CW: Discussion of sexism and violence
Watch Case Files Episode 7: Abortion Laws HERE
Roe v. Wade
In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court’s (SCOTUS) ruling in Roe v. Wade affirmed that the decision of whether or not to continue a pregnancy can only be made by the individual carrying the foetus, not the government or any other organisation. Based on the right to liberty and privacy contained in the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, this ruling protected the rights to abortion prior to ‘foetal viability.’ Foetal viability refers to the ability to survive outside the womb, which usually happens between 24 and 28 weeks after conception (Justia). Nearly 50 years later in 2022 in, the SCOTUS ruled in Dobbs v. Women’s Health Organization that there is no constitutional right to abortion. Not only does this ruling abandon decades of precedent, but it also marks the first time in U.S. history that the SCOTUS has guaranteed and later revoked a fundamental human right. Now that any SCOTUS case has the potential to be overruled, what is to stop the court from reversing its previous decisions on other human rights such as gay marriage or integration?
Nearly half of the states in the U.S. have existing laws that can restrict or outright prohibit access to abortion. Upon the announcement of the SCOTUS decision, 13 states implemented pre-existing “trigger laws” which criminalised abortion as soon as the ruling was made. Certain laws were immediately effective, some in effect 30 days after the ruling, and some after a designated state official completed a certification of the ruling. Healthcare professionals in states with restrictive laws are unsure how to abide by the laws that do not allow an abortion to occur when a foetal heartbeat is detected. Pregnant people who experience a miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy in which the fertilised egg implants and grows outside the uterus), or medical emergencies, such as premature rupture of the membranes and preeclampsia, urgently require medical intervention. Surgery to save the life of people with such pregnancy complications is now illegal in these anti-abortion states; thereby forcing already weak and vulnerable people to travel hundreds of thousands of miles to access abortion care in other states, or simply to deliver the baby against their will–a grave violation of human rights (The Nurse Practitioner).
Abortion in Canada
In Canada on the other hand, abortion is decriminalised but is not a constitutional right. Access to medical abortions in Canada has increased dramatically since Health Canada waived the need for routine ultrasounds and other requirements to allow clinicians to prescribe mifepristone, an abortion pill, like any other medication. In studying 315,000 abortions, Laura Schummers–a reproductive and perinatal epidemiologist–found that prescribing the abortion pill without restrictions was safe and did not lead to increases in adverse effects or the overall abortion rate (Canadian Medical Association Journal). In analyzing abortion legislature, it is also important to consider the reasons people have for wanting to receive abortions. A study that interviewed 954 women from 30 abortion clinics across the U.S. between 2008 and 2010 found that the main reasoning (40%) given for wanting to terminate their pregnancy was financial reasons (BMC Women’s Health).
Though abortion is not directly under attack as it is in the U.S., there is still a long way for Canada to go before it can achieve universal abortion care. The organisation of Canada’s healthcare system, the lack of abortion providers around the country, and the pervasiveness of anti-choice organisations combine to make access to abortions not only difficult, but oftentimes impossible. People living in rural areas, particularly reserves, do not have access to nearby care and residents are forced to travel extremely long distances to receive life-saving treatment. These regulations, that force those seeking abortion to travel, contribute to loss of income as well as other financial costs, thus making abortion even more inaccessible. In 2013, 18% of women travelled more than 100 kilometres to access abortion, with Indigenous women being three times more likely than white women to have travelled this distance. This is unacceptable in a country with so many remote communities. In provinces such as Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Ontario, 35% to 40% of residents live in rural or remote areas (Institute for Research on Public Policy). Canada has no excuse to violate the civil liberties of such a large percentage of its population by denying them adequate access to abortion healthcare.
Regardless of the legality of abortions, people still get abortions all the time. Anti-abortion laws like those in the U.S. do not stop abortions from happening, they simply stop safe and sanitary abortions at professional clinics, forcing people to instead undergo this painful procedure in dangerous, potentially life-threatening conditions. According to the World Health Organisation:
It is estimated that 25 million unsafe abortions occur globally every year.
4.7-13.2% of maternal deaths are attributed to unsafe abortions.
In developed regions, it is estimated that 30 women die for every 100,000 unsafe abortions. In developing regions, this number rises to 220 deaths per 100,000 unsafe abortions.
7 million women per year are treated for complications from unsafe abortions.
These tragic injuries and deaths are preventable by protecting the right of individuals to have reasonable access to safe, professional abortions. BOLT Safety Society stands with all pregnant people regardless of their decision to keep or terminate the pregnancy and supports the fight for safe and accessible abortions.
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