CANADA – Why don’t we call more abortion clinics “abortion clinics”? Language matters, advocates say

Some clinics in Canada are changing their names to be more inclusive, e.g. Women’s Clinic, Choice in Health Clinic, Woman’s Health Options

What do these clinics have in common? They all offer abortion services, although it may not be obvious from the names, and advocates say the names themselves may exclude some of those who need help.

But now, there’s a movement within abortion care to be more mindful of the language they use — whether that’s to be more inclusive, or drop the euphemisms and be more forthright.

“I think it’s very important to be very clear about what we’re doing,” said Martha Paynter, an assistant professor in the faculty of nursing at the University of New Brunswick and author of Abortion to Abolition: Reproductive Health and Justice in Canada: “We have allowed the anti-choice movement to dominate a lot of our language and our conversations about what abortion is. And it’s really necessary and timely for those of us who work in this care to be doing education about the facts, and support the public to come along in their understanding.”

The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada lists 76 clinics in Canada (both in communities and within hospitals) that provide abortions, although it doesn’t include every single hospital that offers them. Of those clinics, only four — three in Ontario and one in Quebec — had “abortion” or “pregnancy termination” in their name. There were many variations on “women’s health,” and some that mentioned “wellness” and “choices,” but very few names actually make clear the medical procedure being offered.

In a 2021 online guide, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called for more “abortion-forward language” or, in other words, calling abortion “abortion”, as opposed to using euphemisms like “women’s health care” or “reproductive choice”. “Using euphemisms for the word abortion gives the opposition control over the narrative,” they noted. This call is also reflected in the #SayAbortion hashtag, which was a 2019 campaign by Planned Parenthood and still used by advocates today.

So why don’t we just say “abortion clinic”? Part of it is abortion’s fraught history. Many of Canada’s abortion clinics were established just after 1988, when the Canadian Supreme Court decided in R. vs. Morgentaler that a law that criminalised abortion was unconstitutional, Paynter explained.

There were three non-fatal attacks on abortion providers in Winnipeg, Vancouver and Hamilton in the 1990s. In 1992, Dr Henry Morgentaler’s Toronto clinic was firebombed. In the US, abortion clinics became targets for violent extremists, and some doctors who provided abortions were attacked and killed in their homes.

“There was still a lot of stigma as well as safety concerns about offering abortion care,” said Jill Doctoroff, executive director of the National Abortion Federation Canada. She says there’s also an issue of confidentiality. She used to work in a clinic that didn’t have abortion in its name, and that clinic would sometimes need to provide medical notes as a requirement for a patient’s work or school. Not having “abortion” in the clinic name would protect their privacy, she said, noting the same was true for referrals.

But today, people are becoming more accepting of the term abortion, especially in Canada, Paynter said. “In response to the fall of Roe [v. Wade] in the U.S., there’s definitely been a very proud and grateful response from the Canadian public to our regulatory regime, where abortion is completely decriminalised in this country and there are no limitations on that through criminal law,” she said. “The clinics haven’t quite caught up with the shift in public attitudes toward the word abortion… Our language choices are important because they help shape public perception and education. For instance, “surgical abortion” is also misleading, since a first-trimester abortion is a seven-minute procedure with no cutting involved. If we educated people about what it really involved, there would be less fear and less stigma.”

[… The article goes on at length to discuss a range of name changes for clinics, no longer talking about ‘choice’, being inclusive of those who don’t identify as women, and no longer using the word “women”….]

SOURCE: CBC News, by Natalie Stechyson, 18 February 2023 ; Abortion clinics across Canada in 2019, by Cody Coates, in Global News