It couldn’t be more appropriate, on International Women’s Day, to cast a critical eye on a subject that could fairly be called the banner issue of post feminist times – reproductive freedom.
In another word: abortion.
With the election of Donald Trump the United States is experiencing what some observers call the greatest pro-life movement since 1973 and the landmark Supreme Court Roe vs. Wade decision.
Three days after taking office Trump, by executive order, killed funding to all international organizations that either promote or provide information about abortion.
So far in 2017 state legislators have introduced 50 pro-life bills aimed at limiting access to and funding for the procedure. Kentucky – which is enjoying its first Republican majority in the House of Representatives in nearly a century – has already passed a late-term abortion ban. At the same time it approved the controversial Ultrasound Informed Consent Act, requiring medical teams to provide sonograms to women seeking abortion, as well as verbal descriptions of fetal development including organ size and features.
In Arkansas, a new law permits a husband to sue to stop his wife from having an abortion, even in the case of spousal rape.
Canada is one of the few countries in the world that has no federal law governing abortion, and the assumption is often made that women here have free and unfettered access to whatever medical intervention they require.
However, a look at how abortions are made available, province by province, shows that in some cases a woman wanting to terminate a pregnancy may be better off living in Texas.
For example, despite the constraints of ever-tightening state laws, abortion is available in all fifty states, from Alaska to Wyoming.
A woman, however, cannot receive an abortion in Prince Edward Island for the simple reason that no one in the province performs them.
Women in PEI must request a referral from a physician to have a hospital abortion in another province, covered by provincial health care. Clinic abortions are not covered under the PEI health care plan.
Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia have no abortion clinics, and in New Brunswick a woman needs two doctors to approve her request for a hospital abortion.
Medical abortions – those induced by drugs in early pregnancy – are not covered under health care plans in BC, Alberta, or Nova Scotia. There are no abortion providers in Labrador or northern Manitoba.
Gestation limits vary from province to province and compare unfavorably with the laws in many US States.
Twenty states prohibit abortion – except in cases of life or health endangerment to the woman – at 20 weeks, while in most others abortions are available up to 24 weeks or the time of viability.
In Nunavut, the Yukon and New Brunswick a woman cannot access an abortion past 12 weeks. In the North West Territories the limit is 14 weeks, and it is 15 weeks in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Saskatchewan and Manitoba are 16 weeks. BC and Alberta provide abortions up to 20 weeks, and only in Ontario can a woman get an abortion up to 24 weeks.
Quebec is widely considered to provide the best abortion access, with 36 abortion clinics, a quarter of all hospitals performing abortions, and a 23-week gestation limit.
It’s interesting to watch the headlines unfold, and the debates rage, each time a state tinkers with – or tries to circumvent – its constitutional responsibility to allow abortion.
At the very least that process keeps the issue alive, and human rights and protections front and center.
In Canada, a much quieter nation where abortion is legal only because it isn’t illegal, there are fewer reproductive freedoms than one might realize.