On June 29, 2022, LEAF sent a letter calling on the Ministers of Health, Women and Gender Equality, and Justice on potential federal legislation codifying the legal right to abortion. Echoing the position of Action Canada and National Association for Women and the Law (NAWL), LEAF noted that the government must avoid enacting a federal law on abortion. Such a law could provide a foothold for opponents to propose future amendments and limits on abortion.
It is important to note, however, that abortion access remains deeply unequal in Canada. LEAF advised that the government can – and should – act now to improve access to abortion. LEAF made recommendations to improve abortion access, demands shared by other expert pro-choice organizations.
You can read our letter below or download it.
June 29, 2022
The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos
Minister of Health
The Honourable Marci Ien
Minister of Women and Gender Equality and Youth
The Honourable David Lametti
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Dear Ministers Duclos, Ien, and Lametti:
Re: Potential federal abortion legislation in Canada
The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) writes to echo the position of Action Canada for Sexual Health & Rights (Action Canada) and the National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL), urging this government not to enact new federal legislation confirming the legality and right to abortion in Canada. This position is also shared by other expert pro-choice organizations in Canada, including the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada and Planned Parenthood Toronto
LEAF is a national, not-for-profit organization that advocates for the substantive equality of women, girls, trans, and nonbinary people. Since 1985, we have advanced substantive gender equality through litigation, law reform, and public education. As part of our work to enhance reproductive justice in Canada, we provided legal support to Abortion Access Now PEI’s constitutional challenge to PEI’s abortion policy; intervened before the Court of Appeal for Ontario in Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada v. CPSO regarding “conscientious and religious objection” policies in providing abortion care; and initiated our ongoing Reproductive Justice Project to advance reproductive justice in Canada through law reform advocacy at the provincial and territorial levels.
As you know, Canada regulates abortion care as a clinical procedure in the case of aspiration or surgical abortions, and as a pharmacological agent in the case of medical abortion. This means that, in the case of surgical abortions, as for all other clinical procedures, health care providers follow established standards of practice in providing abortion care. In the case of medication abortion, Canada currently regulates Mifegymiso as a Schedule I drug requiring a prescription.
Enacting legislation to protect abortion rights would politicize this form of medical and pharmacological care, setting it apart from other forms of health care and creating risks for future restrictions. Over the years, many anti-abortion politicians have tried to limit access to abortion through private members’ bills, but they have never succeeded. A new federal law could provide a foothold for opponents to propose future amendments and limits.
It is important to note, however, that abortion access remains deeply unequal in Canada. For those living outside of major urban centres, accessing an abortion may require significant travel, time off work, and expenses. Cost can be a major barrier for those without health insurance, including some temporary foreign workers, people without immigration status, and some international students. Systemic barriers in health care – including colonialism, racism, sexism, and transphobia – limit access to all forms of abortion care. Misinformation also increases stigma and dissuades people from getting the care they need.
Federal legislation codifying the legal right to abortion in Canada is not the answer. But this government can – and should – act now to improve access to abortion, including by:
- Strengthening enforcement of the Canada Health Act to more effectively intervene where provinces have not addressed access barriers
- Funding Health Canada to develop an accessible portal providing accurate, judgment-free and evidence-based information on sexual and reproductive health and rights, and to create targeted marketing campaigns to counter abortion misinformation
- Increasing federal health transfers with ties to available and accessible sexual and reproductive health services, including regulating conscientious objection
- Permanently funding the new Health Canada Sexual and Reproductive Health Fund
- Relaxing the regulation of abortion medication by allowing Mifegymiso to be obtained over-the-counter and through advance provision
We appreciate this government’s vocal commitment to respecting bodily autonomy. Equal access to abortion is a critical part of realizing bodily autonomy for women, girls, trans, and non-binary people. In addition to ensuring greater access to abortion care, we encourage this government to commit to reproductive justice for all people, including guaranteeing universal coverage for contraception and ensuring parents and caregivers can deliver and raise children in safe environments with the resources they need.
Please do not hesitate to contact me to discuss this topic and the above recommendations.
Executive Director & General Counsel
Email: [email protected] / Phone: 416-595-7170 ext. 2002