Half of Canadian women are worried access to abortion will be restricted. In a country where reproductive rights seemed guaranteed, how did we get here? And do we need to worry?
It’s a sticky late August night in Toronto, the kind of summer evening where the entire city seems to be out, on a patio, in a park. Beside the packed bars on Queen Street West, a small lineup has formed outside local landmark and concert venue, the Great Hall. Within the hour, Canadian bands such as the Beaches, Ralph, and Tush will take the stage for the pro-choice fundraiser, Body Party. Inside, about 500 concertgoers, women and men, (but mostly women), young and old (but mostly young, and with excellent outfits), sip drinks and chat to pass the time until the first act starts.
“We came up with the idea of the concert on the day the Alabama bill was passed,” Madeleine Taurins tells me, sitting with her best friend and one of her fellow co-organizers, Jaime Eisen, on a bench outside the washrooms, the only quiet spot we can find inside. She’s referring to the heartbeat bills passed earlier this year in six American states, a political move that ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, typically at around six weeks, a point when a woman might not even realize she’s pregnant. (Alabama’s bill goes a step further, prohibiting almost all abortions.) “We said, ‘We wish we could do more,’ and then we realized we could do more. In Canada, we hear a lot of, ‘Thank god I'm not in the States — it's terrible there,’ but what people don't realize or think about is that the history of abortion provision here is really fraught.”
Despite abortions being legal in Canada since 1988, access is still hit and miss. And according to a Refinery29 survey of more than 1,000 Canadian women, 56% of 18- to 35-year-olds are worried access will be restricted further. It’s a fear stoked by what’s happening south of the border, but also at home, where abortion has become a hot-button issue in the 2019 federal election. In a country where reproductive rights once seemed like a guarantee, how did we get here? And do we really need to be afraid?