Roe v. Wade fallout: Manitoba women speak out

When Vanessa Whitbread had an abortion roughly seven months ago she only told a few people. 

The Flin Flon, Man., mother of two young girls says while she’s always advocated for women’s rights when it comes to making decisions about their bodies, she felt shame because abortion isn’t something people talk about. 

“It’s accessible, it’s free, it’s a human right, but it’s just still so stigmatized and there’s such huge assumptions attached when someone knows that someone has had an abortion,” Whitbread said. 

Vanessa Whitbread says the U.S. Supreme Court reversal of Roe v. Wade moved her to be more open to talking publicly about abortion to help reduce stigma. (Submitted )

Now, the U.S Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the constitutional right to abortion in that country has made Whitbread want to share her story publicly in hopes of reducing stigma and helping to improve access. 

“With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, I think that it’s really important for people to just, like not normalize abortion, but realize that it’s not this huge, deep, dark secret thing,” Whitbread said.

An abortion-rights activist wears tape reading ‘2nd Class Citizen’ during a protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday. (Jacquelyn Martin/The Associated Press)

In the decision released Friday, the court ruled 6-3 to strike down the Roe v. Wade interpretation of the constitution, finding that it does not protect abortion rights. The move opens the door for U.S. states to restrict or ban the procedure. In some states with trigger laws, that’s already happening. 

“I was incredibly disappointed that a country that appears so progressive could take such a huge leap back in time,” Whitbread said.

She’s not alone. 

Kemlin Nembhard, the executive director of the Women’s Health Clinic in Winnipeg, says while she was expecting the news due to a draft of the decision leaked weeks ago, there was still hope it wouldn’t happen. 

Kemlin Nembhard, the executive director of the Women’s Health Clinic in Winnipeg, says U.S. decision left her frustrated and angry. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

“This is pushing back 50 years of progress on equal rights,” said Nembhard, who told CBC Up to Speed host Faith Fundal that the announcement on Friday left her shocked, frustrated and angry.

Nembhard says the clinic in Winnipeg currently provides abortion care for people in Manitoba, but also people from out of province and travelling from the U.S. 

The clinic is still waiting to see how the recent development will affect clinics here, she says. 

In the meantime, Nembhard says, it’s important not to take abortion care in Canada for granted, to “make sure we don’t take our foot off the gas, that people need to stand up and express to their government officials that this is really important, that we should be making sure to increase access in our country.”   

As an example, she says, people living in rural and remote communities don’t have the same access to abortions as those in urban centres. 

As someone who lives in Flin Flon, Whitbread says, she felt getting the medication abortion she was seeking was harder than it should have been. 

She says it took about two weeks to get a prescription for the two-drug treatment that terminates pregnancy and, at the time, considered whether it would have been easier to make the more than 600-kilometre trip to Winnipeg. 

Whitbread says Canadian women should be able to get easy access to abortion care no matter where they live, and she also wants people to realize that there is nothing wrong with a decision that lot of people make. 

“It is a health service that is offered in Canada and no one should feel ashamed or bad for accessing that health service,” she said. 

“If I can help someone else feel comfortable and confident to follow through on a decision that they’ve already made —that they know is the right choice for them — than that is awesome.”