A U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion revealing that a majority of justices are in favour of striking down the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights ruling is putting activists in Canada on high alert.
Carolyn Egan is a spokesperson for the Ontario Coalition for Abortion. While strong pro-choice sentiment exists across Canada, she said, activists should continue to guard against the potential erosion of abortion rights that might surface as a result of the impending decision in the U.S.
“Most people support reproductive justice, reproductive freedom [in Canada], and that will put us in good stead,” Egan told CTV News Channel on Tuesday. “But we have to be on guard and … not allow any of the chipping away [of rights] through hospital budget cuts [or] harassment at clinics.”
In New Brunswick, for example, provincial legislation bans the federal government from funding abortions performed outside of three hospitals. Additionally, surgical abortion services are only covered by the province’s health insurance plan if taking place in a hospital.
Meghan Doherty is the director of global policy and advocacy for Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights. She also encourages Canadians to stay on their toes and continue to push to ensure that abortion rights in Canada are not taken away.
“We don’t want to see the erosion of sexual and reproductive rights in Canada, and we sense that these anti-abortion groups will be emboldened by what’s happening in the United States,” Doherty told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Tuesday. “We have to continue to support the organizations and the movements that are defending access to abortion.
“We must be vigilant, we can’t be complacent in Canada.”
Issued in 1973, the Roe v. Wade legal precedent protects the right to perform abortions across America. A draft opinion, published by Politico on Monday, revealed that a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court’s nine justices were in favour of striking down the decision. Written by Justice Samuel Alito, the ruling would allow individual U.S. states to decide whether or not to restrict access on abortion and the legal regulations around the procedure.
The release of the draft itself will not immediately affect access to abortions in the country. However, if the majority votes as predicted, the decision would be overturned with the formal release of the court’s ruling, which is likely to take place in June.
Still, several Canadian organizations are already voicing their concerns over U.S. residents being stripped of their rights.
“As you can imagine, we are extremely disappointed with the apparent leaked draft opinion…” Jill Doctoroff, executive director of the National Abortion Federation of Canada, wrote in an email to CTVNews.ca on Tuesday. “The law the opinion is based upon is an attack on bodily autonomy and women’s rights.”
The majority of Canadians and Americans support the legalization of abortion, Doctoroff said, and the draft opinion, does not speak for the majority of people in the United States.
“We need to ensure that women and pregnant people are able to continue to access this essential health care,” Doctoroff wrote. “Restrictions on abortion care do not decrease the need for care; it makes it less sage.”
THE ‘MOST VULNERABLE’ WILL BE AFFECTED
When she first heard the news, Egan called it “devastating,” with those around her expressing rage and sadness at the idea of peeling back abortion rights in the U.S.
Egan said the group she works with operates in close collaboration with the reproductive justice movement south of the border. According to Egan, it’s those who are racialized and living in poverty who will be most significantly impacted should Roe v. Wade be overturned.
“It’s going to be the most vulnerable who will be affected, from Black communities to Hispanic communities, the poor, young people [and] people on Indigenous reserves,” she said. “These are the ones who are going to be affected because they don’t have the resources to go out of the country [or] to other states.”
These same groups remain especially vulnerable in Canada as well, Doherty said.
“Abortion is a class issue,” she said. “Issues related to class and health disparities often determine whether or not a person can access safe abortion in Canada and also around the world.”
Elke Rubach is the founder of Rubach Wealth, a Toronto-based wealth management firm. Rubach said her company helps to educate women on financial literacy, giving them the tools they need to be financially independent, particularly those who may be single mothers or dependent on others for financial help.
“If you’re not financially independent, you’re going to be subject to a lot of abuse and for women, when you’re financially dependent on someone, your ability to make decisions is already limited,” Rubach told CTVNews.ca on Tuesday in a phone interview.
If the U.S. were to go ahead with striking down Roe v. Wade, Rubach said she hopes not to see something similar happen in Canada. Abortion is currently decriminalized in Canada, regulated similarly to other health-care procedures. Through the Canada Health Act, Canadians have a right to access sexual and reproductive health services, which includes abortion.
According to a study published by Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights in 2019, no providers offer abortion services to Canadians more than 23 weeks and six days into their pregnancy. Those who are this far into their pregnancy and looking for an abortion often travel to the United States for the procedure instead.
WILL MORE AMERICANS TRAVEL TO CANADA FOR ABORTIONS?
In terms of whether or not the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade will result in more Americans travelling to Canada for the procedure, it’s hard to tell, Doherty said. Only those with the financial means to travel for an abortion will likely end up doing so. It’s the more vulnerable groups Doherty is concerned about, she said.
“People who have the means will always find a way to access safe abortion, whether that’s in Canada, the U.S., or elsewhere in the world,” she said “And people who don’t have the means will either seek out less safe ways of ending a pregnancy or using medical abortion under the threat of criminal sanctions. None of those are a good scenario.”
Access to abortion boils down to access to adequate health care, Doherty said.
“Everybody has the fundamental right to access health care and abortion is health care,” Doherty said. “Denying access to abortion is denying a person’s fundamental human rights, regardless of whatever the situation is. That’s really the bottom line.”