As a self-proclaimed Maritimer, I’ve lived in New Brunswick off and on throughout my undergraduate and graduate student life. Although small in population, New Brunswick is a province with boundless natural beauty and is home to the kindest people you would ever have the good fortune to meet. I am in awe of this place – and have been proud to call New Brunswick my home for nearly 8 years.
Yet, I am a woman, and within the province of New Brunswick that equates to very little. The majority of Canadian Provinces and Territories provide access to, and funding for abortions; and unlike the others, the fate of the reproductive health of New Brunswick women is not ours to keep.
As outlined in the Canada Health Act, it is the responsibility of each province to provide and allocate funding for all procedures deemed as ‘medically necessary’, yet each province must define what falls under this categorization. Furthermore, a ‘hospital’ is defined as any location that provides ‘medically necessary’ procedures. By this right, an abortion performed at a clinic within a province where it is deemed ‘medically necessary’ will be publically funded.
Here’s where New Brunswick differs. Under provincial law, abortions can only be categorized as ‘medically necessary’ if deemed so by the medical community; that is, women must obtain consent from two physicians who have deemed the abortion to be ‘medically required’. Only then can the procedure be performed, but must be done in a specified hospital and only by a gynecologist or obstetrician. By virtue of the provincial categorization, any abortion sought in the province’s only private clinic (located in the capital city of Frederiction) is not insured, thus requiring women to pay for the procedure out of pocket. The procedure can cost anywhere from $700 to $850. Over 600 abortions were performed in a New Brunswick clinic in 2010; approximately 60% of women were required to pay out of pocket.
To make matters worse, the province is struggling; New Brunswick maintains one of the highest rates of unemployment in the country and much of the population is dependent on government assistance during the off-season. Thus, many women within the Province are financially strained, potentially limiting access to birth control. If you become pregnant and want to keep your child, you may be too financially hindered to do so, yet choosing abortion will presumably cost hundreds of dollars (in both procedural and travel-related expenses). Services at provincial sexual health clinics within the province were severely reduced last year, making it that much more difficult to receive any form of reproductive assistance, which is of particular importance in a province with among the highest rates of reported sexual assault in the country, In essence, the hands of New Brunswick women are tied. New Brunswick is a province where gender inequality thrives; worse still – the majority of Canadians are unaware.
There have been attempts to grant a reprieve of this injustice. As early as January, proceedings began on a human rights complaint filed by a female physician, arguing that she is discriminated against because she is woman and is unable to provide appropriate care due to the provincial government’s stance on abortion. Yet, the anti-choice mentality still rages on here. Just recently, the abortion debate was boldly referred to as a ‘non-issue’ by one New Brunswick politician, outlining that the decision is between a woman and her physician and that ‘he’d live’ with the way things were. Perhaps the issue of abortion remains a ‘non-issue’ to him, but to us uterus-bearing individuals, our lack of reproductive choice is a serious concern. It is a woman’s choice to make – and her’s alone.
Yes, within Canada, abortion laws are much more favorable to women then within the United States. True, in comparison to the recent plight of women struggling for reproductive freedoms within the United States, the long-standing injustice the women of New Brunswick face may seem trivial. But I assure it is not; we represent something much bigger. In a country that proudly promotes a socialized health system, claiming to provide equalized medical care, women are seemingly left out. The struggles of the women of New Brunswick represent what is inherently wrong with the current androcentric nature of the Canadian medical system. Equality within the Canadian medical system seems very far off, at least on the East Coast.
As an out-spoken (and perhaps overly opinionated) woman I realize I am out-numbered, as many of us are who live in regions where misogynistic mentalities reign strong. Far too often has my unabashed feminist ways gotten me into trouble while living here, and I am certain it will again. However, it is time for change, but that change may come too slow for the women living here today. While politicians argue abortion is a non issue I wonder if they would feel the same way if they had to face the systemic bigotry women face every day because of political inaction. The importance now is to inform people of what is going on here, so that change can be instigated.
Kathleen Pye is a doctoral student at the University of New Brunswick. She holds a BSc in Kinesiology, an MEd in Counselling Psychology, and an MSc in Nutritional Biochemistry. As a researcher, counselor, and activist, Kathleen aims to lessen secrecy, promote awareness, build understanding, and provide assistance for those affected by eating issues and disorders. She tweets from @KathleenCanada.