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In Canada, the anti-abortion lobby is fighting a losing battle. We’re not going to have a more right-wing or more religious government leader than Stephen Harper and he has said repeatedly that he’s not going to pursue any change to the legal status of women’s reproductive rights.

They continue to fight, however, and some of them still fight dirty.

A few days ago, I came across an alarmist blog reference to an after-effect of abortion which I hadn’t seen before. It involves future pregnancies of women who have had one or more abortions. I went looking for further information and I found this in The Daily Mail (UK). The headline reads: “Women who have just one abortion face 35% increased risk of having a premature baby.”

The story says a study was undertaken to find reasons for low-weight and premature births and it wanted to determine whether previous abortions could be a factor. It then says:

The authors of the review, published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, say there could be several reasons for their findings — the most likely of which is physical damage to the cervix caused by older methods of abortion.

The author of the review, Dr Prakesh Shah, of the paediatrics department at the at Mount Sinai hospital in Toronto, said: ‘When a woman comes for induced termination of pregnancy, she should be counselled about that risk.

‘At least she will be able to make an informed choice.’

The so-often reprehensible uses the more sensational headline, “Second Abortion Increases Risk of Premature Babies 93%” but goes on to report:

Far from recommending that women not have abortions, the lead author of the study, Dr. Prakesh Shah of the department of paediatrics at Mount Sinai hospital in Toronto, said that the solution is to improve abortion techniques.

However, “when a woman comes for induced termination of pregnancy, she should be counselled about that risk. At least she will be able to make an informed choice,” he said.

Shah told media that he was fearful that “anti-abortion groups” would seize upon the study as proof of the damage abortion does to women.

“I think it should not be used as a way of saying, this is bad and we should not be doing this kind of thing. There is an association which we should be aware of, and we should let mothers be aware. I don’t want unintended pregnancies to increase.”

The Guardian newspaper reports that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists concurs. The RCOG spoke of the “importance of support for women’s choices.” “Abortion remains an essential part of women’s healthcare services,” they said.

Who could have predicted that I would be able to commend on their reasonably accurate — if slightly testy — coverage of a study whose author’s conclusions must be discouraging for them? I was quite surprised.

I am less surprised that some of their blogging disciples are misinterpreting-by-omission when they refer to this study and will no doubt use Dr. Shah as one of their authorities as they continue to go about trying to make other women’s life decisions.

Nurses of my vintage are surely smiling at the “news” that it may be possible to re-use some of the very expensive equipment that is routinely disposed of in hospitals today.

There was a time when most of the equipment used in patient care was re-useable. It was scrubbed after use, returned to the Central Supply Room (CSR) where it was rescrubbed, disinfected, sterilized and repackaged. Nurses were trained in the opening of these packages so that a sterile field was maintained and the instruments that were removed with rubber-gloved hands were pristine.

As disposable equipment began to take over, we saw basins filled with stainless steel instruments and hampers filled with strong cotton wrappings replaced by vast garbage bags filled with plastic — packaging and equipment. To this day, the disposal of all this plastic is an environmental issue.

It was also the beginning of an era that saw the lay-offs of hospital workers who were responsible for the 24-hour-a-day CSRs and the general weakening of housekeeping departments that were responsible for the cleanliness of the hospitals. Today, hospitals contract out their “cleaning” services and it is fair to say that the private sector workers who are hired to clean hospitals don’t have the same motivation and dedication to the work as an earlier generation of publicly-employed hospital workers.

Has the use of plastic disposable equipment cut down on infections? I haven’t done the research but I would be surprised to find that rates of in-hospital infection are any lower than they were a generation ago when there were autoclaves in use all day on each floor, when even bedpans, washbasins, kidney basins and other bedside utensils were scrubbed and disinfected on a regular basis.

It’s difficult writing this to avoid a “back in my day” tone. So I will concede that certain equipment should be used only once — let’s say bladder catheters, for example. And all nurses are/should be thankful for disposable needles. Those old needles could get very dull and burred.

But I am firmly on the side of the health authorities who are going to look into the possibility of returning to the use of some equipment that can be reused.

The subject was raised during Question Period in the Nova Scotia Legislature yesterday, September 23, by Karen Casey, the leader of the third party (Tory). The responses were made by the Premier, Darrell Dexter (NDP).

HON. KAREN CASEY: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Premier. Capital District Health Authority will be hiring a company to reprocess medical equipment previously designed for one-use only. Will the Premier explain the rationale behind this decision?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I certainly would like to thank the Interim Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party for the question. The district health authorities, of course, have control over their own budgets. They make these decisions based on what they think is both in the best interest of their patients and in the best interest of the district health authority as a whole. So they’re making that decision understanding all of the ramifications and quite frankly, I have faith in their judgment in that regard.

MS. CASEY: Mr. Speaker, one Halifax cardiologist has said an ultrasound catheter is an example of equipment that could be used more than once because “it has least chance of reinfection.” The words “least chance of reinfection” are disconcerting. Is the Premier prepared to accept full liability should anything happen to any patient at Capital Health as a result of this practice?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I’m sure the Interim Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party understands that these matters are reviewed by the medical staff, they are reviewed with the district health authorities. They rely on medical expertise when they make their decisions and as I said, I’m certainly not a physician, I rely on their advice as I’m sure the Leader did when she was responsible for the ministry.

MS. CASEY: Mr. Speaker, I’m very well aware of the role and responsibility of the government. The risk of this practice is too great. A savings of $150,000 pales in comparison to the life of a Nova Scotian. Any comments regarding liability insurance, if anything should happen to a patient, do not instill much confidence in patients at Capital Health. To the Premier, will the Premier stand in his place today and agree to put a stop to this practice before it begins and thus ensure that the health of hundreds, indeed thousands of Nova Scotians, will not be put in jeopardy? Mr. Premier, you know and Nova Scotians know, the buck stops with you.

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, that’s an example of a question that was written before the answer was heard. I didn’t mention liability insurance, what I mentioned was the medical expertise of the district health authority. It’s their responsibility; they, of course, make these judgments based on the sound expertise of their staff and, of course, we rely on them.


The question unnecessarily sensationalized the issue and asking if the Premier would accept personal responsibility for the fate of hospital patients was a little disingenuous.

During the past few weeks, I’ve been stumbling over many anti-feminist websites.  It may be that they’ve always been there and just coming across one or two has led me down a path to many more. 

Anti-feminism is not new but the sites I’m reading recently seem a lot more vicious and hateful than they used to be. It’s pretty disheartening.

Back in the ’90s, I wrote a feminist column in The Daily News in Halifax.  I was asked — specifically — to write a feminist column.  That seems very surprising to me now.  I can’t imagine anyone being asked to do that today.

I look back at those columns every now and then and it’s discouraging to see that many of them are still relevant.  They could have been written this week.  I plan to add some of them to the archives of this website as time goes on.

But reading the anti-feminist websites awakened an old memory that I hadn’t thought of for awhile.  Feminism  for many people in the “developed world” means pay equity, reproductive choice, unlimited education and career opportunities, legal and social rights that are more recent than we think.

Before I was a journalist, I was a nurse, trained at the exceptional Montreal General Hospital, and a working nurse in different Montreal hospitals.  When I began, universal health care was but a wish and a rumour and we’ve all heard stories about those times.

What is less well-documented was that not so long ago, a woman could not consent to surgery or other invasive treatments for herself or her children. Even in cases where the husband/father had long since left the family, his signature was required before his wife could have surgery — life-saving or otherwise.

I can remember long detective-like searches for a senior male relative — the father would do if there were no husband – so that some sick woman could be treated.  As a last resort, the Chief Surgeon of the hospital could sign the consent form but he (it was always a he) was usually reluctant to do so.

If we stop to think about it on a day-to-day basis, many women are probably grateful that we can, on our own, get a mortgage or a bank loan, a credit card, a divorce, a law degree, a baby – some of which were not possible, others of which were much more difficult, not that many years ago. 

Feminism changed that and much more but perhaps most of us don’t think of feminism as changing what was often a dramatic life and death situation for women and their children.

Back when I was a twice-a-week newspaper columnist, I was never at a loss for words. I saw a column wherever I looked.  I could barely keep up with myself.

With this new website, I have no doubt that I will be just as prolific — especially now that I’ve said this publicly.

I have other reasons for creating this space also.  I’ll be back to elaborate.

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