Abortion debate reignited in Canada
Sylvie Claire / May 13, 2022
Thousands of anti-abortion activists marched through the streets of Canada's capital Ottawa on Thursday to oppose the right to abortion, which in the neighboring country is threatened by an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision.
The debate in the United States on abortion has crossed borders. The issue has now reached Canada, where the right to abortion is unevenly enforced in different provinces and is also based on a Supreme Court ruling. Explosive revelations about the U.S. Supreme Court, which seems ready to set abortion rights back 50 years, have given voice to Canadian opponents.
As on the other side of the border, the right to abortion in Canada is not protected by a law, but by jurisprudence. It is based on the Morgentaler decision of January 1988, which bears the name of a doctor who was prosecuted for performing voluntary terminations of pregnancy. In this decision, the Supreme Court completely decriminalized abortion based on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Clearly, we do not have the same legal profile as the United States because the political polarization is not as strong, says Isabelle Duplessis, a law professor in Montreal and a specialist in women's rights. She does not believe that the Canadian Supreme Court will change its mind, but she is concerned about the consequences of this debate on civil society.
This debate will have an impact here, she said. It's clear that there can be a backlash against women's rights and abortion rights in Canada. Aware of the rising concern, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government has sought to reassure Canadians that it will protect access to abortion even raising the possibility of a new legal framework to guarantee the right. This is a time when the threat of a potential U.S. backlash is worrying women in Canada and around the world, he said Thursday.
In Canada, voluntary interruption of pregnancy (abortion) is theoretically permitted for the entire duration of the pregnancy. It is the provinces and territories of the country that must then guarantee its application. This is the real issue in a vast country, where nearly 80% of the inhabitants say they are in favour of the right to abortion.
At the heart of the problem is access to abortion hospitals in some areas, which requires some women to drive for hours, says Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. On average, only one in six hospitals performs abortions.
Of the 100 or so hospitals and clinics in Canada, half are in Quebec. In many provinces - Manitoba, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick - it is impossible to obtain an abortion in a rural area.