Restricting access to abortion is a core right-wing strategy to control women by taking away their reproductive choices. Abortion access is a political issue: according to a 2016 report by the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, since 1987, MPs in Ottawa have introduced into Parliament at least 46 anti-choice private member bills and motions. The goals range from criminalizing abortion, to including fetuses as persons with rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to redefining “human being” to include fetuses under the Criminal Code (1).
Efforts to limit reproductive rights are ongoing in New Brunswick. Medicare-funded abortion services are offered in only two hospitals in Moncton and one in Bathurst. Clinic 554 in Fredericton is a family practice providing abortion services, including specialized services unavailable in the three NB hospitals. According to the Clinic 554 medical director Dr. Adrian Edgar, the NB government will not pay for abortions performed in Clinic 554, despite paying for other medicare-approved services offered by Clinic 554 and by other doctors in their private offices and clinics across the province. This decision by successive provincial governments puts NB in contravention with the federal Canada Health Act.
Given the lack of provincial support for its abortion services, Clinic 554 has been under financial strain since it opened under its new banner, replacing the former Morgentaler Clinic. Speaking to the media at a rally in Fredericton on Oct. 11 to support Clinic 554 from impending closure, Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May and federal Green Party candidate for Fredericton Jenica Atwin stated that the closure of the Clinic would be devastating for the most marginalized populations in the province. Clinic 554 is also the primary provider of queer and trans health services in the province, as well as care for the local homeless population.
A recent survey of federal election candidates by Reproductive Justice New Brunswick found that only the Green Party and the Communist Party candidates indicated that if the NB government continues to withhold funding for abortion services at Clinic 554, then the federal government could withhold federal health funding transfer payments until it complies with the Canada Health Act. This strategy has been used by the federal government previously in other jurisdictions to ensure the Canada Health Act is respected universally across the country.
Provincially, MLA Megan Mitton (Green Party, Memramcook-Tantramar) is the strongest voice in the New Brunswick legislature for reproductive rights and abortion access. She continues to advocate for equitable health services for everyone across New Brunswick.
Who are the primary advocates for restricting reproductive choice across Canada and in New Brunswick? The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada’s report identified 180 “Crisis Pregnancy Centres” in Canada. Many are fake medical clinics offering free ultrasounds as a way to bring in women for “counselling.” Their “counselling” focuses on the supposed harms of abortion. In fact, an abortion has a much lower risk of adverse health effects than carrying an unwanted fetus to term.
One of these fake clinics is in Fredericton, located on Brunswick St. right beside Clinic 554. The Women’s Care Centre is also the home of the “New Brunswick Right to Life Association Inc.”, the primary anti-choice organization in the province and a registered charity. The organization’s purpose is to advocate, through advertising and educational campaigns, as well as harassment of the patients in the Clinic next door, to remove abortion as a viable choice for an unwanted pregnancy. In 2018 it had three full-time and one part-time persons employed to do this work.
In 2018, the most recent year it filed reports to the Canada Revenue Agency, the organization listed $553,717 in total revenue, of which $411,317 was gifts for which the charity issued tax receipts. It had more than $180K in cash or short-term investments in the bank. Not listed in their accounts was the gift from the province of a 100% rebate on property taxes for the building they own. Their new building, replacing one destroyed by fire several years ago, is on property listed as one of the “gifts” from their donors. The gift, as a charitable donation, could be used by the property donor as a tax write-off.
An article published in the Canadian Journal of Political Science noted how the anti-choice rhetoric has evolved to changing cultural values more than changing legislation. Anti-choice discourse is “explicitly framed as ‘pro-woman’; largely avoids appealing to religious grounds; and relies on a new ‘abortion-harms-women’ argument that has supplanted and transformed traditional fetal personhood arguments” (2). Indeed, a recent rally in Fredericton supported by the anti-choice group featured two women speakers who shared “personal stories of abortion and healing.”
One notable feature of the NB Right to Life Association is the prominence of women in the organization structure – in their 2018 documents filed with the CRA all their key positions are held by women. Heather Hughes is the executive director. Elizabeth Crouchman is the president of the board of directors, Georgina Jones is the vice-president, and Joyce Stairs is the secretary. Three other women are also directors: Diane Maillard, Doris Ashfield, and Anne Hooper. The male directors are Gerald Laskey, Winston Farley, Murray Hayes, and Brian Phillips.
According to analysis by Andrea Dworkin, right-wing women have a vested interest in opposing abortion. They believe that women’s subjugation to men is a fixed, immovable reality and that the institution of religious heterosexual marriage will protect women since a wife is supposed to be cherished and respected (3). It follows therefore that since their ability to reproduce is their primary value, they must increase the societal value of reproduction and oppose other reproductive options, particularly abortion. Their male counterparts in the anti-choice movement can remain in the background while contributing financially and politically to the movement’s activities.
Dworkin’s analysis suggests that the struggle for reproductive justice in New Brunswick will be waged on many fronts, including activist protests and letter-writing campaigns to provincial and federal representatives to change laws and policies as well as increasing the number of women and others in positions of power who will challenge oppressive societal norms of gender. The goal of the struggle will be for everyone to view marriage and reproduction as choices rather than their only viable options.
As for Clinic 554, the fight is not over. Despite the announcement of impending closure, the strength of support at the Oct. 11 rally attended by more than 100 people has moved the struggle to another level. The next day a new group, “Save Clinic 554,” announced its intention to keep the Clinic open. An email circulated stated: “We are done playing nice. Clinic 554 is tired of doing the government’s job. We are tired of being ignored. The time to be ‘respectful’ and ‘calm’ are over, this is an emergency. We will do everything we can to hold the provincial and federal governments, and Horizon Health accountable to provide the Clinic with the necessary funding to continue their vital work.”
(1) Arthur, J., Bailin, R., Dawson, K., Glenwright, M., Reinhardt-Simpson, A., Sykes, M., & Zimmer, A. (2016). Review of” Crisis Pregnancy Centre” Websites in Canada. Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada.
(2) Saurette, P., & Gordon, K. (2013). Arguing abortion: The new anti-abortion discourse in Canada. Canadian Journal of Political Science/Revue canadienne de science politique, 46(1), 157-185.
(3) Dworkin, Andrea. Right-wing women: The politics of domesticated females. The Women’s Press, 1983.
Dr. Susan O’Donnell, a member of the editorial board of the NB Media Co-op, is a researcher and adjunct professor of Sociology at the University of New Brunswick.