Medical centers in Canada that perform abortions are preparing to receive patients from U.S. states that ban the procedure. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning a constitutional right to abortion in America is also being used as motivator to expand Canada’s abortion services and provide other forms of support to pregnant women.
Canada’s Supreme Court decriminalized abortion in 1988, 15 years after America’s landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion across the United States.
Canada is the world’s second-largest land mass, and abortion services are not easily accessible for hundreds of kilometers in some rural areas, but most major urban areas have hospitals or medical centers where they are available.
Now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned, the 13 U.S. states along the border with Canada are free to allow abortions, restrict them or ban them entirely.
Winnipeg is the capital of Manitoba, which borders North Dakota, a state that is expected to restrict access to abortion.
Blandine Tona, director of clinical programs at the Women’s Health Clinic in Winnipeg, expects to see American patients visit the center, as some did before the coronavirus pandemic. She said this has had less to do with laws and more to do with proximity; some Americans are closer to Winnipeg than to states where abortion is still legal.
Martha Paynter, author of Abortion to Abolition, Reproductive Health Injustice in Canada, is not sure about the number of cross-border trips that might happen to access abortion services.
Paynter, who has a doctorate in nursing, said there are costs and logistical obstacles for Americans to obtain care in Canada. However, she said, the situation is a motivator to expand access to abortions across the country.
“It seems unlikely because you'd have to pay for the travel, you'd have to have a passport — it would be quite a process," she said. "I nevertheless think that we should prepare. This is a very good reminder of how we need to be ever vigilant and expanding access.”
Canada’s westernmost province of British Columbia shares a stretch of border with Washington state, where abortion services will continue to be widely available, but also Idaho, where a state law will soon ban the procedure if it survives court challenges.
Michelle Fortin, executive director of Options for Sexual Health, formerly Planned Parenthood Association of British Columbia, said possible immigration issues such as requiring passports and having to cross an international border lead most Americans who seek abortion services to visit the nearest U.S. state that allows it.
Even so, she said, nobody will be turned away in Canada, and many Canadians are looking to offer other types of support as well.
“So I believe that any American that shows up who's got a pregnancy that is unintended and unwanted would be served," she said. "I don't know that we're going to see huge influx. I do know that there's a lot of folks in Canada looking for ways in which we can support people in America to access abortion.”
Fortin said this support is mostly financial to help cover travel, child care and other costs for Americans. She said this might also include sending pharmaceutical abortion medication into the United States, much like what has been done for years with other prescriptions that are cheaper in Canada than in the United States.