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What If You Could Only Get an Abortion If Two Doctors Approved It?

A restriction was placed on abortions in New Brunswick that bans Canadian health insurance from paying for it unless it is done in a hospital, and with the approval of two doctors who have declared it a medical necessity.

Imagine you discover you are pregnant. You have young children already, you’re struggling to make ends meet as it is. You have just begun a new job that you love and can see yourself at for a long time, and your kids are finally all in school, making it possible for you to focus on work. You have no desire to go through another pregnancy, you don’t want to give birth, you know your family is complete.

You are sure about your decision that you want to get an abortion. The question is, will not one but two doctors agree to allow you to have one?

For those who live in New Brunswick, Canada, that’s the situation they must face now that Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton is closing down. Although abortion is allowed in Canada, in this particular province a restriction was placed on the procedure that bans Canadian health insurance from paying for it unless it is done in a hospital, and with the approval of two doctors who have declared it a “medical necessity.”

For most pregnant people, this is a severe financial hardship, and one that the Morgenthaler Clinic had long been helping them overcome. They have been providing non-medically indicated abortions for decades, for low cost or even for free for those who have requested them, declaring that a person’s right to terminate a pregnancy should not be hampered by whether or not she could afford to have the procedure done.

That was the mission of Dr. Henry Morgenthaler, a Canadian abortion rights pioneer, who died just last year. As a physician he spent years in jail as a protest of the country’s restrictive abortion laws, which lead to the eventual ruling that legalized abortion throughout the country in 1988. “I decided to break the law to provide a necessary medical service because women were dying at the hands of butchers and incompetent quacks, and there was no one there to help them,” he told his biographer, talking about his early illegal abortions. “The law was barbarous, cruel and unjust. I had been in a concentration camp, and I knew what suffering was. If I can ease suffering, I feel perfectly justified in doing so.”

With the Fredericton Morgenthaler clinic closing, however, those in the New Brunswick province would have no choice but to leave the area and go to a different province if they wanted to end a pregnancy, unless they could convince the hospital that it was medically necessary. That left those who believe in a person’s right to an abortion with two choices — try to reopen the clinic, or try to change the law.

Activists are of course doing both. Reproductive Justice New Brunswick, a new pro-abortion rights activist group, launched an online fundraising campaign to gather enough funding to lease the building, at least for a while, and keep abortion accessible to all pregnant people in the province seeking it. To do so, they must raise $100,000 by the end of July, and as of July 15th they had over $70,000 pledged. Thanks to a large batch of positive media coverage, nearly $20,000 of that came in about 24 hours.

Still, leasing the clinic isn’t enough. The original clinic closed as it finally lost its ability to handle the massive amount of free or low cost procedures it provided, simply because the pregnant people in the province couldn’t use their insurance like they could in other parts of the country. Changing that in New Brunswick is key to giving people back the ability to control when and if they give birth.

That’s the harder part, and it’s one Reproductive Justice New Brunswick is taking on as well. “We started lobbying efforts; we tried to have conversations with the New Brunswick government and with the opposite leaders of the Liberals,” Reproductive Justice NB member Kathleen Pye told The “We realized they’re just not interested, at all. We weren’t getting any calls back.”

It’s a struggle we’ve seen repeatedly here in the United States, where our clinics are closing left and right and abortion access has all but disappeared in many areas of the country. In the U.S., too, we are told that abortion will always be “available,” but what that word means varies drastically from state to state and region to region.

Are we in the U.S. nearing the point where an abortion can only be obtained in a hospital and with two doctors to approve it? Not quite. If we do get there, let’s hope we battle it just as fiercely as our neighbors to the north are doing.