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Nova Scotians call on New Brunswick’s government to improve access to abortions

by Stephanie Taylor

Photo Stephanie Taylor
Photo Stephanie Taylor
Photo Stephanie Taylor
Photo Stephanie Taylor
Photo Stephanie Taylor
Photo Stephanie Taylor

It should have been easier for Kaleigh Trace to have an abortion. 

The sexual health educator at Venus Envy spoke to a crowd of nearly 100 people who gathered at Victoria Park in Halifax Thursday afternoon for the National Day of Action — a rally to call for better abortion access. 

She told the story of when, on October 25, 2011, the then 25-year-old university graduate had to walk past a group a pro-life protesters on her way to the hospital to have an abortion. 

“I had access, I had choice,” she told the crowd. “But I felt silenced, unable to be honest about what I was experiencing.” Even with the proper sexual health knowledge and a group of supportive friends, Trace remembers she was made to feel ashamed by a health care system and government that stigmatized abortion. 

“The lack of access to abortions in the Maritimes is an embarrassing (and) dated sexist throwback. We should be past this,” she said. 

Thursday’s rally was organized as a call for New Brunswick’s government to improve abortion access by re-instating public funding for Fredericton’s Morgentaler Clinic, explains event organizer Martha Paynter, who is co-chair of LEAF Halifax— an organization dedicated to women’s legal education and action. 

The clinic is named after Henry Morgentaler, the doctor and abortion activist who died a year ago.

In April, the Morgentaler Clinic announced its closure after a more than 20-year battle with the province for funding. 

The Morgentaler Clinic was the last free-standing abortion clinic in the Maritimes. 

Paynter said the event also called for a repeal of Regulation 84-20 of the New Brunswick Medical Act, which requires women to gain approval from two physicians prior to having an abortion. 

“Abortion is healthcare,” Paynter said. “The Canada Health Act assures patients across this country equal access and we are denied that.” 

With the Morgentaler Clinic set to close its doors in July, nearly 600 women from New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island will no longer have access to safe, affordable abortions,  she said. 

Every year hospitals in Nova Scotia preform nearly 2,000 abortions, Paynter says.

But better access to abortion services are only one part of a bigger fight for reproductive justice, said Jean Kettering of the Lunenburg Sexual Health Centre. 

“If the government of New Brunswick appeals 84-20, funds abortions and keeps the clinic going that would be a great first step, but I’m not going to pat them on the backs for that,” she said. 

Improvements to trans health care, more comprehensive sex education in schools and affordable birth control are other ways Maritime provincial governments could improve reproductive healthcare, Kettering says. 

People in rural communities in particular face isolation from sexual support services, she said. Compared to the other three provinces, Kettering said Nova Scotia provides the best sexual healthcare — but still has a long way to go. 

Things are likely to get worse before they get any better, according to Nan McFadgen, who spoke on behalf of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour. She cites the Harper government’s plan to cut $36 billion dollars of health care after next years’ federal election and the decision not to renew the current Health Care Accord — a funding agreement between provincial and federal governments. 

“Money is what makes the world go ‘round when it comes to health,” she said. “I don’t know how services that (provinces’) are challenged to fund at present are going to be funded any better with the billions of dollars of cuts that are coming our way.” 

The conversation around abortion access in the Maritimes will continue at Abortion: The Unfinished Revolution conference in Charlottetown, P.E.I in August. 

Prince Edward Island is currently the only province where legal abortions are not performed. Recently, a plan to develop a twice-monthly outpatient abortion clinic in P.E I. was struck down by the province.   

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