Bloomberg — The Bloor West Village Women’s Clinic in Toronto has had very few American patients, despite advertising its abortion services internationally. This may soon change.
The US Supreme Court’s decision Friday overturning Roe v Wade means women living in states with new restrictions on abortion could be forced to travel to obtain the procedure. Canada, which has no legal restrictions on abortion, could offer a safe haven for those looking for abortion care, with about half of US states considered “certain or likely” to ban or severely restrict services following the high court’s decision.
The problem will be being able to pay for it. The cost of an abortion and travel costs must be covered by those who are unable to afford it. Canada requires both a passport as well as a vaccination card to travel.
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“The women who are most vulnerable are not women, most likely, who are going to have passports and the money to do this,” said Sheri Krieger, a counselor at Bloor West. “Certainly we’re open and here to help in any way we can, 100%, that’s for sure, but at this moment we have no sense of what’s 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 handle more patients at the nation’s clinics.
Trudeau lamented the Supreme Court’s decision as a “devastating setback” to the battle for rights fought by generations of women around the world. “We need to continue to stand strong, to defend everybody’s rights and freedoms in Canada and where we are here, internationally… which Canada will do — whether it’s fighting for women’s rights here in Africa, or supporting people fighting for their rights in the United States and elsewhere,” he said.
Canada could be an option for women in Michigan if they’re willing to travel to Toronto or Hamilton. While the Ambassador Bridge is a bridge connecting downtown Detroit with Windsor, surgical abortions can only be performed in Windsor’s hospital. It is not possible to open a freestanding clinic.
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Michigan is home to a long-standing, unenforced abortion ban that dates back 1846. It was last updated in 1931. Governor Gretchen Whitmer (Democrat) believes that it will. She has therefore filed a lawsuit seeking to have it declared unconstitutional by the Michigan Supreme Court. Whitmer requested a prompt and permanent ruling from the State Supreme Court. Whitmer’s brief was filed on Friday after a lower court granted temporary injunctions blocking the enforcement of the law.
Should Whitmer’s suit fail, women’s rights groups in the state are already looking for other places to send those seeking abortions, said Ashlea Phenicie, communications director for Planned Parenthood of Michigan. Canada may be an option, however, the group will first consider New York and Illinois because it is much easier to get there.
The cost of an abortion in Canada is less than it costs in the US. Carolyn Egan, a spokesperson for the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics, said the cost of the procedure at a Canadian clinic is about C$500 ($388), but that doesn’t include any travel costs a woman from the US might incur. In Michigan, an abortion costs $600 to $900, according to the Women’s Center of Michigan.
The Roe decision could complicate matters for both women and men on the other side of the border. Some Canadians travel to the US to obtain late-stage abortions — those after 24 weeks. Such a procedure can be difficult to access even in Canada’s big cities because of a lack of physician training. The majority of Canadian abortions are performed before 12 weeks. Some even use medication.
In addition, there is concern that clinics providing abortion services could be overwhelmed and wait times become insurmountable, said Frédérique Chabot, director of health promotion, at Action Canada for Sexual Health & Rights, a charity that helps advance reproductive health rights.
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Joyce Arthur (executive director of Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada) stated that the majority of clinics with capacity are found in Toronto and Montreal. But it’s much harder to find clinics in Canada’s western provinces, meaning women in states such as North Dakota and South Dakota — which could soon have new restrictions — will have difficulty finding services. This could encourage a Canadian system that rewards Americans who can pay in cash, she said.
“We want to help Americans but it’s difficult because we want to take care of Canadians first,” Arthur said. “It could result in a two-tiered system.”
Action Canada reports that women in Canada wait on average one to two and up to five weeks to have an abortion.
“Even though we have the fully enshrined right to this service, that doesn’t mean that it’s widely available,” said Kelly Bowden, director of Policy, Advocacy and Government Relations at Action Canada for Sexual Health & Rights. “There still continues to be a huge amount of stigma around that access, and so we know that cross-border movement happens in order to access abortion services and we’ve actually seen it from Canada to the U.S.”
Even with the challenges and costs, many American women will look to other countries as their only option.
“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 do come, and want to come, or to find ways that they can come, I’m sure that there’s going to be lots of people that are going to be ready to help.”
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