Youth feminists fighting to improve abortion access
Group calling for access to safe, funded abortions in light of pending closure of Morgentaler clinic
A Fredericton teenager is one of the people leading the charge to improve access to abortions now that the Morgentaler clinic in Fredericton plans to close in July over a lack of government funding.
Sorcha Beirne, 16, is president of the Fredericton Youth Feminists, and has a clear message for the government of New Brunswick.
“By Canadian law, we have the right to an abortion, and abortion is an important medical service, and if we don't have the access to abortion, then we're not getting the services that we need," said the Grade 11 Fredericton High School student..
"I don't think anybody should be making decisions over other people's bodies. We have the right to choose what we want to do with our bodies," she said.
Beirne says some people are afraid or reluctant to speak out, but she decided to take action because, she says, the issue is too important.
She realizes she is taking on the legacy of many older male politicians.
Former premier Frank McKenna, for example, in 1989 said: "We believe that Dr. Morgentaler has no right to come in and establish his own clinics."
In 2003, former premier Bernard Lord said: "In the last campaign that we just went through, I don't think there's one person that came to me that told me there was a need for more abortion services in the province of New Brunswick."
Want politicians to state positions
Still, Beirne says she and her group will not be ignored. It's time for real discussion about the issue in the province and there is an appetite for politicians to make their positions known and clear, she said.
Nearly 12,000 people have signed an online petition calling for abortion funding in New Brunswick.
Health Minister Ted Flemming has declined to comment, citing the lawsuit the late Henry Morgentaler launched against the provincial government in 2002, demanding the government pay for procedures at this clinic.
"That lawsuit is still before the courts, it's still an open file before the courts, so beyond that I'm not prepared to comment further," Flemming has said.
But University of New Brunswick Law Prof. Jula Hughes contends the lawsuit is effectively inactive, since Morgentaler died last year.
The province pays for abortions at two hospitals, but only if a woman gets approval from two doctors who certify the procedure is “medically necessary.”
The Morgentaler clinic in Fredericton is the only private abortion facility in New Brunswick and the only one east of Montreal.
The clinic, which opened in June 1994, has provided abortion services to more than 10,000 women, including some from Prince Edward Island.
Its decision to close, following a 20-year fight with the New Brunswick government over funding, will make it even more difficult for women to get abortions in New Brunswick — a province that already has one of the most restrictive policies in Canada.
The current fee for the procedure at the Morgentaler clinic is $700 before 14 weeks of pregnancy, and $850 between 14 and 16 weeks.
A counter online petition to prevent public funding of the Morgentaler clinic in Fredericton has collected about 6,600 signatures.
The annual anti-abortion rally will be held at the Legislature in Fredericton in May.