CANADA: article on accessibility of abortions

There are still many barriers to abortion in Canada

Op-Ed by Sandeep Prasad, Executive Director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, originally published in the Huffington Post

Each year on September 28, advocates around the world mobilize for access to safe and legal abortion. This year’s theme is about busting abortion myths to fight stigma and discrimination. Abortion stigma is fuelled by myths. Myths that place safe, legal and accessible care and services out of reach for people worldwide and deny those who are weighing their options the evidence-based and judgment free information they need to make the choice that is right for them.

Abortion myths vary in size and scale but the biggest one in Canada? That abortion is easily accessible.

Abortion is legal in Canada and has been for over 30 years. There are no criminal laws restricting access to abortion or post-abortion care in Canada and it is a recognized essential medical procedure, required to be fully accessible and financially covered by provincial and territorial health insurance plans under the Canada Health Act. And so naturally, many of my friends and colleagues – in Canada and abroad -are often surprised to hear how many barriers actually exist.

The lack of access to safe abortion services is an ongoing obstacle and barrier for those who choose to terminate their pregnancies, particularly for individuals living in rural or remote areas. Only 1 in 6 hospitals provide abortion services in Canada, the majority of which, like free standing sexual health clinics, are disproportionately dispersed across Canada, and primarily located in urban centres. There are zero abortion services available in the province of P.E.I. and only four facilities that cover the 1 million km2 across Nunavut, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

The lack of services offered through clinics and hospitals in many regions of the country is compounded by other barriers related to the need to travel great distances or across provincial borders, wait times, age, financial resources, migration status and physician’s invoking clauses of conscientious objection. Only Ontario and just recently Saskatchewan have adopted policies ensuring that doctors who refuse services to patients due to religious or personal beliefs have an obligation to refer to another capable doctor – especially significant for abortion care, given the time-sensitive nature of the procedure and limited availability of service providers…