Abortion Access Still a Problem on 15th Anniversary of Historic Supreme Court Decision
Media Release — For Immediate Release January 28, 2003
VANCOUVER — Today is the 15th anniversary of the historic Supreme Court decision that gave women the constitutional right to control their own lives. “Congratulations to the women of Canada,” said Joyce Arthur, spokesperson for the Pro-Choice Action Network. “And a big thank you to Dr. Henry Morgentaler for his courageous role in helping to secure abortion rights for women.” In the Morgentaler decision of January 28, 1988, the Supreme Court said that Canada’s abortion law resulted in unequal access and arbitrary limits on abortion services, thereby violating women’s constitutional rights of “security of the person” and “liberty”.
Although new legislation to restrict abortion was proposed by Mulroney’s Conservative government in 1989, it was defeated in the Senate in 1991. The next Liberal government said they would not try to bring back an abortion law, and this promise was recently repeated by federal Health Minister Anne McLellan. In a January 2003 letter (sent to the Pro-Choice Action Network through MP Svend Robinson), McLellan said, “The Government of Canada does not intend to revisit the issues of the 1991 debate.”
Since 1988, new abortion clinics have sprung up in many major cities in Canada, providing a range of high quality reproductive health care services to women. But many inequities remain that must be addressed. “Rates of unintended pregnancy are still high, especially among teens. Canada needs to invest more in comprehensive sex education programs, plus ensure that effective contraception is accessible to all who need it,” said Arthur.
Canada needs more abortion providers and more training in medical schools. “Many doctors are older and they’re now retiring; a few have even quit because of the threat of anti-choice violence,” said Arthur. “Abortion is the most common surgical procedure performed on women, but medical schools don’t even require students to learn it.”
Politicians in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Manitoba force women to pay for their own abortions because they refuse to fund abortions at clinics. “That’s a violation of the Canada Health Act,” said Kristen Gilbert, another spokesperson for the Pro-Choice Action Network. “The federal Health Minister’s position is clear. She says abortion clinics must be fully funded because they are facilities providing medically necessary hospital care.” Lawsuits against all four of these provinces are about to be launched or are already in the courts.
In rural areas across Canada, women often have to travel far outside their community to find abortion services, and they frequently face anti-choice doctors or long waiting lists at hospitals. In New Brunswick, women have to get permission from two doctors and have their abortion performed by a specialist before the province will fund it. “New Brunswick’s regulation is like an ancient relic from the 1960’s,” said Gilbert. “It’s a flagrant violation of the Morgentaler decision because it puts up arbitrary barriers, and it takes away the abortion decision from women and gives it to doctors.”