'The grief and the anger is very real': B.C. officials, advocates react to U.S. abortion rights decision

·4 min read
Mitzi Rivas hugs daughter Maya Iribarren as abortion-rights protesters gather following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in San Francisco, Friday. (Josie Lepe/The Associated Press - image credit)
Mitzi Rivas hugs daughter Maya Iribarren as abortion-rights protesters gather following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in San Francisco, Friday. (Josie Lepe/The Associated Press - image credit)

British Columbia's health system could soon feel the ripple effects of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 50-year-old ruling that became the backbone of abortion rights in the country.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down that 1973 precedent on Friday.

The milestone decision — a draft of which was leaked last month — has the potential to claw back abortion access across the U.S. by allowing states to restrict or outright ban the procedure. Some states had already put in place so-called "trigger laws" ready to come into force the moment the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

North of the border, B.C. and federal leaders alike have said they will support Americans coming here looking for access to the procedure. But even for Canadians, such access is often patchy.

B.C.'s largest sexual health services non-profit told CBC News it has seen a "significant uptick" in queries from south of the border — now that many states are moving or have already moved to restrict abortion access.

"It is amazing the number of calls from the States — wanting to understand better how they can access services — has increased," said Options for Sexual Health executive director Michelle Fortin in an interview Friday. "While we predominantly provide information in B.C., we don't refuse a phone call."

The influx of Americans calling for help in B.C. is "significant enough," Fortin said, that staff are planning to create web pages and lists of resources to offer them.

Fortin said her doors are open for Americans in need of an abortion, although she suspects most U.S. citizens will look to other states, such as Washington, that are not among those curtailing abortion access.

The federal government, too, reiterated its promise that Canada is open for Americans in need following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. But advocates in B.C. cautioned that outside a handful of urban centres like Toronto and Vancouver, abortion access is limited across the country.

'The grief and the anger is very real'

On Friday, B.C.'s parliamentary secretary for gender equity said she was not surprised by the ruling.

"I don't think it hits any lighter today," Grace Lore, MLA for Victoria-Beacon Hill, told CBC Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk on Friday. "It was devastating for many … The grief and the anger is very real for many."

Lore reaffirmed British Columbia's protection of women's right to access an abortion. She said she's heard from many voters of their "anxiety and fear from folks" that what happened in the U.S. could happen here some day.

"We can't take the right to access abortions as health care here in B.C. and Canada for granted," she said. "We have to stand for it."

She acknowledged that access to a surgical procedure is not equally distributed in all areas of the province, but pointed to Mifegymiso, a drug now available in remote pharmacies.

"It's been an absolute game-changer across the province," Lore said. "It means people can access a safe medical abortion in their community, via a pharmacy, at no cost.

"But in some places, accessing a surgical abortion … still remains a challenge."

 

Just under 12,000 abortions were provided in B.C. in 2020, about 2,300 fewer than in 2011. Under B.C.'s medical services plan, surgical abortions are available from "the fifth week after the last menstrual period up to the 20th week of pregnancy."

In B.C., there are only nine facilities offering abortions, and that includes hospitals, Fortin said.

"Indigenous and racialized folks, and folks struggling with issues of poverty, already have so many barriers," she said. "Access needs to be equitable."

In rural areas, the distance to travel — especially since the cancellation of most inter-city bus routes several years ago — already put barriers on abortion access in B.C.

For Terrace, B.C. resident Amber Zanon, she was "encouraged" to hear B.C. politicians of all political parties speak out after the draft of the decision was leaked last month, but at the time told CBC that access remains a problem in rural areas.

LISTEN | A woman in Terrace, B.C. on access to abortion services in Northern B.C. 

She said she became pregnant in 2015 and struggled to access abortion services in a desperate race against time.

"I'm also encouraged to see steps being taken in our government to ensure this doesn't trickle north," she told CBC's Daybreak North shortly after the draft leaked.

"But I am a little bit worried that we have this entitled, smug attitude of like, well, that can't happen here."

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