Pregnant women in Canada have access to numerous resources — but are they all created equal?
A leaked document from the U.S. Supreme Court that could overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion south of the border has sparked a conversation about abortion rights in Canada.
While abortion is legal in all provinces, pro-choice advocates say numerous charity organizations across the country do not provide pregnant women with all of their options and may even try to dissuade them from getting abortions.
Joyce Arthur is the executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC): a group that strives to protect reproductive rights by advancing resources and access to abortion.
The ARCC has compiled a list of what it characterizes as "anti-choice Groups" across Canada. These centres are not medical clinics but provide women with information about pregnancy, including options such as adoption and abortion; many of them are called crisis pregnancy or pregnancy support centres.
But the pro-choice group argues that many of these groups do provide women who want abortions with adequate information and help.
With abortion, timing is critical
Many of the "anti-choice groups" in the ARCC's list are located in the Metro Vancouver region and some of them are registered charities, which means they get tax breaks from the government.
While most of the groups don't explicitly state on their websites that they are "anti-choice," Arthur notes that the kind of language they use towards abortion makes their stance quite clear.
Once women come to their centres, they may "try to dissuade them from abortion or give them supplies like diapers and things for helping them have their baby," she tells Vancouver Is Awesome in a phone interview.
With abortion, timing is critical. To have a medical abortion, in which you ingest pills, women must be no more than eight weeks pregnant. After that, they must have a procedural abortion, "in which a clinician uses techniques such as suction to empty your uterus," according to the National Abortion Federation.
If an organization works long enough to delay an abortion, a woman could fall outside of the acceptable time frame unless there is evidence that carrying the baby to term could endanger her life.
What kind of information will these groups provide on the phone?
V.I.A. contacted several crisis pregnancy centres, right to life societies, and pro-life advocacy groups across the Lower Mainland to see what information they would provide over the phone for pregnant women. Most of them didn't hesitate to speak about abortion but firmly underscored that they were there to support pregnant women to see their pregnancies through.
Many of the centres say they won't do referrals for abortion because they are "ministry-based" and not medical clinics. However, these same clinics will provide a list of doctors who will provide medical assistance to women who will carry their pregnancy to term.
On the other hand, a couple of clinics wanted to discuss other options and seemed hesitant to discuss abortion. They mentioned that abortion was typically a choice women make when they feel like they are stuck due to financial reasons or for safety concerns.
The legality of abortion in Canada
In Vancouver, numerous locals have taken to social media to share their thoughts on the precarity of abortion rights in the United States, with many of them expressing fear and anger for American women.
But are abortion rights protected under Canadian law?
According to some legal experts, the answer is decidedly murky.
Abortion was banned in Canada until 1969, and even after that time, the medical procedure could only be performed in circumstances where a woman's life was in danger. It wasn't until 1988 that the landmark R. v. Morgentaler case decriminalized the practice across the country.
Since there is no law on abortion, Vancouver-based Criminal Law Lawyer Sarah Leaman says it exists in a "legal vacuum."
"In 1990 the Tory government did try to pass a criminal law prohibiting abortion...I believe that it was subject to a doctor's approval, given some risk to the mother's health," she explains. "And I'm not sure how broadly they categorize that in a bill that they were trying to get forward. But it was punishable.
"If someone had committed the offence, they had created it to be punishable by two years in prison. So it was not insignificant."
The bill was stopped by the Senate and the issue hasn't come up since, but the incident highlights the precarity of women's reproductive rights in the country, Leaman stresses.
"Abortion rights are not protected. They're not criminalized. It's treated as a health care issue at a provincial level. And it's up to provincial authorities to regulate it, to provide access, and so on and so forth," she adds.
"But federally speaking, we don't have any guarantees, aside from the charter, and we also don't have any prohibitions against it."