UPDATE June 24, 2022: The Supreme Court just overturned Roe v. Wade, the nearly 50-year-old precedent guaranteeing the right to an abortion in the United States in a 6-3 decision. In an ruling written by Associate Justice Samuel Alito, the court ruled: “The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe and Casey are overruled; and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives.”
If Roe v. Wade falls, pregnant people in the U.S. could start seeking abortions in Canada—but the country has its own abortion access issues.
Canadian cabinet ministers have already said pregnant people leaving the U.S. to access abortions in Canada can do so as long as they pay.
But abortion clinics in some Canadian regions, including in the Prairies and remote communities, are already at capacity with long wait times, and many Canadians have to drive hours to get to the nearest clinic. In some provinces, including Alberta and Ontario, abortion services are concentrated in urban centres. In New Brunswick, people can only access abortions in two cities, despite the fact that 75 percent of the province’s population lives outside of them, R29 reported.
U.S. citizens “are going to be in for a little bit of a rude awakening in terms of the lack of access in this country… I think Canada is often seen as a utopia in the U.S.,” executive director of Planned Parenthood Toronto, Mohini Datta-Ray, told Politico.
Last week, a leaked U.S. Supreme Court decision revealed that conservative justices voted to overturn Roe, a precedent-setting decision that made abortions legal nationwide in 1973. It’s a decision that will have enable an estimated 26 states to ban abortions.
Because the U.S. doesn’t have universal healthcare, people seeking abortions likely pay a lot for abortions both in the country and internationally, said Joyce Arthur, executive director of Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. In Canada, costs vary, but a surgical abortion can cost anywhere between $700 and nearly $900 (between US$538 and US$692), Arthur said.
But only those who have access to a passport and the funds to travel will be able to access abortions and reproductive care internationally.
“If you’re distant and you don’t have a car or money, then you’re stuck,” Arthur said, adding that people of colour and poor people will have the hardest time seeking alternative forms of abortion access.
There are abortion funds that help pay for abortions and travel out of state, Arthur said, adding that they’d probably prioritize out-of-state abortions before Canada.
Sometimes travel is impossible even when pregnant people have the resources to do so, she said. For example, some have kids they can’t leave, or are in a relationship with an abusive partner, Arthur said.
Arthur told VICE News that U.S. citizens living close to international borders will be the most likely to seek out-of-country care. It’s already common for people in Texas, who live close to the Mexico border, to “pop over the border, get groceries, and go to a pharmacy,” Arthur said, so it’s unsurprising that people may choose to access reproductive care that way. The border town of Nuevo Progreso, Mexico, has seen an uptick in patients seeking abortion pills since Texas introduced strict anti-abortion laws last fall.
Before Canada decriminalized abortions in 1988, Canadians used to travel to the U.S. to access them. “It’s an interesting turnaround. In a way we want to be able to help our American neighbours and reciprocate what they did for us,” said Arthur.
Arthur said she hopes Canada’s federal government will funnel more money to provinces for abortion and reproductive care—with strings attached, so that provinces, especially those with Conservative premiers, can’t put the money towards something else.
The onus is on Canadian officials to increase access in “whatever way is possible,” Arthur said. But it’s too soon to tell what the future holds, for the U.S. and for its neighbours.
“We’ll have to see how it plays out.”
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