Media attention to abortion in Canada ebbs and flows, and has recently been in the spotlight yet again since the impending closure of the Morgentaler clinic in New Brunswick. The clinic is the only private clinic on the island and it’s closure ultimately speaks to the broader creation of barriers for women to find accessible options.
The closure, which will officially happen at the end of July, comes after years of legal battles between the clinic and the province over provincial funding for the clinic. The clinic cannot continue to operate without provincial funding. New Brunswick is the only province in Canada where private clinic abortions are not funded by provincial medicare.
Such a closure should bring home the fact that access to abortion rights in Canada are not accessible to all, and that it varies – at times massively – from province to province. The access those seeking abortion have, in the case of New Brunswick, can sometimes take the form of no choice at all. Even more shocking, the Morgentaler clinic in Fredericton is the only private abortion clinic east of Montreal.
Last week Justin Trudeau came out in favour of pro-choice, stating that in order to run in the Liberal caucus, a member must be pro-choice, or at least, vote pro-choice. The statement has garnered criticism from both external and internal sources. Not surprisingly, an Archbishop in Toronto has called on Trudeau to rethink his decision on the stance, and just yesterday a recording of Liberal MP John McKay criticizing Trudeau’s choice to issue such a stance was obtained by CTV News. In this incident, McKay called the subject “toxic” and questioned Trudeau’s decision to take such a stance.
Despite these criticisms, the fact that Trudeau is setting a party line on abortion is good to hear. Trudeau’s stance may meet party criticism, but it is a welcome reassurance for those in Canada who care deeply about the guarantee of rights for those looking for abortions. The stance also speaks to the fact that there could be a time when the debate is reopened at a federal level. It provides comfort for Liberal voters who are pro-choice that their MP will vote in a similar fashion.
However, recent media attention around Trudeau’s stance could be best shifted toward the closure of the Morgentaler clinic in New Brunswick. While it is perhaps a step to know that Trudeau is aware of the debate re-opening in Parliament, what are the major political parties doing to actively ensure that abortion rights are met in provinces across Canada
Efforts to rally around the Morgentaler clinic have mostly been grassroot, with the hashtag #NBprochoice becoming popular across Twitter, and pro-choice rallies for #NBprochoice happening across the country in the last month. According to the #NBprochoice campaign, there has been no reaction from the New Brunswick government, despite it being nearly two months since the clinic closed.
While it’s good to hear that politicians are aware that abortion rights in Canada are still being threatened, it would be much more comforting to see real action being taken to an urgent issue at hand. In order for federal parties to call themselves “pro-choice” they should be taking more action to actively ensure these rights are upheld – including pushing for provincial funding for the Morgentaler Clinic. Being pro-choice is not just something that matters in the 2015 election season, and not just in a House of Commons debate. It matters on the ground and beyond election season, each time a woman seeks abortion and is denied for lack of simple access.