Memo to Americans Afraid of Donald Trump: Cape Breton Is Not a Progressive Paradise
It's still definitely better than living under a Trumptalitarian regime.
If you've been on Facebook this week, you've likely noticed one of your low-to-middlebrow political friends posting this website: Cape Breton If Donald Trump Wins. It's exactly what it sounds like. The site tells Americans, should Donald Trump win the US presidency, to immigrate to Cape Breton, the picturesque Nova Scotia island.
"Don't wait until Donald Trump is elected president to find somewhere else to live!" the website says. "Start now, that way, on election day, you just hop on a bus to start your new life in Cape Breton, where women can get abortions, Muslim people can roam freely, and the only 'walls' are holding up the roofs of our extremely affordable houses."
The site has gone viral as our American media pals have gone along for the ride—with one even calling Cape Breton a "gun-free, pro-choice, ultra-diverse haven." Its maker says he's received over 1,500 inquiries, many from Americans who really, really want to move.
And why wouldn't they? Cape Breton is fucking beautiful, and the people there are so nice, you wonder if they are anthropomorphic models from the feeling you get after a warm hug.
There are a couple of catches, though. "Ultra-diverse"? If you mean some Cape Bretoners are Catholic and some are Protestant and not everyone plays a fiddle, then yes, that counts as diversity. And that abortion line? It's not so straightforward.
According to Cathie Penny of Cape Breton Sexual Health Center, the island's go-to sexual health educator, "You can get referrals, and you can get follow-up [from an abortion]. But you can't get the procedure done here."
Cape Breton women's abortion care, like abortion care for women in the rest of Nova Scotia, is a provincially funded legal right. But that doesn't mean it's easy to get ahold of.
Women in Cape Breton first need an abortion referral, which they'll often get from a family doctor or a walk-in clinic, Penny says. That makes it tough to seek a shred of anonymity on the island, which has a population of less than 150,000 people.
When women on the island are lucky, they then get referred to a hospital in Truro, about three and a half hours away from Cape Breton's largest city. More often, they're referred to a hospital in Halifax—another hour past Truro. (Women also need to get blood work and an ultrasound to make sure there are no complications with the pregnancy before the procedure.)
When I was an angry and idealistic university student in Nova Scotia, I did abortion rights activism with badass feminists like Kaleigh Trace. She's a Halifax-based sex educator, so she knows the sexual health system better than most folks. Even with those advantages, Trace still says getting her abortion in 2011 felt loaded with bureaucratic hurdles.
"The lack of information and resources was mind-boggling. The silence and sense of shame I felt was isolating," wrote Trace in her blog The Fucking Facts. "To this day it remains one of the hardest things I have ever done, not because I didn't want to do it but because it felt like the rest of the world didn't want me to do it. It was fucked up."
Trace tells me that on the day of her abortion, all the women getting abortions at the hospital were expected to show up at the same time, 6 AM. Then, "you show up where you get your abortion, and you're taken away from your support people, because the place you get an abortion is secret."
After she was ushered alone down a "maze of hallways," presumably to keep abortion staff and patients' location safe from protesters, she waited. When Trace got her abortion, women didn't receive appointments, so they would have to wait for at least a couple hours or as long as the entire day. Women also need a support person to pick them up from the hospital when the procedure is over.
Between the early morning, the vague schedule, the anesthetics, and the pain that can sometimes come with an abortion, many women who live far from Halifax stay in town overnight.
Penny says that for some women, the expense of the trip becomes an added stress. "They have to rely on friends and family," she says. "There's no pot of money that's really set aside for that."
Some doctors in the Maritimes do give medical abortions, or a combination of pills usually before the pregnancy is eight weeks in, to induce a miscarriage. I spoke to six women's health activists and gynecologists in Nova Scotia and none were aware of medical abortions being performed on Cape Breton. So if anyone out there is prescribing medical abortions, nobody knows about it—which makes it that much harder for women to get the help they need.
Other Maritime provinces have their own issues with abortion access. On Prince Edward Island, many women seeking an abortion are sent to New Brunswick. And New Brunswick's abortion access has had its own ups and downs over the past three years while a key abortion clinic for women closed and reopened under a new name. Last year, VICE contributor Sarah Ratchford reported that some New Brunswick women ended up fleeing to Maine for their abortions—ironically, the same territory Trump wants to make his new stomping grounds.
When VICE contacted Rob Calabrese, the radio DJ with The Giant in Cape Breton, who made the website telling Americans to consider Cape Breton if Donald Trump wins, he agreed that abortion accessibility for Cape Bretoners is a problem. But he added, "What I was referring to in that piece on the website is there's no legal muddy waters."
It's true that unlike in states like Texas and Louisiana, Nova Scotia legislators aren't putting abortion rights up for debate. For women seeking abortions, that kind of consensus about our legal rights—not to mention our taxpayer-funded healthcare—has benefits. While Trump has waffled over whether he will defund Planned Parenthood should he become president, Cape Bretoners know their abortions will be paid for.
"The choice is yours," said Calabrese. "We just finished up with the most conservative prime minister we've had in a long time, and he didn't want to touch [the abortion issue]. So it's safe to say it's history."
If Americans still fear they'll have to seek refuge in Nova Scotia if Trump wins, Trace has a simple solution.
"Uh... don't elect Trump?" she suggests. "Don't find yourself in that position."
Follow Katie Toth on Twitter.