Today is International Safe Abortion Day. For decades, activists have worked tirelessly to ensure people in Canada could access safe abortion care. First came the fight for its decriminalization. In the 30 years since, our fight has been to close gaps in access that – thanks to stigma and a lack of political will – have not budged much since the Morgentaler decision.
One in three people who can get pregnant in Canada will have an abortion at some point in their lifetime. Despite how common this medical procedure is, many people in Canada still have a hard time when they need to access an abortion.
For people who live outside of Canada’s urban centres, those who live in provinces with only two or three abortion providers, those who are poor, undocumented, marginalized, and/or young, accessing an abortion has always been complicated. Since the pandemic, we’ve only seen these challenges grow.
In response to Covid-19, sexual and reproductive health care providers have responded tirelessly to protect patients and staff alike. But their incredible work cannot overcome the missing infrastructure and discriminatory policies that keep abortion care out of reach for many.
Most provinces still lack telemedicine billing codes for medical abortion. Some provinces like Newfoundland moved rapidly to telehealth, but other provinces demonstrated their lack of commitment to ensuring health care for all. In New Brunswick, the government refused to repeal the anti-choice regulation 84-20, which prevents abortion from being funded outside of hospitals, even in the midst of a pandemic.
People in quarantine could not access appointments. Traveling, even within provinces, was more of a challenge as bus lines and flights are reduced, cancelled, or inaccessible. Appointments became more scarce and some hospital-based programs restricted access to their services to their catchment regions.
People facing substantial and intersecting barriers – like precarious immigration status, poverty, housing insecurity, violence – have been the hardest hit.
Here in Canada, we saw anti-choice activists push for abortion care to not be deemed essential. Around the world, we’ve seen regressive governments use the pandemic as a cover to rollback hard-won reproductive and sexual rights.
In the months since, some parts of life have returned to ‘normal’ and some restrictions have eased. But as we enter a second wave, we must keep a clear view of how moments of crisis open the door to laws, policies, and actions that harm our communities.
This International Safe Abortion Day, we’re asking ourselves: what does this moment mean for our health and rights? What are we doing – as individuals and within our reproductive rights organizations – to make sexual and reproductive health and rights a reality for everyone – not just some?
Interested in learning more? Right now, we're supporting critical campaigns like Status for All to make sure more people in Canada have access to the health care they need.
Frédérique Chabot is Acting Executive Director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights.