Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor says the fact that dozens of Canadian women are forced to go to the U.S. every year for abortions they cannot get here is “cause for concern” while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he plans to raise the issue of abortion access with Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday.
“We certainly believe that women have the right to choose, and when I hear reports of that nature, it certainly is cause for concern,” said Petitpas Taylor in response to an exclusive report by Global News outlining the gaps in access to abortion that Canadian women face across the country.
“That’s why it’s important for us as a federal government to make sure we’re very clear with our position and, as health minister, continuing this conversation with provincial health ministers is very important.”
As Global News reported on Tuesday, more than 100 Canadian women have been referred to the U.S. for abortions since 2014.
That breaks down to dozens of Canadian women heading south every year to access a legal medical procedure.
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The reasons for doing so often include facing lengthy wait times at home, uneven access to facilities across the country and a lack of medical practitioners trained to perform abortion after 20 weeks of gestation.
While abortion at any point in the pregnancy is allowed in Canada, most women requiring abortions past that length have to go to clinics in the U.S. because of a lack of doctors and hospitals either willing or trained to perform late-term abortions domestically.
In those cases, Canadian provinces cover the costs of the procedure but not other associated costs such as travel and accommodations.
But health care, including abortion, falls under provincial jurisdiction.
That means Canadian women face a patchwork of different provincial availability even for early-stage abortions, with several provinces still refusing to cover the cost of the abortion pill Mifegymiso. That can lead to a domino effect where women unable to access early abortions must seek out more difficult-to-access, later-stage abortions, in which case they often get referred to the U.S.
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“When we talk about jurisdiction, that’s really a jurisdiction that belongs to provinces and territories, but as a federal government, it’s important for me to raise these issues when I meet with my provincial and territorial colleagues,” said Petitpas Taylor, lauding Quebec Premier Francois Legault as an example for others.
Legault’s government told the French-language newspaper La Presse on Tuesday that he wanted to ensure all women seeking late-term abortions in the province can have it done there and not need to be referred to the U.S.
According to the report, which was separate from the Global News investigation that began last year, the remarks came in response to questions posed by La Presse over previous reporting from recent years that roughly 20 Quebec women were being referred to the U.S. for late-term abortions each year.
His officials noted that discussions with a hospital in the province were ongoing but that they did not want to say more to avoid spooking the provider into backing down from providing the medical procedure.
Petitpas Taylor said that work should be the example all provinces follow.
“I was pleased to hear the premier of Quebec yesterday in his comments that he wants to ensure women in his province have access to reproductive health services, and that’s the leadership that all provinces and territories have to show in this,” Petitpas Taylor said.
Trudeau also weighed in on the issue of abortion access, saying while the main focus of his Thursday meeting with Pence will be the NAFTA ratification process, he also expects to talk about reproductive rights.
“I will have a broad conversation with the vice president and of course that will come up but we’re going to mostly focus on the ratification of NAFTA,” he said.
Officials have previously confirmed that Trudeau raised the issue of reproductive rights in 2017 with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar prior to that country’s referendum on repealing a constitutional ban on abortion.