Photo by: Charlie Martin
June 24, 2022 marked a significant time in the United States with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 constitutional decision providing the right to receive an abortion. The 1973 ruling sparked reaction across the globe, consequently initiating conversations, debates and protests both within and outside of the U.S. Despite being seemingly exempt from the effects of the overturning, Canada, along with numerous other countries, has had its own share of consequences from the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
The legal case was originally ruled on Jan. 22, 1973 by the U.S. Supreme Court. The court declared that the restrictive regulations states held over an individual’s right to an abortion were unconstitutional. This followed the original proclamation by the plaintiff, Norma McCorvey, under the pseudonym “Jane Roe,” who acted against the District Attorney of Dallas County in Texas, Henry Wade. Although Roe advocated for the right to terminate a pregnancy in any way and at any time, the Supreme Court disagreed with this, instead attempting to balance the right to privacy by imposing a state’s interest in regulating abortion by protecting a person’s health and prenatal life.
The court deemed the end of the first trimester of pregnancy as the point after a state’s interest in a pregnant person’s health would allow the regulation of abortion, as well as the point of a fetus’ viability occurring at about 24 weeks of pregnancy. Overall, the Supreme Court’s ruling was based on the idea that the abortion decision was a fundamental part of one’s right to personal privacy.
This monumental change to the U.S.’s abortion laws took a turn this year, however, with the subsequent overturning of the case.
With the removal of Roe v. Wade within the U.S., 26 states are likely to ban abortion to the fullest extent possible, with 13 of these states withholding “trigger” laws that automatically enact bans soon or even directly after the ruling of a decision. This has made most abortions illegal in these 13 trigger states, with limited exceptions. The states where abortion is currently illegal include: Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Although the U.S. has evidently experienced a momentous change in abortion rights, leading to divergent responses across the country, Canada is one of the only countries that continues to not have a law regarding abortion, meaning that the procedure is treated the same as any other medical practice and governed by provincial/territorial governments and medical regulations.
This decision has been in effect since 1988, once the Supreme Court of Canada declared the country’s previous abortion law as unconstitutional. Such a decision was followed by supplementary regulations regarding abortion, such as the 1989 Supreme Court ruling that a father has no legal right to veto a woman’s decision to have an abortion, as well as the Safe Access to Abortion Services Act in 2018, which allows the establishment of safe access zones around facilities that provide abortions in Ontario.
In the wake of Roe v. Wade in the U.S., various Canadians have expressed their opinions towards the overturning. “Canada is not the US. We can have adult conversations,” wrote Dr. Leslyn Lewis, Conservative MP and former candidate for the Conversative Party of Canada leadership, in a tweet responding to the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
Despite Lewis’ negative reaction towards the U.S. overturning, she has also been clear in the past about her own “pro-life” views. Despite such views, she remains in disagreement with the States’ Supreme Court overturning the historical legislation, while also demonstrating the extremely different perspective she holds towards her own country in comparison.
Like Lewis, various Canadians with different backgrounds and beliefs have displayed their disapproval of the U.S.’s decision, including but not limited to notable figures such as liberal party Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“In Canada, we will always defend womens’ rights to choose and continue to work and expand access to the full range of reproductive health services across the country,” said the PM in his response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
Although the U.S.’s abortion decision has sparked numerous responses across the globe from individuals both for and against the overturning, here in Canada, the general population all reached a somewhat similar conclusion: we are not like them.
Despite this statement being seemingly accurate, and despite the legality of abortions in Canada remaining intact, many remain unsure about the fate of Canada’s own rights.
“A repeal of Roe v. Wade might not impact Canadian access to abortions, but it has meant an emotional rollercoaster of a week for the people who fought for reproductive rights in this country. And it shines a light on how easily rights can be ended,” wrote CANADALAND, Canadian news site and podcast network, in a tweet.
In light of this statement, the reality behind how fragile one’s rights can be is demonstrated through the changes Canadians have begun to experience in the wake of Roe v. Wade.
In her article, Sabrina Maddeaux calls attention to the likelihood of up to 26 states banning or mostly banning abortion, causing pregnant individuals visiting America from Canada to have to face the reality of not being able to receive an abortion in potentially half of the country. She follows this by highlighting how these individuals could risk endangering themselves by not having access to an abortion, which could be a life-saving procedure in certain cases.
Individuals visiting the U.S. can also be influenced by Roe v. Wade when considering the fact that 95 per cent of all abortions in Canada are only done in the first trimester of pregnancy. Despite this, many individuals may require an abortion after 12 weeks, whereas Canada provides little opportunity for such procedures. For example, only three services in Canada offer abortions up to 23 weeks and six days, while no providers in Canada offer abortions beyond this. Because of this, those requiring the procedure at this time in pregnancy have had to travel to the U.S. to access these services, however with the new overturning, such access has become even more limited.
Maddeaux also points to how Canada can once again be largely affected by the implications of Roe v. Wade when considering the amount of Americans who may have to resort to fleeing to areas such as Toronto for their procedures. Such an outcome could consequently cause overflow in Canada’s own abortion providers, ultimately overwhelming the country’s already declining waiting lists and contributing to the service’s notorious underfunding.
Maddeaux claims that such conclusions would place the country in a state where abortion is nominally legal but nearly impossible to actually access.
According to Mo Constantine, a member of Niagara Reproductive Justice, a community focused on organizing accessible pro-choice sexual health resources in Niagara, accessing abortions in the Niagara Region already has its own share of difficulties.
“There are a lot of barriers in the way of accessing abortions. For example, there are currently only two providers for abortion in the Niagara Region, which only offer procedures for pregnant individuals up to 10 and 12 weeks along,” said Constantine. “For some people especially, they might not live near where a doctor is located, which can be another huge barrier.”
In addition to the roadblocks delaying such procedures, Constantine also calls attention to the role that crisis pregnancy centres play in many communities. Contrasting Niagara’s two abortion providers, there are six crisis pregnancy centres within the region, outnumbering abortion centres three to one.
Crisis pregnancy centres, also known as CPCs or “fake clinics,” are clinics run by anti-abortion activists who attempt to spread misinformation and propaganda surrounding abortions. They additionally work to shame and pressure individuals from receiving abortions while disguising themselves as genuine health centres.
“They want people who are seeking an abortion specifically to find them, think that they can get an abortion from them, get a referral or at the very least talk to someone who’s nonjudgemental about what their options are,” said Constantine. “But their mission, their purpose at the end of the day is to prevent people from accessing abortions. They are specifically an anti-abortion organization.”
Of the six crisis pregnancy centres in Niagara, Clarity Pregnancy Options, formerly known as Elisha House, is the most prevalent. According to Constantine, the fake clinic opened in the nineties and started as being transparent with their religious affiliations. Last year, however, the CPC rebranded and opened two separate locations: one location in Welland which focused on biblical and Christian programming, and another location in St. Catharines which concentrated more on disguising itself as a clinic displaying “pregnancy options.”
Next to Clarity Pregnancy Options, Niagara Reproductive Justice points out additional crisis pregnancy centres within the region, such as South Niagara Life Centre and Grimsby Life Centre, which, along with Clarity Pregnancy Options, are an extension of Niagara Life Centre. While Grimsby Life Centre has one location in Grimsby, South Niagara Life Centre features one location in Port Colborne and one location in Fort Erie.
With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, these centres, along with numerous other anti-abortion movements in the Niagara Region, have both strengthened their resources and grown in popularity.
“I think [Roe v. Wade] has really emboldened the anti-abortion movement here in Niagara and everywhere. I think they’re feeling like their goals are more at reach,” said Constantine.
Constantine also noted that Choose Life Niagara, an organization promoting respect for human life from conception to natural death, has also seen a rise in supporters. According to him, their Life Chain event, where individuals gather to protest abortions on Niagara streets, has seen a larger turnout this year than ever before. Along with a larger support system for such organizations comes a rise in donations and overall stability.
“I think we’re going to see more and more anti-abortion activity, and the overturning of Roe v. Wade has helped fuel that. I think we’ll continue to see the effects of that in the years to come,” said Constantine.
Despite the rise in pro-life and anti-abortion support and activity within the region, on the other hand, the results of Roe v. Wade have also led communities such as Niagara Reproductive Justice to receive a larger following as well.
“It takes something, usually anger, to get people to act and it’s great when they do,” said Constantine.
The only downfall which comes from this rise in activity, however, is the region’s lack of recognition towards already established infrastructure. Constantine recommends that instead of organizing protests and events for a cause, individuals should always look to see what already exists, and in response aid in making these organizations more sustainable.
Niagara Reproductive Justice also offers a list of Niagara-based organizations supporting reproductive justice, such as OPIRG Brock, Positive Living Niagara, as well as Brock’s Student Justice Centre. Individuals interested in taking part in advocating for reproductive justice are encouraged to look into and support any of these various organizations, as well as look into Niagara Reproductive Justice’s own volunteer opportunities.
Despite the overall controversy behind the procedure, and whether it should remain in effect in Canada or not, Constantine notes how safe the procedure can truly be when accessed and undertaken correctly.
“Abortion is normal and it’s safe and it’s effective. There’s a lot of misinformation about it being dangerous and bad for your health and mental health, but studies show that it’s safer than giving birth,” said Constantine.
A study from the University of California San Francisco and Columbia University, which looked at 667 women who had abortions in the past, found that the majority of the women felt relief as their primary emotion after receiving the procedure. Additionally, 99 per cent agreed that getting an abortion was the right decision for them.
In Canada, whether an individual decides to receive an abortion or not is up to them. Although Constantine and other members of Niagara Reproductive Justice urge people to educate themselves on the procedure, what one decides to do with such information is their own decision.
Despite Canada’s own policies, however, the lack of accessing abortions in certain areas and for some individuals remains intact.
“There was a lot of talk about supporting people in the U.S., but not a lot of talk about supporting people here who are struggling to access abortion. There are so many barriers for people who don’t have transportation and people who are unhoused. Additionally, for people who are experiencing just day to day stigma and discrimination in the health care system, such as racialized people or people who use substances, accessing abortion can be much more difficult,” said Constantine.
While the U.S. continues to deal with the aftermath of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Canadians have become aware of the fact that they are not exempt from such limitations. Although the significant change in the U.S.’s justice system contrasts Canada’s current policies, the constellation effect the States produce in its surrounding countries is apparently unavoidable.