Women become adults in New Brunswick

A slightly different version of this text was published by the CBC NB website on November 28, 2014.

New Brunswick women would have had better access to abortion a long time ago if:

  • Canada still had standards that provinces had to respect in order to receive funding for health services;
  • Then-premier Frank McKenna had had the ovaries to protect women’s rights;
  • McKenna had not set the tone for the next 25 years with his, ‘I’m the sheriff here’ response to the Supreme Court of Canada decision on abortion in 1988 and Dr. Henry Morgentaler’s clinic services;
  • The Charter of Rights and Freedoms had a mechanism to put into place access to its theoretical rights;
  • The anti-choice people did not scare the bejesus out of you, me, civil servants, politicians, health professionals and media;
  • New Brunswick politicians had acted as if they knew their role is to ensure respect of citizens’ rights — even those rights and those citizens they do not like;
  • The world was not so obsessed with women’s sexuality and morals;
  • A New Brunswick woman with means had ever not had access to an abortion and gone to court to challenge the political criteria for that medical procedure.

None of those things transpired, so Premier Brian Gallant was the one who will go down as having changed things up – the one to end New Brunswick’s guardianship system over pregnant women and to grant them full adult status in decisions regarding their body.

Yesterday’s announcement by Premier Brian Gallant was welcome, abolishing the McKenna regulations that had recreated the obstacles that had been banned by the Supreme Court.

Brian Gallant should get much credit, but save some of it for those feminist groups, some who worked clandestinely, over several decades.

The closing of the Morgentaler clinic also contributed to creating the necessary conditions, but the times were generally ripe.

In fact, part of the credit for creating the favourable conditions for this announcement should go to the religious opponents who did not evolve with the times, and the Conservatives who hardened into fundamentalists on this issue – both seemed increasingly unreasonable to normal people.
(This reminds me of author Elspeth Tulloch’s comment, in her book on the history of New Brunswick women, about how long it took for our right to vote to be recognized, “The anti-suffragists in New Brunswick were indeed beginning to look ridiculous by the spring of 1917.”)

Beyond putting abortion in the same category as other insured medical services no longer requiring, effective January 2015, that two physicians certify the abortion as “medically required”, the government pledges to improve timeliness of access. And it will give “access to accurate and non-judgmental information”, hopefully meaning it will force the provincial 811 Tele-care telephone service to stop its nurses’ unprofessional practice of directing women who are seeking an abortion to an anti-choice organization.

Hopefully also, public clinics will be opened – women’s interests are not well served by privatization of health care. Non-surgical abortions should be facilitated – in some countries including United Kingdom, France and Scandinavian countries, the majority of abortions are non-surgical, done using medication.
If all of this comes to pass, maybe then we can talk about what else is needed.

Such as a strategy to prevent unwanted pregnancies and a recognition that New Brunswick has a high rate of births to teenage girls. Action to get New Brunswick pharmacies to put Plan B, the emergency contraception or “morning-after” pill, on pharmacy shelves, which Health Canada allows. The practice in this province is to keep it hidden, force women to ask the pharmacist for it, have her answer intimate questions and pay a counselling fee, keeping Plan B from having the prevention impact it could have. We might include a strategy to reduce our high rates of sexual assault and to improve access to affordable quality child care.

Immediately upon hearing of the coming change in abortion access, my thoughts went to the many New Brunswick women who died or were injured by unsafe abortions over the generations, and to the women who have had unwanted children and then lived in misery or violence. If this is the start of a more enlightened time on these issues, then the next order of change is to create better conditions for women.

May our lives afford us to have the children we want if and when we want them. And may everyone else refrain from having an opinion about our reproductive business.

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