'Of great importance': Abortion debate raging in Alberta too despite UCP refusals to engage

Advocates for and against wider access to abortion in Alberta continued to spar over the controversy Thursday despite the premier's unwillingness to have the debate.

A landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on abortion law is on the brink of being overturned south of the border, forcing the matter into political discussions around the globe.

"It is 100 per cent untrue that it is easy to get an abortion here," said Autumn Reinhardt-Simpson with the Alberta Abortion Access Network.

"You can have a right, but it does no good if you can't access it. And there are people all over this province, in cities as well who cannot access abortion."

The procedure takes "five to 10 minutes," Reinhardt-Simpson said, but because there are only two clinics in the province that are often busy, many people have to travel, miss a day of work and overcome emotional and logistical barriers to get it done.

The province pays for abortions and also points to the recent funding of the pill Mifegymiso, which is available during six to nine weeks of pregnancy, as “significantly improving access to abortion services.”

But Reinhardt-Simpson explained that she has a client who recently had to go to 10 different pharmacies in Edmonton before she found someone willing to prescribe it.

"There are a lot of doctors who still refuse to prescribe as well as refuse to refer, even though that is the law, and Alberta Health Services does not enforce it, so it just goes as not being taken care of," she said.

When asked in the legislature this week about the Roe v. Wade controversy in the states, Premier Jason Kenney refused to discuss it and accused his NDP opponents of trying to "invent a political controversy."

"That is for the American legal and political system. There has been no change with respect to that policy in Alberta and none has been proposed," he told the house.

Kenney’s health minister said he doesn't make calls on abortion services when asked this week if there are any plans to improve access to rural Albertans.

"AHS is the one that makes the decisions of what services will be provided and where based on the demand," Jason Copping told reporters Tuesday.

A former NDP health minister wasn't buying that statement.

"The buck stops with the minister. You set the direction and you provide the resources to help execute that plan. I think he's trying to make excuses because clearly you can't trust the UCP to stand up for women's health," said MLA Sarah Hoffman.

"None of the male ministers on that side of the house would even utter the word 'abortion' or 'reproductive health' when asked, so I think that says a lot," MLA Janis Irwin said.

The controversy comes as the Prolife Alberta Political Association (PAPA) continued to rank third in political party donations, collecting more than $67,000 in the first three months of this year.

"Abortion is a barbaric, Medieval practice and I think women and their children deserve better," said executive director Richard Dur in an interview with CTV News.

"It's of great importance to be discussing these things. We're dealing with the life and death of our preborn children. That merits discussion."

Abortion was decriminialized in Canada in 1988. The federal government passes the laws, but provinces fund services and determine access.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted this week he will protect and promote every Canadian woman's "right to a safe and legal abortion."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Chelan Skulski