'Our work is never done': Will U.S. anti-abortion sentiment trickle into Quebec?

Getting an abortion in Montreal is relatively straightforward.

First, you call the city's abortion appointment centre. They schedule the procedure, provide counselling if needed, and you show up -- all within two weeks of picking up the phone.

From this vantage point, the U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade may seem worlds away.

But there's a fear -- or a hope, depending on who you ask -- that the cultural impact of this decision could trickle into the province, and Canada as a whole.

"Our worry is that the cultural element of the anti-choice movement in the United States is going to come and influence a very robust anti-choice movement in Quebec," said Jess Legault, co-coordinator for the Federation du Quebec pour le planning des naissances (FQPN), a reproductive rights group.

"In that sort of conservative, right-wing movement is also this anti-choice rhetoric that we're seeing being adopted."

On Tuesday, a leaked draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court revealed that most justices favour striking down the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion-rights ruling.

The 7-2 ruling, established in 1973, quashed many federal and state laws restricting abortion. Reversing the decision would have catastrophic consequences for countless Americans, Legault said.

"I'm so disappointed and worried for the women and people faced with unplanned pregnancies in the United States right now, because I just feel so disheartened for them," she said.

For activists in Quebec, she added, it's a reminder to be vigilant: "Our work is never done."

The U.S. news immediately inspired a check-in among Quebec politicians, with a Tuesday vote in the National Assembly on a motion to support abortion access as a fundamental right. It got unanimous support.

The provincial justice minister, Simon Jolin-Barrette, was quoted saying that abortion "is an inalienable right for all Quebec women" and that in the province, "it is undeniable, the debate was made a very long time ago and we will never go back on it."

Former premier Jean Charest, now in the running for federal Conservative party leader, also made his stance clear in a tweet on Wednesday.

I am pro-choice. A gov't under my leadership will not support legislation restricting reproductive rights.

While I respect the democratic rights of MPs to bring forward private members bills on matters of conscience, I will not vote to support them.#CDNPoli #CPCLDR #RoeVWade

— Jean Charest (@JeanCharest_) May 3, 2022

QUEBEC ANTI-ABORTION GROUP CALLS IT 'MORALE' BOOSTER

The idea that American attitudes around abortion could travel down the ideological pipeline is also touted by those on the other side of the debate, who believe it could end up influencing Canadian law at the highest levels.

Georges Buscemi is the president of Campagne Quebec-Vie, the province's largest anti-abortion activist group.

He says the Supreme Court's decision, should it go through as drafted, will motivate his group.

"This will help us in terms of morale, in terms of cultural change, in terms of reversing the international trend towards pushing abortion in all four corners of the world. It will raise the morale of pro-lifers," he said.

He hopes the overturning of Roe V. Wade would inspire Canada and other countries to follow a similar path.

"The U.S. is, as everyone knows, a very influential country. And what happens in the U.S. has ramifications worldwide," he said.

"So what will happen is that people will start questioning whether abortion is indeed part and parcel with what we call 'progress.'"

He said that ultimately, he hopes even the Canadian judiciary will be influenced.

"I think that this will have a good effect on our movement here in Canada, if only culturally," he said, "and perhaps even at the judicial level, eventually."

MORGENTALER'S LEGACY

As is the case in the U.S., abortion rights in Canada are tied to landmark rulings. And in Canada, the biggest of these rulings has roots in Montreal, where Dr. Henry Morgentaler opened his first abortion clinic in 1968.

Abortion access was severely limited at the time. Anyone seeking to terminate a pregnancy had to obtain approval from a "therapeutic abortion committee," and permission was granted only under specific conditions.

Morgentaler's Montreal clinic was repeatedly raided and he was put on trial several times. In 1975, he served 10 months in prison for providing illegal abortions.

When the Parti Quebecois was elected a year later, the government decided not to continue to prosecute Morgentaler.

But this wasn't his last brush with the law: about a decade later, Morgentaler and two other doctors opened another clinic in Toronto, where they were criminally charged.

R v. Morgentaler would make it to the Supreme Court, where abortion restrictions ultimately were ruled unconstitutional, revolutionizing abortion accessibility in Canada.

But this accessibility can vary, Legault said, stressing how some parts of Quebec are more equipped to provide the procedure than others.

"We have a lot of points of service in Quebec, but not all regions are well served, and not everyone feels comfortable going to those points of service," she explained.

LISTEN ON CJAD 800 RADIO: Tom Mulcair: Trudeau and Liberals promise to protect abortion access in Canada... but how?

She also pointed to the existence of so-called "pregnancy crisis centres," which often look like abortion clinics at first glance, but are actually operated by anti-abortion groups.

The idea is to deter people from terminating their pregnancies and point them to alternatives instead.

"They masquerade as clinics, so the language is very misleading. But they will never refer to abortion care, and they don't offer abortion care."

Legault said the National Assembly's declaration of support on Tuesday is good, but maintaining that reality isn't something people should take for granted.

"Part of our mission today is to ensure that there's a vigilance and a watchful eye on maintaining those rights here in Quebec." 

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