Canadian healthcare: Not "universal" for single women

Some doctors are conscience-clausing their way out of performing basic gynecological screening.

Published February 27, 2008 1:56PM (EST)

Oh, Canada! Our neighbors to the north, it turns out, include a few physicians who have outdone pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control. Forgive us for being a bit late with this one, but we think you'll agree it remains newsworthy: According to RH Reality Check -- based on this primary source -- they're refusing to give unmarried women Pap smears. *

Pap smears, as you know, check for signs of cervical cancer and other abnormalities -- abnormalities that are usually associated with human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted infection. They are routine screenings for women who are, God forbid, sexually active. They do not test directly for HPV, but the results can indicate an undetected infection.

The mind reels. I'm not even going to bother debunking the ridonkulous logic of refusing the test to singles while allowing it for marrieds without first ascertaining that they haven't engaged in the sin of adultery. (Or, for that matter, murder.) Or suggesting that perhaps these folks should be chomping at the bit for the opportunity to prove to a woman that her whoring has not gone unpunished. Or speculating about how little I'd want to get medically intimate with someone with an attitude that creepy about women and their nether parts. Not even going to go there.

Rather, I'll answer this burning question: Yes, there does exist a "conscience clause" that allows doctors to opt out. (Providing they refer women to other doctors, which some blatantly do not. Which leaves women in areas with few gynecologists at risk not only of undetected cancer but also -- hello, public health issue -- of spreading an undetected sexually transmitted disease.) But how, really how, can they sleep at night?

*Important update: The primary source cited by RHRealityCheck for this story has clarified the ancedotes she was said to have offered. Please read this link for her full account. Broadsheet regrets the oversight.

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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