By: Amanda Lam
On May 7, 2014, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau sparked controversy by announcing all his MPs will be expected to vote pro-choice in abortion debates. In response to this, Campaign Life Coalition and the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, two anti-abortion groups, have created the hashtag “#No2Trudeau” to rally against Trudeau’s politics about abortion.
I believe that these two anti-abortion groups will not get far in their cause, especially since abortion is popularly regarded as a human right. According to the World Health Organization, when women do not have access to safe abortion services, their choices become more limited and women turn to unsafe abortion methods such as using turpentine and knitting needles. Unsafe abortion methods can result in a variety of health consequences, and at times, death. Worldwide, approximately 68,000 women die each year as a result of complications from unsafe abortions (Grimes, Benson, Singh, & Romero, M., 2006). The message is clear: not having access to safe abortion services is killing women.
Although unsafe abortion and related health concerns are highest in countries where abortion services are illegal or difficult to obtain — typically in developing nations — Canadians must not fall into the trap of believing Canada’s abortion laws and clinics are sufficient in supporting women seeking such services.
In New Brunswick, only two hospitals provide abortion services which are covered by the Canadian government (Renzetti, 2015). Such restrictions in New Brunswick do not meet the accessibility and privacy needs of those seeking abortions. Many women will travel to Maine for this service to avoid stigma, social ostracism, or other repercussions among their family members or coworkers (Renzetti, 2015). Prince Edward Island remains the only Canadian province that does not perform legal abortions. In contrast, Quebec provides abortion services at 46 different locations in the province.
The differing provincial situations demonstrate that Canada’s abortion legislation has not translated into widespread access to safe abortion services. Within a human rights framework, a woman’s inability to exercise agency over her pregnancy is a violation of the articles set forth in the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). According to the CEDAW, the denial of safe abortion, resulting in restricted choice, is a human rights violation as it withholds health services on the discriminatory basis of sex. It is time for the Canadian government to remedy this deficit and begin equally funding safe abortion services across all provinces.
Canada still has a ways to go, yet I am hopeful Trudeau’s public declaration is a step in the right direction. Trudeau is drawing a clear line that this women’s rights issue is a true concern for the Liberal party. Moreover, his declaration exemplifies that women’s rights are of more concern for the Liberal party than his MPs personal views.
Grimes, D. A., Benson, J., Singh, S., & Romero, M. (2006). Sexual and reproductive health 4: Unsafe abortion: The preventable pandemic. The Lancet, 368(9550), 1908.
Renzetti, E. (2015). If it’s medically necessary, why isn’t access universal? The Globe and Mail