Pending U.S. court ruling highlights concerns about abortion access in Sask.

·5 min read
Protestors react outside the U.S. Supreme Court to the leak of a draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito preparing for a majority of the court to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision later this year, in Washington, U.S., May 2.  (Moira Warburton/Reuters - image credit)
Protestors react outside the U.S. Supreme Court to the leak of a draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito preparing for a majority of the court to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision later this year, in Washington, U.S., May 2. (Moira Warburton/Reuters - image credit)

News that the U.S. Supreme Court may overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion has caused some in Saskatchewan to raise the issue of accessibility of abortions in the province.

A leaked initial draft majority opinion suggests the court has voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, Politico reported on Monday. The U.S. Supreme Court has confirmed that the draft is authentic.

"Roe was egregiously wrong from the start," conservative Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the draft opinion, which is dated Feb. 10 and was posted in full by Politico here.

Based on Alito's opinion, the court would find that the Roe v. Wade decision that allowed abortions performed before a fetus would be viable outside the womb — between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy — was wrongly decided because the U.S. Constitution makes no specific mention of abortion rights.

"Abortion presents a profound moral question. The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each state from regulating or prohibiting abortion," Alito wrote in the leaked document.

Heather Hale, executive director of Saskatoon Sexual Health (SSH), said she and her colleagues have watched the anti-abortion conversation escalate in the U.S. for the last three years.

"So while it is distressing, it's not surprising," Hale said of the pending ruling. "It's unfortunate to see that this continues to be the conversation and that it's anti-democratic and based on mis- or disinformation."

Hale said the situation in Canada is different, but that anti-gender equality activism is not only happening in the U.S.

"The anti-choice activism that has been undermining decades of progress on gender equality and women's rights around the world is not contained just to one jurisdiction," she said. "It's something that we need to keep our eye on."

Meanwhile, Alissa Golob, executive director and co-founder of the anti-abortion organization Right Now, said she is pleased that Roe v. Wade is likely to be overturned.

"It's been a long time coming. It's been a whole lot of hard work by the American pro-life movement or by Americans in general to elect presidents who will appoint justices who will protect pre-born human rights and women's rights as well," Golob said.

"Any time that there's a pro-life victory anywhere in the world, I'm definitely going to be celebrating."

Golob said that in Saskatchewan, those wanting to see a similar outcome should make their wishes known to their governments.

"I think public policy should reflect public opinion. And if the majority of Saskatchewanians wants legislation protecting the unborn and helping women go through crisis pregnancies, that's where the policy should go."

Barriers to abortion accessibility

Hale said the province has issues with abortion accessibility. She said it is a common medical procedure that should be available to anyone who requires it.

"Information on how to obtain this very common medical procedure remains shrouded in secrecy and shame in Saskatchewan," Hale said.

"We know that persistent barriers continue to inhabit the accessibility, availability, affordability and quality of abortion services in Saskatchewan."

Submitted by Heather Hale
Submitted by Heather Hale

Surgical abortions are only available in Saskatoon and Regina.

"Certainly, we do know of individuals who were traveling up to nine hours to Regina to access services."

Hale said the issue was compounded by the dissolution of the Saskatchewan Transportation Company.

"So individuals living outside of Saskatoon or Regina have to have access to a vehicle. And then also because that travel isn't covered by insurance, [they] are having to also often arrange for hotel and food to access services."

She said some of the barriers that currently exist are timeline issues. Medication abortions are available up to nine weeks of pregnancy across the province. After nine weeks of pregnancy, a surgical abortion is required.

However, Saskatoon has a shorter timeframe in which a person can get a surgical abortion. Surgical abortions are done in Saskatoon up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, whereas in Regina it's up to 18 weeks and six days, according to Hale.

Meanwhile, in provinces like Alberta, B.C. and Ontario, that timeframe is longer. In B.C., a surgical abortion can be provided up to 24 weeks.

Another barrier is referrals. In Saskatoon, a person needs a referral from a doctor to access a surgical abortion, whereas in Regina a person can call and self-refer.

Opposition calls on Sask. Party to expand services

On Tuesday the NDP Opposition called on the Saskatchewan Party government to expand access to abortion services.

"We're near the worst in the country. It's very difficult to get access to reproductive services generally in Saskatchewan. And abortion services in particular are very limited in this province," said Deputy Leader of the Opposition Nicole Sarauer at the legislative building in Regina.

"[The Sask. Party] will not do anything to promote or expand access to women's reproductive services in Saskatchewan unless absolutely forced to. And it's very disappointing."

Tyler Pidlubny/CBC
Tyler Pidlubny/CBC

Minister Responsible for the Status of Women Laura Ross responded to the NDP's questioning.

"Our government follows the law. The law is that women have the right to access reproductive health services in Saskatchewan and in Canada," Ross said. "A U.S. supreme court ruling has no impact on women's rights in Canada."

When asked by reporters, Ross said that there are no roadblocks to abortion access in the province.

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