Dear Party Leaders,
We are writing to you today to express our growing concern about abortion access issues. We are a coalition of stakeholders from across Canada speaking out in a unified way. Since the beginning of the current federal campaign, we believe that the issue of abortion has been addressed in an electioneering manner by the major party leaders. We believe that abortion rights and access should not be a priority issue only at election time. Where are the political parties to increase accessibility of services during parliamentary proceedings?
Abortion rights and access in Canada: what are the barriers?
Conversations about the freedom of conscience of health care professionals have taken up a lot of space since the beginning of the campaign. However, this freedom is already defined by each provincial professional association. There is even case law from the Ontario Court of Appeal reiterating the duty to refer, that is, the obligation of medical professionals to refer to a competent colleague when asked to perform a medical procedure that contravenes their moral or religious values.
In our view, this conversation is important, but it only sheds light on one of many barriers to abortion access in Canada. We have not yet heard the parties talk about waiting times, restrictive laws, distance to travel, availability of the abortion pill, inequalities in access based on place of residence, migration status, etc. These conversations are not taking place because they would require firm positions and the establishment of concrete and sustainable solutions.
The case of New Brunswick
Similar to legislation fragmenting abortion rights in the United States, the government of New Brunswick chose to adopt a measure in 1989 that restricted access to abortion by limiting public funding to abortions performed in a hospital (Regulation 84.20 Schedule 2, paragraph (a.1). of the Medical Services Payment Act). This led to significant difficulties for facilities such as Clinic 554, which performed a considerable number of surgical abortions before being forced to reduce its operations due to lack of adequate public funding.
There are now only three service centers that perform abortions in New Brunswick, two of which are located in the same city. Only in these hospitals is abortion covered by public health insurance.
According to our most conservative calculations, for more than half of those who might need to access abortion services in New Brunswick, the average travel time is two hours to reach one of the service centers (one way). This has serious implications for the accessibility of these services. This problem is even more acute for people living in rural areas and for people with limited financial means because of the costs associated with travel and the scarcity of interregional public transportation.
We therefore consider Regulation 84-20 to be a serious infringement of the Canada Health Act, as well as setting a precedent where the government of a Canadian province places a legislative and financial barrier to access to abortion.
1. On May 5, 1989, Regulation 84-20 under the Medical Services Payment Act was updated to
include abortion in the list of services that are not publicly funded “unless the abortion is
performed by a specialist in the field of obstetrics and gynaecology in a hospital facility approved
by the jurisdiction in which the hospital facility is located and two medical practitioners certify in
writing that the abortion was medically required.”
New Brunswick is the only province in Canada where abortion clinics are not funded by Medicare. An advocacy group is currently challenging the legality of this provincial regulation.
For greater reproductive justice
While we denounce the way abortion has been discussed in recent weeks, we believe in the importance of working collaboratively to limit the emergence of new barriers and to remove the barriers that continue to restrict access to abortion services. These barriers, which vary from province to province, and even from municipality to municipality, have an equally unequal impact on those who wish to access these services. Indeed, people from certain communities or living specific realities continue to experience the effects of these barriers disproportionately. In the interests of reproductive justice and the elimination of inequalities, we are convinced that it is essential to improve access to abortion services throughout Canada.
Beyond the logic of electioneering
We ask you to:
- Take a clear and unequivocal position on abortion rights and access as a political party;
- Recognize that the adoption of Schedule 2 (a.1) of Regulation 84-20 in New Brunswick is an ideological attempt to restrict access to abortion;
- Take the necessary steps to honour the universal and free nature of medically necessary health care, which includes abortion services, including for people that are not covered by public health insurance;
- Expand sexual and reproductive health services and their accessibility across Canada;
- Make every effort to ensure that those seeking abortions have the freedom to do so and the choice of method.
This letter is an initiative of Véronique Pronovost, a doctoral student in sociology at the Université du Québec à Montréal, Marie Soleil Chrétien, a Montreal-based activist, Isabelle Séguin, a Moncton-based activist, Julie Gillet, excecutive director of Regroupement féministe du Nouveau-Brunswick, and the organizations, Regroupement féministe du Nouveau-Brunswick, Action Canada, Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, Fédération du Québec pour le planning des naissances and National Abortion Federation of Canada. The letter is also supported by more than 50 organizations.