For Immediate Release –
Algonquin Anishinaabeg Territory/Ottawa, ON – The recently leaked draft majority decision of the United States Supreme Court reveals that the Court is poised to strike down the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. This is deeply concerning – for women in America, and indeed, here in Canada.
In 1973, the US Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that the US Constitution protects a woman’s fundamental right to choose to have an abortion. Overturning Roe v. Wade would seriously undermine women’s basic human rights, jeopardizing the health and safety of those seeking abortions, while having a disproportionately adverse impact on marginalized and racialized women.
In the leaked draft opinion, released on May 2nd, Associate Justice Samuel Alito states: “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.” But as Kerri Froc, Chair of the National Association of Women and the Law’s National Steering Committee (NSC), refutes:
“Constitutionally protected rights exist to protect subordinated groups. Safe and legal access to abortion services is part of women’s fundamental rights to liberty and security of person. In Canada, this is recognized in both section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and affirmed by our own Supreme Court’s decision in 1988 with R v. Morgentaler. Abortion access is also critical to women’s equal participation in society, and their fundamental human right of equality is guaranteed under sections 15 and 28.”
Indeed, in 1988, criminal restrictions on abortion were struck down in our own landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision – R v. Morgentaler. In that case, the Court ruled that “the Criminal Code provisions relating to abortion were unconstitutional because they violated women’s Charter guarantees of liberty and security of the person.” But as Professor of Constitutional Law and past-NSC Chair, Martha Jackman warns: “We can never take women’s equality for granted. The Canadian Charter clearly guarantees women’s reproductive autonomy. But while freedom of choice is a fundamental right – access to a safe abortion for all women in all parts of the country is still far from a reality in Canada.”
The direct relationship between access to abortion and equality, and the precarity of women’s gains in this area, are among the reasons why NAWL has prioritized reproductive rights in its latest strategic plan. We are not immune to our rights being undermined, and we still face significant challenges here in Canada, due to:
- ACCESS: Canada must expand its abortion services across the country. Although abortion is an insured service under the Canada Health Act, there are a limited number of facilities offering abortion services, with only one in six hospitals in Canada offering abortion. There is widespread unequal access to abortion services, especially in the North, in rural and remote communities, and for Francophones accessing abortion services outside Quebec, due in part to inadequate public funding and unequal provincial funding. This results in long and expensive travel for women who live in remote or rural areas, who must incur sometimes prohibitive additional costs such as childcare, eldercare, accommodations, lost wages. These barriers to access also disproportionately impact Indigenous women, living both on and off reserve. Further, notwithstanding the Canada Health Act guarantee of accessibility, not all abortion services are covered under provincial health insurance regimes, which increases the costs to women, and disproportionately impacts those experiencing poverty. PEI, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are just some examples of where provinces have fallen behind in offering safe, legal abortion services. For example, with clinic 554 in Fredericton, New Brunswick, forced to close its doors, only three hospitals in the whole province offering safe abortion services.
- FUNDING: During the Harper Conservative government era, significant cuts were made to the funding of women’s organizations and other groups advocating for access to abortion in Canada and at the international level. Support for organizations, including NAWL, defending women’s access to safe and legal abortions is crucial. This is especially important in light of the disproportionate financial strength and resources available to anti-choice and pro-life groups fighting to recriminalize abortion in Canada.
- DISCOURSE: While we applaud political leaders and organizations across the country who have expressed clear support for women’s right to abortion, many politicians have remained silent. The failure not only to defend, but the willingness to actively undermine reproductive choice, coupled with the rise of the alt-right anti-choice interest groups, pose a real danger for women’s rights, and indeed human rights values in Canada generally.
As Tiffany Butler, the Executive Director of NAWL concludes:
“Despite decades of feminist activism, litigation and law reform, advancing women’s sexual and reproductive rights has always been, and continues to be, a focus of NAWL’s feminist advocacy. We have a duty to remember the crucial, feminist activism and law reform work that has been done thus far, without which we would not enjoy the rights that we currently have. And yet, we also need to acknowledge all the work that still needs to be done, and to acknowledge that we all don’t enjoy the right to safe abortion equally. There are intersecting and compounding barriers to access that disproportionately impact certain groups of women, girls, trans men and non-binary people in comparison to others. We need to fight alongside everyone whose reproductive rights are at stake, to stay vigilant, to stay active, and to stay loud on this issue.”
Head of Communications