The Canadian Association of Labour Lawyers (CALL) held an urgent rally in front of the U.S. Consulate in downtown Halifax, N.S., in response to Friday’s decision by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
In Canada abortion has been decriminalized. 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 the SCC decision, abortion has been available under the Canada Health Act, though access varies across the country.
At 5 p.m. on Friday, the group of lawyers, who happened to be in the city for meetings, gathered on Upper Water Street in Halifax.
They’re calling today’s decision “a historic and devastating setback” for those who access abortions.
Other organizations that work with people seeking abortion say they’re disappointed with the ruling. They fear for those south of the border, and worry the sentiment might spread.
Abbey Ferguson, executive director of the Halifax Sexual Health Centre, said she was disappointed to hear the news.
“All of us here at the centre, and I’m sure many folks everywhere, just have our hearts broken about the lack of access (to abortion) that folks are going to have.”
Though Ferguson said she feels confident in Canadian access to abortions, “that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned or be empathetic.”
What worries her is that Canadians often get their health information through American resources, and may make assumptions that access to abortion here is just as challenging, or illegal.
Furthermore, Ferguson said, abortion bans don’t actually prevent abortions.
“It just changes the way in which we access abortion, and the safety in which we can access abortion. Our parents and our grandparents remember (when) abortion was illegal,” said Ferguson.
“We know what happens… Folks have abortions in ways that might not be safe either like underground clinics, traveling and taking on those costs. And legal implications of travelling for abortions, taking medications that are not prescribed by a provider, trying at-home (techniques),” she said. “It’s just not safe.”
Ferguson said the Sexual Health Centre is planning on sending out reassuring messaging in the coming weeks.
Bridget Graham, the volunteer coordinator for Abortion Support Services Atlantic, felt sadness and rage on Friday.
“This is a really hard day. I’m feeling a lot of emotions,” Graham said.
As someone who has worked in the field for five years, she struggles to imagine how her American peers feel.
“Just knowing that all the work that is going on in the U.S., and how people’s lives have changed — and will be changed forever because of this,” Graham said.
“It’s something, definitely, that I’m afraid of moving forward in Canada.”
Graham encourages those who want to help with the situation to donate, share accurate information and volunteer at clinics and support programs.
“People have abortions every day,” she said. “It’s so important to get involved, to talk about these things, talk about it with family, with friends and do research.”
In New Brunswick, associate professor of law Kerri Froc said the “last little while has been death by a thousand cuts.”
Froc said she wasn’t surprised Roe v. Wade was overturned, and she worries that the anti-abortion sentiment may find its way to Canada.
“We have a track record here of cultural elements from the United States coming into Canada,” she said, naming the anti-vaccine movement as an example.
She describes the USSC decision as a “disingenuous manipulation of original intent. Because (the US Supreme Court) can’t point anywhere to a specific right to abortion in the 1700s (when the U.S. Constitution was developed), Americans don’t get it in the United Stated now.”
What Canadians should take away from the decision is that abortion rights are fragile, she said.
For people seeking information about an abortion, they can contact the Nova Scotia Women’s Choice Clinic at 1-833-352-0719.