Inherent in the struggle for reproductive justice is that “choice” without access is no choice at all. This obviously applies to abortion, but is also true of the spectrum of reproductive and sexual health issues under the reproductive rights umbrella, including contraception, sterilization, sexuality, gender identity, childbirth and parenting, to name but a few.
That’s why it’s good to see small steps towards making a range of choices available, especially to people who are not rich or could otherwise not access those choices. This week, the Toronto Birth Centre announced the imminent opening of its brand new facility in Regent Park, a neighbourhood on the east side of the city with a history of poverty.
The Toronto Birth Centre is a pilot project by the Ontario Ministry of Health. It is aimed at people with low-risk pregnancies, and run entirely by midwives (although obviously there are strict safety protocols in place in the event of complications). What it means for Toronto residents is provincially-funded access to midwifery in a dedicated centre for birthing; they are estimating 450 births per year.
I recognize that midwife-only births are not everyone’s cup of tea, but for those who are trying to access them, this is huge. The parallels to abortion clinics cannot be ignored; funding, staffing and regulating lends legitimacy to the endeavour in the view of the public, and allows visible access to services that are otherwise difficult to find. And hosting the centre in the Regent Park neighbourhood is no accident; the ongoing “revitalization” of the area smacks of gentrification, but services that make childbirth easier and more accessible for folks living in poverty are probably good news.
Of course I do feel only cautiously optimistic about the endeavour. There is no indication of how access to the midwifery services are regulated, ie who gets to use the Centre? It is my hope that they will reach out to underserved populations and make an effort to move away from the stereotype of midwifery as something that only white middle-class crunchy-granola types want or can afford. I also hope that the focus of the centre will go beyond birth, and work with pregnant people to help access other services that they need.
A centre with just midwives is such a promising alternative for folks who – for whatever reason – cannot or do not want to deal with doctors throughout their pregnancy and childbirth. It is my hope that the TBC will take advantage of its location and the great need in marginalized communities to move that one small step towards access, and eventually, choice.
If you’d like more info on the centre, please see the following link: http://www.torontobirthcentre.ca/