St. Albert resident Holly Gerrard wants local politicians to talk about abortion and women’s rights issues and says it's important they speak about them now.
“You want to know where your MP stands on this because it is a very divisive issue and being vocal about it, I think will inform more political decisions,” said Gerrard, a local activist who has been vocal on social media.
News of the potential overturn of abortion rights in the U.S has created quite a political stir in Canada over the past week, with federal and provincial politicians either speaking out about the move or refusing to discuss it.
On May 2, Politico, a popular politics website, first reported on a leaked document suggesting the U.S. Supreme Court had voted to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision which made abortion a constitutionally protected right under federal jurisdiction.
If the draft is adopted, access to and the legality of abortion would become a matter of each individual state, with a total of as many as 28 states banning or restricting abortion in the months ahead, reported The New York Times.
Premier Justin Trudeau, in a political scrum on May 4, said he has tasked the minister of health and minister of women and gender equality to “look at the legal framework that exists around reproductive health and services like abortion to ensure that we move forward as necessary on ensuring that, not just under this government, but under any future government, the rights of women are properly protected.”
There was, however, a noticeable silence on the matter by Conservative politicians.
Interim Conservative Party of Canada leader Candice Bergen sent a memo out to the members of the Conservative caucus on May 3 telling them they are not to comment on the draft rulings from the Supreme Court of the United States, as reported by The Globe and Mail.
St. Albert MP Michael Cooper’s office did not respond to The Gazette's request for an interview.
Premier Jason Kenney said the issue of the leaked U.S. document is not an Alberta issue, nor an issue under Alberta jurisdiction.
During oral question period on May 3, in the Alberta legislature, NDP Leader Rachel Notley said she was deeply concerned over the news about the potential overturn on Roe v. Wade and asked Kenney to reaffirm to concerned Albertans a commitment to a woman’s right to choose and to also join her in condemning the attack on reproductive rights in North America.
Kenney said the matter is for the American legal and political system and “there has been no change of policy with respect to that procedure in Alberta — none has been proposed.”
Notley asked Kenney to participate in a debate because Albertans still face issues of harassment when they seek the health procedure and access is still restricted to major cities.
Kenney responded the matter is a potential decision of a court in a foreign country and there is no precedent for Alberta to get involved in running commentary on those decisions. Further, Kenney said the matter is under federal jurisdiction in Canada.
“The member has tried to create controversy where there is not in Alberta,” said Kenney.
Health care is administered and delivered by provinces and territories in Canada.
In Alberta, access to most abortion services is provided under an Alberta Health Services contract by two community-based clinics in Edmonton and Calgary. These clinics provide services to pregnant women from across the province, Kristi Bland, spokesperson for AHS, said in an email.
Bland said AHS understands travel can be a burden for some patients, but non-medication procedural abortion requires surgeons, anesthetists, nursing staff, an operating room, and counselling supports both pre- and post-procedure, and these individuals need to do the procedure regularly to stay competent.
Mifegymiso, a medical abortion pill, is available at no cost to Albertans who have a pregnancy between six and nine weeks. Bland said the pill has significantly improved access to abortion services throughout the province, including in rural areas.
Later in the day, and in response to the U.S. Supreme Court leaked draft decision, NDP Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood MLA Janis Irwin intended to move a motion, Standing Order 42, that would adjourn the ordinary business of the legislature to debate women’s rights and reproductive issues.
“This legislature must affirm access to reproductive health services, including abortion services, because it truly is a fundamental right and freedom for all Albertans. This legislature must condemn any decision of the Supreme Court of the United States that would limit reproductive rights,” Irwin said.
Associate Minister of Status of Women and MLA for Calgary-Glenmore Whitney Issik said she rejected most of the premise of the motion because the draft was unverified, the decision was in a foreign court and does not affect Canadian law, and abortion is under federal jurisdiction.
Issik said there are a lot of issues to speak about when it comes to women’s health issues, in time.
“In the meantime, I don’t see this as anywhere near an emergency debate. Again, the premise of it, with respect to dealing with foreign courts, does not at all indicate we should have an emergency debate about it,” Issik said.
The motion, which required unanimous consent, did not pass.
Gerrard said politically she understands where the provincial government is coming from, as they want to focus on Alberta issues, but she also wants to know that things are safe here.
“We want to know who's leading our province and we want to know where he stands on issues that affect millions and millions and millions of people,” she said.
Gerrard also believes abortion is an issue that needs to be tackled head-on here in Canada. She thinks abortion rights issues in the U.S. could impact abortion rights here in Canada, as socially we are “inextricably linked with U.S. politics, culture, and social decisions.”
She said Bill C-233, which would ban sex-selective abortion, was defeated in the House of Commons on June 2, 2021 — a move at chipping away at abortion legislation and limiting choice.
“And a limit on choice means really no choice. If there really is pro-choice, that must be all or nothing,” she said.
Gerrard said Bill C-233 shows that restricting reproductive rights does happen in Canada and that these issues are relevant here “and so we should be talking about it in Canada.”
“Canada getting ahead of that, I think, would be a good … by saying that we support the right to choose, no matter what our American neighbours say. That is very, very important,” she said.
Data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information showed 11,983 abortions were reported by clinics and hospitals in Alberta in 2020.
The total number of abortions in Canada in 2020 was 74,155, with the annual abortion rate per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 at 10.1 out of 1,000 people, as reported by the institute.
Those numbers do not include most medical abortions, which have become more accessible in primary-care settings, according to the institute, and the “volumes reported are believed to underestimate the true number of induced abortions in Canada.”