to a point where we are backed up against the wall and forced to fight the battle we thought we had won for good. I often hear “Oh, they would never dare to do that, it would sink them.”
But who would have thought the Conservatives would dare to defund so many important progressive organizations? And who would have thought they could wade through so many outrageous scandals, so many flagrant insults to the Canadian people, and emerge not only unsunk but smirking?
We cannot afford to take our abortion rights for granted. Already, here in Canada, there is scant access to abortion for rural women or those living in the North; a dot sits here and there on a vast map that costs thousands to fly across. There are no clinics at all in Prince Edward Island. New Brunswick openly violates the Canada Health Act by making a woman get approval for a hospital abortion from two doctors; otherwise she has to pay at the clinic. Students studying out of province or women who have moved and are in the process of changing over health care documents soon discover that inter-provincial billing will not cover an abortion and that they will have to return to their home province/territory or pay. Other barriers exist: culture, language, poverty, lack of support, abusive partners or family members, and the stealthy actions of the fundamentalists among us, such as that long-ago nurse, who routinely deceive and manipulate pregnant women.
The fundamentalists are growing bolder. They will work towards the obscenities that go on in the U.S.; where frightened teenagers are forced to ask their parents for permission to end their pregnancies; where women are forced to carry unviable fetuses to term and watch the newborn suffer for fifteen agonizing minutes before dying; where they are subjected to coercive pressures such as enforced waiting periods and being shown ultrasounds. These “incremental policy” decisions, as the anti-choicers call them, sound very much like the “incremental conservatism” the Reformers have been foisting on us – a cut here, a change there. Where is the tipping point when we are going to find out what we suspected: that Brad Trost’s hastily-covered-up election gaffe about defunding Planned Parenthood was in fact the Conservative plan for our parenthood, forever and ever amen?
Women used to talk around kitchen tables about this stuff, rather than on the Internet, but it’s a brave new world. So strap on your shit-kickers, sisters and brothers, because, believe it or not, we’ve got to fight this one up front. We’ve got to be ceaselessly vigilant and in their faces, letting them know that it will be a cold dark day in their fundie hell before we let them kill our right to control what happens to our bodies, our lives. We owe it to our mothers, who fought for us and we owe it to our daughters, including my own beloved little girl. So I say to you all: let’s start now, with empathy, without fear.
Happy Mother’s Day, a day established by a community activist who cared about women's health . Tell us a story, please.
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