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  • Writer's pictureOvith Thiyagalingam

U.S. Roe v. Wade Overturned: How Can Students in Canada Respond?

Updated: Aug 7, 2022

This article discusses themes of women's sexual health and violence and may be triggering for some readers.

“Access to safe, legal abortion is a matter of human rights.” – Human Rights Watch

Countries have a responsibility to empower women, girls, and other pregnant people with access to safe and legal abortion. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death for girls and young women between the ages 15 and 19. Legal restrictions on abortion result in more illegal and unsafe abortions, which in turn drives higher maternal mortality rates.

Despite the importance of universal abortion access, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 24, 2022, to overturn the Roe v. Wade 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision, in effect removing the constitutional right to abortion for many women in the United States and sparking debate worldwide and in Canada about the ethics of anti-abortion laws.

According to CBC News, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling has triggered new laws in at least 13 U.S. states, banning or significantly limiting access to abortions in those states. Similarly, while abortions have been most recently decriminalized in Canada since 1988, when the Supreme Court of Canada revised the abortion provision in the Criminal Code due to its determined violation of women’s human rights, access to abortion in Canada is not completely guaranteed.

Beyond just legal mandates, Canada faces its own inequalities in abortion access and may reportedly struggle to act as a “safe haven” for American women looking north of the border for safe access.

Disparities in Abortion Access in Canada

Abortion access is location dependent. Most abortion providers in Canada are situated less than 150 km from the Canada-U.S. border, and only about 1 out of 6 hospitals offer the service. With the financial strain that comes with the costs of transportation, which includes factors such as gas, childcare, and lost employment income from time away from work, abortion becomes further and further out of reach for women in Canada who live in non-urban regions.

A lack of openness from some healthcare providers also exists, and the fear of stigma or social judgment can lead to a sense of “shame” for many women seeking abortion.

Racism in the healthcare system is also a barrier faced by Canadian women, as language and cultural barriers affect marginalized and vulnerable groups, including Black, Indigenous, and other racialized women.

About 1,150 Indigenous women were sterilized in Canadian hospitals up until the early 1970s, but new cases continue to be reported today. The present issue of forced sterilization of Indigenous women is evidence of discrimination and violence directed towards Indigenous women, who may then be distrustful of hospitals and fearful of seeking abortion services.

Abortion bans don't stop abortions, but they do create inequality in who has access to abortion.

How Students Can Protect Abortion Rights

The right to abortion is a critical human rights issue and requires students in Canada to be active in staying informed and advocating for the protection of the right.

1. Understand your rights! The right to access abortion is protected under the constitutional rights to “life, liberty, and security of the person” and “freedom of conscience” in Canada.

2. Join, volunteer, or donate to a local pro-choice group, abortion clinic, or family planning clinic, and ask your friends and family to do the same. Removing the stigma around abortion begins with each of us being willing to be open to talking about it!

3. Write letters and post informed comments on your social media supporting reproductive rights, especially in response to articles or other letters with an anti-choice bias.

4. Stay informed on reproductive and sexual health rights issues! Urge your school or organization to be intentional with its messaging going forward around reproductive rights, and to let current and prospective students know what sexual and reproductive health resources are available to students.

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