Nadine Sookermany began working at Winnipeg’s Women’s Health Clinic many years ago, initially as a volunteer. Now executive director, one of her responsibilities is overseeing a clinic funded to provide up to 1,600 abortions per year, she explained during an Oct. 24, 2018, seminar at Robson Hall. About 60 per cent of the abortions are surgical and the other 40 per cent rely on medication to end pregnancies. The clinic is working to increase access for people living in rural communities. When someone comes to this clinic to obtain an abortion, it typically happens on the same day, with counselling before and after the procedure.
The clinic has a community-based approach and part of its current vision is to increase inclusivity, including working more with trans individuals. A current issue at the clinic is that Manitoba Health doesn’t allow people to select anything other than male or female on their Manitoba health cards. This unfortunately poses the risk of people being misgendered in the clinic because of the clinic’s software. Sookermany said the Women’s Health Clinic is working to change this system so this doesn’t happen. The clinic’s work is done through an intersectional lens.
Sookermany gave a brief history of abortion in Canada, with a focus on Manitoba. “We know there are others who came before us” she said Sookermany, including Henry Morgentaler, who opened an abortion clinic in Winnipeg in 1982.
Although everyone has a right to access an abortion, there are times when people seeking the procedure have been given improper information and some doctors are reluctant to assist patients in obtaining abortions. In response, there are currently protester-free “bubble-zones” around clinics in some other cities and they are being proposed for some municipalities as a whole. This is an issue of choice around women’s bodies, and Women’s Health Clinic is taking steps to ensure all women have that choice and receive the help they need.
Could you speak to the issue of rural access to abortion?
This issue isn’t well documented, I assume we’ll be hearing more and more in regard to this issue. When people call our intake line, we are finding ways to support them to get to our clinic for any support or procedures they may need. It is possible to use Manitoba Health supports in order to travel to access medical services. Currently we are mapping different services and service providers in rural communities.
What were the main arguments for making abortion legal? Was it more about health issues or about the rights of women over their own bodies?
Women often have abortions because of fetus sustainability or the woman’s health. It’s often a necessary medical procedure rather than a choice. People have the right to make their own medical decisions.
Can you speak to how you’re changing the conversation about abortion for trans individuals?
The assumption in the past has been that trans people don’t need abortions, but we know that is not true. We need to have a conversation about who accesses our services. There is a section on our website that outlines Who We Serve and it is reflective of being very inclusive.
Listen to podcasts from seminars in this series.