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Rachel Cairns’ podcast, Aborsh, launched on June 13, 2022—just 11 days before Roe v. Wade was overturned in the United States. And while the timing of this wasn’t planned, it also wasn’t surprising to Cairns. “It felt like something that was very much on the horizon,” says the podcaster. “It wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when.”
After months of interviewing activists and medical professionals to produce her abortion-focused podcast, she recognized that reproductive rights can’t be taken for granted: in America, sure, but also in Canada. “We only start talking about reproductive rights when they’re in peril—unless it’s a state of emergency, we don’t really want to talk about abortion,” Cairns says. Considering the life-threatening rulings coming out of the states, it could be argued that it’s the perfect time to debut a podcast on this subject. It’s bittersweet timing.
“I feel a responsibility to hold this space, and I feel privileged, too, for having the time to share this information,” Cairns explains. “Now is the time, because people are actually listening and engaged.”
Aborsh is centered around the creator’s own story—she had an abortion on Christmas Eve, 2019. Along the way, she interviews doctors, midwives, and experts in all areas of reproductive care, with the aim to share a comphrehensive narrative. Cairns grew up in Vancouver (“And I got the abortion in Vancouver,” she noted in our interview) and is now based in Toronto, but her podcast’s guests hail from all over the country.
“The biggest takeaway is that access to reproductive choice—including contraception—is still really inequitable across our country,” says Cairns. While it might be easier to get an abortion in urban areas (and not by much—Cairns had to wait two weeks for her own in this city), many Canadians are still lacking access to this essential care.
“In our rural communities, Indigenous communities and conservative communities, it’s not easy to quickly, readily access what is a very common, simple and safe procedure,” says Cairns. Guests on Aborsh include Claire Dion Fletcher, co-chair of the National Aboriginal Council of Midwives and Sarah Kaplan, who founded the Institute for Family and the Economy at Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.
Also on the lineup of guests are Judy Rebic and Carolyn Egan, who worked alongside Henry Morgantaler (Morgentaler’s landmark win in the 1988 R v. Morgentaler ruling made abortion rights in Canada what they are today— “A lot of people my age and younger don’t know who he is unless they’re real social justice nerds,” Cairns says, “and that’s a travesty—I think he should be on our money”). Rebic and Egan were instrumental in Morgentaler’s win. “These women did the hard, unpaid, grassroots labour, and no one knows their names,” Cairns says, “so it was important for me to have their voices heard.”
There’s notable Vancouverites on Aborsh, too: Joyce Arthur, founder of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, and Jesse Taylor of Reproductive Justice New Brunswick. And the podcaster’s most surprising guest is also from Vancouver: her own mother.
“My mom shared her abortion story, and the difference in how I was able to experience reproductive choice and how she did—just a generation apart—blew my mind,” says Cairns. “It demonstrates how far we have come, only very recently, and therefore that that progress is fragile and needs to be protected.”
The goal of Aborsh is to educate, but Cairns approaches her work in a hopeful and often lighthearted way (you can tell that from the podcast’s name). It’s designed to give listeners a holistic picture of abortion through the voices of folks who have experienced it. “My guests’ knowledge and wisdom is imperative, and no one else can give that other than the people who devote their life to this kind of activism,” says Cairns.
“I want to break the issue of abortion out of its silo, and connect it to other issues that we are all facing as Canadians—from affordable housing to universal childcare to the continued marginalization of our Indigenous communities,” says Cairns. “It’s not just a women’s issue, or this one event that happens at an isolated point in a person’s life. Abortion is along this continuum of the human experience, and that’s really how I try to approach the subject.”
You can learn more about Aborsh (and listen to it!) here.