Discover more from The Line
Kristin Raworth: The Liberals could actually fix abortion access while claiming to defend it
It’s easier for Liberals to make grand promises and talk about the scary Conservatives than it is to actually fix problems
By: Kristin Raworth
There are a few Canadian traditions that are as reliable as clockwork: celebrating the beginning of spring directly before a major snowfall; proclaiming doom for the playoff hopes of the Toronto Maple Leafs; and watching the Liberals bring up abortion in the face of bad poll numbers. Alas, we know that the government is flailing yet again as they have decided to defend a thing that nobody is attacking.
During a visit to the University of Manitoba on April 12, the Prime Minister was confronted by a People’s Party of Canada supporter. Justin Trudeau’s response went viral.
In the clip, the supporter — who looks to be in his late teens — raises abortion as one of the reasons he supports the PPC (ironic given Bernier is on record as being pro-choice), saying that women who are “sleeping around” shouldn’t be able to abort. Trudeau rebuts him by raising abortion in cases of rape and incest. The young man seems to struggle with a response to that. The video ends in the most patronizing way possible, with the Prime Minister telling the man that he will “pray for him”.
Since the video was recorded, the Liberal Party, the prime minister, and his chief of staff have all put out tweets and even another video reiterating their support for abortion rights. The insinuation, of course, is that a vote for the Conservative Party would be a vote to remove those rights.
In Trudeau’s video response, he goes on to tout his government's accomplishments on abortion, carefully omitting out how little those accomplishments actually amount to. If the Liberals can make the Conservatives seem like an imminent danger to abortion access, they won’t actually have to defend their own record, thus solidifying the support they have with women, especially in suburban areas.
Before the 2015 election that won him a majority government, Trudeau announced that all candidates for the Liberal Party had to be pro-choice. This was lauded at the time by many in the women’s rights movement as a positive step. However, like many Liberal Party declarations, this was all about optics and translated into very little action on the issue of abortion rights and accessibility.
Abortion access in Canada is still heavily dependent on where women live. The Supreme Court of Canada struck down the federal law criminalizing abortion in 1988 as unconstitutional. In the 35 years since, parliament has created no legislation to replace it. As a result, we live in a legislative vacuum; abortion is legal at all stages of a pregnancy, but it is effectively left up to the provinces to decide where people can access abortion and what services are publicly funded through provincial health-care plans.
In Canada, access to abortions in rural and remote communities and on Reserve is almost non-existent. Studies have shown that 18 per cent of women who had abortions had to travel more than 100 kilometers to do so. Indigenous women are three times more likely to have to travel long distances. In the eight years they have been in power, I’ve seen no evidence that the Liberals have done anything to increase access to care in these communities.
Next up, while there is no law against abortion at any stage, more than one province in Canada set a limit to around 12-13 weeks. For example, in New Brunswick, a patient is only covered for abortions that occur in hospital and in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy — this in a province that only has three hospitals. Anything else requires a trip to a private clinic, frequently resulting in women leaving the province.
By about the twenty-second week of pregnancy, it is near impossible to find abortion care anywhere in the country. At this stage of gestation, abortion can no longer be performed in a private clinic. It’s a hospital procedure, and one that frequently involves prematurely inducing birth.
While the law doesn’t set guidelines, the Canadian Medical Association certainly does, and the governing body that oversees doctors takes the viability of a fetus into consideration. As a result, this is the kind of care that can only be accessed in extreme and rare cases in which the fetus is unlikely to survive birth.
At this late stage, anyone who is denied an abortion in Canada typically has to go to the United States — an option that is available only to a very privileged few.
For those who must travel to another province, or to another country, abortion is one of 16 medical procedures currently not covered by the Canada Health Act — forcing women to pay out of pocket. Again, these are substantial issues that have existed for decades, and the Liberals, who call themselves the defenders of women’s rights, have done nothing about them.
The argument I always get back on Twitter when I criticize the Liberals on this file is that health is provincial jurisdiction. Yes it is, but what is covered, how access is enforced, and the ability to increase both is under the purview of the Canada Health Act. Federal legislation. If you don't believe me, just ask the Liberals.
In the last three elections the Liberals have campaigned on updating the Canada Health Act to improve access, even saying they would use health transfers as leverage to ensure that Provinces would play ball. Their platforms have consistently promised the Act to improve the issues in the system. What has happened? Almost nothing.
Meanwhile, the Conservative now have a long track record of doing nothing on abortion rights when they’re in power. If the Liberals want to fear monger about the possibility of a Pierre Poilievre government, well, hey, that’s politics. It follows a grand tradition in this country, but they could at the very least have the decency to act on their own campaign policies while they’re here.
But it’s easier for Liberals to make grand promises and talk about the scary Conservatives than it is to actually fix the problems.
The Line is Canada’s last, best hope for irreverent commentary. We reject bullshit. We love lively writing. Please consider supporting us by subscribing. Follow us on Twitter @the_lineca. Pitch us something: firstname.lastname@example.org