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Protesters sit outside the U.S. Supreme Court after the leak of a draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito preparing for a majority of the court to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision later this year, in Washington, on May 3.EVELYN HOCKSTEIN/Reuters

News that the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a landmark ruling that legalized abortion, is sparking protest and stoking new fears that people seeking abortions south of the border will have to do so under increasingly unsafe conditions.

What are the rules and laws around abortion in Canada?

In Canada, many abortion advocacy groups have long been concerned that the increasingly onerous restrictions being placed on the procedure by U.S. lawmakers will spill over into this country. There are no federal laws governing abortion in Canada – it was decriminalized in 1988 – but access has long been an issue. The ability to procure an abortion is often closely tied to where a person lives and their ability to navigate an often complex health care system.

Still, abortion is a common procedure in Canada: More than 74,000 were performed in clinics and hospitals in 2020, according to data compiled by the Canadian Institute for Health Information. The actual number is higher, as some clinics don’t report their data, and procedures done using the abortion pill are largely untracked. While some provinces have age-of-consent rules (people under 12 need parental consent in Newfoundland and Labrador), abortions are treated as medical procedures, with decisions left up to patients and health care providers.

How is the government involved in abortion laws?

Abortion was decriminalized by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1988 following R. v. Morgentaler, and is treated as a medical procedure in the country. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government is looking at using legislation to ensure a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion will be permanently protected in Canada.

Introducing regulations under the Canada Health Act to ensure abortion services were medically necessary and publicly funded was a promise made during the 2021 election, but has yet to be fulfilled.

On May 11, the Liberal government announced a commitment of $3.5 million for two projects to help improve access to abortion services in Canada. The funding is the first to come from the pledge in the 2022 federal budget to spend $45 million over three years to help organizations make sexual and reproductive information and services more available. The news comes a day before the annual anti-abortion “March for Life” rally on Parliament Hill.

How and where are abortions performed in Canada?

In this country, abortions are typically performed in stand-alone clinics or hospitals, many of which are located in urban centres. This means many who want to terminate a pregnancy have to travel long distances, which is difficult for people who have limited financial resources, lack transportation or child care, or are unable to take time off work. In New Brunswick, for instance, the government does not fund abortions performed outside of three hospitals in Moncton and Bathurst, meaning those in the capital of Fredericton or elsewhere in the province have to travel for the procedure.

Abortion clinic accessibility

across Canada (as of July, 2019)

Abortion clinics are mainly located in large urban centres, meaning women who live outside those areas must travel long distances and pay out-of-pocket expenses to access the service. This map illustrates driving times to abortion clinics from cities across Canada.

LEGEND

Population centres*

by driving distance to

an abortion clinic

Areas within

driving range to

an abortion clinic

2-hour drive

Longer than 2-hours

6-hour drive

Longer than 6-hours

*With 30,000 people or more

WESTERN CANADA

Yukon

NWT

Nunavut

B.C.

Prince

George

Grande

Prairie

Alta.

Fort McMurray

Campbell

River

Sask.

Lloydminster

Man.

Courtenay

Lethbridge

Medicine Hat

EASTERN CANADA

Nunavut

N.L.

Que.

Ont.

PEI

Thunder

Bay

N.S.

N.B.

Kingston

Sault Ste.

Marie

North Bay

Sudbury

Leamington

Windsor

Note: Travel estimates use historic traffic data provided by HERE Technologies. Actual travel times may vary.

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE:

HERE TECHNOLOGIES; STATISTICS CANADA

Abortion clinic accessibility

across Canada (as of July, 2019)

Abortion clinics are mainly located in large urban centres, meaning women who live outside those areas must travel long distances and pay out-of-pocket expenses to access the service. This map illustrates driving times to abortion clinics from cities across Canada.

LEGEND

Population centres*

by driving distance to

an abortion clinic

Areas within

driving range to

an abortion clinic

2-hour drive

Longer than 2-hours

6-hour drive

Longer than 6-hours

*With 30,000 people or more

WESTERN CANADA

Yukon

NWT

Nunavut

B.C.

Prince

George

Grande

Prairie

Alta.

Fort McMurray

Campbell

River

Sask.

Lloydminster

Man.

Ont.

Courtenay

Lethbridge

Medicine Hat

EASTERN CANADA

Nunavut

N.L.

Que.

Ont.

PEI

Thunder

Bay

N.S.

N.B.

Kingston

Sault Ste.

Marie

North Bay

Sudbury

Leamington

Windsor

Note: Travel estimates use historic traffic data provided by HERE Technologies. Actual travel times may vary.

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE:

HERE TECHNOLOGIES; STATISTICS CANADA

Abortion clinic accessibility across Canada (as of July, 2019)

LEGEND

Abortion clinics are mainly located in large urban centres, meaning women who live outside those areas must travel long distances and pay out-of-pocket expenses to access the service. This map illustrates driving times to abortion clinics from cities across Canada

Areas within driving range

to an abortion clinic

2-hour drive

6-hour drive

Population centres* by driving

distance to an abortion clinic

Longer than 2-hours

Longer than 6-hours

Yukon

*With 30,000 people or more

NWT

Nunavut

B.C.

Grande

Prairie

Prince

George

Alta.

Fort McMurray

Campbell

River

Sask.

N.L.

Lloydminster

Man.

Que.

Ont.

Courtenay

PEI

Lethbridge

N.S.

Medicine Hat

Thunder Bay

N.B.

Sault Ste. Marie

Kingston

Sudbury

North Bay

Leamington

Windsor

Note: Travel estimates use historic traffic data provided by HERE Technologies. Actual travel times may vary.

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL SOURCE: HERE TECHNOLOGIES; STATISTICS CANADA

According to the advocacy group Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, crisis pregnancy centres (CPCs) – anti-abortion organizations that provide counselling and other prenatal services – outnumber abortion providers in Canada. Many CPCs exist in smaller communities where there are no abortion providers or sexual-health centres.

How does abortion pill Mifegymiso work in Canada?

Mifegymiso, better known as the abortion pill, was seen as a solution to many of the geographical constraints. Available by prescription only, it is combination of two drugs and can be taken at home with guidance and monitoring from a health care professional during the first nine weeks of pregnancy.

The medication hit the market in 2017 – Canada was one of the last developed countries to approve it – but some provinces placed onerous restrictions on how and where it could be prescribed. Many patients also reported that their health care providers simply wouldn’t prescribe the medication, instead sending women to abortion clinics that were sometimes hundreds of kilometres away. As a result, many prescriptions continue to be written by abortion clinics.

How do Canadians feel about abortion?

A 2020 DART & Maru/Blue Voice Canada poll found that 71 per cent of Canadians believe a woman should be able to access an abortion, regardless of the reason. In the U.S., recent polls also show that the majority of Americans support abortion rights: A 2021 Pew Research Center survey found that 59 per cent of U.S. adults say that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Research also shows that banning or restricting abortion doesn’t stop people from seeking the procedure, but instead forces them to take risks that could jeopardize their health.

Trudeau renews pledge to protect abortion rights in Canada, but unable to offer timeline

An analysis published last year estimates that a total abortion ban in the U.S. would lead to a 21-per-cent increase in pregnancy-related deaths. The risks are even greater among racialized women. For instance, the analysis estimates that Black women would face a 33-per-cent increase in pregnancy-related deaths.

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