For those of you who don’t know, today is the 25th anniversary of the Morgentaler decision. On this day, in 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the banning of abortions was unconstitutional. Ever since then, there have been no criminal laws governing the practice.
Thanks to Dr. Henry Morgentaler and pro-choice activists, Canadian women have had the ability to access safe, unrestricted, and free* abortions for 25 years.
All I have to say today is thank you, thank you, thank you!
*Physician and hospital costs for the procedure are covered by medicare. Private clinics are not insured under medicare and therefore the cost of the procedure falls on the patient. Currently, there is no abortion access in Prince Edward Island. People who need to travel long distances to get abortion access, such as those on PEI, must pay their travel expenses out of their own pocket.
Until recently, after reading headline after headline about bills relinquishing women’s reproductive rights in the United States, I have always taken having the option of abortion for granted. I’ve been lucky: for all the years I’ve been sexually active, I’ve had the ability to access a free and safe abortion should I have gotten pregnant accidentally. And even after the total number of bills limiting a woman’s right to choose her own destiny in the States this year alone surpassed 130, I still didn’t bat an eye because of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s promise to not revisit the issue. However, as of April 26th 2012, abortion access is up for debate in Parliament.
So has the GOP’s “War on Women” planted seeds of hope in the minds of right-wing conservatives up here in the Great White North? Possibly. Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth has introduced the private member’s motion calling for a committee to be formed to reexamine the legal definition of when human life begins—which is currently the moment after a birth is complete. Woodworth argues that the “400 year old definition of life” is in need of updating in terms of modern medical knowledge. Even though he claims to show no interest in legislation concerning abortion itself, his interest in “shedding light on when a child becomes a human being” and stance that there shouldn’t be any laws dictating when a human being is a human being, is obviously a way to have the issue of abortion reopened as it is inextricably linked to the definition of life.
Many liberal Canadians are left wondering why did this happen at all? Harper on multiple occasions has stated that the Conservative government has no interest in the issue and that a woman’s right to choose is not up for discussion. Hell, it was part of his platform in the last election. So, as Evan Solomon at CBC News pointed out, how could he let one of his party members put forward such a motion?
There have been protests and online resistance. I think my favourite so far has been the Radical Handmaids.
The activist group’s name was inspired by Canadian feminist author/environmental activist Margaret Atwood’s novel A Handmaid’s Tale. If you aren’t familiar with the story, it’s about a totalitarian and theocratic state that has replaced the United States in which “handmaids” are women owned by elite couples for the sole reason of producing and raising children.
So far the news is that the vote could be as early as June but most likely will happen in September. NDP leader Tom Muclair and Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae have been very vocal about their plans to vote against the motion and the Prime Minister has stated that the motion is unfortunate and that he will be voting against it as well. Because of this expression of support some are convinced the motion has a 0% chance of passing, but why should we trust it? Please talk to your local MPs and contact the Senate. In a post about the omnibus crime bill C-10 (which has since been passed into law :’( ), I included the contact info for the Canadian Senate and the emails of each Senator. You can click here to go to it. And here is the Prime Minister’s contact info:
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2
It literally just takes a couple minutes. I’ve already sent out a mass email. You can bet your butt that hundreds of Anti-choicers have already done so because they get shit done. And that’s our folly. Liberal Canadians have let conservatives have the louder voice even though over the years polls and surveys have suggested they are an overwhelming minority. So please, take a few minutes out of your day to stand up for a basic human RIGHT.
I was in clinic when I heard the overhead STAT page to the emergency room.
As I sprinted down the stairs, I ran through the possible scenarios. I wasn’t on call, so the day to day gynecologic emergencies weren’t my purview. I hadn’t operated on anyone in the past few weeks, so unlikely to be one of my own patients with a complication.
Logically there was only one conclusion.
A nurse was holding the staff entrance to the ER open. From the look on her face I surmised this was to save the minute or two it would take to punch in the numbers on the lock and inquire at the desk for patient’s whereabouts.
“Down there,” she pointed.
On the gurney lay a young woman the color of white marble. The red pool between her legs, ominously free of clots, offered a silent explanation.
“She arrived a few minutes ago. Not even a note.” My resident was breathless with anger, adrenaline, and panic.
I had an idea who she went to. The same one the others did. The same one many more would visit. A doctor, but considering what I had seen he could’t have any formal gynecology training. The only thing he offered that the well-trained provers didn’t was a cut-rate price. If you don’t know to ask, well, a doctor is a doctor. That’s assuming you are empowered enough to have such a discussion. I was also pretty sure his office didn’t offer interpreters.
I needed equipment not available in an emergency room. I looked at the emergency room attending. “Call the OR and tell them we need a room. Now.” And then I turned to my resident. I was going to tell him to physically make sure a room, any room, was ready when we arrived, but he had already sprinted towards the stairs. He knew.
We didn’t wait for an orderly. A terrified medical student and I raced down the hallway with the gurney. The amorphous red pool dripped onto the floor as we rounded the corner to the elevators.
The double doors that led to the operating rooms swung open. “The urology room. They’re between cases,” my resident shouted.
I saw an anesthesiologist out of the corner of my eye. “You. Now!” Most emergencies can wait a few minutes to check in at the front desk and for the anesthesiologist and nursing staff to take stock of the situation. This was not one of them.
The urologist, whose room I appropriated, blustered and sputtered in behind me. “What the fuck are you doing barging in, I’ve got another case…” but as we moved my patient over to the operating table and he saw the blood, he stopped. He grabbed a tray of instruments and opened. “I’ll be your scrub.”
The anesthesiologist was pissed. Not really mad, more riled up than anything. No one likes to be blind sided, no matter how well intentioned. And he probably thought I was over reacting. That is until he put in another intravenous.
“Fuck.” What looked like blood tinged water flashed back.
And now they all understood what I knew the second I laid eyes on this patient. Abortions that go horribly wrong bleed out. Quickly.
The room filled with surgeons, nurses, and students eager to help. To do something. Anything.
I opened the vagina and by feel clamped through the holes on either side of the uterus where I knew from experience I would find the uterine arteries, the likely site of the puncture. I didn’t know which side, and at that point it didn’t matter. I just needed to stop the blood flow. It took less than a minute. She would have bled to death if I had opened her belly.
As the bleeding had stopped, it was up to the anesthesiologist to fix the hematologic tempest. A vascular system so traumatized by sheer blood loss that it had run haywire and lost the ability to clot. Disseminated intravascular coagulation. This is how many young women die when an abortion goes wrong.
My hands started to shake. Everything from leaving my clinic to this point had been one crescendoing adrenaline-fueled reflex. Now that there was nothing physically for me to do the energy had to go somewhere.
I looked around. A forest of IV poles, laden with blood instead of fruit. Everyone not directly helping was running back and forth to the pharmacy or blood bank. A nurse and another surgeon started to clean the floor. We were all bonded by this nameless woman whose life we were desperately trying to save. And we were bearing witness, because we knew if she died it was unlikely anyone would read about her in the paper. It was unlikely her family would protest. A myriad of potential reasons. Shame of the abortion. Distrust of government. Fear of immigration officials.
The urologist, a grizzled older man with whom I had nothing in common except a medical degree and this patient, rested his hand on my shoulder. It was a kind, fatherly gesture. The weight was comforting.
“You done good.” He said. And then he added, “Those bastards.”
I knew he was referring not just to the physician who did this procedure, but to everyone in society who had contributed to a disadvantaged woman finding herself in such a desperate situation.