Saturday, January 26, 2008

Blogging For Choice IV

As we approach the twentieth anniversary of the Regina vs. Morgentaler Supreme Court decision the papers are full of coverage of this monumental legal and legislative decision. Colby Cosh in todays National Post chastises the right wing moralists like Frum and Kay who whined about this in the same pages recently. He declares the court decision a victory for Anarchy, Cosh is a libertarian after all. And tongue in cheek he correctly points out the decision left it up to the State to now decide what laws around abortion it wanted to create, and the State in its wisdom decided to abdicate.

Even Justice Bertha Wilson, whose solitary contribution to the majority finding became the cornerstone of a feminist legacy, was unambiguous about this. She described the protection of the fetus as "a perfectly valid legislative objective," offered that "The value to be placed on the fetus as potential life is directly related to the stage of its development during gestation" and said that "The precise point in the development of the foetus at which the state's interest in its protection becomes 'compelling' should be left to the informed judgment of the legislature, which is in a position to receive submissions on the subject from all the relevant disciplines." Do those sound like the words of an estrogen-crazed baby-devourer?

All the court really did was get rid of a senseless morass of dilatory regulation whereby a woman's choice was limited not by a real, rational guideline, but by the local availability of willing physician-monopolists and the whims of hospital committees. The position taken by moderate pro-lifers today is, ironically, more or less exactly that of Bertha Wilson: i.e., that there should probably be some legislative decision, binding upon the whole country, concerning the exact moment when a fetus becomes an individual person for medical purposes. Only a radical, total opponent of abortion could conceivably advocate returning to the broken pre-1988 system, and only as a sly, unfair means of saving some fetal lives.

And this fact really confirms the fundamental wisdom of the Morgentaler decision. The overturning of the old legal regime was decided on a 4-2 vote, with Justices W.R. McIntyre and Gerard La Forest in dissent. The pair wrote that "there is no evidence or indication of general acceptance of the concept of abortion at will in our society." This must now stand as one of the great inadvertent jests in the history of the court. For the 20 years since their statement, abortion at the will of the mother is just what we have had. The number of people who have proven themselves actually willing to do something about the situation, as opposed to merely inveighing against it as an occasion for outraged verbiage, is minuscule. Domestic politicians of all parties recoil in fear, almost uniformly, at the suggestion that any abortion might ever be prevented by the force of law. And even criticism from other Western countries, which all regulate abortion themselves, has been rare verging on nonexistent.

This is where we are. This is what we wanted, whether we admit it to ourselves or not. And this is as it should be, with the final decision in the hands of the one who must chance the hazards and agony of birth. Long live Morgentaler! Long live anarchy!

As usual the fetus fetishists who proclaim their love of life decided to threaten Dr. Morgentaler's life, again, at the public meeting where the 20th Anniversary decision was being celebrated last night.

Morgentaler escorted from gathering marking 20th anniversary of historic abortion ruling

Jan 26, 2008

Two standing ovations and one death threat.

That's the reception Dr. Henry Morgentaler received at a University of Toronto symposium yesterday marking the 20th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court ruling overturning Canada's abortion law.

"Over the past 37 years I have dedicated myself to the struggle to achieve rights to reproductive freedom and to provide facilities for women," Morgentaler told the symposium, held by the law faculty. "This struggle gave meaning to my life."

He said the Jan. 28, 1988, decision was the impetus for him and other physicians to establish abortion clinics across Canada.

"I am proud to have played such a pivotal role in the decision."

Ah yes and here is the contradiction the very Progressive and Left Wing forces that have supported Morgentaler then and over the years are the same folks who oppose the privatization of Health Care, which is what has made Morgentaler's business prosper over the years.

Morgentaler Clinics provide private health care, the state in its wisdom abandoned any legislation that would provide for abortions being fully funded and delivered in a local hospital. That's the other side of the anarchy coin of abortion in Canada. The Supreme court flipped that coin to the State and the State refused to make a call. The result is in effect no real choice for women, either give birth or pay for an abortion out of pocket.

"The Morgentaler decision was huge in that it has undoubtedly saved the lives and protected the health of countless women," said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation (NAF). "No longer did women have to jeopardize their lives or health in order to end an unwanted pregnancy."

The NAF represents abortion providers in Canada and the United States and works to ensure abortion is safe, legal and accessible to promote health and justice for women, she said.

The decision also allowed for abortions to be a publicly funded medical procedure. However, Saporta said many women still face barriers in accessing therapeutic abortion services, particularly because it is not on the interprovincial billing agreement.

Women living in rural areas, such as Chatham-Kent, have difficulty accessing abortion clinics because the majority of abortion care is located in urban centres.

"Some women are traveling 60 miles or more. It can often be a significant barrier for some women that cannot be overcome," said Saporta, adding the closest abortion clinics are in London,Toronto and Detroit.

There are no therapeutic abortion clinics currently operating in Chatham-Kent, however the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance does perform medical abortions if it is necessary for the health of the mother.

"The obstetricians and gynecologists within Chatham-Kent do not include abortions within their scope of practice," said Kim Bossy, director of communications and community relations at CKHA.

The Chatham-Kent Public Health Unit provides women with information on options available to them regarding unwanted pregnancies and remains neutral in the decision, said Kelly Farrugia, school age health program manager.

"Our policy is to review all the options for unplanned pregnancies," she said. "I think every woman has their own reasons why they choose the option they do."

The Morgentaler decision: Choice? What choice?
Two decades after the landmark ruling on abortion rights, poor access and a lack of treatment alternatives still hamper a woman's ability to choose


From Thursday's Globe and Mail

January 24, 2008

While there are, theoretically, no restrictions on abortion, the number of abortions has not increased.

In fact, the number of abortions has held steady over all, and the teen abortion rate has actually fallen.

Each year in Canada, there are about 330,000 lives births and 110,000 abortions.

Despite what you see in Hollywood movies, the vast majority of those having abortions are not teens, but women in their 20s and 30s. They have, almost universally, exercised their freedom of choice judiciously, law or no law.

While the highest court ruled that the state has no place in the uteruses of the nation, the state does have a role in the provision of medically necessary health services, of which abortion is one.

Yet our health system - from the politicians who oversee it to the policy makers and administrators through to the physicians and nurses who should provide non-judgmental care in public institutions - has largely failed women who seek abortions.

The failings are many and varied, but revolve principally around lack of access to timely care.

In short, the arbitrary rules that have crept into the system in the past two decades make a mockery of the Supreme Court ruling.

In Canada, fewer than one in five hospitals perform abortions. One province, Prince Edward Island, offers no abortion services at all. Another, New Brunswick, has created unjustified (and likely unconstitutional) barriers to access, requiring referrals from two doctors.

In the nation's capital, Ottawa, the wait time for an abortion stretches to six weeks, a perversity. (If there is one area of care for which there should be a wait-time guarantee, it is abortion, obviously a time-sensitive procedure.)

But the greatest injustice is that faced by Canadian women living outside major metropolitan centres, particularly those in the North.

Virtually every hospital and clinic offering abortion services in Canada is located within 150 kilometres of the U.S. border, and there is not a single abortion provider north of the Trans-Canada Highway in Ontario.

A woman in northern Manitoba, for example, needs to travel about 20 hours to access the nearest in-province abortion provider. For women in the three territories, travel can be an insurmountable obstacle.

Abortion should be covered by medicare but, in reality, it is expensive. If a woman opts for an abortion in a private clinic - something that is often necessary given the lack of service offered in hospitals - she must pay out of pocket and be reimbursed. (This policy was recently struck down by the courts in Quebec, which deemed that medicare should foot the bill, regardless of where the procedure is done.)

Worse yet, if a woman travels out of province or to the United States - which, again, many women are forced to do because of lack of timely access domestically - she will not be reimbursed at all.

Further, Canadian women wanting to terminate a pregnancy have no option other than surgical abortion.

Drug-induced abortion - the method of choice of about one-third of women in Europe and the United States - is not even available in Canada. Mifepristone (brand name Mifeprex, also known as RU-486) is a safe, proven alternative, and its lack of availability in Canada is a scandal.

Between the legalization of abortion in 1969 and its complete decriminalization in 1988, women fought many tough battles.



CHLOÉ FEDIO / Vue Weekly

In 1983, political activist Judy Rebick became the unintended victim of assault when a man brandishing garden shears lunged at Dr Henry Morgentaler at the opening of his Toronto abortion clinic. She blocked the attack and Dr Morgentaler emerged unscathed, but the incident is just one of several threats Rebick has endured because of her involvement in the pro-choice movement.
Despite it all, Rebick refused to be intimidated in the debate that continues to elicit contention to this day.
“I learned a lot from Dr Morgentaler, because he’d gone to jail—he almost died in jail. He was constantly a target of attack, constantly a target of threats and so on, and his attitude was, if you do this work this is part of the price you pay,” Rebick said.
Rebick was part of the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics, the group that encouraged and helped Dr Morgentaler open his Toronto clinic.
“It’s probably one of the proudest things I’ve done in my life. There is a certain amount of courage involved, but it was also such a splendid victory,” said Rebick. “When we started, everyone was against us—the courts were against us, the cops, the government. It was really a magnificent battle.”
In 1969, Dr Morgentaler broke the law to open Canada’s first abortion clinic in Montréal, becoming one of the country’s most controversial figures. But it was only after police raided his newly-opened Toronto clinic in 1983 that he became the central figure in an historic case that paved the way for reproductive rights in Canada.
Before the decision, abortion was only legal in a hospital, and only if approved by a three-doctor therapeutic abortion committee. But on Jan 28, 1988, the Supreme Court struck down that law as unconstitutional, ruling that it infringed upon a woman's right to “life, liberty and security of person.”
But 20 years after the lifting of federal legal restrictions on abortion, women across the country still face significant challenges in accessing the procedure.
Patricia Larue, executive director of Canadians for Choice, a non-profit charitable organization based out of Ottawa, explained that abortion services in Canada are concentrated in urban areas, forcing many women to travel great distances to gain access to the procedure.
“Most of the places that offer abortion services—clinics or hospitals—are located in the south of the country, about 100 kilometres north of the American border. So for women living in the north, or even central Canada, it’s really difficult to have access to a place where they can go for an abortion,” Larue said.
Edmonton is the sixth largest metropolitan region in Canada, with a population of over one million, but there’s only one abortion clinic in the area. In May 2005, the Royal Alexandra Hospital stopped performing the procedure, leaving the Edmonton Morgentaler Clinic with the brunt of the responsibility in northern Alberta. Dr Christa Delacruz, who operates out of Grande Prairie, also provides abortions, but access outside of the major urban centres of Edmonton and Calgary is extremely limited.
Larry Brockman, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Edmonton, explained that having a single abortion provider in Edmonton can cause a backlog, increasing wait times for women seeking the service. He said the single point of access can also allow anti-abortion groups to concentrate their efforts.
“There is from time to time, lobbying or civil action that takes place that attempts to block access of women to abortion,” Brockman said. “It’s a concern that now it’s reduced to one site—it’s a little easier for protest groups to focus on one site.”
Corrie Mekar works on the front lines at Planned Parenthood Edmonton, dealing directly with women who are considering an abortion. She said the recent surge in population, coupled with the single point of access, is causing a strain on abortion services in Edmonton.
“You can kind of talk about abortion in terms of every other type of service that’s out here in Edmonton right now, with the influx of people coming in,” Mekar said. “Our population has exploded because of the economic boom, and because of that I think they’re having trouble with health everywhere, and this is no different.”
Since Jul 1, 1996, all abortion fees in Alberta are covered for any woman with Alberta Health Care or Saskatchewan Health Care coverage. But Brockman explained that women from other Canadian provinces sometimes face challenges with coverage in Alberta, while recent immigrants are left to foot the bill on their own.
Howard May, spokesperson for Alberta Health and Wellness, explained that Alberta Health Care covers the doctor’s fees and hospital costs of medically required abortion outside the province, but won’t cover the facility fee if the abortion is done in a private clinic. He said that under federal legislation, abortions are not included in the multi-province reciprocal billing agreement.
“The rationale behind the exclusion from the reciprocal agreements is that provinces and territories have different rules and regulations regarding the coverage of abortions,” said May. “Some will only cover the costs if the abortion is provided in a hospital. Others require the recommendation of two physicians.”
The cost of an abortion at the Edmonton Morgentaler Clinic ranges from $400 to $800, depending on how far along a woman is in her pregnancy.

There is an alternative, it is for public hospitals to adopt the Morgentaler method and provide fully paid for abortions including pre and post therapeutic consultations. That is the new struggle facing us twenty years later.

Let us not cheer Dr. Morgentaler who acted out of his own self interest and has gained wealth and fame as result and who has undermined the public health system in Canada as a result of the Supreme Court decision.

The Morgentaler decision in effect left women with no choice but of paying for abortions out of their own pocket, furthering the femininzation of poverty. Those who can afford do so, those who cannot have their choices restricted. Which is why you see no real increase in abortions in Canada over the past twenty years.

The struggle continues, and it is the struggle for womens reproductive rights; not just the struggle for abortion or to defend Dr. Morgentaler, as the struggle for reproductive rights was reduced to for twenty years before the SCC decision.

The struggle for womens reproductive rights is the struggle for more than just the right to abortion as I have outlined in my first post.

And that struggle can only be won without and despite Dr. Morgentaler. It is time for the Progressive and Left activists to divorce themselves from Morgentaler and his legacy; the privatization of health care.


Blogging For Choice III

Blogging For Choice II

Blogging For Choice

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