Miriam Berger

April 5, 2022

-National Post


If Roe v. Wade were overturned, Americans could continue to receive abortions in Canada, Karina Gould, the country’s minister of families, children and social development, said Tuesday. She said such a decision would affect people on both sides of the border.

The U.S. Supreme Court could be poised to overturn the 1973 landmark decision legalizing abortion in the United States, according to a leaked draft opinion obtained by Politico, the authenticity of which the court has confirmed.

“One of the concerning factors here is that there are many Canadian women who maybe don’t live near a major city in Canada, but will often access these services in the United States,” she told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. “I’m very concerned about the leak yesterday. I’m very concerned about what this means, particularly for American women, but also for Canadian women.”

U.S. citizens in Canada are already able to access abortion services, either through Canada’s health insurance programs or, if they do not qualify, by buying private insurance or paying out-of-pocket. That guaranteed coverage would not change were U.S. states to once again criminalize the medical procedure, Gould said when asked about the issue Tuesday.

“If they, people, come here and need access, certainly, you know, that’s a service that would be provided,” she told CBC.

Gould was not immediately available for comment on Wednesday, her press secretary, Mohammad Hussain, told The Washington Post.

Canadian Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino told Canadian media Wednesday that he was in touch with the Canada Border Services Agency to ensure the guidelines are clear for any U.S. citizen coming to Canada for the procedure.

Mendicino did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Abortion has been legal across Canada since 1988, when the country’s highest court struck down a law criminalizing it.

“Every woman in Canada has a right to a safe and legal abortion,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted Tuesday in response to the Politico report. “We’ll never back down from protecting and promoting women’s rights in Canada and around the world.”

Some in Canada, however, found fault with Trudeau’s statements because Canadian law has not in fact enshrined a legal right to abortion; rather, the courts have banned the federal or provincial governments from criminalizing it, CBC reported.

In practice, access to abortion services in Canada varies widely by province, with most stand-alone clinics or hospital providers centered in urban areas. People from rural areas seeking the medical procedure may have to travel several hours and pay extra if they are outside their area of health-care coverage.

In contrast, Canada has more organizations counseling against abortions, known as crisis pregnancy centers, than actual abortion providers, according to the advocacy group Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights.

The situation is starkest in New Brunswick province, which borders Maine and does not have a single abortion clinic. The provincial government has banned government funds from covering the medical procedure outside of three specific hospitals.

Last July, Trudeau’s government withheld around $110,000 in health-care transfers to the province because of New Brunswick’s abortion restrictions and “failure to keep up its obligations under the Canada Health Act,” the prime minister said.

Before the pandemic, Ontario, which lies along the Great Lakes region, referred around two dozen women a year to the United States for abortions that they were unable to locally access. The province is Canada’s largest by population and includes both the megacity Toronto and Canadian capital, Ottawa.

Ontario provincial health-care plans covered the costs, according to Canada’s Global News, but that rate dropped by about half during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, when travel between the two countries was highly restricted.

While there are not large numbers of Canadians traveling across the border for abortions, the U.S. option has provided Canadians one key alternative – and, both supporters and critics say, has been a crutch for lawmakers not seeking a change to Canada’s status quo.

Trudeau on Wednesday defended his government’s support for reproductive rights, saying his administration has sought to close the access gap and is exploring possible legal changes “to ensure that not just under this government, but under any future government, that the rights of women are properly protected.”

Antiabortion advocacy groups have been pushing the Conservative Party, Trudeau’s main opposition, and right-wing lawmakers to take a tougher stance.

“Pro-life advocates in Canada are now encouraged to work even harder,” Jeff Gunnarson, president of the antiabortion group Campaign Life Coalition in Canada, said Tuesday in a statement. “When life is winning in America, it is only a matter of time before life will win in Canada, too,” he added on Twitter.

But the interim leader of Canada’s Conservative Party, Candice Bergen, told party members Tuesday not to comment on the leaked draft opinion, Canadian media reported.

Bergen, who is herself antiabortion, told CBC that her party would not be introducing legislation to ban abortions.

Michigan, Wisconsin, Idaho, Montana and North Dakota, which all border Canada, are among the 26 U.S. states that are either certain or likely to ban abortion if Roe is overturned.

Not so long ago, the U.S. border with Mexico was known as the outlet for U.S. citizens seeking to access safe abortion services.

Beginning in the 1940s, Americans traveled south to organizations in Mexico, where the practice was illegal but largely unpoliced, Lina-Maria Murillo, an assistant professor of gender, women’s and sexuality studies and history at the University of Iowa, wrote last September in The Post. Then, just as the United States was legalizing the practice ion 1973, Mexican authorities cracked down and the cross-border flow reversed.

“No matter what antiabortion crusaders try, pregnant people will always find ways to have abortions – and networks that go beyond borders have long helped them navigate treatment options,” Murillo said.