Remember that time Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he wouldn’t reopen the abortion debate?
So, while the Harper Government has technically upheld its word, it hasn’t exactly honoured the spirit of said promise. The Harper Government has pursued the pro-life agenda by stealth, whether it’s by inflating the issue of “sex-selective abortion” and femicide (a tactic that artfully couples xenophobia with the majority’s selective outrage over misogyny) or by allowing private members bills, to say nothing of blatantly defunding projects that would guarantee the right to a safe abortion to child brides and victims of war rape abroad.
Canada’s media has been tackling the interminable foot dragging over at Health Canada, where approvals of mifepristone , the ‘abortion pill,’ are moving at a glacial pace. The drug produced by Linepharma International and included in the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines, is a “efficacious, safe and cost effective” medicine “considered necessary to provide basic health care.”
CBC reminds us that NDP Health Critic Libby Davies last year told Canadians, “Having this pill approved, I think is really, really important to a lot of women who need to have access to reproductive choice. There shouldn’t be any holdup as far as I’m concerned.” Even Postmedia, that bastion of social conservatism, quoted Dr. Wendy Norma, chair of the College of Family Physicians of Canada’s section of researcher, saying, “We know throughout the world, and certainly in Canada as well, that the earlier a woman who has an unwanted, unintended pregnancy can access an abortion, the safer it is for her and her ongoing reproductive health.”
But our choice of the golden critique goes to The Globe and Mail’s André Picard – one of Canada’s premiere health journalists – who Friday morning served the Harper Government with a spectacularly well-deserved tongue-lashing (behind a paywall, damn you Interweb!), mocking Health Canada’s talking points explaining why an approval process, which has now taken well over 750 days, has taken so long: “Heath Canada: Needs. More. Time. To review paperwork.”
Despite anti-abortion groups’ claim that mifepristone has been responsible for sepsis (blood poisoning) and deaths in the United Sates, Picard writes that the drug – which is “safer than Viagra” – is really a non issue.
So why the hold up? Mifepristone is approved for use in almost 60 countries. France has had access to the drug since 1988 and the United States “where even the mention of the word “abortion” sparks massive political battles” has used mifepristone since 2000. And yet, curiously, Canadian women can have recourse to methotrexate, a less effective drug that carries more risk. But given that it’s a chemotherapy drug and not formally approved to be a abortifacient, it’s typically prescribed ‘off label.’
According to Picard,
There can be only two possible explanations for this kind of dithering:
1) Gross incompetence : If you’re a drug regulator and you can’t review and approve (or reject) drugs promptly, then you’re failing pretty fundamentally to do your job;
2) Political interference : It is no secret there is a core of anti-abortion MPs in the caucus of the ruling Conservative party and that the government is, shall we say, not enthusiastically pro-choice.
And because I refuse to buy into the idea that Health Canada is a stronghold of gross incompetence, we can only fall back on Picard’s second argument: political interference.
So much for not re-opening the abortion debate. And so much for Mr. Harper’s ambitions to court the female vote in elections that will certainly be called in 2015. And an example of the fallacy of women’s equal access to health. It’s an example that reveals the profoundly ingrained misogyny in social and political systems that seldom cater to safeguard OUR own right to life. As Picard writes,
In other words, in Canada, a woman who wants a drug-induced abortion can access a non-approved, not particularly effective drug but she cannot access a safer, more effective drug with a proven track record. That, in a nutshell, sums up the absurdity of the Canadian drug regulatory environment, a place where kowtowing to political masters seems to take precedence over patient convenience and safety.
There you have it, ladies. Stephen Harper can’t get to your uterus, so instead he’s pulling the strings around the regulatory framework that could grant you a safer abortion.
So when the House of Commons resumes on January 26th, let’s ensure that we’re calling on the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair and the Liberal Party’s Justin Trudeau (with his new pro-choice caucus) to hold Harper and Ambrose’s feet to the fire. And when a federal election is called later this year, remember: this is how your government sees you.