by Melanie Mackenzie
Abortions weren’t completely legal in Canada until 1988, but my Grandmother had hers in the early fifties. We’re not sure when and we can only guess at her reasons, but we do know she survived an illegal abortion and was able to have two children afterwards. For that, we know she was very lucky.
Soon, some women in Atlantic Canada may not be so fortunate.
The Morgentaler abortion clinic in Fredericton was opened, funded and operated by Dr. Henry Morgentaler, a Holocaust survivor and a champion of women’s rights. It is the only private abortion facility east of Montreal and due to a lack of government funding, it is closing this year. This is important to the women of Atlantic Canada because New Brunswick has some of the most restrictive laws in the country regarding women’s right to choose. (And PEI won’t perform abortions at all.)
With the closing of the clinic, women who are faced with an unwanted pregnancy will meet extreme challenges, not unlike those of my Grandmother. Grandma might have had it easier, even. She did not need to find and convince two doctors (in a province with an extreme doctor shortage) to write permission slips deeming her abortion “medically necessary.” She did not need to travel for hours and cross provincial lines to obtain an abortion and while she might have had to pay an exorbitant amount, she was lucky enough to have those resources at her disposal. Without the two doctors’ notes, New Brunswick hospitals charge between 700-850 dollars; an amount that for many woman, can seem practically impossible to obtain.
My Grandmother was lucky. So was I.
An abortion in Nova Scotia is covered by our tax dollars. You have to get an ultrasound and endure being pregnant for about two months, but all I had to say to my doctor was, “I’m pregnant and I don’t want to be,” and it was done. I didn’t have to explain my reasons to her, nor do I have to explain them to you, dear reader.
My body is none of your goddamn business.
The abortion itself was unbelievably uncomfortable, but relatively painless. The nurses were gentle, compassionate and thorough. (And they deserve everything they ask for, Premier McNeil.) They allowed me to squeeze their hand to the point of breaking and smiled gently as they saw through my weak attempts at humour when I tried to make light of a situation that felt very heavy.
Being pregnant is a funny thing, especially if you don’t want to be. Even more so if you’ve decided to terminate it. Not much changes. You still smoke, even though your body abhors it. You drink just as much, more even, hoping for a whiskey-miscarriage, and you continue not to shop for cribs and baby blankets and tiny things, just like before. The only thing that really changes is your view of the world because you begin to understand how the world will now view you. You have a secret that a lot of people will hate you for. Your opportunities and choices are illegal in a large part of the world and you know that doctors who perform abortions are being murdered and that people are willing to kill, just so that you produce a life. Not so that you can, but so that you will.
I have never regretted my decision to abort. Even as I lay in that hospital room, I knew I was making the right choice. You might argue that abortion kills a life, but in my opinion, it saved two; mine and the one I wouldn’t have been able to properly care for. I will admit, however, that being pro-choice in no way prepared me for actually making the choice. To say those two months were hard would be a gross understatement.
After months of reflection, I’ve realised that it wasn’t the abortion that upset me so much; it was this shadow of shame I was now supposed to live under that made me cry. In my small, sheltered and privileged view of the world, an abortion wasn’t supposed to happen to me. I hadn’t been close with anyone who had one before and even though I was confident in my decision to terminate the pregnancy, part of me was stubbornly refusing to admit that having ‘Abortion’ on my life’s resume was ok. It was, I thought, something to be ashamed of.
After confiding to a few friends about my ’delicate condition,’ I was shocked to find out that almost everyone knew someone who had at least one abortion. I didn’t feel it would be polite to approach these women and say, “Hey, lady! I heard you had an abortion! I’m scheduled for the 22nd, what’s the deal?” But I wish that I could have.
Abortions used to be a ‘back-alley’ procedure and in a way, they still are. We are not allowed to talk about them, except for back-alley whispers and the silence that surrounds women’s experiences is just another form of oppression that we encounter. By not being able to talk about our abortions, we are saying that we are ashamed of them. By staying silent, we are encouraging the systematic disgrace that makes it possible for wonderful institutions like The Morgentaler abortion clinic to not get the funding they need.
I am no longer ashamed of my abortion but I am angry that some of you expect me to be. My abortion happened about a week before Canada Day, and I have never been so proud to be Canadian. I cried and proudly sang my national anthem, grateful to live in a place where I had a right to bodily autonomy. My abortion was free, safe and legal. My choices for how I live my life were not impeded by misogynistic laws that attempt to control women’s bodies and lives.
I say attempt, because the government can only stop safe abortions. They cannot and will never be able to make a determined woman have a child she does not want. Do they want women resorting to coat hangers again? A once commonly used method to stop unwanted pregnancies was to pump Lysol into a woman’s womb. Is this the direction New Brunswick had in mind when they chose to uphold Regulation 84-20, Schedule 2? That’s the Medical Care Act that defines whether a procedure is entitled to be funded by tax dollars or not. This act shoves abortions into the same category as correcting an inverted nipple or being fitted for contact lenses. (It is interesting to note that the reversal of vasectomies is also considered unworthy of your tax dollars, but vasectomies are.)
This hypocritical system that says not only is it ok for men to never want children, but the choice will be his own and the tax payer will fund it. I hate to grasp at moot straws, but I think if men were able to become pregnant every time they had sex, abortions would have been free, rampant and legal long ago.
New Brunswick and PEI are using archaic mentalities in the running of their provinces and both provincial governments should be ashamed at themselves for their illegal, discriminatory and completely outrageous treatment of their citizens.
Whether a woman chooses to abort because she is in an unstable time in her life, her partner is abusive, it was a result of rape or simply she doesn’t want to be a mom, it is none of your business. NB’s Official Opposition Liberal leader Brian Gallant says that he’s pro-choice. Great. Good for him. But it doesn’t fucking matter. Governments are elected by the people with expectations that they will uphold the law and ABORTION IS LEGAL. Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that if women’s capacity to reproduce is to be subject not to her own control, but to that of the state, it would be a breach of the woman’s right to security of person. The Supreme Court ruled in 1988 (thanks to R. Vs. Morgentaler; there he is again, God, I love that man) that to force a woman to carry a fetus unless she meets certain criteria unrelated to her own priorities and aspirations is unconstitutional.
When an arrogant radio talk show host was recently asked why abortion was legal in the first place, he replied, ‘It’s legal because the Supreme Court ruled it so.’ He missed the point. Abortion is legal because the Supreme Court recognized women as people, not vessels. Women do not have to be mothers. We can be anything we want to be, whether that is an astronaut, a sex worker, a stay-at-home mom or single. Despite all our gains, women are still mentally stuck in my Grandmothers generation, “Be polite and don’t talk about certain things in polite company.“
Well, I will be kind, but I will no longer be silent.
If my abortion offends you, then don’t have one. I won’t make you, I promise. I won’t stand outside your maternity ward with signs saying that you will go to hell. I won’t judge your decision and I won’t intimidate you or make you feel guilty. I just want you to feel happy and secure in the choices you make and expect that you would have the same respect for me.
Melanie Mackenzie would have not done this without the love and support from her friends, her man, her family and all the incredible women around her who have given her strength. (Their love is stronger than your hate.)