Written by Alex Cosh
Much of the world is still reeling after the right-wing majority on the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed its decision last week to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark court case which for nearly 50 years constitutionally protected abortion rights.
U.S. states will now be allowed to pass legislation restricting or completely banning abortions - including in cases of rape and incest - meaning that residents in those states seeking the medical procedure will have to travel to other states, or give birth against their will. Twenty six states are expected to introduce such laws.
Progressive U.S. lawmakers, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have warned that draconian anti-abortion laws “will kill” some people who are forced to carry pregnancies to term.
The United Nations called the Supreme Court decision a “huge blow to human rights and gender equality,” noting that “restricting access to abortion does not prevent people from seeking abortion, it simply makes it more deadly.”
In Canada, CBC News reported on the decision by broadcasting opinions from “both sides,” including a hardline anti-abortion activist with the group Campaign Life Coalition who has also written articles on a far-right social conservative website disparaging transgender rights.
The activist said she hoped the U.S. decision would mark the first step in “prohibiting all abortions, not only in the United States, but also in Canada,” and that she expected anti-abortion activists in this country to be “reinvigorated.”
Despite CBC lending equal weight to “both sides,” a Leger poll in May found that almost 80 per cent of Canadians support abortion rights, with just 14 per cent opposed.
CBC’s decision to give uncritical airtime to a hardline anti-abortion activist who is seeking to restrict reproductive rights in this country was strongly criticized.
The Canadian Anti-Hate Network stated:
“It's extremely disappointing that [CBC] had a leading figure from Campaign Life Coalition who is also a contributor for LifeSiteNews. CLC has actively campaigned against the 2SLGBTQ+ community. These are reactionary far-right lobbying groups.”
Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the Supreme Court’s decision “horrific,” and said: “I want women in Canada to know that we will always stand up for your right to choose."
A key political goal of anti-abortion groups in Canada is to nominate as many candidates (almost exclusively for the Conservative Party) as possible for seats in the House of Commons, with the hope of eventually achieving an anti-abortion majority in Parliament.
Back in May, Maple contributor Jeremy Appel compiled a list of all 39 sitting MPs who have received a “green light” approval rating from CLC. All of them are Conservatives.
Abortion Rights Coalition Canada (ARCC), meanwhile, regularly publishes a list of anti-abortion MPs that was last updated in August 2021, finding that 101 MPs oppose reproductive rights, and that 16 have an “indeterminate” stance.
In total, 81 per cent of Conservative MPs and 3.2 per cent of Liberal MPs are anti-abortion, according to ARCC. The different numbers between CLC and ARCC are due to the fact that CLC applies a much more hardline criteria, whereas ARCC takes into account a broad range of factors such as voting records, public statements and participation in anti-abortion events.
Responding to the news about Roe v. Wade last week, Conservative MP Arnold Viersen said it "feels so good" knowing that the constitutional protection had been overturned.
How do abortion rights in Canada work?
In a recent article for The Maple, Jasmyne Eastmond provided a history of abortion rights in Canada. She explained:
“Currently, there are no federal laws governing abortion in Canada. Treated like any other medical procedure, abortion is publicly funded under the Canada Health Act and delivered through provincial and territorial health-care systems.”
Robyn Schwarz, a feminist writer and pro-choice activist, told Eastmond that abortion rights in Canada are primarily threatened by a lack of access caused by poor funding of the health system: “I'm very concerned and have been for a long time, but it's not because of the law. It's because of access and health-care issues,” said Schwarz.
As explained by Nora Loreto in an article for The Maple back in May:
"Even though the principles of the CHA state that Canadians must have equitable access to health services, provincial government decisions can hollow out just how equitable that access is. In the case of access to abortion, it can vary wildly across the country, and is deeply influenced by the austerity politics of the government of the day."
As a result of spending cuts in Ontario, Schwarz told The Maple, “in some hospitals, decisions were made to cut a specific number of abortions in a day, or cut the number of times an obstetrician was in the community.”
Dr. Dorothy Shaw, recently retired vice-president of medical affairs at BC Women’s Hospital, shared these concerns, adding that: “physicians and other health-care providers may indicate their conscientious objection even though abortion is legal, leading to confusion for the woman and delays in getting to services.”
Shaw explained that “Prince Edward Island did not provide abortion services until 2017,” and that Nova Scotia had regulations preventing the provision of abortions outside of hospitals.
New Brunswick still only covers surgical abortions if they are performed in hospitals, of which only three offer the service. Last year, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) filed a lawsuit against the New Brunswick government over its restriction of abortion access.
Last week, CCLA tweeted: “Abortion is healthcare. And we are lucky that in Canada most Canadians have access to abortion services through provincial healthcare systems.”
However, it continued, “This is not true in New Brunswick - 90% of New Brunswickers do not have adequate access to abortion services.”