Canadian Politicians Chime in on Roe’s Reversal, but Abortion Access Remains a Problem
Jack78 / Pixabay
Canadian Politicians Chime in on Roe’s Reversal, but Abortion Access Remains a Problem

The landmark decision Roe v. Wade has officially been overturned by the Supreme Court of the United States. The 6-3 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was released on Friday, June 24, and comes approximately a month and a half after a draft opinion of the decision was leaked online.

With such a well-known American precedent being overturned, it is not surprising that many Canadian politicians quickly joined the conversation. Late Friday morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reaffirmed his longstanding and well-known pro-choice views. He carefully skirted around directly criticizing the US Supreme Court itself or the decision, opting instead to say, “The news coming out of the United States is horrific.” Various federal and provincial politicians expressed their opposition to the overturning of Roe, with some, such as federal New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh and Ontario Green Party leader Mike Schreiner, reiterating their commitment to fight for expanded access to abortion.

The majority of Canadians are pro-choice, and unlike in the United States, where abortion remains an active issue for Republicans and conservatives, Canadian conservative politicians are often less willing to divulge their views on abortion for fear of alienating a portion of their potential voters. It is not surprising, then, that Pierre Poilievre, the leading candidate in the ongoing federal Conservative party leadership race, has remained silent on Roe’s overturning, as have interim leader Candice Bergen and former leader Andrew Scheer.

Leadership candidates Jean Charest and Leslyn Lewis, respectively pro-choice and pro-life, were among the few from the federal Conservative party to speak up. Charest, who has been clear in calling himself pro-choice, tweeted that he was “disturbed” by the overturning of Roe and that “reproductive rights in Canada are non-negotiable.” Lewis expressed a desire to reopen the abortion debate in Canada.

As I warned in a previous dispatch on this issue, Canada cannot let itself become complacent on abortion simply because there has been no recent attempt to legislate it at the federal level. Telling ourselves “at least we’re not as bad as the United States” is not and was never good enough, and wrapping ourselves in the minimal pride of surpassing the low bar America has set when it comes to reproductive rights could be dangerous for our own access to abortion.

Indeed, though abortion in Canada is not as regulated as it is in the United States, it remains far less accessible than many think. Prince Edward Island did not have a functioning abortion clinic until 2017, despite decriminalization in Canada happening in 1988. Those who wished to get an abortion had to travel out of province to do so. In Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, abortion access in rural areas is nonexistent even though a large portion of the population in these regions live in those rural areas. Similar access problems permeate British Columbia and Ontario’s rural regions, which respectively have only one and four rural clinics. In the Maritimes, stronger pro-life attitudes have long prevailed, causing difficulties with access even in larger urban centers.

For Indigenous women in Canada, poor access to abortion is compounded by the additional barriers of continued discrimination in health care and a higher risk of intimate partner violence (including sexual violence) than their non-Indigenous counterparts. Limits on reproductive rights beyond access to abortion are sadly nothing new for Indigenous women in Canada. From the late 1920s to the early 1970s, Indigenous women were subjected to forced sterilizations until the Sexual Sterilization Acts in Alberta and British Columbia were repealed. Some sterilizations continued afterward, having been documented in Nunavut as late as 1976.

In light of Dobbs, while the pro-choice statements from politicians and the trending “Come to Canada” Twitter activity, inviting Americans to seek abortion services in Canada, are perhaps momentarily comforting, Canada must address its own reproductive rights issues.

 

Melanie Cantin is a second-year law student at the University of Ottawa and a JURIST staff correspondent.

 

Suggested citation: Melanie Cantin, Canadian Politicians Chime in on Roe’s Reversal, but Abortion Access Remains a Problem, JURIST – Student Commentary, June 30, 2022, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2022/06/melanie-cantin-canadian-reaction-to-dobbs/.


This article was prepared for publication by Hayley Behal, JURIST Commentary Co-Managing Editor. Please direct any questions or comments to her at commentary@jurist.org


Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.