Editorial, Opinion

Abortion access and trans rights are non-negotiables

After decades of financial struggles, Clinic 554, the last private practice to provide surgical abortions in Fredericton, New Brunswick, permanently closed on Jan. 31. With the province refusing to allow Medicare to cover the cost of private clinic procedures, Clinic 554 worked on a pay-what-you-can model that eventually led to its end.

Clinic 554’s services addressed the devastating gap between Canada’s legal provisions for abortion and the reality of limited access for people who need them. Though abortions are legal in Canada, accessibility remains an obstacle for many, especially people outside of urban centres. With the overcrowding crisis in hospitals, our underfunded health care system creates long wait times for anyone who needs an abortion.

Abortion pills such as Mifegymiso, touted as a solution to the problem of limited access to surgical abortions, are expensive and subject to shortages, leading to long wait times that rival those for surgeries. The obstacles to receive an abortion continue to compound as Canadian politicians carve out reproductive and medical justice.

The most significant accessibility barriers emerge from systemic mistreatment and inequity across imposed divisions of race, gender, and class. Anti-abortion movements have long targeted all women’s reproductive rights, but abortions have still always been most available to wealthy, white, cis women who the health care system prioritizes. The Canadian medical system reproduces settler-colonial abuse and medical malpractice toward Indigenous peoples and continually underfunds community-based health organizations. Canadians should not have to leave their town or province to receive an abortion, especially not Indigenous and two-spirit people on whose lands these clinics operate. Similarly, due to the long and continuous history of medical racism toward Black people and people of colour, many communities rightly distrust medical institutions built to exclude them.

Clinic 554’s closure and the erosion of reproductive rights throughout North America indicate the rise of intimate policing of women’s, trans people’s, and nonbinary people’s bodies. The Conservative party leads national polls and, though nominally pro-choice, leader Pierre Poilievre fails to politically align himself with publicly pro-choice party members. The current threats to abortion access in Canada—and the increased threat of a Conservative government—demand a reckoning with how the state denies bodily autonomy to marginalized people in Canada through its laws and institutions.

On Jan. 31–– the last day that the clinic could stay open––Alberta premier Danielle Smith announced new policies preventing trans minors from transitioning and requiring parents to opt their children into education about gender, sex, and sexuality. The Conservative premier spread misinformation about minors transitioning in the name of “protecting” the province’s children. Smith failed to acknowledge that children with transphobic or homophobic parents will be even less safe with legislation in place that harms them. This regressive movement spreads fear about gender, endangers 2SLGBTQIA+ children, and works in tandem with anti-abortion measures to control who gets full citizenship rights in Canada.

Anti-choice activists and legislators failing to provide adequate access to abortions decreases the potential for safe ones. “Pro-life” policies consistently go hand in hand with the limiting of social services for children in marginalized communities and at-risk women, trans people, and queer people. At the institutional level, McGill and other medical schools all but omit abortion education and training from their curriculum. Students—and Canadian citizens generally—must fight to improve abortion education and services to preserve an essential medical service. Canada’s first abortion clinic, the Morgentaler Clinic, opened in Montreal fifty-five years ago—the struggle for reproductive rights must continue in this city. This work begins by recognizing that abortions and bodily autonomy are fundamental human rights. When students have open and vocal conversations about abortion access, birth control, and trans rights and health care, this pushes pro-choice and open-minded legislators to invest in these services. Students have a responsibility not just to pressure McGill to provide better services to students and better training to doctors, but also to advocate for the current services that on-campus organizations such as the Peer Support Centre, Union for Gender Empowerment, the Trans Patient Union at McGill and the Subcommittee on Queer Equity make possible. We must demand continued support for these essential services in the face of efforts to uproot them.

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