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Canada's abortion rights 'well-protected' says political expert as Alabama criminalizes procedure

FILE - In this Wednesday April 17, 2019 file photo, Bianca Cameron-Schwiesow, from left, Kari Crowe and Margeaux Hardline, dressed as handmaids, take part in a protest against HB314, the abortion ban bill, at the Alabama State House in Montgomery, Ala. (Mickey Welsh/The Montgomery Advertiser via AP, File)

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – As Alabama criminalizes abortions, a number of Canadian politicians have been loudly expressing support for anti-abortion groups and their agendas but some political scientists say women’s reproductive rights are well-protected here.

Stephanie Paterson, an associate professor of political science at Concordia University, says there will always be anti-abortion politicians spouting off but she believes women’s rights are enshrined in the Charter of Rights.

“In our favour, we have strong support via the courts, notably through the Charter, as well, I think there’s pretty broad support within physician communities,” says Paterson.

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Federal politicians avoid debate

Alabama’s new law is so aggressive, even televangelist Pat Robertson says it goes too far. The law doesn’t allow exceptions for rape or incest and calls for up to 99 years in prison for performing an abortion.

Canada is without abortion legislation – since the 1988 Morgentaler Supreme court ruling – abortion has been medically regulated and an attempt by Brian Mulroney’s Conservative government to legislate abortion in 1991 failed in the Senate.

Kelly Gordon has been studying the anti-abortion movement in Canada for the last decade. She’s an associate professor of political science at McGill University.

She points out Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Conservative Party of Canada leader Andrew Scheer have both promised not to open the debate again and says the strong party discipline exhibited in Canadian politics is another buffer for abortion rights.

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“Conservative parties aren’t really willing to engage with this issue they don’t see the anti-abortion position as being a winning one, they’re more likely to shut down debates within their own parties,” says Gordon.

On top of that, Gordon says, research shows when the abortion debate is made national, whether through a parliamentary bill or otherwise, support for women’s rights and abortion care tends to increase.

Targeting provincial politics

Faced with a rigid distaste for the topic federally, activists have started targeting provincial politicians and candidates, says Gordon, pointing specifically to Right Now, one of the newer groups in Canada.

“This is an organization that’s tried to involve itself in provincial leadership races and particularly at the provincial level. Doug Ford was one of their picks in Ontario. They had success in Saskatchewan and they also had success with the election of Andrew Scheer for the leader of the Conservative party,” she explains.

B.C. MLA’s Rich Coleman and Laurie Throness faced blowback after both spoke at an anti-abortion rally in Victoria, last week.

Coleman defended his words and said they were taken out of context after he was quoted as saying abortion is “totally, totally wrong.”

Last week, Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff pledged his commitment to the anti-abortion movement. “We have survived 50 years of abortion in Canada and we pledge to fight to make abortion unthinkable in our lifetime,” he said, joined on stage by Scarborough Centre MPP Christina Mitas and Brantford-Brant MPP Will Bouma, who also expressed their support for the pro-life demonstrators.

A different debate in the north

The debate in Canada tends to focus on completely different issues than in the U.S.. Gordon says her research shows the main narrative anti-abortion groups in Canada use has to do with the risks to women who abort their pregnancies.

“They talk a lot about abortion regret, so women being psychologically harmed by abortion. So really they’re trying to shift the terrain away from fetal rights and towards women’s rights and health,” she says.

Meanwhile the support for abortion-care and pro-choice is steady accross the country.

“The last number I saw was close to 80 per cent support for abortion and almost half of those supported it in an unlimited way, so whenever the person carrying the fetus decides. That’s pretty good,” says Paterson.

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Despite the seemingly solid foothold women’s health has in Canada, Paterson says the biggest issue remains access to safe abortions, especially in rural areas.

“That’s been a stumbling block,” she says. “For me it’s not so much about this anti-abortion discourse, it’s how these things materialize in folks’ experiences in getting an abortion,”

Patterson says community organizations are making a difference in helping women access self-managed abortions, such as the abortion pill, Mifegymiso