by Kathleen Pye. Originally posted at Fem2pt0. Cross-posted with the author’s permission.
It takes a special kind of person to work at an Abortion Clinic.
You need to possess just the right combination of kindness and compassion, combined with courage, determination, and a whole lot of humility. Not something you can put on a resume, and I highly doubt it’s something you can learn from an overpriced webinar. It’s something you’re born with. Perhaps better worded – it’s something you’re born to do.
I first met the wonderful women at the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton, New Brunswick during my counselling psychology training program. I had recently decided that I was a feminist and wanted to learn more about abortion services. Despite my naivety I had good intentions; I knew the clinic was a source of contention within the community, and I felt compelled to learn about it.
But if I’m honest, there was another rationale for my desire to train as a counsellor at the clinic, although not one that I consciously recognized until my placement had completed: I wanted to better understand my internal conflict with being prochoice.
I grew up attending Catholic schools in an upper middle class community – the land of privilege. I was never lacking for anything and had a great education. I went to Sunday-School and I hated going to church, but only because it took me away from playing basketball for an hour a week.
I had also known that I was adopted long before it ever registered to me as being different. And just for clarity’s sake: despite how many people try to convince you that being adopted makes you ‘no different than anyone else’ it’s just not true. Being adopted does make you different. This is neither good nor bad – it just is. It’s a fact.
And with this difference comes the inevitable struggle with the ‘prochoice/antichoice’ debate. We are told that we can’t support abortion; we weren’t aborted, after all. We should be grateful. We should want to save other ‘adoptable children’. We are ‘gifts from God’. We were the ‘lucky ones’. We were ‘loved by our mothers right from the start’. These are all antichoice catch-phrases, told to me by the overtly uncritical.
Now I don’t know my birthmother. In fact, I don’t really want to know her. But what I do know about her is that she became pregnant during a time in Canada when obtaining a legal abortion was next to impossible. She probably felt helpless. Ashamed. Terrified. She may have considered having an illegal abortion. If she had, she would have suffered, physically and mentally. She may have even died. But what were her alternatives, besides raising a child she didn’t want, or giving her child away?
Yes, I am grateful that she put me up for adoption. But given the reproductive options available to her, it was far from her choice.
Choice assumes that you have options to choose from. Choice presumes that you have the freewill to make a decision. It demands autonomy, independence, fairness, and individualism. My birthmother maintained none of these rights; the choice to determine her own future and govern her own body was non-existent, taken away by the lawmakers who believed they knew what was better for her.
Loving her unwanted pregnancy ‘right from the start’? Doubtful.
And what if I hadn’t been so lucky to grow up in the privileged paradise? The majority of children placed for adoption throughout the world do not have ‘forever homes’ . I may have been adopted into privilege, but had a very unprivileged start. Most aren’t ‘lucky’.
So I began my training at the Morgentaler clinic struggling with this internalization of years of Catholic indoctrination. And with it came story, after story, after (often times gut-wrenching) story from clients of all ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, and religious (or lack thereof) affiliation. From lawyers to stay-at-home parents. All there for a variety of reasons, but there because it was their choice to be there.
And in them I saw what my birthmother lacked; the ability to choose abortion as an unrestricted, reproductive option, a legal right mandated by the Morgentaler Decision of 1988. And the procedure saved their job, their relationship, their financial situation, their family, their future plans, their education, their mental well-being, their physical health. It saved them in just the way they deserved to be saved. Abortions are not a ‘new’ thing, and they will continue to exist, as they always have, whether they are legal or not. But legality ensures “the right to life, liberty and security of the person” – all tenets of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton, like all abortion clinics and all the incredible people who work within them, does just that.
And now the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton, the only private abortion facility in the Maritime Provinces, is closing. Why? Because the Government of New Brunswick refuses to uphold the Canada Health Act, which mandates that all individuals have access to funded abortions. Under New Brunswick’s Medical Services Payment Act, abortion can only be funded when referred by two physicians and performed in one of two hospitals in the province by a gynecological specialist. This has resulted in clients having to pay $700-$850 for a procedure. The Government of New Brunswick’s complete disinterest in upholdingfederal law has not only cost clients, but has resulted in the financial collapse of the clinic. Much of themonetary losses resulted from $105,000 worth of pro bono abortions unable to be covered by clients, and which were covered by Morgentaler. This, stemming from his commitment to never turn someone away who needed access.
With the closing of the Morgentaler Clinic, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, where the procedure cannot be performed (residents often utilized the Fredericton clinic, now have the most restrictive abortion policies in Canada), there are now no other options in the Maritimes. In fact, New Brunswick has more restrictive abortion policies than even the most severely restrictive US states. Remember #IStandWithWendy? New Brunswick in that category now.
The closest private clinic is Montreal, upwards of 12 hours away. The cost increases enormously, including covering the procedure, travel, and accommodations.
The clinic workers, who’s devotion has helped more than 10,000 clients since the clinic’s opening in 1994, will lose their jobs. Clients will be denied. All in a country where access and public funding is THE LAW. In a country that says it is the State’s responsibility to promote “the right to life, liberty and security of the person”.
In New Brunswick, ‘liberty’ is only yours if you lack a uterus, because the ‘choices’ offered are those already given to you by bigoted or ambivalent lawmakers.
Up until the closure of the clinic, we have been compliant of the Government of New Brunswick’s outright discrimination of reproductive choice. But that time is come and gone. It’s a virtual ‘life and death’ situation.
The inequitable treatment of one, is the inequitable treatment of all. Because as I’ve come to understand throughout my adoption journey, this is no longer about prochoice/antichoice. It’s about democracy. In a democracy, when you oppress part of the community you oppress all of the community. This isn’t a ‘women’s only’ issue, this is a social issue.
So this is my rally cry for reproductive justice in New Brunswick, for my birthmother, and for me. The health of New Brunswickers – of ALL Canadians – of all of us with a uterus – is on the line. And we’re asking all of you to help us fight for our reproductive rights.
You can help us in a variety of ways: