Abortion rights advocates in Ontario react to Roe v. Wade leak

Ontario advocates are exposing the fragility of access to abortion in Canada and the potential erosion of reproductive rights if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion.

“Every time we have a legal stunt in the U.S., it opens the door wider in Canada for something similar,” Mohini Datta-Ray, executive director of Planned Parenthood Toronto, said.

Conversations surrounding reproductive rights reignited after a draft opinion, published by Politico on Monday, revealed that a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court’s nine justices were in favour of striking down the 1973 decision to legalize abortion.

Already, Datta-Ray said, abortion providers are sparse across the country. “In Ontario, there are only 11 abortion clinics outside of hospitals. However, there are 77, what are called, crisis pregnancy centres,” which Datta-Ray described as organizations that pose as abortion clinics but try to deter people from getting the procedure.

She points to politically-motivated American money – not dissimilar to the substantial financial base that amounted to millions of crowdfunding dollars in support of the Freedom Convoy – leading to this disproportionate breakdown of abortion clinics compared to crisis pregnancy centres.

In particular, Datta-Ray said, this erosion of access to abortion hurts racialized, Black and Indigenous communities the most.

“All of the things we have learned around COVID and health equity, it all applies to abortion and it’s a much quieter battle happening underground,” she said. “But the impact is just as devastating.”

Shannon Stettner, an instructor at the University of Waterloo’s department of gender and social justice, also emphasized the disproportionate impact this depleting access has on marginalized communities.

“If you care about people’s health and wellbeing, generally speaking, this kind of restrictive action is going to have a negative impact on a lot of people,” Stettner said.

“This event is going to cause a lot of suffering,” she added.

Since the Supreme Court decriminalized abortion in Canada in 1988, Stettner said there has been a sense of complacency alongside an assumption that the issue has been permanently settled.

“A lot of people just think the issue is resolved. What this is showing us is clearly it is not,” she said.

According to Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, 88 of the 119 Conservative Party of Canada Members of Parliament support anti-abortion. In the Liberal Party of Canada, members that hold the same beliefs make up five of their 159 MPs.

Just your Tuesday morning reminder that 88 out of 119 elected MPs from the Conservative Party of Canada, which received the most votes in the last two federal elections, are anti-choice.

Don’t think for a moment that it couldn’t happen here.#RoeVWade

— Dr. Amit Arya (@AmitAryaMD) May 3, 2022

“I certainly think there is reason to worry that these kinds of trends could be seen here, based on the kinds of politics that we see,” Dr. Naheed Dosani, a physician and health justice activist, said.

Locally, Niagara MPP Sam Oosterhoff has been vocal about his position on anti-abortion. His track record has consistently maintained that stance. Oosterhoff has affiliated himself with a group that compares abortion to the Holocaust, left question period to attend an anti-abortion rally and proclaimed a pledge to make abortion “unthinkable in our lifetime.”

“When these things happen in the U.S., some people tend to think that this kind of thing could never happen in Canada, but I think we have to really be weary. When we see these kinds of trends in the U.S, they tend to manifest in different ways here in Canada,” Dosani said.

“We can’t for one second think that what is happening in the states with Roe v. Wade can’t happen here.”