Pro-choice advocates want more access to abortion across New Bruswick

Access to certain medical services can be challenging throughout the province, especially for those living in rural areas, said one concerned woman who wants to see abortion and reproductive services brought to Miramichi.
Rebeka Frazer-Chiasson, who worked for two years doing community development in Miramichi and now runs a farm in Rogersville, believes in a woman’s right to choose to terminate her pregnancy.
Frazer-Chiasson said it can be hard for women to make the trip to another municipality to access services.
“Access is really challenging everywhere in New Brunswick but even more so in rural areas when you consider distance and transportation is a challenge, especially for lower income women,” she said. “But I think that it’s a problem everywhere in the province. It’s a discussion we have to have province-wide, but also a recognition that most of our population is in rural areas and really spread out amongst each other. That’s definitely something that we should be addressing whenever we talk about abortion services or reproductive justice is how we can get it in rural areas.”
Support groups are hard to come by for women dealing with the issues surrounding abortion in Miramichi and women might find it difficult to connect with other women for support, she said.
“If it (abortion services) was happening in Miramichi, or if there was access (at) the hospital, there’s all kinds of support groups, whether it’s for dealing with death or loss or cancer,” she said. “When it’s not in your community, it can be hard to connect to other people.”
Frazer-Chiasson said while it is very important to be surrounded by a supportive family and friends, having an actual organization to turn to is crucial.
“I have a strong family tie and family backing and I think that’s what a lot of people go on in small towns and in the Miramichi, but we have to recognize that is definitely not everyone’s reality, and (we need to) create opportunities and tools for people who don’t have that kind of support,” she said. “And obviously with abortion and reproductive justice, even if you have a strong family tie, it’s not necessary that they’re going to support you in that decision.”
Having worked within the community, Frazer-Chiasson said there are women with whom she would feel comfortable talking about issues like abortion.
“But there’s nothing that I know of that’s a support group or somewhere that you can go to that’s specifically about reproductive justice and access to abortion.”
Currently, two hospitals in the province offer abortions are the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton, an hour and a half drive away, and Chaleur Regional Hospital in Bathurst, about 50 minutes from Miramichi.
Both hospitals are operated by the francophone Vitalite health authority.
Last month Horizon Health Network president and CEO John McGarry announced that come April, the Moncton Hospital will be the only hospital in the anglophone health authority that will offer fully-funded abortions services.
Jessi Taylor, spokesperson for the Reproductive Justice of New Brunswick, a collective of individuals from across the
province dedicated to ensuring publicly funded and self-referred abortion is available in the province, said she doesn’t understand Horizon’s decision to offer the procedure in a centre that already offers the service.
“They’re going to be opening in Moncton where there’s already abortion services, instead of a place like Miramichi which has no services at all,” she said in a phone interview from Fredericton. “While there are a lot of abortions done in Moncton, those using the services are largely people coming from everywhere else in New Brunswick.”
A letter McGarry wrote to doctors in the province was leaked to the media last month where he said there was a need to balance access with cost, being accountable to both patients and taxpayers.
“I have come to the conclusion that, in this case of uncertain sustainable volumes, we can best reconcile all interests by making a decision on a single site. That site will be The Moncton Hospital.”
McGarry also said the Moncton Hospital has a committed clinical team of, at minimum, four physicians and said that offering the service at one hospital rather than three with save his company a minimum of half a million dollars a year.
“We cannot afford that capital cost. Operational costs in one site will be only slightly affected by placing all three projected volumes together.”
A poll released in January shows that New Brunswickers are split on whether or not they believe a woman has the right to terminate a pregnancy.
The recent Corporate Resources Associates Inc. poll reported that 48 per cent of the province believes a woman can have an abortion within the first trimester of pregnancy.
Limited access can cause long wait times, and since an abortion must be performed within a certain time-frame, this could pose issues for some women, Taylor said.
“If a woman needs to wait to get in to see the doctor to have an abortion, but the wait time makes it so she is into her second trimester, or 13.6 weeks, they won’t perform the procedure. At that point you have to go out of province and pay out of pocket.”
And it’s costly, she said, adding at the Clinic 554 in Fredericton, which is where the old Morgentaler clinic was located, abortions cost $700.
Taylor has some suggestions about making better access for Miramichiers, adding that hospitals are already hooked up with the necessary equipment to perform abortions, since the equipment required is the same that’s used during an emergency miscarriage, so she thinks doctors should be trained on that equipment.
“The department of health needs to pressure Horizon into opening more services in more places, but they also need to get rid of the rule about refusing to fund services in clinic settings,” she said. “Clinic settings are way cheaper and they’re way better for patients and providers alike. We have clinics and we have resources and we have equipment, but they’re just refusing to use it. Miramichiers deserve better.”
Frazer-Chiasson thinks there is a double-sided rhetoric surrounding the issue of reproductive rights.
“We’re talking about wanting to increase women’s participation in community life or economics or definitely in politics, but we’re not talking about what the challenges might be and how access to our reproductive justice is definitely a challenge and something that has to be addressed if we truly want greater female participation.”
Perhaps talking about these issues can take away some of the taboo or stigma some women face if they do in fact choose to terminate their pregnancy, she said.
“I’ve never seen anything around pro-choice here. I would like to talk more with the people who I know are pro-choice in the Miramichi about the “culture of silence” and why this is,” she said, adding people might have different opinions if they talk about it in a different context. “If people are given the opportunity to think about it differently and have access to a different language than what they’ve grown up in, they (might) feel that it makes sense, and think, ‘yeah sure, I feel that I or women in my life should have control over their bodies and those decisions’.”
Miramichi is far away from having any sort of pro-choice rally, she said.
“But maybe we’re not that far from at least getting more people to talk about it. There’s probably way more conversations happening than we think.”
The Miramichi Leader has placed interview requests with both Horizon Health Network and the Department of Health.

Concerns around physician-assisted death

Canadians now have the right to choose death over suffering. Well, sort of.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Canada overturned a ruling that will now allow for physician-assisted death in Canada. While this might seem like a step in the right direction for those in favour of euthanasia, there is still some concern around the ruling.
In the past when the issue of euthanasia came up, I always took the stand where I think people should have the right to choose death over suffering.
Now that the prohibition of assisted-death has been deemed unconstitutional, and now that Canadians are one step closer to being able to opt for death, I am no longer sure where I stand.
Let me explain why.
The idea of assisted suicide has long been debated in this country, with Canadians begging the question, is it sometimes ok for people to die by their own hand or by the hand of a doctor?
The ruling states that only physicians are allowed to carry out life-ending measures in the cases of competent adults who “clearly consent to the termination of life” and who “has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.”
Seems straight forward enough…right? Not so much.
As it stands right now, a lot can be left up to interpretation. Who is considered a “competent adult”? Is that based on age or on mental capacity or a mix of the two? What do they mean by grievous, or severe? What one person considers severe might not be the same as another person’s definition. What kind of suffering is considered “intolerable”? Again, this could differ from one person to another.
Does this ruling take into consideration patients who suffer from mental illness, who are in a constant state of despair and anguish? While this might not necessarily come out as physical pain, they are in intolerable pain nonetheless.
The Supreme Court has postponed the effect of the decision for one year, which is to say Parliament has one year to craft legislation to go in place of the old legislation that banned physician-assisted death.
I fear this new legislation might be rushed, seeing as though Parliament goes on summer hiatus from late-June to late-September and once they are back, they will be preparing for the fixed election date of Oct. 19.
This issue, one would suspect, would want to be dealt with before a (potential) change in leadership as it is not likely an issue politicians will want to discuss while campaigning.
Last fall, my uncle was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer that spread throughout his body and there was nothing that could be done to help him.
He spent the last few weeks of his life in the hospital, waiting to die. He couldn’t eat so had feeding tubes. He lost a lot of weight as his health deteriorated significantly. It started to look like he would eventually end up starving to death.
I remember being really angry that he and his family had to go through this, waiting for the inevitable to occur, while he suffered in a cruel manner, clinging to what can only be described as a poor quality of life.
Luckily, if that word can be used in such a terrible situation, his wait ended before too long. But not everyone passes so quickly and are thus forced to suffer and endure a terrible quality of life for long periods of time.
If death is inevitable, why should a patient be forced to suffer? Should that person not be allowed to be relieved of their misery and suffering?
I still tend to lean on the side of yes, we should be allowed to choose death over suffering.
On the other hand, questions come up: What if a person has given their consent to a doctor that they want to die, but at a later date changes their mind but at that point they don’t have the capacity to express this?
And then what if a physician abuses the whole concept of assisted suicide, taking liberties into his or her own hands and ending the life of their patient, falsely claiming it was what the patient wanted?
To take it to the extreme, what if physician assisted-death becomes a common practice as a way for government to save on health care costs? Because it’s much more expensive to keep a patient on machines under constant care than it is to simply remove them from the equation.
Failure to draft clear legislation could result in similar issues that have come out surrounding the abortion debate.
In 1988, the Supreme Court struck down the Criminal Code laws allowing abortion and to this day, no standards have been set and each province has a different approach to the issue, where some provinces allow abortions and other do not.
Whatever the final legislation says, it has to be incredibly thorough and clear and there needs to be transparency from the doctors and the government for each case where assisted-death is carried through.

[Originally published in the Miramichi Leader on Feb. 15, 2015]