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Federal government announces funding to expand access to abortion services

Move comes a week after leak of U.S. Supreme Court draft decision on overturning Roe v. Wade

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announces $3.5 million in funding to strengthen access to abortion services and reproductive health information in Canada.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announces $3.5 million in funding to strengthen access to abortion services and reproductive health information in Canada.

Photo: La Presse canadienne / Sean Kilpatrick


The Liberal government has announced more than $3.5 million in funding for two initiatives it says will improve access to abortion services and reproductive health information in Canada.

In Ottawa, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced that Action Canada would be getting $2.1 million over three years to improve information and referral services.

The funding will be used also to help cover travel and accommodation costs for people seeking abortions. 

The National Abortion Federation Canada will be getting $1.4 million in funding over the same time period to help train health care providers to perform abortions and ensure facilities have the capacity to provide the service. 

These investments reflect our belief that women and women alone have the right to make decisions about their bodies, as well as our unequivocal commitment to ensure comprehensive and accessible reproductive health care for all in Canada, Duclos said. 

The minister said the funding is not new — it's coming from a spending commitment of $45 million over three years that was announced in the recent federal budget.

That commitment promises to help fund efforts to increase accessibility for vulnerable populations, train people to provide the service, create public awareness campaigns and provide logistical support to people who have to travel long distances to access abortion services. 

Duclos said seven more announcements related to the fund will be made in the coming months. He did not provide specifics.

Minister said he 'felt sick' over draft opinion

The move to shore up access to abortion services in Canada comes after after U.S. news outlet Politico earlier this month published a copy of a draft opinion written by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, a Republican appointee. That opinion suggests a majority of justices are prepared to overrule Roe v. Wade — the landmark decision that protected the right of American women to seek abortions — and return the issue to state legislatures.

Alito's opinion claims the 1973 Roe decision was constitutionally dubious and egregiously wrong from the start because its reasoning was exceptionally weak.

The opinion argues that the decades-old decision — which essentially found that the right to privacy extends to reproductive choices like abortion — has had damaging consequences by dividing the nation into anti-abortion and pro-choice factions and robbing state officials of the power to regulate the practice.

Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth Marci Ien said she has grave concerns about the draft opinion and what it could mean for women.

I felt sick, Ien said of reading the draft opinion. "Many of the women that I've talked to, some had to pause, just to reflect on the information because it was hard to look at that ...

Canadian women know, and they know well, that it's important to protect this.

Duclos said he also had concerns about access to abortion services following the leak of the draft decision, adding that women's reproductive rights should not be take for granted.

I believe many Canadians, and certainly many Canadian women, are a bit worried about what is happening on our continent, Duclos said. I believe that achievements and victories for women can never be taken for granted and can never be interpreted as final victories. We always need to do more.

Group claims Trudeau will legalize 'abortion on demand'

In the Liberals' last election platform, the party promised to establish regulations under the Canada Health Act to ensure access to reproductive services across the country. 

After the Roe v. Wade leak, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that he asked Duclos and Ien to look at the legal framework around abortion to ensure that we move forward as necessary on ensuring that, not just under this government but under any future government, the rights of women are properly protected.

That position has led some anti-abortion campaigners to suggest the Liberal government is seeking to enshrine the right to an abortion in law.

As it stands, there is no federal law governing access to abortion. Former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney failed to pass legislation on abortion after the Supreme Court's 1988 R. v. Morgentaler decision. 

In that 5-2 decision, written by Chief Justice Brian Dickson, the court ruled that Section 251 of the Criminal Code — which banned abortions except those approved by a committee of doctors — violated Section 7 of the charter, which guarantees the right to life, liberty and the security of the person. 

WATCH: Duclos announces funding to promote access to sexual health and abortion services in Canada

Forcing a woman, by threat of criminal sanction, to carry a fetus to term unless she meets certain criteria unrelated to her own priorities and aspirations, is a profound interference with a woman's body and thus a violation of security of the person, Dickson wrote.

Jack Fonseca is the political director for the Campaign Life Coalition, an anti-abortion advocacy group seeking a complete ban on abortion in Canada — even in cases of rape and incest. He said Wednesday that he believes Prime Minister Trudeau will seek to enshrine in law abortion on demand.

It is very clear that any law that may come from Justin Trudeau will be to codify in law abortion on demand, up to the moment of birth throughout all nine months of pregnancy, for any reason or no reason at all and fully funded by the taxpayer, Fonseca said during a media event outside the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa. 

Enshrining abortion rights in legislation 'on the table'

Duclos said that while codifying abortion as a right in law — rather than leaving it to case law, as it stands now — is on the table, Ottawa isn't taking that route now over concerns about the legal implications of such a move. 

If we were to legislate that right to abortion, if we were to go beyond the constitutional, legal strong foundation of that right in Canada, some jurists, some experts in Canada tell us that there could be a risk, Duclos said. 

As it stands, the health minister said, there are no conditions governing abortion in Canada now and codifying it would require the crafting of conditions that could complicate access.

Members of the Campaign Life Coalition were in Ottawa on Wednesday in advance of Thursday's national protest on Parliament Hill. The group says it is expecting some 3,000 members to show up for that event to urge lawmakers to impose a ban on abortion. 

Fonesca said his group's plan to make a ban a reality is to help elect a majority of MPs to the House of Commons who will ban abortion and to then secure a majority of justices on Canada's Supreme Court who would rule in favour of a ban.

The overturning of Roe vs. Wade will help us towards that goal because it will enable Canadians to have kitchen table conversations about the humanity of the unborn child, about the right to life, Fonseca said.

Peter Zimonjic (new window) · CBC News