Pregnant women who visit them may be encouraged not to have an abortion. There is also no abortion law in Canada.
Pregnant women in Canada have access to many resources – but are they all created equal?
A leaked US Supreme Court document that could quash the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion south of the border has sparked a conversation about abortion rights in Canada.
While abortion is legal in all provinces, pro-choice advocates say countless charities across the country aren’t offering pregnant women all of their options and are even trying to stop them from having abortions.
Joyce Arthur is the Executive Director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC): a group that strives to protect reproductive rights through resources and promote access to abortion.
The ARCC has compiled a list of what it characterizes as “anti-choice groups” across Canada. These centers are not medical clinics, but provide women with information about pregnancy, including options such as adoption and abortion; many of them are called crisis pregnancy or pregnancy support centers.
But the pro-choice group argues that many of these groups provide adequate information and assistance to women seeking abortions.
Timing is critical in abortion
Many of the “anti-choice groups” on the ARCC’s list are located in the Metro Vancouver area, and some are registered charities, meaning they get tax breaks from the government.
While most groups don’t explicitly state on their websites that they are “anti-choice,” Arthur notes that the kind of language they use regarding abortion makes their stance quite clear.
Once women come to their centers, they can “try to discourage them from abortion or give them supplies like diapers and things to help them have their baby,” she tells WebMD. Vancouver is amazing in a telephone interview.
In abortion, timing is critical. For a medical abortion, where you take pills, women should not be more than eight weeks pregnant. After that, they must undergo a procedural abortion, “in which a doctor uses techniques such as suction to empty your uterus,” according to the National Abortion Federation.
If an organization works long enough to delay an abortion, a woman may fall outside the acceptable time frame unless there is evidence that carrying the baby to full term could endanger her life.
What kind of information do these groups give on the phone?
VIA contacted several crisis maternity centers, right on life associations and pro-life advocacy groups in the Lower Mainland to see what information they would provide over the phone to pregnant women. Most of them did not hesitate to talk about abortion, but firmly emphasized that they were there to support pregnant women in getting through their pregnancies.
Many of the centers say they will not make abortion referrals because they are “ministry-based” and not medical clinics. However, these same clinics will provide a list of doctors who will provide medical assistance to women who are going to carry their pregnancies.
On the other hand, a few clinics wanted to discuss other options and seemed hesitant to discuss abortion. They said abortion was typically a choice women make when they feel stuck for financial or security reasons.
The legality of abortion in Canada
In Vancouver, numerous locals have taken to social media to share their views on the precarious abortion rights in the United States, many of them expressing fear and anger at American women.
But are abortion rights protected by Canadian law?
According to some legal experts, the answer is decidedly murky.
Abortion was banned in Canada until 1969, and even after that, the medical procedure could only be performed in circumstances where a woman’s life was in danger. It wasn’t until 1988 that the landmark R. v. Morgentaler case decriminalized the practice across the country.
Since there is no abortion law, Vancouver-based criminal defense attorney Sarah Leaman says it exists in a “legal vacuum.”
“In 1990, the Tory government tried to pass a criminal law banning abortion…I believe it was subject to a doctor’s approval, given the risk to the mother’s health,” she explains. “And I’m not sure how broadly they categorize that in a bill they were trying to put forward. But it was punishable.
“If someone had committed the offence, they would have made it a two-year prison term. So it wasn’t trivial.”
The bill was stopped by the Senate and the issue has not been raised since, but the incident highlights the precariousness of women’s reproductive rights in the country, Leaman stressed.
“Abortion rights are not protected. They are not criminalized. It is treated at the provincial level as a health issue. And it is up to the provincial authorities to regulate it, grant access and so on,” she adds.
“But federally speaking, we have no guarantees other than the charter, and we don’t have a ban on it either.”