It seems like women have been fighting for the right to control their health for a really, really long time – like more than 200 years long. Despite all the time that’s passed and the strides that have been made towards equality, women’s access to safe and legal abortions is continually called in to question. We need to talk about women’s right to choose.
Questioning women’s ability to choose began in 1810, when New Brunswick criminalized abortion regardless of when it occurred. Other provinces took note and quickly made abortion criminal along with all forms of contraception in 1892. Women continued to want control over their bodies and some even risked imprisonment to provide women with access to birth control options, like Dr. Elisabeth Bagshaw.
In 1969, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau amended the Criminal Code to allow doctors to perform abortions in accredited hospitals if a pregnancy threatened the health or life of a woman. However, a committee of doctors, almost always male, was required to approve the procedure. It wasn’t until 1988 when the Supreme Court of Canada decision in R. v. Morgentaler, which established that the Criminal Code provision on abortion violated a woman’s right to “life, liberty and security of the person” guaranteed under Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
While abortion has been legal in Canada since 1988, access to safe abortion clinics is still a barrier that impacts women every day. Access to abortions on the East Coast is challenging; Prince Edward Island doesn’t not having any abortion providers and New Brunswick requires two doctor referrals and only covers the cost of abortions performed in hospitals. In Canada, if a woman requires an abortion but lives in a province that is different than her provincial medical funding she must fly back to the home province to have her abortion covered. If she chooses not to fly home, she is responsible for the costs associated with the procedure.
In Alberta, there are only three abortion clinics available to women and all three are in major metropolitan areas which at the most only serve slightly more than 48 per cent of the total population. The shortage of abortion providers in rural places can become a crisis for women seeking options, which is why we were thrilled when the Alberta Government announced they were going to cover the cost of Mifegymiso, a medical abortion pill. Providing universal coverage gives women in poverty and women in rural areas access to greater choice when it comes to their reproductive health. Women with low, or no income would not be able to afford the $300 cost of the abortion pill without this universal coverage.
“What I saw was women dying from illegal abortions…young women have experienced the highest rate of unwanted pregnancies in my country of any developed country in the world with an abstinence only sex education.”
– Gloria Steinem, YWhisper Gala 2012
Women need to have control over their health and that includes when they decide to have children.