This case concerned access to reproductive health services.
LEAF intervened before the Ontario Court of Appeal.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (“CPSO”) has two policies which require physicians who object to providing certain types of care on moral or religious grounds to provide patients requesting such care with an effective referral to another health care provider. These types of care included: abortions, medical assistance in dying, contraception, fertility treatments, prenatal screening and treatments for transgender patients.
The Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada, the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies, Canadian Physicians for Life and several individual physicians (the Applicants) challenged the constitutional validity of these policies. They argued the policies infringed their rights of religious freedom under s.2(a) of the Charter, and their right to equality under s.15. The Divisional Court found a violation of the Applicants’ freedom of religion, but held that the infringement was justified under s. 1 of the Charter. The Applicants appealed to the Ontario Court of Appeal.
LEAF argued that access to reproductive health care, including contraception, abortion and assisted reproduction is fundamental to women’s equality and human dignity and should be affirmed as advancing the principles and values of a free and democratic society. The CPSO’s policies advance women’s Charter rights, affirms the rights of women (particularly the most disadvantaged women) to make personal decisions, and allows women to make choices about their bodies, fully participate in society and chart the course of their own lives.
LEAF also argued that the historical context (in which women’s reproductive choices have been made subject to medical control), and the ongoing physician monopoly over many medical services, makes the effective referral policy particularly important to these objectives. An effective referral through their physician remains the only channel of care enabling some women to make independent moral and health decisions about their reproductive lives.
The Ontario Court of Appeal found that the policies violated religious freedom, but that the infringement was justified under s. 1 of the Charter. The Court found that the policies did not violate the Applicants’ s.15 equality rights.
LEAF is grateful to Shaun O’Brien and Karen Segal, counsel in this case.
Download the factum here.
Read the Ontario Court of Appeal’s decision here.
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