Access to abortion and other critical services: where are we 18 years later?Monday, July 26 2010
Ottawa, January 26, 2006 - Canadians for Choice (CFC) announced today a plan to mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court's 1988 Morgentaler decision with an annual update on sexual and reproductive choice in Canada.
Canadian women and men deserve to know whether access to sexual and reproductive health services is getting better or worse, explains Dr. Norman Barwin, Chair of Canadians for Choice. We have a baseline against which to measure whether a woman's right to choose is being rolled back.
That baseline shows that eighteen years after the historic Morgentaler decision, Canadian women still face challenges with realizing choice, in particular with access to abortion services. A recent national study of access to abortion servicesi at hospitals across Canada found that:
- only 17.8% of all general hospitals in Canada perform abortions, with some jurisdictions, such as Prince Edward Island and Nunavut offering no hospital abortion services at all;
- even hospitals providing abortions place obstacles in the way of women trying to obtain one, including restrictive gestational limits and long wait times (sometimes 2-3 weeks);
- in many cases, hospital employees are not able to provide women with information about alternative resources;
- physicians and hospital employees deny women access by refusing information and referrals, or by referring women to anti-choice agencies; and
- many women have to travel significant distances to obtain abortion services, which is time consuming, expensive, and conflicts with work and child care. Canadian women still lack access to medicalized abortion, by which an early pregnancy can be terminated through taking drugs. The abortion drug mifepristone (RU486) is not yet available in Canada, even though it was recently added to the World Health Organization's list of "essential medicines" needed to improve health and save lives in 2005.ii
Many people, particularly young women, think that because abortion is legal in Canada, it will also be readily accessible if they need it, noted Morag Humble, a Canadians for Choice member. People need to understand the complexity of the situation, both to protect themselves and to ensure that basic rights are not eroded.
CFC will work in the coming year to update data on the availability of both hospital and clinic abortion services in Canada, and will closely monitor other services such as access to medicalized abortion, emergency contraception, and other important sexual and reproductive health services that form the foundation of a comprehensive view on choice. This information will be the foundation for educational campaigns among both health professionals and the general public. While abortion access is problematic for many women, there were two significant achievements improving sexual and reproductive choice in Canada during 2005: ! the House of Commons voted in June to guarantee full marriage rights to same-sex couples, a major step in eliminating discrimination on the basis of sexuality; and ! in April, Health Canada approved emergency contraception for sale in pharmacies without a doctor's prescription. Emergency Contraception, marketed in Canada as "Plan B" can prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. These are significant achievements that will improve the lives of many Canadians. CFC will celebrate all aspects of choice for Canadians, said Dr. Barwin. On January 28, 1988, the Supreme Court declared Canada's abortion law unconstitutional and struck it down, declaring that it unreasonably restricted a woman's right to life, liberty, dignity and security of person. This ruling, known as the Morgentaler decision, removed abortion from the Criminal Code.
Canadians for Choice is a national pro-choice charitable organization that regards sexual and reproductive rights as an integral part of the health and well-being of all persons. Launched in 2004, CFC has a mandate to conduct research on the social, legal, medical and policy aspects of reproductive health, and to use that information to educate and train health care professionals in the delivery of reproductive health services, and to provide sexual and reproductive health information, including information about service availability, to the general public.
CFC envisages a world where individuals regardless of age, ability, race, gender, sexual orientation, place of residence, socio-economic and other status have access to the information, resources and services required to make and exercise informed choices on all aspects of their sexual and reproductive health and rights.