Opinion: Abortion rights not an election opportunity in 2021 federal election campaign

A letter to all the federal party leaders:

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 the 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 Conservative 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.

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 a lack of adequate public funding.

Since the adoption of Regulation 84-20, 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 "legally" places a legislative and financial barrier to access to abortion.

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:

  1. Take a clear and unequivocal position on abortion rights and access as a political party;
  2. 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;
  3. 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;
  4. Expand sexual and reproductive health services and their accessibility across Canada;
  5. 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, Doctoral student in sociology, Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM)
  • Marie Soleil Chrétien, Activist, Montreal
  • Isabelle Séguin, Activist, Moncton
  • Regroupement féministe du Nouveau-Brunswick
  • Action Canada
  • Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada
  • Fédération du Québec pour le planning des naissances
  • National Abortion Federation of Canada

List of signatories:

Organizations:

  • Alexandre Cédric Doucet, La Société de l'Acadie du Nouveau-Brunswick, New-Brunswick
  • Annick Mercier, Centre-Femmes La Passerelle du Kamouraska, Quebec
  • Annie Michaud,  Centre-Femmes du Grand-Portage, Quebec
  • Brandy Stanovich, Indigenous Women of the Wabanaki, New-Brunswick
  • Brigitte Michaud, Table concertation groupes de femmes BSL, Quebec
  • Carol J Williams, WGST Department- UofL, Alberta
  • Carolyn Egan, United Steelworkers Toronto Area Council, Ontario
  • Christian Blanchard, Le Rendez-vous de la Fierté Acadie Love, New-Brunswick
  • Coordination Table ronde des OVEP de l'Estrie (TROVEPE), Quebec
  • Emilie Pedneault, Lumière boréale*CALACS Baie-Comeau, Quebec
  • Emilie Pelletier, CALACS de Rimouski, Quebec
  • France Desilets,  Clinique Morgentaler,  Quebec
  • Helen Jefferson, Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics, Ontario
  • Héloïse Robert,  Centre Femmes de La Mitis, Quebec
  • Jessi Taylor, Reproductive Justice New Brunswick, New-Brunswick
  • Jessica Bourque, Syndicat des professionnelles et professionnels du gouvernement du Québec (SPGQ), Quebec
  • Joanne Blais, Table de concertation du mouvement des femmes de la Mauricie, Quebec
  • Johanna, PEI Abortion Rights Network, Prince Edward Island
  • Johanna Venturini, Actions Femmes I.P.É, Prince Edward Island
  • Johanne Bilodeau, Collectif pour le libre choix, Quebec
  • Josiane Robert, Grossesse-Secours, Quebec
  • Karine Drolet, Réseau des groupes de femmes Chaudière-Appalaches, Quebec
  • Kathy Dawson, Alberta Pro-choice Coalitionx,  Alberta
  • Lily Crist, Alliance des femmes de la francophonie canadienne,  Ontario
  • Linda Crevier, Table de concertation des groupes de femmes de la Montérégie (TCGFM), Quebec
  • Lise Gratton, Centre des Femmes de La Marie Debout, Quebec
  • Liz Green, Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics, Northwest Territories
  • Makeda Zook, Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, British Columbia
  • Manon Brunelle, Illusion Emploi de l'Estrie, Quebec
  • Marie Nicolas, La Débrouille, Quebec
  • Marie-Amélie St-Pierre, Centre de santé des femmes de Montréal, Quebec
  • Marie-Andrée Gauthier, Réseau des Tables régionales de groupes de femmes du Québec (RTRGFQ), Quebec
  • Marie-Ève Blanchard, Les Passeuses, Quebec
  • Marie-Line Audet, Table nationale des corporations de développement communautaire (TNCDC), Quebec
  • Marie-Noelle Lanthier, Leadership féminin Prescott-Russell, Ontario
  • Martine Lanthier, Centre Novas-CALACS francophone de Prescott-Russell, Ontario
  • Maryne Dumaine, Les essentielles, Yukon
  • Mélanie Bernier, Regroupement des femmes de la Côte-Nord, Quebec
  • Micheline Gélinas, Fédération des femmes acadiennes de la Nouvelle-Écosse, Nova Scotia
  • Monique Brazeau,  Centre Femmes aux 4 Vents, Quebec
  • Muriel Lalonde, Maison Interlude House, Ontario
  • Myriam Gagné,  Réseau des femmes des Laurentidesc, Quebec
  • Nancy Beauseigle, Regroupement des groupes de femmes de la région de la Capitale-Nationale, Quebec
  • Pam Johnson, Ontario Public Service Employees Union, Ontario
  • Pascale Dupuis, Centre de santé des femmes de la Mauricie, Quebec
  • Patricia LaRue, Clinique des femmes de l'Outaouais, Quebec
  • Rachael Crowder,  PEI Rape and Sexual Assault Centre, Prince Edward Island
  • Raymond Cyr, Hadi-Capable et Logements Handi-Cité, Quebec
  • Rosalie Dupont, Table d'Action Contre l'Appauvrissement en Estrie (TACAE), Quebec
  • Sandy Fainer, Birth Control and Sexual Health Toronto, Ontario
  • Simon Thériault, Fédération des jeunes francophones du Nouveau-Brunswick, New-Brunswick
  • Véronique Martineau, Table des groupes de femmes de Montréal, Quebec

Individuals:

  • Ann F. Wheatley, Prince Edward Island
  • Carmen Budilean, New-Brunswick
  • Catherine Makarewicz, Quebec
  • Catherine Roy Comeau, New-Brunswick
  • Elise Boulay, Quebec
  • Élizabeth Vickers-Drennan, Nova Scotia
  • Gabriela Bravo, Ontario
  • Geneva Rainsforth, Quebec
  • Hélène Grandmaître, Ontario
  • Hélène Laramée, Quebec
  • Julia M. Hansen, New-Brunswick
  • Julie Blackburn, Quebec
  • Laurent Trépanier Capistran, Quebec
  • Louise Desmarais, Quebec
  • Monica Escobar, Ontario
  • Maria Antonieta Smith, Ontario
  • Maria T. Aguirre, Ontario
  • Mariela Morales, Ontario
  • Pascale Hamel, Quebec
  • Pénélope Haguette, Quebec
  • René Légaré, Quebec
  • Sophie Handley Girard, Quebec
  • Sylvain Beaudry, Quebec  

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