Canada welcomes Americans losing access to abortion, but clinics say they’re at capacity

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“It is unrealistic to think that we could meet the needs of what could potentially flow north”

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Before the 1989 Morgentaler decision effectively erased criminal restrictions on abortion in Canada, women here regularly traveled south to abort their pregnancies in the United States.

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In nearby cities like Buffalo, some doctors have even expanded their services to meet cross-border demand, recalls Carolyn Egan, spokesperson for the Ontario Coalition of Abortion Clinics.

Now that the United States is on the verge of ending its own constitutional protection of abortion rights, clinics there are bracing for a potential influx in the other direction. That could mean longer waits for service or the possibility of having to expand existing facilities or even open new ones to meet demand, they say.

“Because it happened historically going south, it’s natural to assume it could happen with Americans going north,” Egan said. “There is a real lived memory of the kindness offered by clinics in the United States when Canadians were in need and I think it would be reciprocated.”

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The Women’s Health Clinic in Winnipeg says it will attend to any woman who requests the procedure and that includes Americans, who already come in small numbers, executive director Kemlin Nembhard said.

Still, a mass movement north for abortion would present challenges, she said.

“We’re not going to turn people away,” Nembhard said. “But as a country with 10% of the population of the United States, it’s unrealistic to think we could meet the needs of what could potentially flow north.”

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However, the issue is already on the radar south of the border. If the right to abortion in the United States is canceled, “could you go to Canada to have an abortion?” asked the Detroit Free Press in a story this week.

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That said, no one really knows what could happen.

The extraordinary leak of a draft ruling from one of the United States Supreme Court justices suggests that Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that established America’s right to abortion, is about to be overturned.

If that happened, the states would be free to set its own laws on the controversial issue. Legislation restricting abortion recently enacted in Texas and other states would be validated, while those still in effect elsewhere from pre-Roe times could be reactivated.

Removing the right to abortion would make no difference in just under half of US jurisdictions, Democratic strongholds like New York, most of New England and the West Coast where the procedure would remain legal — and accessible. to women in jurisdictions that refuse abortion.

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But some states bordering Canada may well be affected. This includes Michigan and North Dakota, which still have pre-Roe anti-abortion laws, and Montana, which passed legislation in 2019 that is currently prohibited by the US constitution.

While much is still uncertain, the possibility of an American influx “is definitely being discussed” between clinics here, said Jill Doctoroff, executive director of the National Abortion Federation Canada. “People who work in abortion care are quite passionate….People want to be as helpful as possible.

And Doctoroff said she’s been approached in recent months by abortion advocates and providers in the United States to ask if there’s a chance Canada could process some of the U.S. request if Roe is overturned.

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Meanwhile, the federal government has indicated that this country will remain open to serving American women seeking abortions. Minister of Public Security Marco Mendicino said this week it would ask the Canada Border Services Agency to ensure that these patients can enter Canada.

But exactly what a potential influx of abortive tourists could mean for clinics here is less clear, especially as many are currently at capacity or beyond.

Egan said she believes Canadian abortion providers would expand or launch new facilities if demand increases significantly, saying clinics in Ontario, at least, are not currently overcrowded.

“If there was indeed a need, I would be quite optimistic that the medical staff here in Canada would try to set up a facility to help.”

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But Nembhard said the number of patients accessing her Winnipeg clinic already exceeds the provincial funding she receives by a quarter to a third each year. Even without an American influx, she would like to see governments improve the availability of the procedure through more money and other measures — like mandating abortion training in medical schools to increase the number of capable doctors. to do the job.

Obviously, the United States is a much bigger country“, said Joyce Arthur, leader of the Canadian Abortion Rights Coalition. “We cannot accommodate a large number of people from the United States.”

In the meantime, if Canada becomes an abortion destination for American women, this market could be limited by economic and social factors. Many would be too poor or otherwise marginalized to obtain passports and pay for transportation and accommodation in another country, advocates note here.

“Unless reimbursed by US abortion funds,” Arthur said, “it will only be a viable option for women who can afford and can travel.”

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