Efforts to enact federal legislation guaranteeing nationwide abortion rights in Canada would likely backfire, experts say, just as a similar effort died in the US Senate this week.
“Canada and the United States are in very different situations,” Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Canadian Abortion Rights Coalition, told Global News.
In the United States, abortion was declared a constitutional right by the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade. Meanwhile in Canada, abortion was decriminalized in 1988 by the Supreme Court in R v Morgentaler.
The two decisions created very different paths for neighboring countries and how they protect reproductive rights.
“We don’t have an abortion law in Canada, nor do we have a law governing heart surgery or an appendectomy,” Arthur said.
“We don’t need laws regulating health care procedures. We have the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which protects the bodily autonomy and life of people and their rights to liberty and conscience, all of which come into play for the right to abortion as the decision concluded Morgentaler.
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Although Canada chose not to propose a criminal law on the matter – allowing abortion to be treated like any other medical procedure – the United States’ legalization decision allowed states across the country to create their own rules, limiting access for some.
Even though abortion is still legal now, 13 states would pass so-called ‘trigger laws’ that would ban abortions almost immediately, if the US were to overturn Roe v Wade – a likely possibility after a leaked draft opinion of the Supreme Court. .
Six other states have laws banning abortion in the books that predate Roe, and would likely also go into effect once the court rules.
Only one of those states, Michigan, is actively working to repeal its old law.
“Even if you pass a good law, it could still be subject to continued interference and attack in the years to come,” Arthur said, noting the tensions around abortion across the border.
“In fact, we don’t want a law in Canada because we have this general right that guarantees access to abortion,” she added.
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If Canada were to give its provinces more control over abortion, the country would likely see a division that mimics the United States, according to Sonia Lawrence, a professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School.
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“We would see differences between provinces and we would see really different kinds of political fights, especially in some of the more conservative provinces,” Lawrence told Global News.
Although abortion is decriminalized in Canada, access can still be difficult and pregnant women are routinely referred to the United States for more complex abortions that they cannot get here.
“The legal status of abortion is only part of the picture in terms of factors that contribute to the accessibility or safety of abortion. And in that sense, when we talk about the status of abortion in any given country, it’s not just about the legislative status,” Lara Cousins, women’s sexual rights expert and women’s rights expert, told Global News. reproductive health at Oxfam Canada.
“The issue of access is an issue where we really need to do much better and where we still have a long way to go simply because we have failed to really overcome the geographic barriers of access to abortion and funding related to abortion access,” she said.
Cousins mentioned provinces like Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario, where many abortion providers are located in urban centers while 35-40% of the population lives in rural communities, according to Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights.
Knowing that the government can do more, the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada launched a petition that garnered more than 10,000 signatures, according to Arthur.
“It’s basically up to the Liberals to step in and deliver on the promises they made in the last election campaign and then their platform in their budget last year,” she said.
On Wednesday, the Liberal government announced that it is allocating $3.5 million to two projects aimed at improving access to abortion services in Canada.
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The funding stems from a year-old budget commitment to spend $45 million over three years to help organizations make sexual and reproductive information and services more available.
“In 2022, in this country, sexual and reproductive rights are human rights, pure and simple,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos told a news conference.
“The current situation in the United States reminds us that we cannot take our rights for granted.”
“I am happy to be able to say once again that our government is unequivocal that women have the freedom to choose and we will do everything we can to ensure that it is not a freedom that can be undone by any future government,” the prime minister said. Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday.
Ontario, the country’s most populous province, has the most abortion clinics in the country, with a total of 23, according to the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada.
Quebec has 12, Alberta and Manitoba have three, British Columbia has eight, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan have five, and the other provinces and territories have four or fewer abortion clinics.
— with files by Sean Boynton
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