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B.C. clinics could see more U.S. patients following decision to strike down Roe v. Wade

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Dr. Martha Paynter from the UBC Contraception and Abortion Research Team explains the difference between Canada and the U.S. regarding abortions rights, after the U.S. Supreme Court released a decision Friday to overturn Roe v. Wade – Jun 24, 2022

Reaction is pouring in across Canada following the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decision quashing access to abortion as a constitutional right. The top court overturned the precedent-setting Roe v. Wade decision on Friday.

Many are wondering if the decision in the U.S. will force more pregnant people south of the border into Canada to seek abortion care.

Dr. Martha Paynter, a registered nurse working in abortion care and a post-doctoral fellow with UBC’s contraception and abortion research team, said clinics across the country may see an increased demand.

“And of course, we will care for them,” she said.

However, there is a huge financial cost to this option.

“They do not have provincial health insurance and will have to pay for their care if they come to Canada to seek it,” Paynter said.

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“So, the people who do end up coming to Canada for care, and they are welcome to come, will face significant costs. This decision… has a vast, disproportionate impact on low-income women, marginalized people, trans, non-binary communities, and people who already face so much discrimination and oppression. Those are the people who will bear the burden of this decision.”

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau slammed the decision Friday, calling it “horrific.” Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly spoke with journalists following that statement. Joly called it a “dark day” for women not only in the United States but around the world.

“It’s a reversal of hard-won gains by generations of women, and this decision will put women’s lives at risk. And it has a domino effect on other rights,” Joly said.

“But the message we’re conveying today is that your voice matters, your vote matters, and no country in the world including Canada is immune to what’s going on in the United States.”

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Joly pointed to a 2021 vote in the House of Commons when 82 Conservative MPs voted in favour of restricting when healthcare providers can perform abortions in Canada.

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Paynter said it’s important to note in Canada there are no laws specific to abortion provisions. A 1988 decision by the Canadian Supreme Court struck down a 1969 law that amended the Criminal Code and made abortion accessible, but only if the mother’s life was in danger, as certified by a committee of doctors. Since then abortion has been available under the Canada Health Act, though access varies across the country.

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“Abortion is a type of health-care, like having a strep throat swab or getting a knee replacement. It’s not governed by criminal law, that has nothing to do with anything. And it doesn’t matter why you want an abortion. That’s irrelevant. Abortion is health care.”

She noted some areas of Canada have limited access to abortion services and that is still a big issue. She said it’s due to the sheer size of the country and a lack of training of health-care professionals in those areas.

According to Action Canada for Sexual Health & Rights, which works to advance and uphold sexual and reproductive health and rights in Canada and globally, clinics that perform both surgical and medical abortions are not common in B.C.

There are four in Vancouver, one in Surrey, one in Victoria, one in Terrace and one in Trail.

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Paynter stated Canada has a different political system, legal system and health-care system than the U.S.

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“The Hyde Amendment to Roe v. Wade made access to abortion discriminatory based on income. This new level of restriction (based on the SCOTUS decision) will obviously have disproportionate effects based on people who are facing poverty and other forms of systemic discrimination.”

To access information about abortion in British Columbia, call the Sex Sense line at 1-800-739-7376 or call 1-888-875-3163, which is operated by the province to be connected to a close medication or aspiration abortion provider. 

— With files from Amanda Connolly 

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