‘Not just a U.S. issue’: Advocates urge feds to broaden safe abortion access in Canada

Legal doesn't mean easy. Pro-choice group working to make reproductive health options, like abortion, easily accessible no matter where you live. Liza Yuzda reports.

The recent spotlight on safe abortions in the U.S. has highlighted that many Canadians face a number of barriers when accessing their reproductive options, says one advocate.

Unless you live in Vancouver, Toronto, or Montreal, “it’s very challenging to access abortion care,” said Makeda Zook, access line program manager at Action Canada for Sexual Health and Right.

The law restricting abortion in Canada was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1988, which found it violated a woman’s security of person under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Since then, there have been no laws passed on abortion but that could change as debate heats up.

The federal government has said all options are on the table to stop any regression of rights, including the possibility of legislation.

“We will do everything we can to ensure that’s not a freedom that can be rolled back by any future government,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

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Through the Access Line run by Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights’, formerly known as Planned Parenthood of Canada, Zook says the organization hears from a number of people who express frustrations in finding accurate health information and resources.

“They’re basically like ‘I thought this was decriminalized. I thought this would be easier because of that,'” she tells CityNews. “It’s a huge reality check to all Canadians that we that we need to fix access.”

For Canadians that don’t live in a major Canadian city, it’s particularly challenging says Zook, which is why the organization provides an emergency travel fund.

However, she emphasizes the people that do not have the financial resources, have an anti-choice partner or are surrounded by family or community they can’t rely on, “are the people that are falling through the cracks.”

“We also see people who are already marginalized by the health care system — so those experiencing racism transphobia impacts of colonialism — all of those pieces greatly impact how people are able to access abortion care.”

The U.S.’s access to safe abortion has been under the spotlight after a leak of a draft opinion that would overrule Roe v. Wade and sharply curtail abortion rights in roughly half the states.

In Canada, Zook says 25 per cent of sitting federal members of parliament have voted in favour of attempts to restrict abortion in Canada. While the context here is different, “anti-choice activities are not just a U.S. issue. They also happen here,” Zook stated.

Zook adds Action Canada is competing with well-funded and active crisis pregnancy centres (CPCs) which are organizations that persuade pregnant people against having an abortion.

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Zook says these misleading and “extremely biased” centres leave many unable to decipher between the two.

“They’re really skilled at advertising themselves as supportive, that they’re there to help, and that they will empathetic, and they’ll listen. And so it is hard to tell,” she said.

“On our on the line that we run, we clearly say that we’re pro-choice — that is one way to distinguish and that we will give non-bias information about all sorts of sexual health services, and accurate information. It is very hard to distinguish online between accurate information about abortion care and inaccurate information. And so it is definitely something that needs to be worked on, I would say, across the country in terms of ensuring that there is readily available, accurate information about abortion care.”

On Thursday, the annual March for Life rally took place across the county. While this year’s crowd was smaller compared to previous years, the atmosphere was loud, as those against abortion were met by pro-abortion rights supporters.

A handful of Conservative MPs took part in the ‘March for Life.’

Zook says she is concerned these rallies further stigmatize abortion care despite it being essential health care.

The Supreme Court in the U.S. could render its decision on Roe vs. Wade in the weeks ahead. Rules the federal government plans to put in place to try and prevent the erosion of any rights in Canada can be expected then.

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