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There is legal law in Canada, but barriers to abortion continue, advocates say



Although abortion remains legal in Canada, some abortion rights advocate saying that women continue to face obstacles in accessing the procedure.

Funding, distance to medical facilities and a patchwork of provincial laws all mean that abortion is not so easy to have in Canada as some might think.

"People often mix the two, thinking it is very easy to access it in our country because it has been to decriminalize – and not so," said Frédérique Chabot, director of health promotion t Action Canada for Health and Sexual Rights.

"Very little progress has been made to ensure that abortion is, in fact, accessible to everyone in Canada equally."

The controversial issue has been the focus of a new one following the progress of abortion exclusions in the UK.

In the last year, several states have passed heartbeat bills, banning abortion as soon as a heartbeat can be detected – which could be as early as six weeks to pregnancy. Only this week Alabama made her illegal for doctors to perform abortions.

None of them have come into force yet, and are expected to be tied into legal justice for a while. But they could make their way to U. the Supreme Court, where anti-abortion operators hope the new conservative majority will tend to reverse or reduce the court's notable abortion rights in the case of Roe vs.. Wade in 1973.

Meanwhile in Canada, federal Liberals have accused the Conservatives of reopening the abortion debate, something that party leader Andrew Scheer has insisted he will not do.

Become really tough

Abortion has been a legal right in Canada since 1988 when the Supreme Court of Canada violated laws against it. But for women living outside large urban centers like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, getting the procedure "is getting very difficult," said Cabot.

Some of those barriers include finance. Under the Canadian Health Act, abortion services are insured in all provinces and territories. However, some states have imposed restrictions on funding for the procedure.

Ontario does not fund abortions in all clinics, while New Brunswick does not fund abortions in clinics, only hospitals. Health Canada said, in its 2016-2017 annual report, New Brunswick's lack of attention remains a concern.

The Canadian Abortion Rights Alliance (ARCC) says that that is not good enough. In its interpretation of the Canadian Health Act, abortion services across the country must be fully funded.

Bianca Cameron-Schwiesow, left, Kari Crowe and Margeaux Hardline, dressed as maids, took part in a protest against HB314, the abortion ban bill, last month at Alabama State House in Montgomery. (Mickey Welsh / Montgomery Advertiser / AP)

And in the case of New Brunswick, the "federal government has failed to penalize the province by preventing transfer payments."

Distance to abortion services can also be a barrier. In many remote communities, particularly northern communities, there are no abortion clinics in the town and no hospitals achieving the treatment.

"So that means substantial travel costs, you know, losing work time for women to get to where they can actually get it," says Karen Segal, staff lawyer for the Education and Legal Action Fund. T the Women (LEAF).

In some regions, he said, only a couple of access points. For example, there are only two clinics in Alberta: one in Edmonton and one in Calgary.

Requirements for hospital abortion are also different across jurisdictions; provinces enforce their own healthcare legislation, which may include requiring a doctor to be referred or the limits of pregnancy. Hospitals often also have long waiting lists.

Prince Edward Island was the last stop, refusing to provide any abortion service until the province agreed in 2016 to open an abortion clinic following a long legal battle. P..I. limits abortions to the first nine weeks of pregnancy.

Long waiting lists

"What we have heard anecdotally is that their waiting lists are so long," said Segal. "Women are facing waiting lists of five, six weeks – which, if you don't know you are pregnant immediately, can mean you won't be eligible for an abortion t by the time you have your appointment. "

Segal acknowledged that access to medical care in general can be a challenge to those living in rural and northern communities. But we believe that lack of access to abortion reflects, at least in part, ideological resistance.

If a medical practitioner has a religious objection to the provision of an abortion, they do not have to do so. So, for example, a doctor may be prepared and able to provide an abortion in a local hospital, but an anesthetist may have a conscientious objection and refuse to help.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer insists that his party will not reopen the abortion debate. (Canadian Press / Sean Kilpatrick)

"So very practical, it's very hard to do because the staff don't agree and they won't be involved in the delivery of the service," Segal said.

Other anti-abortion doctors have refused to make referrals for a doctor who will provide an abortion.

But the Ontario Court of Appeal this week ruled that doctors in the province must give referrals for medical services that conflict with their religious beliefs, including abortion.

Nova Scotia has found its own way around reluctant doctors. Instead of referral, women can call an access-to-abortion helpline run by the provincial healthcare system.

Sarah Baddeley, chairman of the Halifax chapter of LEAF, told CBS's Morning Information Radio that there had been some improvement in the region in terms of access, thanks to the helpline and other changes such as improved access to ultrasound and dropping the mandatory requirement to get ultrasound.


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