Bloomberg — The Bloor West Village Women’s Clinic in Toronto has had very few American patients, despite the international publicity of its abortion services. That may be about to change.
Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade means women living in states with new restrictions on abortion could be forced to travel to get the procedure. Canada, which has no legal restrictions on abortion, could offer a safe haven for those seeking abortion care, with around half of US states considered ‘certain or likely’ to ban or restrict severely services following the High Court ruling.
The challenge will be to afford it. Those who need an abortion must still be able to afford the cost of travel and the procedure itself. Traveling to Canada also requires a passport and a vaccination card.
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“The most vulnerable women are probably not women who will have passports and the money to do it,” said Sheri Krieger, counselor at Bloor West. “Certainly we are open and here to help in any way we can, 100% sure, but at the moment we have no idea what is going to happen.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking at a Commonwealth summit, hinted that Canada could be a destination, but offered no specific measures to increase abortion availability or treat more patients in clinics across the country.
Trudeau lamented the Supreme Court’s ruling as a “devastating setback” in the battle for rights waged by generations of women around the world. “We must continue to stand firm, to stand up for the rights and freedoms of everyone in Canada and where we are here, internationally…what Canada will do – whether it’s fighting for women’s rights here in Africa or by supporting people fighting for their rights in the United States. United States and elsewhere,” he said.
Canada could be an option for Michigan women if they are willing to travel to Toronto or Hamilton. The Ambassador Bridge connects downtown Detroit and Windsor, but the only access to surgical abortions in Windsor is at the hospital. There is no stand-alone clinic.
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Michigan has a long-dormant abortion ban since 1846 and updated in 1931 that could come back to life. Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, believes it will and has filed a lawsuit to have the Michigan Supreme Court declare it unconstitutional. In May, a lower court granted a temporary injunction blocking enforcement, and Whitmer on Friday filed a brief seeking a speedy and permanent ruling from the state Supreme Court.
If Whitmer’s lawsuit fails, women’s rights groups in the state are already looking for other places to refer those seeking abortions, said Ashlea Phenicie, communications director for Planned Parenthood of Michigan. Canada is a possible destination, she said, but the group will look to Illinois and New York first because it’s easier to get to those states.
Abortions are cheaper in Canada than in the United States. Carolyn Egan, spokesperson for the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics, said the cost of the procedure at a Canadian clinic is around C$500 ($388), but that doesn’t include medical fees. displacement that a woman from the United States might incur. In Michigan, an abortion costs between $600 and $900, according to the Women’s Center of Michigan.
And the Roe decision will complicate matters for women on both sides of the border. Some Canadians travel to the United States to obtain late-stage abortions – those after 24 weeks. Such a procedure can be difficult to access even in large cities in Canada due to a lack of training of doctors. About 95% of abortions in Canada are performed before 12 weeks, most of them with medication.
In addition, there are concerns that clinics offering abortion services will be overwhelmed and wait times will become insurmountable, said Frédérique Chabot, director of health promotion at Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, a charity that helps advance reproductive health rights.
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Most of the clinics that have capacity are in Toronto and Montreal, said Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. But it’s much harder to find clinics in Canada’s western provinces, which means women in states like North Dakota and South Dakota — which may soon have new restrictions — will have to hard to find services. She said it could also promote a system where Canadian practitioners prefer Americans who pay in cash.
“We want to help the Americans, but it’s difficult because we want to take care of the Canadians first,” Arthur said. “It could result in a two-tier system.”
On average, women wait one to two weeks for an abortion in Canada and up to five weeks for abortion care at term, according to Action Canada.
“While we have the full guaranteed right to this service, that doesn’t mean it’s widely available,” said Kelly Bowden, director of policy, advocacy and government relations at Action Canada for Health and sexual rights. “There’s still a huge amount of stigma around this access, and so we know that cross-border movement is happening to access abortion services and we’ve actually seen it from Canada to the United States.
Despite the costs and challenges, as American women run out of options at home, some will likely look north.
“I’m sick. I’m heartbroken, I’m disgusted. I don’t even know if I have words to describe it,” Krieger said. “If women come and want to come, or find ways to come, I’m sure there will be a lot of people who will be willing to help.”
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