On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States of America (“SCOTUS”) issued a landmark decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that safeguarded legal abortion access in the U.S. Immediately after this decision, eight states ceased performing abortions: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and West Virginia. When this decision was made public, many across Canada were shocked, wondering how this could happen and what this might mean for Canada.
In 1973, Roe v. Wade found that the U.S. Constitution protected the right to abortion, even though such a right is not explicitly stipulated in the Constitution. Justice Alito of the SCOTUS found that Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 decision reaffirming the right to abortion, was wrong:
“…the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion. Roe and Casey must be overruled, and the authority to regulate abortion must be returned to the people and their elected representatives.”
How did this happen? In the U.S., the Supreme Court Justices are appointed by the president and thus are often seen deciding cases as a block defined by political stance. While Canadian Supreme Court Justices are decidedly non-partisan, SCOTUS Justices are not. That being said, the three new Justices appointed under Trump’s presidency voted in favour with Justice Alito and the majority. In fact, even the dissent states that eliminating the right to abortion “undermines the Court’s legitimacy,” calling the partisan nature of the court to question.
By overturning this decision, access to abortion is now regulated by each state individually. In practice, this means more right-wing states are free to criminalize both those seeking abortions and those who perform abortions, from as early as conception, and even for life-threatening medical situations for both child and mother, as well as pregnancy by rape. While some political actors in the U.S. will feel justified in restricting abortions, the reality is that all that is in fact restricted is safe abortion and the socioeconomic class divide between those who can access abortions and those who cannot will only grow.
Is Canada Next?
In Canada, abortion has been decriminalized since the 1980s; abortion is covered by healthcare and publicly funded. There are no criminal restrictions on abortion in Canada. In fact, since 2017, all primary care providers including family physicians and nurse practitioners are authorized across Canada, except in Quebec, to prescribe mifepristone, a drug which induces medication-based abortion when surgical abortion is not necessary. In Quebec, some doctors can oversee medication-based abortions.
The legal status of abortion in Canada is also squarely federal, unlike in the U.S. While abortion is not explicitly enumerated in the Canadian Constitution, the right to abortion has been found included in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms under section 7 right to “life, liberty and security of the person.” A medical reason for abortion has not been required in Canada since the 1988 removal of abortion from the Criminal Code.
Accessibility Of Abortion In Canada
While we know Canada to be largely pro-choice, abortion is not always as readily accessible as you would hope. In fact, it was only in 2016 that Prince Edward Island, for example, began offering abortion services in the province. Before 2016, locals seeking abortions had to travel to other provinces to receive treatment. While a step in the right direction, even now PEI only offers abortions up to 12 weeks, whereas Quebec offers abortions until 23 weeks in 49 different clinics across the province. For an abortion after 12 weeks, PEI residents must again seek out-of-province treatment. This inequal access to abortion has a discriminatory effect, where Canadians in certain provinces have a much harder time accessing abortions than Canadians living elsewhere, despite the fact that abortion has a federally regulated legal status. This inequality is furthered by the fact that seeking abortion access out of your home province comes with increased costs and barriers with respect to travel and time off of work.
In other provinces, abortion access also remains inequal, where abortions are harder for lower income individuals or those in remote areas to access. Even when access is technically available, some provinces fall short. For example, while 49 clinics exist for surgical abortions in Quebec, Quebec has the lowest rate of medication-based abortions due to strict requirements with respect to the authority to prescribe. While much of Canada allows all family doctors and nurse practitioners to prescribe medication to induce abortions, Quebec’s College of Physicians has not agreed to allow nurse practitioners to prescribe medication for abortions, citing a lack of necessary training. Furthermore, in Newfoundland, while 95% of surgical abortions occur at freestanding family medical clinics, a provision in the Medical Services Payment Act denies public insurance for surgical abortions outside a hospital building. And while there are three clinics in Newfoundland, two of them operate only once per month.
While approximately 120 clinics offering surgical abortions exist in Canada, there are also nearly 200 anti-choice clinics, which often advertise as being ‘pregnancy crisis centres.’ By calling themselves pregnancy crisis centres, they prey on vulnerable people who are pregnant and feel in crisis, while in turn being adamantly anti-choice and pro-life. These centres typically try to appear as secular clinics run by medical professionals but in turn are run by volunteers or community members and will never refer a woman for an abortion, even in the most desperate cases.
Given that a 2005 study showed that one in three people with a uterus will have an abortion in their lifetime in Canada, accessing such services should not be so difficult.
Please see a list of resources below of clinics providing abortions and related services.
Alberta: Kensington Clinic, Calgary
British Columbia: CARE Program, BC Women’s Hospital & Health Centre, Vancouver
New Brunswick: Clinic 554, Fredericton
Newfoundland & Labrador: The Morgentaler Clinic, St. John’s
Northwest Territories: Northern Options for Women, Yellowknife
Nova Scotia: Nova Scotia Women’s Choices Clinic, Halifax (no website: 902-473-7072)
Nunavut: Qikiqtani Regional Hospital, Iqualuit (no website: 867-979-7352)
Ontario: The Morgentaler Clinic, Toronto
Prince Edward Island: Women’s Wellness Program (no website: 844-365-8258)
Saskatchewan: Women’s Health Centre, Regina
Yukon: Opal Clinic, Whitehorse
A list of abortion clinics and resources in Canada, updated June 2022
A list of anti-choice groups in Canada, updated July 2022