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Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Access to Abortion in Canada

By: Rachael Johnstone and Emmett Macfarlane
Our new study, “Public Policy, Rights, and Abortion Access in Canada,” in the latest issue of the International Journal of Canadian Studies, presents a look at the legal and policy landscape of access to abortion services across Canada.

Three things everyone should know about abortion access in Canada:
1. It varies wildly depending on where you live
From publicly and privately-delivered services in many urban areas in Quebec and Ontario to none at all in Prince Edward Island and many rural areas across the country; access is sporadic – particularly for low income women.
2. The constraints on abortion services are numerous 
Factors range from funding, different gestational limits in each province, medical regulations, the availability of physicians willing to perform the procedure, and fear of social stigma, harassment and violence faced by both doctors and women seeking services.
3. Progress is still being made
Just this year New Brunswick finally eliminated some of their excessive and unnecessary limits on access, including the requirement that women obtain referrals from two doctors, and Health Canada recently approved RU-486, a safer and more effective form of medical abortion.

Three myths about abortion access in Canada:
Myth #1:  That there is unlimited “abortion on demand” in Canada.

The reality: See above!

Myth #2:  That the famous 1988 Morgentaler decision by the Supreme Court of Canada recognized a Charter “right to abortion”
The reality: The decision was limited to the constitutionality of the now defunct criminal law  – most of the judges refused to engage in the question a whether the Charter included a right to abortion, something that, as a matter of constitutional law, remains unsettled to this day.
Myth #3: Rights challenges are the best way forward to improve access.
The reality: Post-1988, much of the progress on improving access has been the result of administrative or jurisdictional challenges and – most importantly – organized political pressure on governments from pro-choice and reproductive justice groups.

Rachael Johnstone is an assistant professor at the Bader International Study Centre at Herstmonceux Castle, U.K., Queen’s University.
Emmett Macfarlane is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Waterloo.