The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) has been granted leave to appeal before the Ontario Court of Appeal in Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada et al. v. College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.
The Society, together with a number of religious organizations and individual physicians, has challenged the College’s Human Rights Policy and Medical Assistance in Dying Policy, both of which require doctors who are not willing to provide certain kinds of care—including contraception and abortion services—on religious grounds to provide patients with an “effective referral” to another physician. The policies also require doctors to provide emergency services, for example, emergency abortions for women experiencing life-threatening pregnancies. Earlier this year, the Divisional Court rejected the argument that these policies violated the equality rights of the doctors, and while the doctors’ rights to religious freedom were violated, this was justified under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms given the need for equitable access to services.
LEAF’s Legal Director, Shaun O’Brien, and Staff Lawyer Karen Segal will argue that the policies advance women’s Charter rights by affirming their autonomy and ability to make personal decisions that affect their physical and psychological health and well-being. They will also argue that the ability to control and make choices about their reproductive health is central to women’s equality. An effective referral is the only realistic option for many women to receive equitable access to care and exercise their reproductive rights, particularly women who face pre-existing barriers to accessing health services, such as women living in rural areas, newcomers to Canada, or women with developmental disabilities who require more support in navigating the health system.
“Women’s equality at work, at home, and in education, is intimately tied to reproductive freedom,” says O’Brien. “The CPSO policies ensure that individual doctors’ religious beliefs do not prevent women from accessing this incredibly important service.”
- Read the Divisional Court decision here.
- The hearing is scheduled for January 21, 2019.
The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) works to advance the substantive equality rights of women and girls through litigation, law reform, and public education. Since 1985, we have intervened in landmark cases that have advanced equality in Canada—helping to prevent violence, eliminate discrimination in the workplace, provide better maternity benefits, ensure a right to pay equity, and allow access to reproductive freedoms. For more information, please visit www.leaf.ca.
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