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CanadaLegal in Canada, but barriers to abortion remain, advocates say

17:15  18 may  2019
17:15  18 may  2019 Source:   cbc.ca

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Abortion in Canada is legal at all stages of pregnancy and funded in part by the Canada Health Act. While some non- legal barriers to access continue to exist, such as lacking equal access to providers, Canada is the only nation with absolutely no specific legal restrictions on abortion .

Long, L., Abortion in Canada (2016). In The Canadian Encyclopedia. However, access to abortion services differs across the country, and abortion remains one of the most divisive political issues of our time. Women's health advocates have criticized these rules, saying they unnecessarily complicate

Legal in Canada, but barriers to abortion remain, advocates say © The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer insists his party will not reopen the abortion debate.

While abortion remains legal in Canada, some abortion rights advocates say women continue to face hurdles in accessing the procedure.

Funding, distance to medical facilities and a patchwork of provincial laws all mean an abortion is not as easy to obtain in Canada as some may think.

"People often conflate the two, thinking that because it's decriminalized it's very easy to access in our country — and it's not the case," said Frédérique Chabot, director of health promotion at Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights.

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“ Abortion is not a crime in Canada but it is an area of the law” (Duhaime, 2010) that isn’t black and Now a pro-life believer could now say , ‘Would a person who is living off a kidney dialysis machine, and cannot Today, I’m here to talk about abortions and how political and societal barriers affect every

"There's been very little progress done to make sure that abortion is actually, in fact, accessible to everyone in Canada equally."

The controversial issue has gained renewed focus following the passage of abortion bans in the U.S.

Several states have in the last year passed so-called heartbeat bills, which ban abortion as soon as a heartbeat can be detected — which could be as early as six weeks into pregnancy. Just this week Alabama made it illegal for doctors to perform abortions.

None have taken effect yet, and they're expected to be tied up in legal wrangling for a while. But they could make their way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where anti-abortion activists hope the new conservative majority might be inclined to overturn or drastically diminish the court's landmark abortion-rights precedent set in the Roe vs. Wade case in 1973.

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This map formed gradually, abortion rights advocates say , as red states passed laws that tested the boundaries of It would probably remain mostly legal in a third of the states, mostly illegal in another third, and Now the number of clinics is back up to three. But many other barriers remain : a ban on

Meanwhile in Canada, federal Liberals have accused the Conservatives of wanting to reopen the abortion debate, something party leader Andrew Scheer has insisted he will not do.

'Becomes really tricky'

Abortion has been a legal right in Canada since 1988 when the Supreme Court of Canada struck down laws against it. But for women living outside of big urban centres like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, accessing the procedure "becomes really tricky," Chabot said.

Some of those barriers include funding. Under the Canada Health Act, abortion services are insured in all provinces and territories. But some provinces have placed limits on funding for the procedure.

Ontario does not fund abortions at every clinic, while New Brunswick does not fund abortions at clinics at all, only hospitals. Health Canada, in its 2016-2017 annual report, said New Brunswick's lack of coverage "remains a concern."

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The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC) says that's not good enough. In its interpretation of the Canada Health Act, abortion services across the country must be fully funded.

Legal in Canada, but barriers to abortion remain, advocates say © David Smith/Canadian Press Pro-choice demonstrators rally at the New Brunswick legislature in Fredericton in 2014. That province has limited funding for abortions to hospitals, and won't cover the procedure in clinics — something that 'remains a concern' to Health Canada.

And in the case of New Brunswick, the "federal government has failed to penalize the province by withholding transfer payments."

Distance to abortion services can also be a barrier. In many remote communities, specifically northern communities, there are no abortion clinics in town and no hospitals that perform the procedure.

"So that imposes significant travel costs, you know, loss of work time for women to get to a place where they can actually access it," said Karen Segal, staff lawyer for the the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF).

In some regions, she said, there are only a couple of points of access. For example, in Alberta there are only two clinics: one in Edmonton and one in Calgary.

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Alabama is closer than we think On Tuesday, the Republican-controlled Alabama Senate voted to approve a sweeping law to ban abortion in the state, at every stage of pregnancy, even in cases of rape and incest (the only exceptions would be if the mother’s life is at “serious risk” or in cases of “lethal fetal anomaly”). The bill was passed into law on Wednesday by the state’s female governor, Kay Ivey. The Draconian new law, expected to be challenged in court, criminalizes the procedure for doctors, who could face up to 99 years in prison for performing one. As has been noted, it exacts a harsher penalty on those who perform abortions than those who rape.

Requirements for a hospital abortion also differ across jurisdictions; provinces enforce their own health care legislation, which could include requiring a doctor's referral or gestational limits. Hospitals also often have long waiting lists.

Prince Edward Island was the last holdout, refusing to provide any abortion service until, following a long legal battle, the province agreed in 2016 to open an abortion clinic. P.E.I. restricts abortions to the first nine weeks of pregnancy.

Long wait lists

"What we've heard anecdotally is that their wait lists are so long," Segal said. "Women face wait lists of five, six weeks — which, if you don't know you're pregnant right away can mean that by the time you have your appointment you're ineligible for abortion in the province."

Segal acknowledged that access to medical care in general can be a challenge for those living in rural and northern communities. But she believes the lack of access to abortion reflects, at least in part, an ideological opposition.

If a medical practitioner has a religious objection to providing abortion, they don't have to carry it out. So, for example, a doctor may be willing and capable of providing an abortion at a local hospital, but an anaesthetist may have a conscientious objection and refuse to assist.

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Legal in Canada, but barriers to abortion remain, advocates say © Provided by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

"So, practically speaking, it's very hard to actually do it because the staff don't agree and won't participate in providing the service," Segal said.

Other anti-abortion doctors have refused to make referrals for a doctor who will provide an abortion.

But the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled just this week that doctors in the province must give referrals for medical services that clash with their religious beliefs, including abortion.

Nova Scotia has found its own way around reluctant doctors. Instead of a referral, women can call an access-to-abortion helpline that's run by the provincial health-care system.

Sarah Baddeley, chair of the Halifax chapter of LEAF, told CBC Radio's Information Morning that there has been some improvement in the region when it comes to access, thanks to the helpline and other changes like better access to ultrasounds and dropping the mandatory requirement to have an ultrasound.

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COMMENTARY: Alarming rhetoric aside, there is no serious threat to abortion rights in Canada.
The existence of new abortion laws in the U.S. actually makes it even more unlikely that such laws would ever be proposed here. The pro-life movement in the U.S. might boast of some legislative accomplishments, but it does its Canadian counterparts a tremendous disservice. Abortion was already a third rail in Canadian politics, and the more that anti-abortion forces push the issue in the U.S., the more that Canadian politicians will run the hell away from the issue. Case in point is Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, who probably does, at the very least, harbour some reservations about abortion.

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