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Canada will ensure border officials know Americans can travel for abortion: Mendicino

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Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says he will be speaking with the Canada Border Services Agency to make sure its staff know Americans seeking abortions can come to Canada for care.

Speaking with reporters on Wednesday, Mendicino said people in the U.S. may be feeling doubt about whether they will be able to access abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned, as a leaked draft ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court suggested earlier this week is imminent.

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Mendicino said the ability of Americans to come to Canada for abortions is not in question, but he wants to make sure that position is clear to those working on the frontlines at the border.

“I’ve engaged CBSA, my office is currently working with them to make sure there are clear guidelines so that women who may not be able to access healthcare including abortions are able to come to Canada,” he said.

“If some women want to come to Canada to access those procedures, I have given them the directive to welcome them,” he added in French.

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Mendicino billed the move as a “measure of caution” in the event Roe v. Wade is overturned and described the hope as being to “eliminate any ambiguity” that border officials may have as to whether someone travelling to Canada for an abortion is eligible to enter the country.

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What is unclear at this time is whether any information on those individuals would be shared with American law enforcement or state officials looking to prosecute people for travelling for an abortion, as some experts have suggested could be next if Roe v. Wade falls.

Canada and the U.S. have extensive cross-border data sharing agreements designed to make it easier to flag people who may pose a risk to national security, or who are violating immigration rules.

Alexander Cohen, director of communications for Mendicino’s office, said the government does not share general information regarding the purpose of travel for Americans coming to Canada, “and that would include those who come to Canada for reproductive health purposes.”

Could Canada become an abortion 'safe haven'?

In the context of abortion rights, jurisdictions that provide access to those outside their borders are often referred to as “safe havens.”

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States like California have vowed to enshrine abortion access more strongly in their laws in the wake of the leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft ruling on Roe v. Wade, while experts are also raising the possibility that for Americans close to the Canadian border, this country could become their nearest safe haven.

Read more: Roe v. Wade draft ruling puts U.S. abortion rights in crosshairs. Here’s what to know

“I think the big challenges for Canadians are going to be ongoing access to abortion if Canada becomes a safe haven of Americans,” said Dr. Dustin Costescu, an associate professor at McMaster University as well as a family planning and sexual health specialist.

Costescu said all the information available right now suggests there will remain abortion access in a number of states along the Eastern Seaboard if Roe v. Wade falls, including New York.

That would mean Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes may not see a “significant” level of spillover.

“Michigan, on the other hand, becomes a bit of a hot spot in terms of whether abortion is accessible. As we move westward into the U.S. Midwest, that’s where we see pockets of states that will fall when Roe v Wade falls,” he added.

“Geographically, this is considered ‘frontier country.’ These are large distances. But if people have to choose to go hundreds of kilometers south or north [to access abortion], they may come up north.”
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Read more: How abortion access differs across U.S. — and how overturning Roe v. Wade could change it

Autumn Reinhardt-Simpson is the founder of the Alberta Abortion Access Network, and works as what’s known as an abortion doula. That means her job is helping people who need abortions access them.

The support she and other abortion doulas offer includes help arranging travel, pickup and drop-off at sexual health clinics or abortion clinics, help arranging accommodations if a person has to leave their home community to get the abortion, help accessing accurate information, as well as emotional support.

She told Global News on Tuesday that resources in many parts of her province are already stretched.

“Access in Alberta is better than some places, but still not great,” she said. “We still have a hard time getting people in rural areas into the cities for their appointments, especially because there are so few doctors that are yet prescribing abortion medication.”

Reinhardt-Simpson said an influx of people coming north could add to those challenges.

“We’re not really equipped for dealing with Albertans who need abortion care. We cannot even provide comprehensive health services for women or trans and non-binary people in our own province,” she said.

“So for sure, if people did come up here in large numbers, there would be a very big problem.”

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