In a protest against the extra-billing ban being legislated by the Peterson government, Sarnia General Hospital doctors decided at the beginning of February 1986 that their 100 members should withdraw from all hospital committees. The abortion committee alone was to be an exception because it was “thought to be a more sensitive” area.
Three weeks later five of the eight doctors on the Therapeutic abortion committee (TAC) decided to withdraw anyway. With two other doctors on holidays, the Committee – which must have a minimum of three – became inoperative. Both the Sarnia doctors and the Lambton County Medical Society made it clear that they did not object to abortions, but only to the government proposed extra-billing ban.
Local feminists and “pro-choice” supporters, Pat O’Connor (34), A Sarnia Community College teacher, and Kathleen Howes, claimed that women were being denied “their rights of access.” (section 251 of the Criminal Code is permissive only and does not recognize such rights). Dr Earl Meyers, Ontario Medical Association (O.M.A.) president, said it was “unfortunate” that women in Lambton County would have to travel to other cities for an abortion.
Judy Rebick of the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics was outraged, according to Toronto Star reporter Janice Turner. She said it was “absolutely scandalous that doctors are prepared to hold women to ransom. Ontario NDP leader Rob Rae, (whose party favours abortion on demand), said the doctors’ withdrawal was “appalling.” “Who do these guys think they are?” he demanded.
Ontario Health Minister Murray Elston, Liberal MPP for Huron Bruce, accused doctors of endangering the health of women seeking abortions. Elston, who granted Morgentaler OHIP privileges for Abortion counseling in the summer of 1985, like Rebick, thought that the protestors had chosen “a set of strategies which would hold up patients for ransom.”
At a press conference of pro-abortion action groups, long time abortion champion Doris Anderson, appointed to the Ontario Judicial Council by Attorney General Ian Scott in January 1986, acted as spokesman for NAC (National Action Committee on the Status of Women). She too, professed to be “appalled that doctors have chosen to use the misery of the relative weakness of women to try to illustrate a point they are making about money.”
Despite all the hoopla, the “strike” amounted to little. Two new members were appointed to the TAC by the hospital Committee within two days of its suspension. According to TAC chairman Dr. Bryan Cruickshanks, a Sarnia eye doctor, the newly manned Committee reviewed all requests before them. One day later everything was back to normal.
Sarnia General Hospital does about 150 abortions a year. According to TAC member Dr. Robert McKenzie, “most of the abortions in this area are done for socio-economic reasons.” While Sarnia returned to “normalcy,” Metro Toronto’s 5000 doctors announced the plan to withdraw from all hospital committees for the week of March 24 to 31. But once again, the sole exception to this suspension of work will be the TAC’s.
Meanwhile, under the leadership of Doris Anderson, NAC signed up 35 groups including large unions such as the United Auto Workers, the Ontario Federation of Labour together with the Consumers Association of Canada in a coalition against the doctors. The ostensible reason for the formation of this alliance was the defence of the poor. The poor, Anderson said, are often “women and kids.” But Anderson readily acknowledged that the real reason for NAC getting involved was the suspension of the Sarnia hospital abortion committee. “Reproductive choice” is key plank in NAC’s platform.
Outsiders could only note the irony of it all. No professional group has given more support to the pro-abortion stance of the feminists than the CMA and the OMA.