Megan Johnston says she was told by legislative security on Wednesday to change her shirt when she entered the building because it had the word “abortion” written on it.
Speaking with reporters after rallying for abortion health-care earlier in the afternoon outside the building, Johnston said she was escorted to the washroom to wear it inside out.
Her shirt read, “Abortion is health care.” It was a black shirt with white letters. There were no images.
“He said you can’t wear that word,” said Johnston, who assumed he was referring to the word abortion. “He couldn’t even muster up the courage to say the word abortion. I was just really, really shocked.”
Legislative security officials confirmed the incident, saying security was following the protocol that’s outlined on the legislative assembly website related to placards that are allowed in the assembly.
Officials suggested further questions should be sent to the Ministry of Justice.
Many abortion advocates were going through security Wednesday afternoon to watch the question period from the gallery.
Johnston questioned why the word would be so controversial because he said it’s a health-care service that’s allowed to be provided.
“I said, ‘I promise I’m not trying to cause trouble,’” she recalled. “I just really did not know that I was not allowed to have the word abortion on my clothing.”
The circumstance appeared to have overshadowed the debate in the assembly over access, or lack thereof, to surgical abortion in Saskatchewan.
Following the debate and the rally outside, Health Minister Paul Merriman told reporters the government is looking into possibly expanding surgical abortion services.
Merriman said he heard earlier this spring that there were discrepancies in what is available to people in Regina and Saskatoon.
He said he has been consulting with clinicians to see what can change, including the possibility of expanding surgical abortion to Prince Albert, which currently has no surgical services.
“I’m not taking anything off the table,” Merriman said. “We’ll sit down and have those discussions. I’ll always have discussions on what’s happening within the health-care region and looking at opportunities to make sure we’re serving our patients.”
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Merriman’s comments came after advocates asked the government to make it easier for people to access services.
After the rally, Caitlin Cottrell, the executive director of Saskatoon Sexual Health, said in an interview it can be immensely stressful for people and families looking for abortion services, especially those who live in rural communities.
She explained people seeking an abortion have no options in smaller centers and must go to Regina or Saskatoon for surgical abortions.
“It’s already a fairly extensive process to access abortion, and so this is having a pretty significant effect,” Cottrell said. “People are already in a stressful situation, but when you add something like that on top of it, it becomes extremely stressful.”
However, Regina and Saskatoon have different requirements.
People can get a surgical abortion without a referral up to 18 weeks of pregnancy in Regina. In Saskatoon, they need a doctor referral and service is provided up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Merriman suggested Saskatoon might follow the Regina model, but he said he didn’t want to pre-determine anything.
He said the consultations would first look at Prince Albert as a place to possibly expand services. Hey may look at other centers after that, but didn’t make any firm commitments.
Merriman said Prince Albert is being considered because it’s considered a larger “catchment area” for people in northern Saskatchewan.
Status of women critic Jennifer Bowes said even though she’s glad to see some progress around consultations, she argued the province isn’t moving fast enough to make surgical access wide-spread in Saskatchewan.
“We’re seeing all kinds of barriers, and we haven’t seen anything really meaningful from them,” Bowes said. “It was only after significant pressure that they agreed to (potentially) expand access. It’s only when they are dragged kicking and screaming that they will do the absolute minimum.”
Johnston, who was part of a project to erect “Abortion is Healthcare” signs along highways, said it’s important to say the word.
“I know the language for a lot of people is pro-choice, but how can we advocate for abortion if we can’t even say the word?” she said.
— with files from Murray Mandryk.
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