Reproductive choice advocates in B.C. say Texas, which has imposed a near-total ban on abortion, is hardly alone in limiting access to abortions.
“There is a disparity of abortion access for women in British Columbia as well,” said Michelle Fortin, director of the Vancouver-based non-profit Options for Sexual Health. “Contraception isn’t yet free.”
In the United States, where a majority of women get free contraception under the Affordable Care Act, protests have erupted against new legislation in Texas that permits citizens to sue anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.
Since the majority of B.C. abortion clinics are in urban centres including Vancouver, Kelowna and Victoria, many in rural communities have to travel long distances for the procedure.
“Even in a country where abortion is legal, women are still facing barriers,” said Kaitlin Pelletier, executive director of Vancouver’s Elizabeth Bagshaw Clinic, which has had patients travel from small communities in Northern British Columbia for an abortion. Others, including patients from Vancouver Island, have crossed waterways.
“Getting a surgical abortion for those travelling means paying for two nights in a hotel,” Pelletier added. “Many women also lose wages from time taken off work.”
At times, the cost of travelling is so expensive that the women are out of options for ways to get home after the procedure, Pelletier said.
“We’ve had to taxi some women back to their communities.”
In Vancouver on Saturday, about 40 protesters marched to the U.S. consulate to protest the Texas law: “What lowers abortion rates? Contraception,” “Keep your laws away from my uterus,” read their signs.
Protester Melissa Swinamer said she “had to make the life-changing decision” to get a surgical abortion in her youth but “although it wasn’t easy, it was the right choice.” Living in Red Deer in 2009, finding out she was 11 weeks pregnant was unexpected, she said.
“Having that child would have tethered me to my abuser,” the 33-year-old said about her decision to drive more than an hour to Calgary for the procedure. Her cousin was by her side.
“The clinic staff were respectful. They made sure I was aware of all of my options before the procedure and I listened to the heartbeat before my decision.”
It was a similar story for Fortin, who utilized the health care service to terminate a pregnancy that would have entangled her in an unhealthy relationship, she said.
“The procedure saved my life,” said Fortin, now in her 50s. “I fear that having a child would have kept me under that man’s control.”
As an advocate of allowing other women the political freedom to make the same decision she did, on Sunday Fortin stood in between anti-abortion protesters in front of the B.C. Women’s Hospital, where surgical abortions are provided up to the 24th week of pregnancy.
Members affiliated with the Life Chain religious group carried signs that read “abortion kills children” and “abortion hurts women,” said Fortin, who found the sight hard to witness. “It was just so frustrating and disrespectful.”
Along with increased access to abortions, Fortin and other sexual and reproductive health proponents are urging the B.C. NDP government fulfil its 2020 election promise to make all prescription contraception free.
Making no-cost contraception accessible would make a “huge difference” in lowering the rates of unwanted pregnancy and abortion in the province, said Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. It could save someone as much as $10,000 during their lifetime or $260 per year, according to NDP estimates.
B.C.’s Ministry of Health said in an email it has already taken steps to make contraceptives more affordable. In 2019, a number of prescriptions including oral hormonal pills, hormonal injectibles and some intrauterine devices (IUDs) were made “fully covered” under Pharmacare.
“Making prescription contraception free for all is part of the Minister of Health’s mandate and we’ll have more to say in the coming months,” read the statement. “We know there’s more we can do.”