Choice, Interrupted: Travel and Inequality of Access to Abortion Services since the 1960s

By Sethna, Christabelle; Palmer, Beth et al. | Labour/Le Travail, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Choice, Interrupted: Travel and Inequality of Access to Abortion Services since the 1960s


Sethna, Christabelle, Palmer, Beth, Ackerman, Katrina, Janovicek, Nancy, Labour/Le Travail


TRAVEL IS ONE OF MANY extra-legal barriers that restrict access to abortion services. Paradoxically, women travel at the international, domestic, and local levels to circumvent legal and/or extra-legal barriers to access. Through an examination of four specific Canadian responses to inequality of access to abortion services relative to shifts in the legal terrain from the 1960s onwards, the authors demonstrate that travel signifies an interruption to reproductive choice. Women went to Britain and the United States for an abortion when these countries relaxed their abortion legislation. Within Canada, women sought out the services offered by the Morgentaler Clinic in Montreal in order to avoid the abortion bureaucracy that limited their right to choose. In New Brunswick, the pro-life movement successfully lobbied hospitals to restrict abortion services, and the provincial government to deny funding for abortions performed in freestanding clinics, forcing women to travel to access abortion services. Pro-choice activists in southeastern British Columbia launched a successful campaign to protect hospital abortions, ensuring that rural women had access to abortion services within their home communities. Today, 25 years after the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the abortion law, abortion services are uneven at best and unattainable at worst in different regions of the country.

LES DEPLACEMENTS CONSTITUENT l'un des nombreux obstacles extrajuridiques qui limitent l'acces aux services d'avortement. Paradoxalement, les femmes se deplacent a l'echelle regionale, nationale et internationale pour contourner les obstacles juridiques et/ou extra-juridiques qui restreignent leur accessibilite. En examinant quatre exemples, qui illustrent l'inegalite d'acces aux services d'avortement au Canada et les bouleversements juridiques depuis les annees 60 jusqu'a aujourd'hui, les auteures montrent que les deplacements sont un obstacle au droit a l'interruption de grossesse. Des femmes ont voyage jusqu'en Grande-Bretagne et aux Etats-Unis pour un avortement quand ces pays ont assoupli leurs lois sur l'avortement. Au Canada, les femmes ont contourne la bureaucratie du systeme medical qui limite leur droit de choisir en se rendant a la clinique privee Morgentaler, a Montreal. Au Nouveau-Brunswick, les membres du mouvement pro-vie ont reussi a convaincre les hopitaux de restreindre l'acces a l'avortement et le gouvernement provincial de refuser le remboursement des avortements pratiques dans les cliniques privees, obligeant les femmes a se deplacer ailleurs. Dans le sud-est de la Colombie-Britannique, les activistes du mouvement pro-choix ont mene avec succes une campagne pour proteger les services d'avortement a l'hopital et pour veiller a ce que les femmes des regions rurales aient acces aux services d'avortement dans leur communaute. Aujourd'hui, 25 ans apres la decision majeure de la Cour supreme du Canada abrogeant la loi qui criminalisait l'avortement au pays, l'acces aux services d'avortement est difficile dans le meilleur des cas, voire impossible dans certaines regions du pays.

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SAVITA HALAPPANAVAR, a 31-year-old dentist living in Ireland, died on 28 October 2012 of septicemia. Even though Halappanavar was miscarrying, doctors at a Galway hospital rejected her abortion request because of their interpretation of the country's strict anti-abortion laws. (1) The death of Halappanavar may be viewed as a sombre reminder of the global consensus that abortion delivered in a safe, legal, and timely fashion is critical to women's reproductive health. (2) Today, worldwide, legal and extra-legal barriers continue to compromise access to abortion services. The need to travel to access abortion services, with its consequent costs, is recognized as one of many extra-legal barriers to access. (3) The further a woman must travel to access abortion services, the less likely she is to have the procedure. (4) Paradoxically, women travel at the international, domestic, and local levels to circumvent legal and/or extra-legal barriers to access. …

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